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Inside Out Leadership: Leading Others by Leading Yourself

It has long been understood that leadership is about influence.  That’s just what leaders do.  They influence the people around them toward a specific goal or a desired outcome.  When we trust ourselves to a leader we subconsciously submit ourselves to their influence.  That influence effects our worldview, convictions, attitudes and even lifestyles.

Leadership is a privilege that comes with great responsibility. Most of us are so eager to make a difference that we focus all our time and energy on influencing others.  We think, pray, plan and strategize so that we can leave a lasting impact on the people around us.  This is a good thing, but it shouldn’t be the primary focus of our leadership efforts.

A lot of leadership books, philosophies and approaches focus almost entirely on the external factors of leadership.  They’re concerned with casting vision, clarifying objectives, setting goals and motivating followers, but they miss the core responsibility of a leader, the responsibility to lead himself.

As Goes The Leader

When I volunteered as the chaplain of my college football team I made it my ambition to glorify God by winning as many of my teammates to Jesus as I could.  There were 100+ guys on the team and only three of us were Christians at the time.  I was a freshman and had zero leadership experience, but I knew that God was calling me to make a big difference on our team.

I read some books, talked with some friends and assumed I had everything I needed. I was wrong.  I did what I thought would make a difference.  I set a vision to see a team as committed to Christ as it was to championships.  I made it clear that my objective was to glorify God and make disciples.  I even had a strategy for how I was going to see those objectives accomplished.

The two other Christian teammates and I decided that we would host Bible studies once a week and do a devotional after practice on the field so that our teammates could stop to hear the gospel on their way into the locker room.  Sadly, we never had more than one teammate show up for the entire first year, and he only came a few times!

Our lack of results were embarrassing.  To say that we wanted to quit would be an understatement. Wanting to give this leadership thing one more try, I devoted my summer to prayer and contemplation so that I could identify exactly why our efforts weren’t having the impact I had expected. What I found haunted me for the entire summer.

As I examined my leadership, God began to make it painfully clear that the reason I couldn’t lead others was because I wasn’t leading myself.  My life didn’t reflect what I claimed to believe and my teammates could tell.  I was undisciplined, inconsistent and, at times, very contradictory. No wonder I didn’t have influence. How could I ask my teammates to do what I wasn’t doing?

Image via recoverydays.com

Image via recoverydays.com

Leading from the Inside Out

A veteran church leader named Paul emphasizes the importance of self-leadership in a letter he wrote to an upcoming leader named Timothy.  In the letter Paul specifically tells Timothy to, “watch [his] life and doctrine closely, persevere in them, because if [he does he] will save both [himself] and his hearers.” (1 Timothy 4:16) In other words, a leader’s primary responsibility is to lead himself. Why? Because our example to others is what brings Jesus’ to life for others.

Paul’s message is simple.  You can’t give what you don’t have and you can’t ask others to do that which you are not doing.  If Timothy wants to influence others toward Jesus, then he must be living in a way that is consistent with the gospel.  His life and his teaching must be consistent with one another.  The Word of God actually needs to shape his convictions and conduct.  He can’t just tell people about Jesus, he must be personally devoted to Jesus himself.

Do you want to lead with greater influence? Great, then master the art of self-leadership.  People will do as you do, not as you say.  Focus your attention on the Lord’s work in your own life.  Learn to bring yourself before God daily and allow him to do work on your inner being.  Let Jesus transform and rule over your convictions, character and conduct.  Then and only then will you be able to influence others in the way that you desire.

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