We Christians fancy ourselves as those striving to be “selfless.” After all, we follow one who came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many. We are to be serious about God’s mission. All of this should lead one away from thinking about oneself very often.
Indeed, self-absorption is wrong. Self-absorption or selfishness is different than understanding we cannot fix others or motivate the unmotivated. We can only really fix and lead ourselves.
Leadership isn’t about telling others what they must do and motivating them to do it. Leadership begins with a clear sense of one’s own calling and a focus on self-leadership.
When a leader spends his or her energy trying to motivate the unmotivated rather than managing themselves, they can fall into the trap of selfishness unknowingly and attempt leadership at a lower level than they need to. To illustrate just one way this happens: When I’m focused on others inappropriately I inevitably begin comparing myself to them. I tend to aggrandize my virtues and leadership in my own mind while diminishing their “followership.” I may think, “Why can’t they get this?” “Why don’t they care as much as I do?” “Why can’t they just obey what Jesus calls them to do?” These are the questions of one trying to be faithful through others, rather than with others.
Begin with self-leadership. The healthier, more differentiated we are, the better leaders we become. And, ironically, more selfless. We are more patient. We are more able to serve with others without using them. We are more effective, godly leaders.
The emotional and spiritual field created by a healthy, self-led and self-differentiated leader is what leadership really is. It isn’t persuading others to do what they aren’t doing or don’t want to do.