The First Principle of Leadership: It’s About You.

The first principle of leadership: it’s about you.

Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.

Artists create art because they are compelled to. Scientists discover new things because they are compelled to. Leaders lead because they are compelled to. The general good that the world receives from Artists, Scientists, and Leaders is not the cause of these identities but the result. If you lead, you lead because you must. And it’s about you. Getting that confused will lead to well-intentioned, but ultimately destructive ends for you and those whom you catch in your wake.

Many leadership fads obscure this truth, and you’ve probably encountered them.


Well, yes. When I was in first grade I made a tree out of glue and torn construction paper. For my first grade self, it was pretty good. My check from the National Endowment for the Arts has yet to arrive. All of us make art, and some of us are artists. I wouldn’t sully the name of Rembrandt and Monet by including me in their company. It was a really good tree though. Hardly any extra glue.


Servant Leadership is the idea that our primary responsibility as a leader is to serve the people who work for us. Servant Leadership has obtained a nearly cult-like following. The waiter who brings you your food serves you your food. They do not choose your food for you. They do not play an integral role in helping you consume it. They do not pay for it. There is nothing wrong with service–we should all be willing to serve others. But service is drawn from a different well than leadership.

If you are compelled to make people’s lives better by looking after their well being and providing for their wants and needs, you are putting yourself in a weak position to make the tough calls that leaders need to make.

For example, it’s difficult to justify taking someone’s livelihood from them through termination as an “act of service”. Leaders call shots. Servants deliver the target.

But one more very important point.

It’s not about you.

I know what I just said, hang on. Leadership for personal vanity, gain, kingdom building, exploiting others? That’s abuse and selfishness masquerading as leadership. Leadership is an art as well as a science. We pull the strength to do it from the same place. We push toward ends that would not otherwise be organized and achieved because we must. And the most valuable part of what we do is care for the people in our trust. We reverence them like the scientist reverences the concepts that make their work possible. We treasure and care for them as an artist cares for the ideas and questions that make their work possible.

We direct who we are and what we must do to ends that could not be completed without us. In our pursuits, we care for the people in our charge to help them achieve their goals along with ours.

We are leaders because we are compelled to be. We lead because we must.

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