In the last edition of Vision Essentials we talked about knowing our capacity to lead. The talk was entirely based around leading others. Essential as this may be, there is another principle of leadership that cannot be divorced from the above, and that is self-leadership. Leading others can be difficult and challenging, but leading one’s self may prove to be much more difficult. I believe leading others is made easier when we’re able to lead ourselves effectively.
Let’s see what lessons we can learn about self-leadership by looking at two individuals who, from different life circumstances, became great leaders of people because they were able to lead themselves.
One of the world’s greatest leaders, Nelson Mandela, died this month and dignitaries from across the world turned out to pay their respects. Mandela was imprisoned for over 27 years for campaigning for freedom, equality and democracy for his South African countrymen. During his time of incarceration he could have harboured bitterness and resentment for the injustice done to him; he could have nurtured a desire to exact revenge and retribution on those who had unjustly taken away his freedom and life. That would have been a normal human response, but when Mandela was freed in 1990 it was clear that he had taken a different path. In place of bitterness and hate he displayed forgiveness and love; instead of revenge he sought reconciliation; instead of division he pursued unity for the peoples of South Africa. How was he able to do that? Was it because he was unique above all other human beings? I don’t believe so. The man who went from prisoner to president, who became the greatest leader of our time, learned a valuable lesson while he was in prison. He learnt how to lead himself. In doing so he achieved the goal that millions are now benefitting from. Who knows what South Africa would be like now if Mandela had not spent those years in prison. Would he have become the iconic world leader that he was, admired by millions, if he hadn’t spent years learning how to lead himself? The answer is probably no! Hardship, trouble and adverse circumstances often serve to test and strengthen the nature of a person’s character. We have to recognise and treat each struggle as a means of growing ourselves in self-leadership; to discipline ourselves to stay true to our purpose, and to make the right choices in testing times.
David, before he became king of Israel, faced such a test. Returning home to Ziklag from his travels amongst the Philistines he and his men found the town deserted and burnt to the ground (1 Samuel 30: 1-19). Not a thing was left. The Amalekites had raided, taken their wives, children and livestock – everything! The men were distraught. They wept until they had no more strength left – such was the level of their grief and distress. Things got even worse when the embittered men (600 in total) placed the blame squarely on David and spoke of killing him. He was in real trouble. In that moment of crisis David could have panicked and fled the scene for fear of his life. He could have become angry and bitter against his men for their unfaithfulness. He could have walked away from the future that had been promised through the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 16:1,13), but look at what he did in that situation.
If David was to be of any use to his men, and find a way of addressing the prevailing need, it was critical that he ordered his own inner world so that he could effectively lead his company to recovery and ultimate victory.
Both Mandela and David emerged from their testing situations better and stronger leaders. Good self-leadership is essential for leaders who are committed to helping their people to fulfil their Yah-given purpose. Before you think you ought to be leading an area of service, a ministry team or a local fellowship, ask yourself the question: “Am I leading myself?” You see, leading your ‘self’ is like a microcosm of the family, ministry or fellowship that you lead. So, do it well!
The better you’re able to lead yourself . . .
. . . the better you’ll be able to lead others to achieve the vision that has been shared
“If you don’t do personal budgeting, how would anyone want to trust you with the budget of a million dollar company?” Anon
“Leadership development is self-development.” John Agno
“Leadership consists not in degrees of technique but in traits of character; it requires moral rather than athletic or intellectual effort, and it imposes on both leader and follower alike the burdens of self-restraint.” Lewis P. Lapham
Whoever pursues righteousness and love finds life, prosperity and honour. Proverbs 21:21
For the eyes of Yahweh range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. 2 Chronicles 16:9
FATHER IN HEAVEN, I recognise that my leadership of people will only be as good as my leadership of myself, so please mould and fashion my character so that I’ll become a ‘shepherd after your own heart’. In difficult and testing times may I learn to seek your face and remain faithful to your will and purpose.