Leadership for me is more about the sort of person I am and how I respond to life and opportunity than what I know. Leadership springs from within. It’s about who I am as much as what I do…
I actually didn’t go to school to be a leader. I didn’t become a leader by simply reading an instruction manual, or learning one-size-fits-all rules. My most convincing and useful tool has been not what I know but who I am – a person with a growing understanding who he is and what’s important to him. Leadership is a life – a way of living. The way you lead should flow from the core of the leader’s being: one’s identity, worldview and priorities.
My leadership has been a life-long work in progress, drawing on a continually maturing understanding of myself. The most effective leaders I’ve met appreciate the opportunity to continue learning about themselves and their world, and look forward to new discoveries and interests. Effective leadership begins with self-leadership – a quiet ego – which comes from a healthy sense of self-awareness.
By self-awareness I mean the capacity to be honest and open when it comes to both my strengths, weaknesses and limitations. To be self-aware means I try to be conscious and forthright about my tendencies, inclinations and blind spots. It’s the ability to recognize and understand what makes me tick – my moods, emotions and drives. Being able to think before I act. I’ve developed (mostly the hard way) a sharper sense of the way I impact others; the effect I have on the room, and why people react to me the way they do, positively and negatively. I’ve also had to develop a clearer grasp on why I react the way I do when I encounter adversity or threatening circumstances. Self-awareness is an on-going work in my life.
Jesus was the most self-aware human being that ever lived, the epitome of the self-aware leader. It was a great source of strength for him. His baptism was an affirmation of who he was and how much his Father loved him. His temptations in the wilderness focused on his self-awareness. It was a time when his self-awareness was tested and strengthened. The foot washing illustrated that though he was self-aware he wasn’t self-absorbed. He understood who he was, what he came to earth to do, and how he was going to accomplish his mission. His self-awareness freed him to live generously and give himself away.
Where does a healthy self-awareness come from? Well, it doesn’t just appear in our lives out of the blue, it’s developed in a surprising way. I’ve discovered that the more God-aware I’ve become the more self-aware I’ve become. You might say that my journey of becoming a leader has also been a journey of self-discovery – a journey that began and continues with knowing and being known by God.
This is an ancient idea. Proverbs declares:
The Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit,
exposing every hidden motive. (Prov. 20:27)
The apostle Paul wrote:
10 But it was to us that God revealed these things by his Spirit. For his Spirit searches out everything and shows us God’s deep secrets. 11 No one can know a person’s thoughts except that person’s own spirit, and no one can know God’s thoughts except God’s own Spirit. 12 And we have received God’s Spirit (not the world’s spirit), so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us. (1Cor. 2:10-12)
The Scriptures describe an inner journey directed by God’s Word and the whispers of his Holy Spirit within us. He not only reads our minds and discerns our motives but holds up a mirror so we can see ourselves clearly and experience what David called, “truth in the inward parts” (Ps. 51:6).
1O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me…
17How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!…
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Julian of Norwich, a 14th and early 15th century mystic wrote, “It is easier for us to get to know God than to know our own soul…God is nearer to us than our soul, for He is the ground in which it stands…so if we want to know our own soul, and enjoy its fellowship, it is necessary to seek it in our Lord God.”
I can find my true self and be at my best by getting to know God. Growing in self-awareness by drawing closer to God has brought balance to my life: the better I understand my Creator, the more confidence I have in my place in his world. The more I understand his ways, the more I know what I should keep in my life, and what I don’t need anymore.
As I’ve seen myself more clearly, the more confident and creative a leader I’ve become. I make wiser decisions, build stronger relationships, and become a more effective communicator. It’s made me a safer leader – less likely to lie, cheat, steal or abuse my authority.
It seems the further I journey, the further I realize I’ve yet to travel. But the closer I’m able to draw to God, the more I’m becoming the person and leader he created me to be.
This is a journey every spiritual leader must take, so embrace it…