We all want to make a difference in people’s lives, but how do you truly influence and help others? Here are 12 of the most life defining leadership lessons in my life.

Defining Leadership Lessons

So, you want to change the world. You know in your heart that some way, some how, you want to make a difference in people’s lives. You want to help people. You want to make the world a better place. I think this is something that all of us in some way or another feel inside ourselves. I know for me, helping others is something that’s really important to me. The only thing is… where do you start?

To me, there are four main areas that I find myself super passionate about and drawn to more than anything else. There are people who’ve known me for a while who would even be able to rattle those four things off because I’ve talked about them so much. Relationships, addressing Western poverty, seeing people find their purpose, and then this one for today – leadership.

I love leaders. To me, it’s so amazing that people would take their desire to help others and put themselves in positions of sacrifice and challenge where they dedicate themselves to the betterment of others. I think people like this deserve to be regularly celebrated. If you’re reading this, then you would probably fall into that category, so here’s to you. I know for myself, I want to be a better leader in every way, so I find myself going out looking for wisdom and insight into how to serve others better quite a bit.

There are so many opinions and thoughts out there on how to best lead others, but for me, the 12 things listed here have been super significant and directional for me. Here are some of the most life defining leadership lessons that I’ve encountered in my life.

Leaders see more and leaders see before

Kicking off this list with an approach from John Maxwell (spoilers, you may see a few of these). John Maxwell always says of leaders that they see more than others, and they see it before others. In seeing more, leaders see a fuller picture – also something he discusses in The 360 Degree Leader. They can see potential problems before they become actual problems, they see people’s potential for greatness, they devote themselves to see a fuller picture of how a decision affects the team, the organisation, the family.

And they see it before others do. This means that they’ll identify greatness in others often before people are aware of their giftings or talents themselves. They’ll see the warning signs of fatigue or uncertainty before someone actually succumbs to the fuller symptoms. I think this view is great – I always want to endeavour to grow my perspective and give people timely and accurate encouragement.

Lead with solutions, not problems

In this day and age, everyone is a critic. In fact, many reviewers today don’t review anything if they don’t have a list of negative comments to make about it. Whether it be movies, games, books – you know the reviews I’m talking about. Unfortunately, this is the approach a lot of us take in all arenas – our families, our friendships, our teams. We’re so good at identifying problems, and often even in detail. Great leadership doesn’t just identify the problems though or dominate others with the troubles that are being encountered – it actively seeks out solutions and understands that if it annoys you and catches your attention, it probably means it’s because you’re supposed to do something about it. Or at the very least, present the problem with a potential solution, don’t just be a whiner and drain your team.

The law of the inner circle

One of Maxwell’s 21 irrefutable laws of leadership, this one has a number of people who join in unison to agree that the company you keep defines your life direction in a lot of ways. TD Jakes also talks to this in his Before You Do/Making Great Decisions range of teaching, describing comrades and constituents. Constituents – those who are with you because of what you do; comrades – those who are with you because of who you are.

Simply put, these are your close friends. The person you marry. The people you see often. The ones who you invite in to see the good, the bad, and the ugly. I love that Jesus also provided a great example of this – he fed and taught thousands of people, he sent out 72, he did life with 12, and he shared his most intimate moments with 3 – Peter, James and John.

Who is in your inner circle? Who do you want to be in it?

Lead from rest

Here’s one from a book called The Passionate Church, also known as Life Shapes, by Mike Breen. I’ve never forgotten this one.

Think about a pendulum. A pendulum starts from rest, swings out into action, and ends in rest. If it just operated in continuous motion like a circle, it would move a lot more initially, but eventually come to a stop. Why? Because it’s the rest that allows it to swing out with strength and to continue its pattern perpetually. Our lives operate the same physically – you wake up in the morning, you act out your day, and you return to rest at night.

Our spirits are no different. And that’s how you lead without giving out. Start from rest, swing out into action, and make sure you are regularly returning to rest.

Don’t measure what others give by the amount you give

One of the biggest challenges I found at one point in my life is that I kept wishing I had people in my life who would give to me the same way I gave to others. Have you ever felt that way? One day thanks to some friends and situations I realised that measuring the way others invest in me by the way I perceive I invest in others would only ever leave me disappointed, usually because it’s a tainted approach to begin with. Be grateful for what others give to you, don’t demand it. They do more for us than we often acknowledge and we don’t see it if we don’t allow ourselves to receive with a grateful heart.

Pressure keeps the plane at altitude

This one was from some teaching from Brian Houston called Pressured But Not Stressed. In our lives, we often undergo different pressures, and usually our response to pressure is to shrink back or to avoid doing what we’re feeling pressured to do. However, if you depressurize the cockpit of a passenger jet, you kill everyone on board. Pressure is there to help us maintain altitude and reach heights we couldn’t survive at otherwise.

