Pubilius Syrus once said,
Would you have a great empire? Rule over yourself.
Say the word leadership in any circle of “influencers” and gifted leaders and chances are the conversation will immediately turn to the subject of leading others. That’s what leadership is… right? We as church leaders, pastors, servants, and volunteers spend most of our week leading others. As Christians and leaders, we are quick to look at our role of leadership as our influence and impact on those around us! Yet sometimes, in our effort to become better leaders, we often overlook the biggest leadership challenge we will ever face… leading ourselves. We tend to neglect managing ourselves because self-leadership is much more difficult than leading others. It’s much more personal and sometimes messier.
In my opinion the most important ingredient of becoming an exceptional leader is the ability to lead yourself. This is the ability to make the right calls for your own life, not just for those that may consider you a leader. These decisions shape you as a leader and preserve your “ministry” and leadership platform. Andy Stanley said,
We are always one decision, one word, one reaction away from damaging what has taken years to develop.
Self-leadership is crucial, one of the most difficult leadership characteristics to grow, and one of the most difficult character traits to find in a growing leader. We leaders need to spend just as much time, if not more time, caring for our own growth as leaders as we do with “leading the masses.” We need to spend time wrestling with that which needs to be wrestled, time and time again, so that our teams, families, and organizations can be rewarded for our private victories.
The first person you lead is yourself. In truth, any failure to lead yourself well will cripple your chances of leading, helping, or discipling others.
In his book Leading From the Inside Out, Samuel Rima states,
The way in which a leader conducts his personal life does, in fact, have a profound impact on his ability to exercise effective public leadership. There is a direct correlation between self-leadership and public leadership.
So, here are a few quick thoughts I have about self-leadership. Let’s think together!
What does success look like to you?
We often let other people define what success looks like. Too often we live by the desires of our parents, bosses, professors, and peers. In actuality what you were designed for is unique! What I was designed for is also unique and probably entirely different than your purpose. The fact that we each have an individual calling should mean that we also each have an individual definition of what success is and looks like.
For example… success for a stockbroker will look entirely different than success for a missionary. To define both individuals success by money, net worth, accolades would do one or both an injustice.
In the same spirit each individual pastors definition of success may look different. I surely hope that our ideas of success for a rural church and an inner city church have differences! Obviously they will have similarities… but they should also have differences.
Define your success and pursue it. Target your leading in the proper direction… I was once told,
Being busy isn’t the same as being fulfilled.
If we continually live by other peoples definitions of success then we will stay busy… but we may not ever be fulfilled. Be unique…. don’t let those around you decide what a good life should look like!
Set a course.
As a millennial that can’t navigate using a map with much success I believe one of the best technological advances in the last 50 years has got to be portable navigational tools like a GPS or even an app built into your phone! Nothing is simpler and more satisfying than speaking where you want to go into your cell phone and getting step by step instructions spoken back to you as you drive. The days of needing a competent navigator are over!
One of the things that was lost with this advance though has got to be the ability to navigate alternate routes and understand what avenue or obstacles stand between point A and point B. We are a direct route people now because of the invention of the GPS. Scenic routes are outdated and a waste of time… right?
One of the things every self-leader needs is a sense of direction. Where are you headed and what route are you going to take to get there?
Unlike the physical realm we live in, unfortunately we can’t just punch in the destination into our GPS and get the most direct route to it. God is like a map… and we are used to GPS. Sometimes the route may seem unconventional… so we need to ask for our direction and trust our navigator and his tools to get us there.
It is critical to make sure you are headed in a direction that will accomplish your purpose and glorify your Savior, not just pacify your feelings, wants, or lack of drive… hear me out when I say that a bad day or a bad week does not require a knee jerk reaction that could ultimately knock you off course just because you’re not where you want to be right now! Don’t just look at how today has gone, look at the bigger picture. Is your trajectory correct? Are you on course? Then stay the path, keep the faith in spite of a setback… our discipline in this area will lead to growth in other areas!
On August 5, 2001 major league baseball witnessed its greatest comeback in history as the Cleveland Indians rallied from a 12-run deficit to defeat the Seattle Mariners 15-14 in 11 innings.
Just like a baseball game isn’t won or lost in the 1st inning… we too must play the long game in life.
Be patient. In every action, moment, and self-conversation. Remember why you’re here. Don’t give up what you want most for what you want now. Embrace the call to give everything to see the Kingdom advance; for that is its own reward.
Engage the old. Put on the new.
An important part of the self-leadership process is highlighted in Ephesians 4:20-24 where it says,
But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
That verse says to put “off” our old self. Do you sometimes feel like your “old self” just won’t let go? Like it lays in wait to catch you at your weakest… whether it’s an attack in the mind or an attack in the flesh, they are all the same. But… as leaders we must fight it!
You can’t transform what you don’t engage.
As leaders, we must decide who we want to be and then align our lives so we become just that. This is not easy because the person you do not want to be is the person you will most naturally become if left to your own devices. In Matthew 16:25 Jesus said,
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.
Self-leaders must die to the natural tendencies inside them to become who God is calling them to be. God is calling us to become inside-out leaders… leaders who are defined more by who we are on the inside than by who we seem to be on the outside.
