Servent Leadership: Self-Discipline

The most basic defining moment demands that leaders resolve the issue of self-discipline, which has serious implications for their future. In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory they won was over themselves. Self-discipline was their number one responsibility. “The higher leaders climb up the corporate ladder the greater their burden of responsibility and their need to reevaluate themselves and their whole self.”1 Once you have mastered self-discipline, there is plenty of guidance available on leading others. Leadership of others is the subject of hundreds of books and courses. Self-leadership, however, involves self-discipline, self-regulation, personal growth, and is vital for achievement of our goals, even if we never lead another person. “People have to know themselves and understand their environments in order to adapt and learn.”2

Leaders who do not understand themselves are unlikely to have an accurate view of others or be sensitive to others’ feelings, needs, and attitudes. “To be effective, leaders need insight into their skills and capabilities and how others react to them.”3 Self-discipline – honesty, gentleness, blamelessness, temperance, and vigilance are all qualities that we can control. Self-discipline produces a specific character or pattern of behavior – moral, physical, or mental development in a particular direction. In organizations, just as in the Christian community, there are times when leaders fall away from these characteristics through personal loss or personal sin. Building and developing these characteristics is not something we just learn from a book or hear from a sermon. We must actively and continually engage ourselves in order to focus on self-discipline. “It’s after we have contemplated our own actions, measuring how they align with our values, intentions, and words, that we are most likely to make a contribution of integrity to the world.”4

How does a leader actively engage in self-discipline? Through godly living! Paul states “For Kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty.” (1 Timothy 2:2). Godliness (or godly) is a key word in Paul’s Pastoral letters which occurs eight times in 1 Timothy (2:2, 3:16, 4:7, 4:8, 6:3, 6:5, 6:6, and 6:11), once in 2 Timothy (3:5), and once in Titus (1:1). It implies a good and holy life, with special emphasis on a deep reverence for God. A true person of God has qualities of a spiritually mature person. This is not a façade to please or impress people but rather the Word of God. The godly person has not only learned doctrine academically, but he has also seen that word applied to his life over a period of years. Godliness does not come automatically, accidentally, or suddenly. It is a process that comes from living in it. It is a slow process that many fail to realize until others point it out. Effective leadership – godly leadership – requires our continual appreciation and practice. Godly living affects our self-discipline as well as how we treat others in the leadership relationship.

Paul provides instructions for godly living by identifying the mystery of godliness. “…we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is savior of all men, specifically of those that believe. (1 Timothy 4:10). This does not mean that God saves everyone but that God is savior of all in that he offers salvation and saves all who come to him through Jesus Christ.

1. Gilbert W. Fairholm, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality & Community in the New American Workplace, (Westport: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated, 1997), 6.

2. Manuel London, Leadership Development: Paths to Self-Insight and Professional Growth, (Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Incorporated, 2001), 27.

3. Manuel London, Leadership Development, 2001, 29.

4. Stratford Sherman, Rethinking Integrity, (Leader to Leader, No. 28, 2003), 7.