There are plenty of habits that will make you a better leader. Read books. Get up on time. Exercise. Drink water. Get coaching. Find a mentor. Pray. Meditate. Rumble. Read blog posts about becoming a better leader, etc.

But three practices emerge repeatedly as what I would unreservedly call “life-saving” for leaders. That is to say when the company, the church, or the whole world seems to be falling apart and your soul is buckling under the pressure of it all, these are the three habits that, when practiced consistently and in tandem with one another, might just prevent your utter demise.

Here they are…

#1. Grit.

Or… getting up again tomorrow. Going back to work. Even when it’s really, really hard.

When the numbers aren’t coming in, the team isn’t catching the vision, and you feel tired in ways you didn’t know you could feel tired, grit might just save your life.

Angela Duckworth says in her excellent book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance:

Many of us, it seems, quit what we start far too early and far too often. Even more than the effort a gritty person puts in on a single day, what matters is that they wake up the next day, and the next, ready to get on that treadmill and keep going.

I have a vivid memory of two plaques that hung on the wall in my grandparents’ home in Rockfield, Kentucky. One said,

Do you want to talk to the person in charge? Or the person who knows what’s going on?

It had been cross-stitched for my grandfather by someone who knew that he, as a Tool-and-Dye Foreman at Holley Carburetor (but never in a white-collar management position) had dealt with a ton of problems and issues over his years of service to the company.

The second was a rather nice clock given to him in appreciation for his 33 years of service at Holley.

Thirty-three years of correcting mistakes, sorting out conflicts between laborers, and implementing policy changes handed down from the higher-ups. That took grit.

And grit is what will get you through some of the slowest trudging you’ll ever do. But, without the other two practices, it might just make you miserable, too.

#2. Grace.

Grace is a big word with many layers of meaning built into it, so let me offer a substitute word that makes it clear what kind of grace I’m talking about… Allowance.

Leaders who thrive make allowance for imperfection. That doesn’t mean they tolerate mediocrity or failure forever without acting to correct it. But it does mean that perfectionism will almost always lead you to burnout, while grace will be the buffer you need between yourself and rock bottom.

We need to show grace to ourselves rather than being our own biggest critics. One of my favorite baseball players was Tony Gwynn. The man was a hitting legend. A machine who cranked out a lifetime batting average of .338.

If you’re baseball illiterate, .338 is really high for a month, or a season . And .338 over a career takes a lot of grit! (Gwynn ranks #16 on the all-time list.)

But it also takes grace. Why? Because hitting .338 means that you’ve not gotten a hit in 66.2% of your appearances at home plate. Maybe you’ve heard it said that “nobody bats a thousand” but more accurately, nobody bats four hundred! No player has had a .400+ season since World War II.

You will not get it all right. You won’t show up for everyone perfectly. You’re going to bomb some sermons, presentations, or interviews. You’re going to totally screw things up sometimes.

Grit will make you go back to work, but grace will restore your joy and peace in doing so.

And we also need to make allowance for others. For those we serve. For those who serve alongside us on the team. For those who report directly to us. For people with different beliefs and political viewpoints. For people who’ve been hurt and, therefore, can be hurtful sometimes.

Sometimes we need more grace for the whole world. Otherwise, we’ll become bitter, and few forces are as destructive as someone who is both gritty and bitter!

#3. Gratitude.

And gratitude ties it all together. Grit gets us up every morning. Grace makes the hard days manageable. Gratitude is one of the most powerful practices a leader can develop.

When things are good, give thanks. When things are hard, give thanks. Because giving thanks is a matter of intentionally choosing to recognize what is going right amid any circumstance, even if a lot of things are going wrong.

My recommendation is to start a gratitude journal (or add a gratitude section to your current journaling practice) and write down at least three things you’re thankful for every day. They don’t have to be big. They just have to be true.

Gratitude re-wires our brains to look for the positive, and in this world, we need all the help we can get looking for the gifts worth celebrating.