Led More By Jesus

In this 25th anniversary article, Ingrid Davis states, “the most important thing we bring to leadership is ourselves” and that “true leadership begins on the inside of a leader.” The beginning of a New Year is an excellent time to reflect on who we are and who we are becoming.

[This article is adapted from, Leadership Wisdom: Growing in the Art of Leadership, Chuck Davis, editor and contributing author. NY:NY Beaufort Books, copyright 2016. ISBN 9780825308345]

What I have found as a leader and a coach of leaders is that one of the most important aspects of leadership is the quality of our souls.

King Solomon, one of the wisest kings in all the annals of history, said it this way, “Above all else, guard your heart — for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23). The heart, or the soul, is who we really are; it’s our mind, will, and emotions; the source of our attitudes, the keeper of our passions and desires, and the seat of our moral actions. The soul, then, is the center of who we are — past, present, and future — but most importantly in that spectrum, who we are becoming in relationship with Jesus, being led more by him.

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Our soul holds our hopes, longings, desires, passions, gifts and individuality. It’s also the place that can be wounded, hurt, and left with gaping holes if not properly formed and sustained. Every human being needs love, acceptance, validation, a sense of belonging, safety, security and significance. If we didn’t get that growing up, or have been deprived of these needs for long periods of time, our souls will cry out. We will perform to get others’ approval, or prove our worth through success, or project on others our own insecurities, or protect our wounded selves through defense and coping mechanisms.

The soul is often neglected because we don’t know how to connect with it, pay attention to it, or even manage it. If you keep ignoring the soul, it will eventually cry out. Interestingly, the soul often cries out through the body: high blood pressure, heart attacks, digestive problems, cancer, sleep issues, back problems, addictions, digestive problems, or depression. Not all of these health challenges are resolved by caring for the soul, but I have observed many health challenges just disappear after a person does some good soul work.

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The soul will also cry out into our relationships. Unprocessed emotions can lead to divorce, relationship problems, or simple escapism into forms of enablement or aggression that keep people from getting too close to our inner selves. Some of the signs will be uncontrollable tears at the simplest confrontation, short-temperedness, explosive anger, defensiveness, withdrawal, or even a critical spirit. Often the critical spirit is a form of self-judgment.

Whether we want to believe it or not, the most important thing we bring to leadership is ourselves. And yet so few of us are even aware of who we really are, why we do what we do, and how we are impacting those who we come into contact with every day. As a result, more and more leaders are burning out, flaming out, and dropping out.

Dallas Willard suggests that the people we lead will not recall 99% of what we say to them. But they will never forget the kind of people we are. Ruth Hayley Barton echoes this sentiment, “The best thing any of us have to bring to leadership is our transforming selves.” Transformation begins on the inside, with attention to the soul.

As a leader grows in maturity, character, emotional, and spiritual health, then not only is his or her life changed, but that person’s presence automatically impacts others, and brings transformation to his/her workplace, leadership team, family and friends. True leadership begins on the inside of the leader.

Reflection Questions:

  • What is the present state of your soul or inner person? Do you have any of the physical or relational signs of danger? If yes, what do you need to do to address the diagnosis?
  • Have you ever had a soul coach? Is there someone near you who seems to live in a wholeness that you desire? Could you ask them to help you in a coaching relationship?
  • If your soul is well, which of your followers need help in dealing with their inner person? How can you best help them at this stage of their journey?

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Ingrid Davis (Arrow Class 14) has been involved in leadership development for over 30 years and is the founder of Leadership Coaching International. Her passion is to grow and develop leaders to transform lives. Ingrid specializes in leadership coaching, cross-cultural training, and character based leadership development, and her speaking engagements have taken her throughout the world. Ingrid and Chuck have been married 33 years and have three adult children, and one daughter-in-law.