Ask folks about what ‘leadership’ is primarily about, the following may be few responses from them:

• It is about leading.

• It is about delegating.

• It is about managing.

• It is about controlling.

• It is about organizing.

• It is about overseeing.

• It is about serving.

There is no argument in the assertion that a leader’s function is to lead, delegate, manage, organize, oversee and serve. However, I believe, these are not his primary task. There is something which comes ‘first’ before all these. In fact, without doing 'this' foremost thing he would be a failure in the following. It can be said that ‘this’ qualifies him to do the rest. What could be that first and the most important characteristic of a leader?

Leading Oneself

A leader, before leading others, leads himself well. A leader, before managing others, manages his habits well. A leader, before organizing things, organizes his life well. A leader, before exerting healthy control, practices self-control. A leader, before overseeing others, examines himself well. A leader, before delegating to others, directs himself well. A leader, before directing others, disciplines himself well. A leader, before serving others, masters himself well.

Just think – how can a person lead others in the way they ought to go when he himself cannot walk in the path he has to walk? How can he manage others when his own life is in disorder? How can he exert healthy control when he cannot stringently control his own passions, ambitions and tongue? How can he oversee others when he neglects to carefully watch his own life? How can he serve others without mastering himself? How can he expect others to follow him when he doesn’t walk ahead of them? How can he direct others when he himself is lost? Consider these words of Christ Jesus, "Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” (Lu. 6:39).

Personal and Public Life

But there are those who say how a leader lives his life is something personal; how he skillfully accomplishes a task is what that matters. I do not hesitate to say that this is a faulty notion. Leaders are not machines; they are models. How a leader lives his private life (apart from acceptable privacies) has a tremendous impact on his public life. They are interconnected and inseparable. For instance, a leader cannot be approachable by women in the workplace if he is evidently mastered by lust. He cannot be entrusted with confidential issues if he is a gossiper. He cannot be wise in leading people if he is given to temper tantrums. He cannot be effective in problem-solving if he is impatient and rude. Fact: Who a leader is has much to do with what he does.

Remember, what a leader accomplishes may make people to aspire his success but how he lives inspires them to imitate his life. How many leaders are there in our time, brilliant and prosperous, yet folks don’t want to become like them because of their pathetic personal lifestyle! There is a vast difference between inspiring people to have what we have and spurring them to become what we are.

Here is a thought for contemplation: No matter how much a leader is knowledgeable, skillful and successful, if he has no victory over himself, he didn’t yet climb the first step onto the ladder of leadership. He who has conquered himself is worth leading others.

Now, this is not to say that a leader should be perfect. It is a known fact that none is perfect. Yet, this is not an excuse for him to settle down in weaknesses. A leader aims for perfection. A leader strives for excellence. A leader isn’t complacent in his weaknesses and neither does he conceal his defects. A leader isn’t paralyzed by his moral failures. A leader, by God's enabling grace, constantly works on himself; he keeps learning, keeps growing and doesn’t renounce constructive criticisms. A leader always wants to become better, much better, persistently better. And who doesn’t want to be led by such a leader?
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Stephen David