What Drives You as a Leader?

This is a guest post by Jim Mellado. He is the president of Willow Creek Association. You can follow him on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

I have always been driven to achieve. According to the Strengths Finder Assessment, achievement is one of my top strengths. I don’t know whether I was wired that way from the beginning, or my propensity toward achievement came out of my upbringing.

Pumping Gas into a Car - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/JamesBrey, Image #16015643

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/JamesBrey

As a kid growing up in seven different countries, I always found myself as the new kid on the block. I discovered that one of the quickest ways to get noticed was to achieve. The more challenging the achievement, the better. Most kids want to be noticed and I was no different.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate just how critical it is to know what “fuels” the things we do. And it’s not as obvious as you might think. In my case, I know it’s not bad to achieve great things. But what’s driving that achievement?

I’ve seen leaders who operated within their strength areas—but for unhealthy reasons. It might not show right away, but eventually the unhealthy drive starts to show its cracks.

Here’s a short list of destructive fuels that leaders often use, even in the church:

  • People pleasing
  • Power and control
  • Image Management
  • Financial success
  • Jealousy

Unhealthy drive is like using steroids to enhance your performance—you get nice, short-term results but with tragic long-term consequences. Get it wrong and you leave a lot of pain and hurt in your wake. Get it right and watch how God brings renewed life.

Here’s a list of four questions that I work through when I am not sure what is really driving me:

  1. Am I using my strengths for the good of the project or the organization, or am I mainly seeking affirmation from outside sources like my boss or peers?
  2. What is my true motivation for working on this project? Is it for the sake of others and the bigger picture or just to elevate my own status?
  3. Does what I’m trying to do line up with who God designed me to be? I’ve had to step away from getting involved in some attractive initiatives, just because they were so far off from who God made me to be. Although the success of the project would have been great, I know that I would have been achieving for the sake of achieving, not out of being faithful to God.
  4. If this project fails, how much of my sense of self-worth is in it? I know this seems sophomoric, but at a basic level it’s core to leading from a healthy place. No matter how far I fall, I know my identity and worth is still rooted in God’s unchanging love.

Unhealthy achievement (or the unhealthy pursuit of anything, even when you’re using your unique strengths) can take its toll on you. I make sure I’m in relationship with people who know me. I have a small group that has an open to door to call me out when I need to be called out. They know my dysfunctions, confront me when needed, and keep me grounded.

The challenge is to first be candid with yourself about what fuels you and then replace it with the only fuel source worthy of a Christian leader—love of God and love of people. Anything short of that is a cheap imitation of the real thing. It never pays to run on anything else … ever.

What’s the fuel that motivates you? Would people around you agree? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.christianfaithatwork.com Chris Patton

    Truly great post!  The four questions are extremely helpful and will be used by me today!

    I especially like to tie to steroids.  It is so true!  It is so dangerous because those motivators can take us to great heights in a hurry.  The apparent success can deceive us into thinking that all is good.  This can lead to further effort based on the bad motivators.

    Unfortunately, the fall can be painful when the true character of that motivation shows up (even if only to ourselves).  It cannot last and the consequences are never what we wnated or expected.

    The key, as you have shown, is to determine our motivations for a project and its fit with our God-given strengths BEFORE diving in.  If we will be diligent to do this, we should see healthy and sustained success.  If not, beware!

    Thanks for another great insight!

    • Anonymous

      So welcome Chris! If we can be self-aware of these drivers ahead of time, it saves a lot of pain later on for sure!
      Blessings to you.

  • http://www.leahadams.org Leah Adams

    Never really given this a great deal of pondering, but I definitely should. Your numbers 3 and 4 would be huge for me to remember. I am a classic Type A and so it is important that I know what is driving me. Thanks for a really great post.

    • Anonymous

      Glad to hear it! The 4th one is a tough one is a tough one to pass…

  • http://defton.blog.hr Defton85

    Just what I needed! Excellent! Thank you. 

  • Anonymous

    These are some great questions.  I have often noticed too that leaders can start with a very healthy reason for what they are involved in and over time it change as the situation changes.  My struggle is when it comes to handling the frustrations involved with the things I know I supposed to be doing but am getting resistance on.

    Thanks for pouring into us as leaders every day.


    • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

      I agree.  Healthy motives can often change into something less beneficial as time passes and events occur, and as people change.

