Become a Better Leader by Leading Yourself First


It’s a broken record today in the news: another leader taking a very public fall.

We see this with pastors, CEOs, celebrities, elite athletes and more. Male and female, no one is exempt. Perhaps it is the unfortunate reality of this day and age, where people can obtain a substantial amount of influence without actually being a leader. Regardless, it is recurring and devastating. 

People who are role models to children and looked up to by many are making poor decisions that reveal their true character. People who have influence are acting in a way that doesn’t measure up. 

The bottom line is this: Those whose character cannot support their calling or sustain their influence have no business leading.

Although we cannot become better leaders in an instant or improve our character overnight, there are practices that, over time, can help us develop and grow into a worthy leader.

I’ll never forget one of my supervisors, a woman I held in high regard, sharing with me, “You cannot lead others until you are leading yourself.” She then asked, “How are you leading yourself?” 

I was dumbfounded. Was this a trick question? I had no idea how to answer.

Thanks to her intentional investment in the growth of my leadership, I read a book by Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, and it changed my life.

Here’s my simplified breakdown of four practices I learned from Scazzero, which you can incorporate into your daily life to become a better leader starting today:

1. Face your shadow: You can’t change what you aren’t aware of.

Your shadow is the broken and often hidden version of who you are. Sometimes your shadow is the need to be liked by everyone, or maybe it’s an inability to stop working. It’s any untamed emotion or behavior that might be sinful or could simply be a weakness. 

A shadow tends to lie concealed beneath the surface until something triggers it to emerge or erupt from a place of defensiveness and fear. You can identify your shadow by paying attention to any time you have acted inappropriately under pressure, or didn’t want someone to succeed because they hurt you in the past. 

A few ways to face your shadow: name your feelings, work through your family history, identify any negative beliefs you have about yourself, and seek feedback from those you trust. 

2. Lead out of your singleness or marriage: Your relationship status should determine how you express love.

Every good leader’s ultimate mission is to express God’s love for the world. If you are married, this is about depth of love: Your vows focus and limit you to loving one person exclusively, permanently, and intimately. If you are single, this is about breadth of love: Because you are not promised to one person, you have more freedom and time to express the love of God to a broad range of people. 

Both married and single people point to and reveal God’s love, just in different ways. Both can learn from each other about these different aspects of love. You lead out of your marriage well when you keep it the first priority. You lead out of your singleness well when you prioritize self-care, community, and hospitality as top priorities. 

3. Slow your pace: Spend time with God to lead from a place of overflow and abundance.

Slowing down and spending time with God allows you to be filled up, which then allows you to lead, serve, and live from a place of overflow and abundance. If you are always rushing, under pressure, quick to judge, overly concerned about what other people think of you, easily offended, or talking more than listening, you need to slow your pace and deepen your interior reserves. 

This can only happen when you spend time with God. Create sustainable rhythms of rest, silence, and Scripture meditation. Your doing for God should be sustained by your being with God. 

4. Practice the Sabbath: One day of each week do nothing productive and yet rest in the belief that you are utterly loved.

To lead well, we need to remember that we are more than our productivity. Our value comes from being loved by God, and the more we are in tune with that reality, the more open-handed and trustworthy we will become. 

By setting aside Sunday (or another 24-hour period of time each week) where we stop work, enjoy rest, practice delight, and contemplate God, we orient our lives around a sacred rhythm. Our work should not trespass on every area of life, disrupting the balanced rhythm of labor and rest God created for our good. 

If you get more excited about work than spending time with friends and family, take work home on the weekends, or get impatient with those who have other priorities besides work, you might be in danger of workaholism. The Sabbath is God’s gift to us — His holiness and goodness is revealed not only in the way He works but in the way He rests

Many different opinions and theories about leadership exist — be bolder, seek to listen more, work smarter, challenge the status quo, etc. — but only one thing will stand the test of time: the very best leaders lead themselves first. Apply these four practices to develop your interior life and notice how things shift within yourself — and in the way the people you lead respond to you. 


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