Staying Afloat vs. Getting Ahead

As summer begins to wind down and pool days become more and more scarce, I’m sure to treasure a swim with my niece and nephew a little more right now. Being the driven personality that I am, I also always try to make the most of a pool visit by getting in a few laps. It struck me recently just how different swimming laps is from treading water. Though your body may be performing similar motions, arms stroking and legs kicking, there’s no forward motion when you’re treading water. You’re just seeking to stay afloat. Swimming moves you forward.

Not long ago in a consulting conversation, I heard this phrase surface:
“I feel like I’m spending all of my energy keeping us afloat rather than helping us get ahead.”

This leader was expressing a tension that I’m encountering with many of our clients, basically saying, “I don’t have time, energy, or resources to work ON my business because I’m so busy working IN my business.”

Do you feel that too? The pressure of knowing you need to devote time to planning and development, but the reality that the demands of each day seem to require all the hours you have? Do you feel like you’re treading water when you need to be swimming laps?

The reality is that we all must do both in order to successfully achieve our missions. The daily tasks, the meetings, the to-do lists are essential. And so is continuing to assess effectiveness, pursue growth and strategically plan for the future. As cliche as it sounds, it’s a tension to manage, not a problem to solve.


So the question is how do we keep “staying afloat” from stealing our ability to “get ahead?”

You already know the answer. You simply need to apply the answer. To give yourself permission to do these things for yourself.

3 Ways To Stay Afloat AND Get Ahead

1. Delegate to the Point of Discomfort

As the leader, spend the majority of your time doing what only you can do. When you delegate beyond your level of comfort, you don’t just get back your time. You empower your team to grow. You invite innovation. You discover leadership qualities and gifts in your team members that otherwise might be unrealized.

  • Will they have questions and need resources? Yes. (Providing the answers will take less time than doing it yourself.)
  • Does it feel good to let go? No.
  • Will they do things the way you would? Probably not.
  • Will you ALL grow because of it? YES!


2. Calendar On Purpose

We’ve all heard the illustration of putting the big rocks–the mission-critical non-negotiable priorities–into our lives first. The reason we’ve all heard it is that IT WORKS! If we don’t intentionally resist the tyranny of the urgent, it will beat us every time. Determine priorities based on your long-term goals, and schedule time in your calendar to work on them. Divide larger projects into smaller chunks and assign deadlines to them. Give yourself permission, in the form of a block of time on your calendar each week, to “get ahead.”

3. Fight For Margin


Creating margin involves saying, “No.” or “Not now.” to the things vying for your time and attention. You cannot lead well if you have no fuel. Rest is essential to both your health and your effectiveness. And, in case no one has given you the freedom to embrace this lately: you’re human. Build in the rhythms you need to stay the best version of yourself, and keep time for them. Hobbies, spiritual practices, community, rest, entertainment…discover what fuels you and use your margin to refuel.

The current cultural climate is exhausting and demanding in ways we’ve not experienced before. If we heed the wisdom we already know–to delegate well, calendar purposely and fight for margin–the return is staying afloat AND getting ahead. You are in the position of leadership you are in for a reason and I am convinced that you have what it takes to lead through this season, so start swimming!

Keep leading well!
Jenni Catron and The 4Sight Group

Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach who consults churches and non-profits to help them lead from their extraordinary best. She speaks at conferences and churches nationwide, seeking to help others develop their leadership gifts and lead confidently. As Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, she consults with individuals and teams on leadership and organizational health.

Jenni is the author of several books, including Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence and The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.

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