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Yes, what starts with a healthy motivation can devolve into something that’s not so healthy.  Even if you have pure motivations at the outset, bad motivations can creep in to “keep you going.”

    • Anonymous

      I totally understand the frustration! The thing I keep reminding myself is that the fruit of the spirit should be flowing in and through me all the time…in frustrating times…under significant time pressures…when confronted with bad behavior…all of it. The minute I move away from being connected to Christ is when I start accessing that bad fuel… I regret it every time!!

  • http://www.wonderwomanimnot.com Elizabeth

    Achiever is one of my top strengths also and it can be a curse.  Giving others grace who don’t have the achiever drive is important.  As humans we are not all the same and need to appreciate the other strengths that people have.  #2, controlling the situation is a problem for me.  By trying to control a situation or project I may be missing out on other (better) solutions or ideas from my team.  That’s been one of my development areas for the year.

    Good post

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      I struggle with this, too! Achiever is my #1 strength.

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Being Type A can make you resent the people who don’t do it perfectly, and can make you want to micro-manage them.

    • Anonymous

      Good for you Elizabeth!!

  • Sherri

    I think number four is so important especially when you consider that God’s agenda is very often the polar opposite of our own. It may be that God’s plan is to bring glory to himself  by the way in which we handle adversity and what appears to be failure before he brings the success we are looking for. If our self-worth is based on always being the best and brightest it is so easy to slip into a prideful mode where the focus is on us and not on God. That’s a very dangerous place for any Christian to be. 

    We may also struggle with this when we feel God leading us to do something for which we feel ill-equipped. That takes some true faith and a solid grounding in who we are in Christ and our role as servants. This ties in with SUN STAND STILL, by Steven Furtick, by the way. Finished reading this this week. I hope you get a chance to read it soon. It takes a while to read just because it makes you stop and think about things before you can move on. Thanks for this post. Definitely a keeper.

    • Anonymous

      Good thoughts, Sherri. Evaluating the basis of our self-worth is such an important, ongoing exercise. We loved Sun Stand Still too!
      Thanks for the comment, Rachel – WCA

  • Anonymous

    For right reasons or wrong I am driven by what I witnessed as a child. I witnessed dysfunction, rage, and danger in home that never seemed to be settle into calmness. I do not hold those negatives out in a public way because I believe the we get to make choices everyday, just like my parents did. My choices have been so much different than my step-brothers. They chose to allow that circumstance to lead their adult life to point of self-destruction. I chose to be better, productive, and lead a positive life. So, in the end what we are is built on the choices we make every moment of every day. We are not driven by our past. If we allow that to hold on to us we are trapped in a prison of our own mind. Positive choices will set you free. 

  • Joy

    Great Post.

    God has given me a wonderful calling, really more of a challenge. I work to end human trafficking through prayer first then advocacy and education. This can get overwhelming to say the least. I have an a certain ability to draw others in with me, which is a great blessing.

    Reading the last question, #4. I have to say that if a project fails I do deal with the feeling of letting people down, the survivors I work with and the community. I have to constantly understand that it is more about obedience to God then it is about achievement.

    • Anonymous

      Such a great thought, Joy. We’ve spent time trying to figure out how to balance the heaviness of our calling to ministry with finding our entire worth in God’s love. It’s a daily exercise, for sure.

    • Anonymous

      I have to continuously remind myself that I am a precious child of the most high God…and it is not based on my performance or achievements. Easy to say… tougher to live out!

  • Jeanne Doyon

    Interesting post. I know I need to better understand my strengths as well as myweaknesses. Is there an online inventory to discover strengths?

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Yes, but you usually have to purchase the book. For example, click the link at the top of this post.

    • http://www.needleforthechristianbubble.com Joe Lalonde

      You can purchase a code for the StrengthsFinders assessment from http://www.strengthstest.com/. This includes only the test and not the book.

  • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

    I have to be honest, I have experienced almost all of that list of unhealthy fuels.  I’ve seen myself use those approaches.  I think I’m getting better at avoiding those kinds of things, but I’m not sure I’m the best for being objective in this.

    Your list of questions to ask myself hits me pretty close.  I know I’ll be using these frequently.  I added them to an Evernote notebook, but I think I’m going to print them and hang them above my desk as a daily reminder.

    What I need right now is a group of accountability partners.  I had that in the last church we served, but over the last couple of years, it’s been hard to develop those relationships where I am now.  Thanks for the encouragement! 

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Jeff, I’ve done a lot of the same things…

      • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

        It’s kind of hard to own that fact sometimes…

    • Anonymous

      Love the part on accountability.  I actually have had a couple relationships like this (hard to find!) and they are quite conversant with my dysfunctions. They lovingly call me out when they discern I’m being fueled by the bad energy sources they know I struggle with…
      These people need to have spiritual depth, really get grace and truth, love you, are concerned for your development, have time for you and are knowledgeable of your strengths and weaknesses.
      Hard to find, but they are golden when you do…I won’t do life without at least one of them in my life.

      • http://www.jeffrandleman.com Jeff Randleman

        I agree.  I have a couple, but they are from the last church we ministered to, and they now are a couple of hours away.  That makes it tough.

  • Jennifer@SurprisingJoy

    Very helpful. Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    Love this line:  “The challenge is to first be candid with yourself about what fuels you and then replace it with the only fuel source worthy of a Christian leader—love of God and love of people.”

    There’s a book here, isn’t there?

    • http://www.needleforthechristianbubble.com Joe Lalonde

      Karl, that line is great. It sums up Jesus’ commandments for us and I think that is why it is the essential fuel for Christian leaders.

  • Tom

    Great 4 questions. I’ve often had to challenge myself in asking how much of my identity is wrapped up in what I’m doing. It’s important for me to remember who I am.

    These are the things that motivate me as a leader.
     – Bringing out the best in others by discovering their talents and figuring out how to help the person leverage those talents in the specific position they are in.
     – Grooming future leaders. There are not enough good ones and we need more.
     – Being an example of a Jesus follower. Christians get so much bad publicity that I strive to be a real person who just loves God.

    • Anonymous

      Great list, Tom, couldn’t agree more! Do you find one of those to be more challenging than the others?

  • http://www.josephjpote.com Joe Pote01

    Excellent post!  Thanks for the much needed reminder.

    It is sometimes difficult to stay grounded while also completely throwing myself into achieving a goal.  The four questions presented serve as good status check points.


  • http://www.abhijitkar.com Abhijit Kar

    I think, for motivating people toward leadership excellence, there can’t be a better fuel than one’s sense of accomplishment from improving others’ quality of life, first within the area of influence and then beyond it.

    • http://www.needleforthechristianbubble.com Joe Lalonde

      I agree Abhijit. Seeing others change and improve their life is such a motivator!

  • http://www.twitterblogpost.com Babu M varghese

    Great blog post about leadership. It explains well what are the key roles of a good leader 

  • http://smallgroupbooks.com Ryan K

    Ouch. I struggle with all 5. It’s been hard changing the “why” on doing things, but the payback is pretty quick in more energy. It’s also important in developing your relationship with God. It’s made me ask if I rely on Him or others.

    Thanks MH for the post.

  • http://www.needleforthechristianbubble.com Joe Lalonde

    Great post Jim! Really enjoyed reading it.

    What drives me as a leader?

    As a youth leader, it would have to be seeing the change in the teenagers that come to our youth group. We’ve had kids who have come from some really rough backgrounds and lacked respect. For some, the change happened quickly, others it has taken years, and some still haven’t made the change.

    Knowing that these kids need a mentor, father-figure, friend drives me to continue doing this type of work.

  • http://tcavey.blogspot.com/ TCAvey

    In the past few years, God has been revealing to me ways I am not as pleasing as he would like me to be for his kingdom.  It has been a long process (sometimes I can be a slow learner) and I know there will always be areas I need to work on/be aware of, but who doesn’t have areas like this? 

     Some of my natural tendencies are to worry, this leads me to be a bit controlling.  Which can be good for the success of a project because I am also a perfectionist, but it is not good when I take control away from God.  Thankfully, he has mercifully been showing me this and is helping me to let go and let him lead.  Not surprisingly, life is much more enjoyable with him leading.

    Thank you for this post, I will print it and use the questions as reminders.   

  • http://www.bradandlindsey.com Brad Bridges

    I think question number four one of the most powerful (especially for men). Not only how much of our self-worth is in our jobs but how much of our identity do we base in our work? A good reminder to remember my true identity as a father, husband, and Christ-follower.

  • Steve Jauch

    What drives me is te desire to see change.  In my experience, change always disrupts the status quo and growth or movement toward anything only happens when we embrace change.  As long as the decision on WHAT to change (or what to influence or affect change) is healthy, the drive feeds itself, for me.

