I have just returned from the United Methodist Association of Health and Welfare Ministries’ Annual Conference. I learned new things from each of the presentations and from talking with staff from other agencies from around the country.

I want to share what I believe was the most important quote of the week and I believe it applies to all of us:

leaders-do-best“Leaders do best when their primary focus is on their own functioning, not that of others.”

This was presented on a slide and explained by Bob Duggan, author of “Resilient Leadership”. Mr. Duggan is a gentleman whose career has been devoted to sharing how the theories of Murray Bowen, an early family systems thinker, are at work in organizations.

Back in the 80’s when I studied family therapy, Murray Bowen was my favorite theorist. I won’t bore you with the details. I’ll simply share that in my opinion then, his theory better explained what happens in families both from generation to generation and within nuclear families. (I’ll stop there, but I could go on about how he put ENTIRE families into residential treatment.)

What struck me first about Mr. Duggan’s statement, “Leaders do best when their primary focus is on their own functioning, not that of others”, is that it sounds so much like something Jesus would have said about leadership. He came close with, “remove the log from your own eye before you attempt to pull the splinter out of another person’s eye.”

The second thing I considered is that his statement, “Leaders do best when their primary focus is on their own functioning, not that of others”, fits nicely into the Servant Leadership model. A servant leader is one who is not attempting to fix others or manipulate them into behaving a certain way. Rather, a servant leader is one who seeks to create an environment in which those who are led are free to grow into the unique person God is creating, are free to use fully the skill set God has provided them, and are free to become more themselves as a consequence of being led. We can lead no one any further than we are willing to go ourselves. Consequently, if we wish to be good leaders, we must focus on our own functioning first.

The third thing I thought when I heard, “Leaders do best when their primary focus is on their own functioning, not that of others”, was a much more personal question: “Rick, how are you functioning?” The statement and question force one into honest self-reflection, deep self-inspection, and intentional self-improvement. If I want to be an exceptional leader, I must consider my own abilities and my own functioning everyday. I have written the statement on an index card, I have put it in my phone, and now I’m writing to share it with you.

“Leaders do best when their primary focus is on their own functioning, not that of others.”

This truism applies across the spectrum from “leadership” agencies which set the pace for other organizations to individuals like you and me who simply want to do our best.


Rick Wheat
President/CEO