Our culture has developed us into people who are quick to adopt new habits, vocabulary, styles, and behaviors. We learn these things and add them to our repertoire, put them up on a shelf to pull down when and if we ever need them. We add them to the life we have built and carry on. But as leaders and as Christians who are pursuing holiness we must take off the old before we put on the new. We need to deal with the junk that comes to cling to our heart along the way. We need to remove the old ways of thinking; bad habits, attitudes, and prejudices that will hold us back. We can sweep the old behavior under a new rug, but if we don’t address and engage it, rest assured, it will come back to bite.
You wouldn’t deal with a mold colony by merely covering it up with a rug or some wallpaper, because although it might seem good for a while the problem is still just under the surface waiting for its opportunity to return. In the same sense we can’t just “cover up” the old and smelly we must fight the old before becoming the new.
1 Corinthians 10:13 says,
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
Spend time outside your comfort zone.
A comfort zone is defined as:
A psychological state in which a person feels familiar, at ease, in control, and experiences low anxiety. A person in this state uses a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk.
Your comfort zone is a psychological place where you feel safe and in control. You experience low-anxiety and you’re using a limited set of behaviors. This means you’re not growing or developing any new skills. Essentially you’re stuck on autopilot, you’re just going through the motions. Clearly this is not the place from which to lead.
Will Rogers said,
You’ve got to go out on a limb sometimes because that’s where the fruit is.
It’s in our comfort zone that we feel safe and secure. It’s the zone of routine, the place where we do those things we find safe, comfortable, easy and familiar. The comfort zone is a place where nothing particularly challenging happens.
Denis Waitley says,
Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.
Successful leaders know that they must get out of their comfort zone to succeed. Leadership begins at the end of your comfort zone, and starts in the learning zone. Great leaders from history are those who have spent a large amount of their time outside their comfort zone such as Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, Henry Ford, Elon Musk, and many, many more. These are leaders who have dared to step out their comfort zone. History has shown that life rewards the risk-takers.
Leaders who take risks and step outside their comfort zone and into their “learning zone” are those that succeed. It’s only when you can give up what’s safe and familiar that you create opportunities and develop new capabilities. As you do, you expand your influence and gain the skills required to take on bigger and bigger challenges.
Leaders are self-made and not born, they are developed, not promoted. Leadership is a learned skill that is developed as you step out of your comfort zone. You only grow when you are at the edge of yourself.
I talk about this a lot. Getting out of your comfort zone is remarkably good for you at every level. When was the last time you got uncomfortable in order to grow? Can you even remember? Leaving the comfort zone broadens your horizons, sharpens your senses, and most importantly it causes you to pay attention. Are you paying attention to the path God has put before you? How about the one that leaves your area of comfort
Don’t limit yourself! Don’t limit what God can do through you by being fearful of the unknown and the uncomfortable! Our purposes may demand that we grow to see them through. Our purposes demand the courage to take risks, to step out on faith! You will never discover your full potential unless you step outside your comfort zone. To grow you must put yourself in a place where more is demanded of you.
Joshua 1:9 says,
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says,
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
I believe that the biggest danger of living in a comfort zone is that after a while you begin to think that average is acceptable, because comfort zones encourage mediocrity.
It’s like going to gym for the first time. The exercises are difficult and you struggle. They take a lot of energy motivation to complete. However, each week you grow stronger, the exercises become easier and they require less energy to complete. However, as the exercises become easier, you get less physical benefit. Soon you find yourself becoming used to your exercise routine, your heart rate no longer rises and you’re not sore in the mornings. When this happens you’re no longer growing stronger. You’re in a comfort zone. The solution? You need to change your exercise routine. You need to switch to a new set of exercises. The same principle holds for other areas in our lives.
Brian Tracy said,
Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.
Unless you spend time out of your comfort zone and in your learning zone you’ll fail to grow. You can go to gym every day, doing the same exercises for months and months without and benefit. If what you’re doing is comfortable and easy, you’re not in the learning zone. And if you’re not in your learning zone you’re not growing.
Ask for help.
John Wooden once said,
We’re all imperfect and we all have needs. The weak usually do not ask for help, so they stay weak. If we recognize that we are imperfect, we will ask for help and we will pray for the guidance necessary to bring positive results to whatever we are doing.
Asking for help is something that has taken me a long time to do… and I still do not like to do it! I hate the idea of being dependent on someone else or troubling someone else when I was raised to be confident, strong, and independent.
For a long time I thought that asking for help meant I was dependent, weak, uncertain of what do to. To me it meant I was not smart enough, strong enough, determined enough, good enough, or worthy enough. I say all of that because I know that I am not alone. Many leaders never ask for help! Instead of asking for support, we try to do everything ourselves. We do whatever it takes to get the job done on our own, and in the end, we feel a sense of accomplishment for achieving the feat that was deemed impossible.
But… the truth is, we never do anything on our own.
God is there to answer the call and as leaders we have many around us who are also willing and ready to answer the call and help carry the torch.
We must be willing to grow, and involve others in that growth. As leaders we aren’t alone…we have a team. Your strongpoint may not be mine and that is okay as long as we lean on each other in those areas! A basketball game isn’t won or lost because of one player. Involve others. Ask for and listen to outside counsel. Seek out wisdom on areas you need to grow in, and never be afraid to ask for help.
So… what other self-leadership strategies must we put into place?