  • Robert Mwangi

    Hello, this truly a great post, but i was wondering, how do I get to know what God wants me to be  for me to use that as my fuel source of motivation. All I know is that I want to be successful and live a comfortable life and that’s what drives me on a daily basis, quest for happiness and a better happier life.

  • http://barrypearman.blogspot.com/ Barry Pearman

    Great post. 

    I have just finished writing a post about Freedom of Choice and how Daniel was affected by the Freedom of Choice given to his political colleagues. 

    They were fuelled by Jealousy and Envy whereas Daniel was fuelled through his relationship with God. Their fuel was ‘It’s all about me’. Daniel’s fuel was ‘All about We’.Easy to choose, but tough on the follow through.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    I think two words push me–adventure and community. I don’t want to sit around and simply think good thoughts. I need action, a God-directed movement, and others willing to set off on the same grand adventure.

  • http://www.betterhealthtoday.co Kay Wilson

    So familiar to me, I am an impatient person and often find myself rushing into something or I start making all these great plans and realize the very first consultant I should have gone to was God!  Kind of amazing how He doesn’t slap me down but gently guides me when I am praying, praising Him and asking for His help each day. 

  • Pierre M


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  • http://www.facebook.com/MarkBordeaux Mark Bordeaux

    Wise words. Every leader needs to regularly reflect on these questions. Without realizing it, I sought the approval of others to the degree that I was devastated when they disapproved. But after a time of brokenness, I realized that even friends we love and respect may be wrong. While we must be open to constructive criticism, even from those who do not have our best interest at heart, in order to see our “blind spots,” at the end of the day, we must get our joy from Jesus. If we can honestly say we are pleasing Him – our hearts and hands are clean – then it matters little if we do not please others. Our nation has had leaders who would change their principles when public opinion changed. Godly leaders maintain principles of integrity regardless of what others may say – even those we respect.

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  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    The purpose in my life really keeps motivating me. More than the passion, it’s the purpose for me. That keeps me driving

  • Allen Hunt (GSO)

    For years, I have been motivated by fear of failure and a deep need for
    acceptance. Like most people, I longed to be accepted. I longed for the brass
    ring; the ‘well-done’ ‘the pat on the back’. A workman is worthy of his wages,
    but if I am not doing all things unto God, my return is limited to this place
    and the reward finite. Thanks for the motivational gut check Michael. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/MelissaMashburnMelsWorld Melissa Scarbrough Mashburn

    Wow!!! What a fantastic post…being married to a Pastor and being in ministry for over 10 years I have seen the good and bad side of leadership, yes, even in church. I absolutely loved this, “The challenge is to first be candid with
    yourself about what fuels you and then replace it with the only fuel source
    worthy of a Christian leader—love of God and love of people.” What a great reminder for all of us…in ministry or not, we all have the ability to lead others, it’s what we do with it and the heart of why we do it that makes the difference.

  • Rogmaozamiz

    Thank you very much …

  • Melissa jackson

    have always been driven by the thought of never quitting or giving up on the
    task at hand. If you quit you will have not achieved anything and then there
    will be no improvements made, which is needed to meet the objective. I like all
    four of your questions and have used them in the past, when I was in the
    military. You really have to look at what you’re doing, see whether its goes
    along with your beliefs and how it fit in with what you’re trying to achieve as
    the manager or supervisor.

  • Melissa jackson

    Excellent post! “What Drives you
    as a Leader” what an exceptional question to ask a leader. What made or make
    you the leader that you are? Throughout my military career I often wondered
    what drove my leaders to make the decisions that they made. It made me think of
    their upbringing and how they were raised. It plays a great part on how great
    of a leader that they will become one day.  No matter if it was a game of softball or
    football, how the person stepped up in the game would leave you with your own
    conclusion of what type of a leader that person would become.

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  • Priacta

    Hi Michael,

    This is really a though provoking article! Although I believe
    in the philosophy of doing things that motivate me from the core of my being,
    yet there are times when I have to take up assignments that I don’t really feel
    like carrying out. I used to feel stuck in such situations but after reading
    your article, I’ll have questions in my mind to answer and these answers will
    help me decide the best way to accomplish the job at hand; effectively and

  • http://wcwpartners.com/ Doug Watsabaugh

    Good article! It’s refreshing to read a perspective that highlights the value of virtue!