Work Off The Top Of The Tank

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fuel gaugeThe baby blue 1965 Chevelle Malibu convertible glided silently down the hill, around the corner and straight into our car port.  My brother had run out of gas – again.

Thankfully he had run out of gas at the top of the street that descended to our house where he could, with a certain degree of dignity, gracefully glide to the safety of home.  Safe, that is, until dad found out what he had done.  Sure enough, Ron got the emphatic and animated “work off the top of the tank” speech once again from Dad.

You see, Ron had a propensity to work off the bottom of the tank, which on occasion, would transition to an empty tank.  Then, he’d be stuck or stranded, and, like on this occasion, he would need to be bailed out of his predicament by the family.

So, the next morning we pushed the car up the driveway and back onto the street where he silently glided all the way down the hill and around the corner to the nearest gas station a kilometer away.

Have you ever run out of gas?

Do you work off the top or the bottom of the tank?  Do you push your limits when the warning light goes on knowing that you can squeeze a little more distance out of the tank of gas?

Now, let’s shift this into leadership…

Do you work off the top of the tank or the bottom of the tank?

You see, as a leader you are “leading and feeding” others.  But, in order to ensure you always have a full tank of emotional gas to pour into those you lead you need to ensure you are “led and fed” as well.  Sadly though, what we tend to do as diligent, dedicated leaders is to keep pouring out into other people – giving and giving without paying attention to our emotional gas gauge.  The next thing you know, you’re on empty.  When a leader has an empty emotional gas tank he/she cannot lead well, and it does a disservice to those being led.

In order to be alive and engaged wholehearted leaders we must ensure we “work off the top of the tank”.  We must keep refilling our emotional tanks.  But in order to do that we must be aware of what fills our emotional tanks.  Is it quiet time, friend time, wilderness time, mountain time, music time, coffee time, chocolate time, movie time, boating time, book time, prayer time, motorcycle time, driving time, beach time, travel time, conference time, hike time, walk time, gardening time, study time or something else kind of time?  Whatever it is, it takes time.

What fills up your heart?  What fills your soul?  What gives you the energy you need to stay engaged so you can ‘lead and feed’ others?

Discover that and then determine – for the sake of those you lead and feed – to take time to be ‘led and fed’ yourself.  It is not selfish to take the time and resource to invest in yourself so you can better lead others.

In fact, it is irresponsible not to do so.

I had a profound experience at a leadership retreat many years ago.  We engaged in an exercise called the Medicine Game.  We did this after we had the opportunity to get to know the life stories of the other participants and some of the pain many had suffered.  We stood in a circle of 30 people.  Each of us was given 6 beans representing the ‘medicine’ people needed to be ‘healed’.  One at a time we then walked to each person in the circle, stood face to face with them and said, “I have some medicine for you.”  Or, “I don’t have any medicine for you.”

It was very difficult to have to tell many of the group that I didn’t have any medicine for them.  The lesson being that we cannot help everyone.  However, the biggest lesson for me came when I got back to my original position with no beans and was asked by the facilitator, “You haven’t saved any medicine for yourself – how can you help others if you don’t take care of yourself?”

If you are leading and feeding others, you must be led and fed.  Ensure you work off the top of the tank – don’t run out of gas.

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