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A Letter to the Overcommitted Leader


A Letter to the Overcommitted Leader

Written by Sarah Vanek.


Dear, Overcommitted Leader:

Your passion is contagious. Your devotion, admirable. Your work ethic, what everyone desires to imitate. Those around you respect you for always giving more. For showing up early, and staying late. For taking on the extra work that no one else is willing to do. And for doing it all with a smile.

But I know you. I know you’re tired. Weak. Exhausted. I know that you wish someone would come and take just a little responsibility off your shoulders. I know you yearn for rest—true rest—but that you’re afraid of it. You’re afraid of what will happen if you stop for a short while. You’re afraid of what will happen around you, and of what will happen in you.

You work hard to maintain your role by day. But when you’re alone, you lament being so busy. You grieve the things you used to love. You wish that somehow, you could hit pause for an hour. Just an hour. But you can’t. Because you have to rush to the next thing. Your daughter’s recital. Your work meeting. Your night class. Even your Bible study. Maybe even all of them in one night.

Everything is a blur. You’re just going through the motions. Wake up. Coffee. Bible. Work. School. Meeting. Project. Volunteer. Drive. Kids. Supper. Dishes. Sleep. Wake up. And you’re wondering when it all ends. Because, even though you’re proud of yourself for handling it all, you know what it’s really doing. It’s destroying you. It’s destroying your life. It’s keeping you from being who God’s called you to be. And you can keep letting it if you want to. Or, you can step up to the plate and be the leader that He’s made you.

It’s time for you to make a choice, Overcommitted Christian Leader. You can keep going like this, and burnout. (Trust me, you’re not the exception to the rule.) Or, you can make some changes. You can decide that after you finish what you’ve already committed to, you’re going to cut where cuts can be made. Even if it’s small.

Don’t know where to start? Pray. Ask God where He wants you to cut. And ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Chances are, there are some things that you do simply because you feel obligated to. Or, because it’s what you’ve done for years. Or, because someone else told you to. Or, because you’re trying to maintain an image. Because you want everyone else to see you as that man or woman who has it all together. Because you’re trying to convince everyone that you’re good enough. Maybe even because you’re trying to convince yourself that you’re good enough.

Well, good news. God has already made you good enough. He knew you couldn’t make it on your own, so he made it for you. So, you can stop killing yourself trying now. Just sink into His arms. He’s been waiting for you. He’s crazy about you. And it hurts Him to see you like this. Yes, He made you to work, but He didn’t make you to work so much that you’d stop enjoying Him. He wants to give you rest—rest that you can only find in Him. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28? “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Will you loosen your grip enough to let Him offer that rest? Or, will you continue to go through life strung-out and bitter? It is up to you.


A Former Overcommitted Leader




What is Leadership?


What is Leadership?

Written by Sarah Vanek.




It’s there in the person who

Makes you feel safe.


It’s there in the one who

Does the right thing.


It’s there in the heart

That puts others first.


It’s there in the life

That’s lived with a purpose.


It’s within those who give up,

so that others may gain.


It’s within ones who live life



It’s within people who

Are willing to serve with their all.


It’s within those who

Aren’t afraid to be small.


It’s taught to the person

Who is willing to learn.


It’s taught to the ones

Who are willing to serve.


It’s taught to the people

who will work hard.


It’s taught to those

Willing to give of their heart.


It’s not about status,

Or personal gain.


It’s not about money,

Or being on the big stage.


It’s not about barking orders,

Or bringing others down.


It’s not about flattery,

Or being the best around.


It’s about loving,

And giving of yourself.


It’s about helping others

To reach their goals.


It’s about honesty,

And gentle admonition.


It’s about constantly

Living life on a mission.




4 Crucial Leadership Lessons from "Sully" Sullenberger


4 Crucial Leadership Lessons from "Sully" Sullenberger

Written by Sarah Vanek.


Sometimes the biggest displays of leadership occur within a split second.  The decision to run into live fire to save a fellow soldier.  The choice to jump in-between a child and her drunken father.  Or, the conscious decision to respond in love when the individual on the receiving end really deserves the product of revenge.

For Captain Chesley Sullenberger, it was the call to land a plane in the middle of the Hudson River on January 15, 2009.  As the leader of US Airways flight 1549, Chesley was responsible for the 155 lives in his hands.  The moment the engines stopped, he had a decision to make. With no time to spare, he had to figure out where he was going to land that plane.

There were 208 seconds between the time the plane’s engines were ruined by a flock of geese, and the moment the plane glided to a historic stop on the Hudson—that’s less than three-and-a-half minutes.  Yet, it was during those short moments, and the ones that came after, that we find four crucial leadership lessons to hang on to.

