When Avon’s Executive VP Andrea Jung was passed over for CEO at age 39, her board member Ann Moore, then CEO of Time Inc., gave her some great advice: “Follow your compass and not your clock.”

Compass symbolLeaders regularly have clocks in their heads; time-frames within which certain things should happen in their lives. I’m not talking about project deadlines. We have plenty of those, too. Rather, at a higher level, perhaps fueled by selfish ambition, we assume that our leadership trajectory should reach particular points by particular times.

This can be as true in a church as a business.

Over the years I have spoken with many leaders who have expressed some degree of frustration because “I thought by now that I would be…” They have worked hard and “expected more to happen by now.”

The clocks all have different sizes and settings. Perhaps it’s two years to achieve certain growth objectives (congregational size, business profits, or something similar). Perhaps it’s three years to achieve certain leadership status (a senior or executive role of some kind). Perhaps it’s measured even in decades by some of us, expecting that by our 50’s we would have our greatest influence and opportunities. Clocks and more clocks. They tick away relentlessly within many of us.

Ann Moore’s advice helps us get perspective.

What matters most is not the incessant tick-tocking in our minds, but the compasses in our hearts. Ultimately, we cannot control our circumstances; we can only control our character. And if we compromise our character simply to accelerate the clock, we will forfeit what matters most.

Bill George calls this our “True North.” Have we identified the core values and principles that will guide our lives, even under the pressure of “the clock”? This compass approach to leadership helps us remain authentic and true to God. He determines the times and seasons, not us.

Perhaps you’ve been wrestling recently with the current season of your life. “Follow your compass, not your clock.”