By Martin E. Willoughby, Jr.
Winston Churchill was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom in its trying hour during World War II. His inspirational leadership during this time of crisis is legendary. Leaders are not born in a day. Usually a moment of great leadership is preceded by a lifetime of preparation. Churchill was no exception to this. He had habits that laid the foundation for triumphant leadership when it mattered most. For example, when he was a young soldier serving in the desert, he would spend his free time reading and writing, while others relaxed or played cards. In my own personal study of leadership, I find that real leadership begins with self-leadership.
In his book The Slight Edge, Jeff Olson points out that the keys to personal success are the things you do every single day, the things that don’t look dramatic or like they matter. He argues that the little daily decisions not only make a difference—they make all the difference. The Slight Edge is simply a commitment to making the right choices day in and day out in your life. It is a philosophy that helps us understand that we make decisions knowing that the results are long term. We know that in time, if we make the right choices, our lives will be better off.
Leadership begins with the ability to lead your self by living intentionally. By this I mean that we don’t live simply reactive lives, but instead, we seek God’s will and live with purpose, planning, and foresight. We apply the principle of The Slight Edge and make decisions with a long view. We understand that so much of what we do is habit, and we make sure that we have positive habits. We avoid “digging our own potholes” and seek to eliminate habits that are holding us back from our true potential. I like the ancient Greek word Arête, which means the act of living up to one’s full potential. I don’t believe that we were meant to live lives of mediocrity. As a spirited preacher I heard once say, “God don’t make no junk!”
As followers of Christ, we look to Scripture to guide us on some of the little decisions that Christ made that made all the difference. For example, Jesus took time to be quiet and pray with the Father. In our busy world today, this is often neglected. Jesus knew Scripture. He often quoted Old Testament writings. We too have the opportunity to be saturated with the Word. Jesus was fully present with people. One of the greatest gifts we can give people today is our time and full attention. Jesus was focused on others. He poured himself out for others and ultimately sacrificed all on the cross. As we go through our lives, we can either focus all of our attention on our own needs and wants or similarly focus on elevating others.
I am encouraged and inspired by the choices that the young leaders being honored this month have made. Like a young Churchill, they have chosen to take the “road less traveled” and invest in their lives. This investment will bring long-term dividends. They have begun the daily habits and making the small choices that will make a HUGE difference in the long term. The goal of living up to one’s full potential is not just for young leaders like these. I believe that life is a gift and our job is to be a steward of what God has entrusted us with—not just our money, but also our time, our energy, and our skills. I pray that all of us will realize that “God don’t make no junk” and seek to live out our brief time here on this earth living out our full potential.