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Are You Leading In?

One simplistic definition of leadership is moving people toward a shared goal or dream.

I’ve written before about the 3 areas of leadership: leading down, leading up, and leading in. Leading down is simply about leading the people who are following you. Leading up is helping your leader grow and becoming more effective. Leading in is all about self-leadership and, in my mind, the most difficult one. What’s more, it’s obvious how leading in affects how we lead up or down. This is the one all of us must practice and no one is exempt. It will make or break the best leaders. We’ve seen presidents do stupid things, we’ve seen CEO’s fall from leadership, we’ve seen pastors tumble down, we’ve seen teachers dismissed, we’ve seen parents fail, we’ve seen managers fired. Even the most competent, visionary, action-biased, inspirational leaders have blown it in this arena. So how do you lead yourself? The scriptures are actually filled with this aspect of leadership. For instance, the apostle Paul had some advice for a young leader he was mentoring about identifying and developing other leaders. In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul lists some competencies, but the gist of it is: before you give this person leadership in the church, how are they doing with self-leadership? Paul is following a simple approach Jesus emphasized: if you’re faithful in a little thing, you’ll be faithful with a lot. So before you have a bigger platform to lead other people, start with the little one in your heart. Paul encouraged Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.” 2 TIMOTHY 1:6 In other words, Tim, God gave you a gift when I prayed for you and laid my hands on you to charge you into ministry. But you have to take responsibility to fire up your own spiritual jets now. Lead your own spiritual development, Tim. The primary question to ask about this development is: How vulnerable am I? How willing am I to be corrected? How open to the voice of the Holy Spirit am I for a reprimand? If I’m not periodically hearing the still small voice of the Spirit saying, “Don’t go there. Don’t allow your thoughts to wander there. Don’t try to defend yourself on this one…”, then I need to question the depth of my relationship with God. When our oldest daughter Rachel was just five, I couldn’t get her to go to bed late one night after a difficult day and my wife was at a late night meeting. Unless you’re a parent, you can’t understand how frustrating this is when you’re exhausted. You feel like you have lost all control. So after several trips upstairs when it’s way too late and I have to get up early in the morning for work, I’m finally back in the kitchen putting the dishes away. Suddenly, I hear her voice for the umpteenth time: “Daaaad…”—and it sent me over the edge. I stomped to the bottom of the stairs and yelled up, “Get in bed NOW! If I have to come up there one more time, you’re going to be in big trouble!” I’m back slamming dishes away in the cabinets and feeling sorry for myself and how my day was shot because of this or that and waa waa waa, when unexpectedly seven words drop in my mind from the Holy Spirit: “What if I treated you like that? In that flash of insight, I knew exactly how I would feel if God yelled at me like that—I would be crushed—and I immediately felt what Rachel felt and I was ashamed. I shuffled slowly upstairs and into her room. She heard me coming and pulled the covers up to her tear-filled eyes. I said, “Rachel, I’m so sorry. I’m dog-tired but that’s no excuse for yelling at you like that. That’s not how my heavenly Father treats me…and I want to be like Him. Will you forgive me?” And in a heartbeat, she jumped up and wrapped her arms around my neck. Leading in, or self-leadership, means that we notch up our level of self-awareness, and that usually means finding places where we are willing to take the risk of being vulnerable…because a blind spot is just that: a blind spot. And if we really want to help others grow as a whole person in Christ—then we need to, or rather, we have to uncover our own stuff.

Q: How would you rate your level of vulnerability to the Holy Spirit in this season of life?


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