Nine Pathways to Self Leadership

Long. Slow. Deep. Difficult. Particular.
That is a mantra and mindset I use whenever I talk about personal formation. Whether the focus is leadership development, life coaching, spiritual direction or some combination - growing, maturing, developing - is long, slow, deep, difficult and particular (this last one meaning concrete, specific and highly relevant to the individual). Here are nine pathways that are useful in the First Task of Self-Leadership. Each pathway helps with the three essential elements of Self-Leadership:  (1) awareness, (2) choice and (3) action/praxis.

1.  Suffering. I will mention the hardest one first. Jim Collins notes that for all the Level Five Leaders he has studied, there is the theme of suffering and great struggle at some point in their journey. Suffering is the essential context where a Great Soul is formed. There is a vital role that is only played by the experience of crisis, hardship and personal suffering. I wish it were not so. But it is. And since it is, there is no use fighting against the inevitable. Instead, accept it, learn from it, find God's grace, love, wisdom and strength in it. Come to know your limitations and inadequacies. Let go of self-sufficiency and independence. 

2.  Reflection. This is not the critical, analytic, interpretive work of understanding ideas. That is a highly valuable work in itself. But there are many brilliant critical thinkers whose minds are crammed full of ideas and whose lives are a shambles. Reflection is a different process where a person considers, not just the idea in itself, but the idea as it is experienced in one's own life. How do you engage with that idea in a formative way? How do you wrestle with the reality and implications of the idea? How does an idea transform you so that your life begins to be in harmony with the idea? 

3.  Journaling. This is the writing process that most of us need to do the work of reflection. Journaling is the way you collect and organize your thoughts. Journaling helps you focus, direct and expand your awareness. It is the way you record and remember the journey of inner discovery. Over the years I have taught hundreds of leaders how to journal and the overwhelming verdict is the great benefit of learning to journal.

4.  Conversations. With wise and trusted friends. You need a sounding board. You need outside perspective. You need engagement with those who speak truth in love and who are lovers of truth. You need friendship with like-minded souls who are walking with you on the journey. This is the balance to the solitary work of reflection. It is not an either/or. Either solitary meditation or conversations in community. Both are needed. One may be stronger for you, but one without the other is usually fraught with problems.

5.  Reading. In particular, reading the great classics of the past. This is how you encounter the wise sages, the holy saints, and the heroic leaders of the past. When all three converge into one person - sage/saint/leader - you should read, study, and reflect on their writings over and over. If we are to see farther and deeper, it is only because we stand on the shoulders of the giants. Find a few and become life long devotees of their experiences and lessons.

This quote by Francis Bacon pulls together Reading + Conversation (Conference) + Writing-Journaling.

6.  Nature.  There is something (for so many) about the beauty and grandeur of nature that just gives you perspective. Nature by itself is not a teacher. Nature, like suffering, is a classroom and a context. It is an occasion (albeit - a special occasion) that creates a condition of wonder and receptivity... an openness and longing... These are the preconditions of discovery, learning and growing.

7.  Prayerfulness.  I have already mentioned conversations with good friends (#4) and conversations with the sages-saints of the past (#5). Now the GREAT CONVERSATION is with God. Your Creator and Redeemer is the ONE VOICE you need above all. It has been said (by John Calvin) that true knowledge or awareness consists of knowledge of self and of God. You will only truly know yourself as you come to know God. This is the conversation known as prayer. It takes on many forms and it happens in many ways. You need to make your way in how you will have frequent and real Conversations with God if you are to ever know yourself and lead yourself. For these twin tasks are never possible unaided or in a self-sufficient way. You need a Revelation and Illumination that is not possible by your own efforts. You need God. That means you need the way of prayerfulness.

8.  Humility. Dangerous humility. Ruthless honesty. Rigorous authenticity. Trusting vulnerability. About your self and with your self and for your self. It is dangerous because it means change is coming. It must be ruthless because self-deception is so easy. It must be rigorous because it is a discipline that is unnatural and only learned with highly intentional effort. It needs trust because this is the whirlwind exposure of the real you. And you must understand - there are dark, painful, even ugly things about the real you. You must come face to face with those demons and monsters. Otherwise, they will ultimately corrupt all your leadership, no matter how well intended you think you are.

9.  Choices. Real discovery, true learning, actual growth is never simply an inward, mental, subjective experience. Maturity always requires a choice. You must now choose to do something with the truth that is discovered. You must now respond to the lesson that is being taught. You must determine what is to be done with the insights that are gained. It is the choice the seals the lesson and activates it. Without the choice, the insight fades and the heart hardens. You now believe you "know the truth" when in reality, you were exposed to it, but you NEVER came to really know it. You know the truth by responding to it. In the Bible, wisdom is never an intellectual knowledge alone. It is knowledge that is received, incorporated into your life, and lived accordingly. Wisdom is a Reordered Life that is aligned with God's Reality. That is why the Bible regularly invites us to choose, to decide, to determine, to respond, to act. The common saying, "Use it or lose it" applies. I would add to that, "Use it if you really want to know it."

There are certainly other pathways to self-leadership then the ones I have listed. Over the years, as I mentor leaders, these nine pathways are almost always present. When there are problems with self-leadership, I usually begin by exploring how these pathways are being used (or not) by the leader. Awareness + Choice + Response sustained over time is the way of self-leadership. 

Long. Slow. Deep. Difficult. Particular.
And Rewarding. Fruitful. Joyful. Beautiful.
I pray this is your deep desire and that you will walk these pathways.

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International
BrianRice@lcileaders.org

LCI - walking with you on the pathways of Self-leadership