How Do I Lead Myself?

Leadership Is Hard

Leadership is one of the hardest things to do. It is a multi-dimensional function.

You see, when most people think of leadership, they often think of downward leadership (leading subordinates for whom they are responsible). This is sometimes difficult for a complexity of reasons. Yet that is not the whole terrain of leadership. A leader often has to exercise upward leadership as well (i.e., leading seniors as the leadership task might require). If the seniors are kind to you, it is easier. Otherwise, it can be rather challenging.

As difficult as it may be to lead either downward or upward, nothing really prepares the leader for the immense difficulty of exercising peer leadership (i.e., leading one’s co-equals, perceived or otherwise). This is often much more difficult because of a common defiant attitude among peers: “Who do you think you are to lead us?”

Unless the organizational culture (how we do things here) and the organizational climate (how do we feel about the way we do things here) foster healthy peer leadership, to lead one’s peers can be an ongoing nightmare. The key to overcoming that is to define clear leadership roles, determine clear decision making processes and develop strong leadership credibility.

But this is not our present focus. I want to deal with something much harder. Something that would help us in the multi dimensional landscape of leadership. There is yet a final frontier. The hardest challenge in leadership is not peer leadership, as challenging as that may be. There is a much harder leadership terrain.

The Hardest Thing of All

In essence, the most difficult leadership task of all is to lead inward – the daunting task of personal leadership. And the consequence is most significant.

In the January 2002 edition of Charisma Magazine, there was an attention grabbing editorial. It sought to explain why Charisma Magazine would no longer feature Christian celebrities on its cover. With touching honesty, the editor wrote:

This magazine has had its share of Christian celebrities on its covers: Pastors of mega churches, award-winning musicians, bestselling authors, you name it. We all love famous people – perhaps because we envy their success, or maybe because we are just curious whether they have flaws.

In the end, these flawed celebrities often disappoint us. Ten of the ministry leaders we featured on the covers of Charisma in the 1980s eventually endured embarrassing scandals. And two of the six mega churches we featured 16 years ago in a series called “Outstanding Churches of America” disbanded because of moral failures.

What seems to glitter with success today may not stand the heat of God’s refining fire tomorrow. What grabs the spotlight usually turns out to be a distracting sideshow.

Quite right. For what it does is to highlight the hardest leadership task of all. For if I am not able to lead myself, how can I effectively lead others (since leadership has a great deal to do with modeling and mentoring)?

Leading Oneself

Dee Hock, leadership thinker and author of books on chaordic organizations and leadership made a stunning statement: “Leaders should spend fifty percent of their time leading themselves.”

Leading oneself is the hardest thing to do. That takes due diligence.

Perhaps that is why the Apostle Paul’s view on leadership is quite different from that which has come out of slick North American leadership rhetoric for many decades. In the world’s leadership rhetoric, vision, and vision casting are buzz words. So are words like execution, goal setting, benchmarking, creativity, core values, and vital contributions.

There is nothing wrong with such leadership rhetoric per se. The only thing is that they are performance driven. They miss the heart of leading from the inside out. They miss the call to character and perseverance – to lead with due diligence from an inner compass. I am thankful that current leadership literature is steering back to this true north of leadership.

Paul’s Insight to Leadership

Paul’s take on leadership is quietly striking. One of the key verses in the New Testament on leadership is found in Romans 12:8 – “…he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness” (emphasis mine).

Why lead with “diligence?” Why not say “lead with conviction?”
Or, lead with vision?…Why diligence?
Why not lead with courage?…Why diligence?

What does “diligence” mean? Hardworking-ness. The answer then is quite obvious. In order to persevere in conviction, courage, creativity, compassion, and character (and whatever else!) we need diligence. Leadership without diligence is a contradiction of terms. Leaders need to work hard to stay true in conviction, courage, creativity, compassion, and character. That is the essence of personal leadership!

Some might say, if we need diligence for leadership, would it not be true that we need diligence in all things? Sure, leadership is hard work – but so are other ministries. Surely it would be right to say:

Counseling is hard work. Do it with diligence.
Teaching is hard work. Do it with diligence.
Community service is hard work. Do it with diligence.

So why is leadership singled out as something to be done with “diligence?”

First, I do not think that Paul is reserving the quality of “diligence” for leadership alone. Nonetheless, what I am saying is that when Paul thinks of leadership, one word comes to his mind – “diligence!” Why?

And herein lies the difference between leadership and any other ministry in the Kingdom of God. You can just go through the motions in preaching (not what we should do but if we do) and still have a good sermon; you can go through the motions in counseling and still have a good counseling process.

BUT you cannot go through the motions in leadership and still get good leadership! Going through the motions is bad leadership. The key thing is this – “diligence” presupposes a steadfast commitment to resist the status quo and to press on ahead regardless. Diligence does not settle – it presses on and moves on faithfully.

Good leadership has to hold fast to a God given vision, resist the status quo and diligently move on to new ventures, new initiatives, and claim new grounds for the Kingdom of God! Here is precisely the point. Diligent leadership refuses to just go through the motions. And yet, it must be seen that the greatest move from the status quo is in leading oneself. So often, we stop at the status quo in personal leadership!

Song of Solomon 1:6 states something worth our keen attention: “… They made me caretaker of the vineyards, but I have not taken care of my own vineyard.” A modern applicational rendering of that might be: “They made me responsible to lead others but in all the running around, I have not been diligent in managing, stewarding, and leading myself.” How then can we effectively lead others?

How then can we lead from the inside out? What is the key to personal leadership? Determine a steady compass!

Steering by the Compass Above

Herein lies a paradox: To lead from the inward, we must look upward. To God. And I know no better place to start than through Word and Prayer. No magic formula. Just the basics. Prayer and the Word are the true compass for life and ministry.

The Prairie Overcomer once published this story about a boat with two compasses. Before the days of modern satellite navigation, a man boarded a boat to cross the Atlantic. Walking on the boat, he noticed that the boat was equipped with two compasses. One was fixed to the deck where the man at the helm in the wheelhouse could see it. The other compass was fastened up on top of one of the masts. Regularly, a sailor would be seen climbing up to inspect it.

The passenger asked the captain, “Why do you have two compasses?”

“This is an iron vessel,” replied the captain, “and the compass on the deck is often affected by its surroundings. But such is not the case with the compass at the masthead; that one is above the influence. We steer by the compass above.”

As Christian leaders, we too should steer by the compass above. That we might lead accordingly. From upward to inward to outward. That is the true movement of effective personal leadership for life and ministry!

The New American Standard Bible has been referenced.

This article was first published in the May-June 2011 issue of Eagles VantagePoint. Used with permission. For more related articles, check out