        1.  Stay calm in chaos.

In the theatrical rendition of what many have labeled a miraculous landing, one of the outstanding characteristics portrayed in Captain Sully was his ability to stay calm in the midst of chaos and massive responsibility.  

When he knew the engines had stopped, he immediately began assessing the situation to understand what the best action was.  His voice didn’t waver.  He remained stoic and calm.  It is these characteristics that enabled him to make a wise, informed decision while everything was literally falling apart around him.  Clearly, staying calm no matter the circumstance is a critical lesson for any leader.

        2. Remember what you know.

How in the world was Sully able to stay so calm when 155 lives were in his hands and the logical chance for all of their survival was slim to none?  Simple—he remembered what he knew.  Instead of letting the chaos engulf him, he chose to focus on all of the knowledge he had gained through his time in flight school and years in the cockpit.  

Focusing on this knowledge enabled him to keep his mind on the problem and situation at hand, instead of on the awful potential outcome that had the chance to become a stark reality. This focus is what allowed him to make the best decision he could in the short amount of time that was available to him.  So, whenever you find yourself in the midst of a tough situation, hold tightly to what you already know.  Chances are, you’re more prepared than you think.

        3.  Do what’s best for those you lead.

The decision that Sully had to make in just a few seconds was a product of his leadership.  Just like any good leader, he chose to do what was best for the people whose lives were in his hands.  For him, that meant landing the plane on the Hudson.

Sully had realized that there was no way he would be able to make it back to the airport to land on the tarmac.  After filtering his options, he concluded that the best way to keep the lives on board safe, was to perform a water landing that he’d never done before.  Was this a dangerous decision?  You bet it was.  Did he believe he was doing his best for the people he was serving?  You bet he did.  And we should strive to do the same.

        4.  Put yourself second.

Now, it would have been easy for Captain Sully to bask in his own success after doing something previously unprecedented, but that is nowhere near what he did.  While bystanders were in awe over what had happened and praising him for his piloting abilities, Sully could be found searching the plane for trapped passengers.  

More than that, when everyone was picked up by the Coast Guard, Sully was asking how many had gotten off.  Why?  The one thing he cared about was that the lives he was responsible for were safe—that everyone was accounted for.  The moment he was informed that everyone was, in fact, alive he breathed a sigh of relief and was able to move on.  You see, good leaders always strive to put their people first, and themselves second.  Why?  Because good leaders realize that it’s ultimately not about them.


Captain Sullenberger had 208 seconds to land his plane ... 208 seconds to make the best leadership decision he could and then act on it.  Within those moments, and the ones that came after, we find four crucial leadership lessons: learning to stay calm in the chaos, remember what we know, do what is best for those we lead, and put ourselves second to our people.  No matter what our leadership context is, we should strive to make these lessons a core part of both what we do, and who we are.

Sometimes the most powerful leadership decisions are made in a split second.  What will the outcome of yours be?

Sully.  Dir.  Clint Eastwood.  Warner Bros., 2016.  Film.


How to Make Your Team Rise Above the Rest


How to Make Your Team Rise Above the Rest

Written by Sarah Vanek.


“When I die, I want my group project members to lower me into the grave, so they can let me down one last time.”   

This is one of the funniest jokes I’ve heard that refers to working in a team environment.  But why do we laugh?  Sadly, it’s because we’ve all had bad experiences.  We can relate.  We’ve been in situations where we were responsible for leading a group or team, and we ended up feeling let down—like we were stuck doing all of the work by ourselves.  And because of it, we cringe and want to run away any time someone mentions anything remotely close to leading a group.

But what if team leadership didn’t have to be the awful experience that we all have in the back of our minds?  What if it could be positive, enjoyable, and beneficial?  What if you could set up your team to rise above the rest?  The truth is, you can.  And it all starts with strategy.

To explore this concept, I reached out to a former leader of mine, Dave Struebing.  As my former track coach, he was the one who screamed at my fellow sprinters and I as we ran repeat 400-meter dashes, but he was also the one who designed our relay teams.  Because I respected him for the work he did as my coach and team-builder, I asked him what his secrets were.  So here they are … his keys to recruiting, developing, and empowering a team that stands out from the pack.


When it comes to recruiting, the first thing Dave looks for is talent.  On his team in particular, he needs to know that a potential team member can run a 400-meter, and that he or she can run it fast.  But that’s just the beginning.  Simply having talent isn’t enough for Dave to recruit someone.  Instead, he recommends pairing the talent search with one for passion.

This passion hunt involves looking for individuals who will give their all for the good of the team—individuals who will buy into a common goal, and then do everything in their power to reach it.  In fact, he went so far as to say that this intangible passion is almost more important than raw talent.  Being able to run fast is important, but caring about what you’re running for—that’s a powerful catalyst.


In the area of developing a stand-out team, Dave stressed the importance of repetition.  Yet, he was quick to mention that practice doesn’t make perfect—it makes permanent.  So, as he develops a team, it’s not only key for each member to practice his or her skills over and over again, but also to practice them correctly.

Aside from the countless hours of repetition and correct practice, though, Dave honed in on how important it is to pay attention to everything.  The team-leader must realize that everyone can’t perform well all of the time—sometimes, you need to have an alternative plan.  So, part of developing an outstanding team involves knowing what to do if one member needs a break, or can’t carry the load for a short time.


Just like he did with development, Dave summed up much of how he empowers an effective team into one sentence: individuals don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.  Though this is an oft-used statement, Dave stands by it and believes that it’s best to show this necessary care and concern through actions.

What kind of actions?  You might ask.  Well, he recommends not ignoring anything, but rather working hard to be honest about feelings and keep the line of communication constant.  As each of these actions is taken, it begins to impress upon team members that the leader truly cares about everyone involved.  He believes that as he does these things and keeps everything honest and in the open, it empowers his team.


With all of this, it is clear that Dave’s keys to recruiting, developing, and empowering a team that stands out from the pack, begin with a search for both talent and passion.  It then continues with development via repetition of the right skills, and paying attention to everything.  Finally, the empowerment that underlies it all comes from a constant level of both care, and communication. By navigating team-building with this strategy in mind, you can set your team up to rise above the rest.  And maybe—just maybe—the dread of leading a group can be diminished.



How to Get an "A" in Leadership


How to Get an "A" in Leadership

Written by Sarah Vanek.


Ahh leadership... 

That’s a word so frequently tossed around these days, that we really don’t know what it means anymore.  Books have been written on it. Speeches have been given on it.  Conferences have been centered on it.  We are constantly talking about it.  But what if we have missed the point?  

Society has told us time and time again that leadership is one “A”: Ability.  We are either born with it, or we must learn how to develop it.  So, we buy all the books we can find, and listen to TED Talks galore to determine if we are a leader, and how we can become one.  But in all of this, we’ve focused so much on the ability of leadership that we’ve forgotten the more important “A” of leadership: Availability.  

Take a moment and think back to the individual whom you would consider the most influential leader in your life.  Maybe it’s a teacher, a coach, a boss, or a pastor.  Whoever it was, it probably goes without saying that this person had leadership ability.  He or she was good at his or her job and capable of leading people.  But if ability was all that was there, this person probably wouldn’t have made your list of influential people.  Why?  Because a leader’s ability often pales in comparison to his or her availability.  Ability looks good on the outside, but availability fosters influence.

You see, it means more when a leader takes time to listen.  When he is approachable.  When the door is open.  When she asks questions.  When being supportive becomes at least as important as getting the job done.  So, what do we do?

We increase our availability.

As leaders, we are most influential when we make ourselves available to our followers.  Think about it.  The teacher who stays after school to be there for her students makes more of an impact than the one who obsessively prepares for a lesson at the expense of engaging with her pupils.  Why is this? Because students get countless lessons and instructions each day, but not every teacher asks them how things are at home, how their new baby brother is doing, or if they’re enjoying their after school activities.  You see, lesson planning and teaching ability are great and essential, but influence will come from simply being there.

Don’t think this applies at the office?  Think again.  Imagine the boss who is standoffish and simply barks orders.  Week after week, all he or she does is assign tasks and ask to see your completed products.  How do you respond?  Do you feel empowered?  Safe?  Maybe, but probably not.  Chances are, you’d be more likely to do good work and let your passions shine through if he or she found a way to tie them to the vision of the team, and if he or she took time to engage you in conversations that didn’t involve the work that needed to be done.  

We enable others’ abilities.

Though each of us likes to show off our ability muscles, growing in leadership often means letting go of doing the tasks ourselves, and embracing the chance to do them through others.  This is where your increased availability comes into play.  You see, you’re not simply working to make yourself a more available leader to free up your own time; you’re freeing up your time so that you can tap into and develop the abilities of your direct reports.  Simply put, this is where you use your abilities to enable theirs.

What does this look like?  It could be as simple as  sitting down with a direct report to ask what you could do to enable them to do their job better.  It could be taking a few extra minutes to nicely show someone a more efficient way to complete a task.  Or, it could be acting as a sounding board for an employee to present ideas for their departments.  Whatever this looks like, you need to do it.  This is how leaders develop leaders.  


So, as you move forward in any context of leadership, stop spending all of your resources on trying to be the best at what you do, and start making yourself available to the people you lead.  It’s this availability that will create influence, and enable you to tap into and develop the abilities of others.  As you do this, you will discover that getting an “A” in leadership starts with simply being available.