Warren Bennis wrote in On Becoming a Leader that “full, free self-expression is the essence of leadership.” I found the comment a bit obnoxious when I first read it, thinking that it invited leaders to be self-absorbed, but upon reflection, I think he’s on to something. This post will briefly define terms, getting at the ‘why’ of each point.

What Bennis means by ‘self-expression’


1.  Know who you are

Much has been written on the need for a leader to be self-aware. In ministry, it’s pretty obvious that, if you haven’t taken the time to take your own gifts and passions seriously the odds of ending up in the wrong role are high. Having the wrong people in the wrong roles is damaging to the mission of the local church.

2. Know your strengths and weaknesses

A leader must not only know their own strengths and weaknesses but must also have the ability to assess the strengths and weaknesses of others in order to create an environment of maximum effectiveness.

3. Know how to use strengths and mitigate weaknesses

One of the quickest paths to ineffectiveness is to attempt to shore up your weaknesses. Focus on doing what only you can do and manage around your weaknesses. As a leader, be aware that if you continually attempt to place others in situations that don’t fit their gifts or passions, calling on them to pull up their bootstraps and ‘just get the work done,’ you are driving them to frustration and burnout.

4. Know what you want

Too often we are vague with what we want or we’re too willing to let others tell us what we want. The more specific we can get with what we want the better. ‘I want to see people get saved’ vs. ‘I want to see youth get saved’ vs. ‘I want to see a team of passionate adults trained to reach youth. ‘The more vague we remain the more likely we are to flounder.

5. Know why you want it

Knowing why you want what you want will help shape how you go about achieving your goal. A youth pastor who simply loves spending time with kids will operate differently than a youth pastor motivated by seeing whole families. They both want to see kids know Jesus. In other words, what they want is the same. But the differing motivations will shape how they go about seeing kids come to Christ. One might spend time mentoring kids in a one-on-one setting while another might work on developing teams of adult volunteers to help parents engage in the life of their teens. You have to operate out of your motivations to be effective.

6. Know how to communicate


It’s not rocket science to figure out that you’ve got to be able to communicate well if you’re to have any chance of getting a team together to accomplish a vision.

7. Know how to achieve your goals

This is where wisdom kicks in. Wisdom is often defined as ‘right living’ because it demands that we be able to take ‘good thinking’ and turn it into ‘good action.’ This extends beyond moral issues and into best leadership practices.

Why self-expression is important

1. Your life matters

When scripture talks about the ‘fear of Yahweh’ it’s telling you to take seriously the fact that God will bring everything into judgment, good or bad (see Ecc 12:12-14). It seems that God cares what you do. A leader has a profound awareness that what we do matters.

2. God has called you to something

I don’t mean God gives every person a burning bush experience, but he has gifted you with strengths, gifts, and passions. Steward them.

3. Self-expression means using your gifts

Peter said, “Everyone should use whatever gifts he’s been given to serve others, faithfully dishing out God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10) Using the gifts you’ve been given is part of self-expression.

4. Expressing yourself allows you to let go of proving yourself

The desire to prove yourself is inherently a follower skill that involves living up to and exceeding the expectations of others, whether real or perceived. Those seeking to prove themselves are being driven, not leading.


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