It’s not so much pressure in our lives as it is our reaction to pressure that causes us to shrink back or advance ahead. Without deadlines, organizations don’t usually deliver anything, or burn through more money than they can afford and can end up in bankruptcy. Pressure also often helps establish our direction. Many of us feel lost in life – is it possible there are some pressures in our lives right now that are trying to show us the way to go?

Burnout and lethargy feel the same

If you exercise too much or over exert yourself, you are able to wear your muscles out completely to a point where you have no strength to use them. However, if you don’t exercise at all, you can undergo the same sensation, and the build up of lactic acid can produce similar effects.

It’s the same when we react to burnout by pulling out of everything. You’re too tired from doing everything so you pull out. But what happens? Months later, you’re still exhausted.

We still feel the same because we haven’t addressed the root issue. Burnout and lethargy both happen because we aren’t doing what we’re supposed to be doing. Focus, vision and boundaries are so important in seeing us stay on course.

PS. Check out the related Burnt Out At Church if you find yourself in that boat.

We vs Me – Joshua-style leadership

Love this one. This is from the book Called To Be God’s Leader by Henry and Richard Blackaby. He describes the differences between Moses and Joshua as leaders. Moses hit the Red Sea with his staff, Joshua sent the people into the river, the waters were parted. Moses held his staff up, Joshua sent the people forward, the battle was won. Moses was looking after all the minor issues, Joshua had set aside tribal leaders to do these tasks. Moses eventually burnt out and frustrated himself because he was always the one. If Moses was at Jericho, he would’ve whacked the walls with his staff, too. Joshua instead sent the people forward to do these things.

A leader carrying it all may get someone through a wilderness season for a while, but for lasting leadership that carries people into their promise and beyond, it needs to be less of “me doing everything” and more releasing of the people to do it together.

You can’t do anything about a problem you don’t know about

I have sometimes been disheartened to hear from people serving underneath me that they had been lying about how they’d been feeling for the last 10 months and now suddenly exploded and hated everyone and felt drained and didn’t want anything to do with anyone any more. In situations like this, I was always reminded of two things.

One – know the state of your flock. Watch for warning signs. Genuinely care for and love people. Ask the right questions that go deep enough and real enough with people. Maybe they’re serving too much because they’re avoiding something. Maybe they’re short with people because they’ve got a personal issue going on. Maybe they just need a friend and to be valued for who they are, not for what they do.

The second is that if you are doing the right things by your people – asking them the right questions, being there to listen – if they’re still lying to you and covering things up, there’s not much you can do. You can only do things about problems you actually know about.

It’s been entrusted to you – stop waiting

When are you gifted for the calling on your life? If it’s tomorrow, then keep waiting and doing nothing about it.

But if it’s today, what are you waiting for? Scripture tells us we have (past tense, not future tense) been blessed with every spiritual blessing. Every. It also tells us we have been granted (past tense again) everything we need pertaining to life and godliness. It’s likely your destiny is waiting on you, not the other way around.

Anointed, appointed, called, chosen. All past tense.

Great leaders unlock people’s calling and purpose

The role of the leader isn’t to do everything, nor should it be merely to fill a position or role. If you want to see people truly thrive, discover what their calling and passions are. One of my favourite things is to ask people what their fairy tale ending is – what does truest happiness and involvement look like to them? What a powerful thing when people aren’t necessarily hindered or defined by a position description, but released to be who they were born to be. The person who is free to be themselves is the person you want on your team, and as the leader, it’s up to you to find out what that is and let them go for it.

The leadership of Barnabas

Probably the most defining model of leadership I identify with is the example of Barnabas. Barnabas wasn’t even his real name, it was Joseph, but he was so encouraging people began calling him Barnabas – son of encouragement.

One of the most aggressive murders and destroyers of those who were followers of The Way was a man named Saul. Due to a miracle, Saul was converted and was looking around for someone to lead and teach him in this new way of life. No one wanted to take him in, except one person – Barnabas. After a short time with Barnabas, Saul goes on to write two thirds of the New Testament and help establish the Christian faith as we know it.

Who was more influential? Saul who went on to do these things, or Barnabas, who released Saul into his calling by encouraging him and sending him on his way? Who changed more lives – Mother Teresa, or the people who inspired and discipled her? I know, bit of a trick question, but to me, this represents the best type of leadership. Leadership that goes beyond your own life because you’ve given your best to help someone discover and become who they were born to be.

There are so many great lessons I’ve learnt and so much great wisdom out there on leadership from a whole variety of sources, but to me, these 12 are definitely some of the most life defining leadership lessons to me.

How about you? What are some of the big lessons on leadership you’ve learnt?

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