“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).