Recently I was pursuing an opportunity that I was really excited about. Not only was it something that I would enjoy, but also it would enable me to be closer to my family and be helpful to the future of The 4Sight Group. I started out cautiously optimist, and with each step it seemed that this opportunity was going to become a reality. But then a major roadblock emerged unexpectedly and this idea I was pursuing was completely dead.
I found myself limited by a circumstance beyond my control, resulting in a full-out tantrum. I was so frustrated!
I hate limits. I pride myself in being someone who gets things done. Someone who can overcome any obstacle and make miracles happen. (Think Olivia Pope minus the Scandal!) I’m energized by possibilities. I’m inspired by ideas. To a degree, this comes with the territory of being a leader. Leaders inspire with hope. We see possibility. We keep people tethered to the vision. We’re the bridge between reality and possibility. We chart the way forward.
That’s why limits are so difficult for us to accept. We’re conditioned to see beyond limits. But I believe that limits have a purpose, and a wise leader will pay attention to the limiting factors she faces. Here’s why:
1. Not all possibilities are good. Not all ideas are sound.
Caught up in the thrill of momentum, we can begin to believe that every idea will work and that no possibility is bad. We begin to believe we’re invincible, and we keep plowing forward as if we are. Limits, if we pay attention to them, can help us slow down to evaluate and discern what is essential and necessary for this moment or season.
Pay attention if you hear yourself or your team say, “Don’t worry. It will all work out.” There is a difference between faith and foolishness. Discernment is essential.
2. Ignoring limits hurts you and those you lead.
By the nature of our driven-ness, we are not comfortable with complacency. When we have not learned to manage our sense of urgency, we put the proverbial pedal to the metal and go all out. When we do this, we leave disaster in our wake. Our health suffers. Our family suffers. Our teams and their families suffer. Every circle of our influence is impacted when we don’t recognize and respect limits.
Understanding what drives and motivates us as leaders is imperative because when we abuse limits we hurt others and ourselves.
3. Limits give us perspective.
When we are moving too fast, we don’t have time to observe the landscape and take note of what is around us. We have tunnel vision, and we can miss other concerns that may need to be considered.
When we are limited by something—time, resources, or some other unexpected roadblock—it forces us to pull out for a wider view. What are we missing? Is there another way? Do we need to slow down or go another route?
Use Limits to Your Advantage
Used intentionally, limits may provide perspective that helps us see another way forward. Extraordinary leaders learn and appreciate the value of limits.
As one wise mentor once said to me, “There are nine other numbers between zero and ten,” meaning my leadership doesn’t have to be all or nothing. When we recognize limits, we become more keenly aware of the pace we need to lead.
I’m finding myself praying this prayer from Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership:
God, help us live within the limits of what you have called us to do. Help us live within the limits of who we are—both as individuals and as an organization. Help us give our very best in the field that we have been given to work and to trust you to enlarge our sphere of action if and when you know we are ready. Help us know the difference between being driven by grandiose visions and responding faithfully to the expansion of your work in and through us.
Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach. She has also served as an executive leader at both Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California, and Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tennessee. This article was originally published on jennicatron.com and used with permission.