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The Art Of Self-Leadership

Charmaine Smith is the Founding Director of Infundo Consulting. After teaching various grades for 15 years, Charmaine became involved in educational development transformation across SA. Serving rural and peri-urban communities led her to develop a holistic approach that includes healing of trauma and involves multiple stakeholders and community forums. Charmaine has worked extensively with corporate sponsors, government departments and other relevant bodies in the pursuit of uplifting communities through education.


Whether we are leading a church, business, or a family – the same principles of biblical leadership apply. Leadership is ultimately about followership – we simply cannot lead with authenticity where we are not willing to go ourselves. Over the years with Infundo Consulting, I have been repeatedly challenged to not only point the way for the people I lead, but to be the one that takes the first step. If we want to lead others well, we would do well to start by leading ourselves.

Here are some thoughts around the role that stewardship, discipline and decisiveness play in developing the art of self-leadership.

  • The Self is God’s number one asset

When we think of stewardship, we tend to think along the lines of physical assets like money and property. We also tend to think we need a lot of it to make any kind of measurable difference. But what is arguably our most critical resource is the asset of ‘self’. When stewarded well, we personally can be our organisations’ best assets. Of course the opposite is also true. We can also be the greatest liabilities to our organisations, if we choose to lead independently and untethered to Christ’s yoke.

Our calling is firstly to Jesus – not to grow our influence or to achieve great organisational impact but to walk in relationship with Him. Stewardship of ‘the self’ starts within, so that thoughts and beliefs incubate in our hearts to shape and inform our behaviours in the world. Transformation is firstly about ‘me, the individual’, before transformation and impact can be created externally. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” The word ‘diligence’ is associated with a place of confinement, implying that we are literally to ‘imprison’ our hearts within the boundaries of scripture. It’s helpful to ask ourselves at the end of every day, “Were my thoughts edifying today? Did they cultivate unity, or did they cause dissension and division? Did I respond to situations in ways that fostered progress, or did my behaviour somehow set people back?” Ultimately the pivotal issue is whether or not I am able to offer up my thoughts and urges to God, which in turn will allow me to control my behaviour. Was my heart aligned to God’s call today, or my own?

Beyond financial generosity, a generous spirit will create an outpouring of faith into the world, to live out the vision God has placed within us. When we are generous with our thoughts, we are verbally and emotionally healthier, and more compassionate to the people around us. In this way we safeguard our commitment to become valuable leaders – staying true to ourselves and to the mandate God has given us.

  • Understand your ‘why’ for being disciplined

In today’s dynamic and fast-paced world, where speed, and busyness, is the mantra for our everyday activities , there is exceptional value to slowing down and being mindful of our ways, remembering that we have conscious choices in how we spend our time and energy. Taking the long term view, learning to say no, preserving our energy for sustained impact – these things do not come naturally. They are cultivated over time, as we commit to a lifestyle of discipline in both our personal and professional lives.

Before identifying these disciplines, however, we need to understand the ‘why’ behind our work. “What drives me to do what I do every day? What am I willing to sacrifice in order to achieve these outcomes?” When we take time to answer these questions, we can ask the more probing questions like, “What motivates me as a leader? Do I genuinely want to see others thrive outside of my own circles, or am I in it for my own gain? How do I, for example, view B-BBEE? Do I see it as more than just a prerequisite for a company tender, or do I treat it as a potential platform to build a more just and equitable culture within my organisation?”

Daily disciplines like scripture reading, prayer and good time management scaffold time to answer these questions. Especially within the ever-changing landscape of today’s externally motivated world, it is crucial to step outside the pandemonium and pace, long enough to contemplate the way forward, and keep leading from a place of deep conviction and calling.

  • Help people to take the next right step

Good leadership is often refined in times of crisis and confusion. The key to effective decision-making during these times is to identify and ringfence the areas that are within our control. When complexity increases in difficult times, we cannot afford to project too far forward into the future – we can only take the next step right in front of us. To do this we identify the boundaries of our authority, and then choose to leave the rest to God. As we applied this approach to 2020, we as a team were able to harness a new degree of power – based on a growing confidence that there were certain things within our individual and collective spheres of influence that we could control. Suddenly we saw solutions where we didn’t have answers before, and the team’s influence and mastery grew in a time of deep crisis. Doing this also allows for energy to be channeled, and not spent on fruitless endeavours which would not bear fruit. It is also a healthy reminder that God goes ahead of us and we are merely called to act within our authority in any specific time.

Effective decision-making requires discernment – when to be present and when to step away. When we see in others what they have not seen yet, we can give God space to unlock this power already present in them by simply getting out of the way, to let them find it for themselves with God’s help. Leadership is a privilege and a responsibility, and one we need to steward with skill and exceptional humility. I take comfort in knowing our aim is not perfectionism, but partnership with God – as we journey together towards greater Kingdom impact in the communities we serve.

Charmaine Smith

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