“It’s just a busy season. I promise I’ll be home more when I finish this project.” I apologized to my husband as I raced out the door for an early-morning meeting that would be followed by a full day and a late-night event. When I snuck into bed later that evening hoping I wouldn’t wake him, he sighed and quietly said, “It’s not just a season, Jen. It’s you. There’s always another project. There’s always more you need to do. It doesn’t matter what the job is or who your boss is; you always run yourself ragged. You have to make choices that will sustain you.”
As I’m sure you can imagine, I didn’t receive his comments well. And it wasn’t just that I was tired and irritable; it was because he was right. I knew it, but I didn’t want to admit it. I wanted to believe I was the victim of my circumstances, but the truth was that I needed to make some wiser choices and create some healthy boundaries that would enable me to lead better for the long haul. I was touting health and balance to my team but making excuses for why those same principles didn’t apply to me.
My Leadership “Aha” Moment
That discussion and many others like it have caused me to learn what I believe is one of the most important lessons in leadership: lead yourself well to lead others better. It’s the grand “aha” of my leadership journey that has become something like beating my head against the proverbial wall. When am I going to get this? When will I understand that I must learn to lead myself well before I ever hope to lead and influence others?
Leaders like to lead. And when we say we like to lead, we usually mean we like to lead others, right? But if you can’t lead yourself well, you will be ill equipped to lead others. This is counterintuitive to our desire to lead. Let’s be honest, our desire to lead is often predicated by a desire to control. We may not call it that, but with a little excavation of our hearts, we find our desire to control underlying our motivation.
Part of the responsibility of leadership is understanding our influence on others. Leadership is only as strong as the leader. And that responsibility, if you’re grasping the weight of it, is the reason why your leadership journey must begin with leading yourself well.
In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12, Jesus was being challenged with controversial questions about taxes and the resurrection. The final question posed to him was, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (v. 28). Jesus responded with a fundamental biblical truth known as the Shema or more commonly understood as the Great Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (v. 30). Then he proceeded to give those questioning him the second greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (v. 31).
Lead with Everything You Are
When Jesus asked us to love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength, he was saying that we should love God with all of ourselves—with everything in us. When he says love your neighbor as yourself, again the implication is to love with all of who you are. And so when I consider my life as a leader, it means leading with all of who I am for the benefit of God and others. Leadership requires all of me—my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength. To not give all of me would be to shortchange God and others of what God has given me.
We can’t lead without our heart. We can’t lead without our soul. We can’t lead without our mind. We can’t lead without our strength. We are integrated, messy, complicated humans, and when we learn that leading from all four of these dimensions is essential, we free ourselves to lead more fully.
Before we can lead others authentically from our heart, soul, mind, and strength, however, we need to understand how this framework plays out in our self-leadership. Let’s take a closer look at each of these dimensions.
Heart (Relational Leadership)
The heart of a leader is the truest part of who she is. Your heart is the center of your emotions, desires, and wishes. Your heart is what most connects you with others. “Love God, love others” begins here in the heart. It’s the relational dimension of leadership.
Leading from your heart means leading with an understanding of who you are. We must understand what motivates and influences us before we can lead others from a sincere heart. We have the potential to understand others better when we first understand ourselves.
Soul (Spiritual Leadership)
The soul is the part of us that longs to know God. It’s the epicenter of morality, integrity, humility, and servanthood. Leading from the soul is about developing the character of Christ. Our greatest motivation as leaders should be our desire for those we lead to see God in us. If people do not see God’s work in our lives, we have limited influence by which to lead them.
Mind (Strategic Leadership)
The mind is the seat of intellectual activity. It’s what enables us to deliberate, to process, to reflect, to ponder, and to remember. The mind enables us to strategize and make plans. It’s where we find clarity and where God imparts wisdom. The mind could also be viewed as the strategic component of leadership.
Leading ourselves well in this dimension means being committed to lifelong learning, reading ferociously, and surrounding yourself with people wiser than you. As a leader, you must commit to constant learning and be a fanatic about it.
Strength (Visionary Leadership)
As leaders, we provide strength for our teams when we understand the power of vision. Those you lead must know that you deeply believe in where you’re leading them and why. It involves being disciplined, developing perseverance, and taking initiative. Visionary leadership means keeping hope and possibility in front of yourself and those you lead.
Self-leadership is the hard work behind the scenes that prepares you for great leadership. Understanding who you are, cultivating your character, committing to lifelong learning, and developing discipline provide the framework for fostering the leadership of self.
The great irony of self-leadership is that as we grow more effective at leading ourselves, we become more selfless. Healthy self-leadership provides the perspective from which we become more other-centric rather than self-centered. By tackling some of the challenges that tend to derail or distract us, we become better equipped to lead from our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength.
As I’ve focused on leading myself well I’ve become increasingly aware of the moments that lead to those late night exasperated conversations with my husband. I’m more in tune to when my emotions are impacting my actions or when my ambition is at odds with the character of Christ being formed in me. I notice when my strategic planning and audacious dreaming cause me to become overextended and short-tempered. And little by little, I’m seeing glimpses of what it looks like to lead with all of my heart, all of my soul, all of my mind, and all of my strength.
Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach. She has also served as an executive leader at both Menlo Church in Menlo Park, California, and Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tennessee. Excerpts of this article are from Jenni’s book The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership: The Power of Leading from Your Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength.