While counseling many people over the years, I’ve made some interesting observations people commonly take when it comes to viewing what happens in our lives. When it comes to facing challenges, establishing and achieving goals, and dealing with life in general, there seem to be some common approaches. Some feel that they’re in almost total control (at least much of the time). Others feel that they have no control and are constantly trying to juggle whatever life seems to throw at them. Still others take an approach somewhere between these two extremes, feeling like they do fairly well at achieving some goals but realize they need to be flexible to unexpected changes or barriers.
Wherever you may fall in this mix, learning to lead yourself well is one of the most important things you’ll ever do as a leader. And it starts by recognizing that we are responsible for leading our lives. The challenge for most of us is that we seldom see ourselves realistically. Human nature seems to give us the ability to size up everybody in the world except ourselves. It’s easier for me to see other people’s strengths or weaknesses than my own. What are some things we can put into place to help us lead ourselves productively and realistically? Leadership John Maxwell suggests four areas to focus on.
First, learn followership. Bishop Fulton J. Sheen remarked, “Civilization is always in danger when those who have never learned to obey are given the right to command.” Leaders who have followed well know how to lead others well. Good leadership means an understanding of the world that followers live in. Secondly, develop self-discipline. We are responsible for ruling our actions and decisions. If we fail to be disciplined we run the risk of losing control of ourselves—we may do or say things we regret, to miss opportunities that come our way.
Third, we need to be patient. This is a tough one. We are used to things happening fast in our world, which makes exercising patience difficult. Thinking and planning ahead can help us avoid the pitfalls of decisions made with impatience. And finally, leading ourselves well means seeking accountability. None of us are perfect. Having a confidant can act as a check and balance for us. We gain an outside perspective that we may be blind to.
The Apostle Paul took his leadership seriously. He writes, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” In other words, Paul worked hard at leading himself so that he could effectively lead others.