Purposeful Leadership: How Well Do You Know Yourself?

Published on
April 4, 2024

Purposeful leadership arises out of knowing ourselves. Unfortunately, many of us spend most, if not all, of our lives not knowing who we are. We live according to what we perceive as the expectations of others. We spend our lives living as we think we are. It is our mental self-image and social agreement, which most people spend their whole lives living up to - or living down to.

As humans, we live with both a false and true self. Our false self is the compulsive, ego-driven, old nature comprising achievements, personas, roles, and masks. The false self bases its worth on what others think of us: money, success, performance, and more. 

The false self is grandiose. It poses, postures, spins, hides, defends, judges, deflects, pretends, manipulates, and fears. Vices such as anger, envy, sloth, deceit, gluttony, pride, avarice, fear, and lust describe the false self’s behaviors.

-Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram

Your true self is your renewed in Christ self. It is the you that has existed in Christ's mind since the beginning. You cannot earn your true self. It only emerges in union with God. Performance and roles have nothing to do with it. 

It is not an image you can construct or acquire. Your true self is humble, restful, open, and vulnerable. It reflects God and is present to and receives others. Your true self knows its belovedness. It can give and receive love and express itself in a life of freedom and virtue.

-Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram

Let’s first consider the false self.

The False Self

I have lived for many decades in this world. Throughout my leadership journey, I have worked with people I labeled as “climbers.” A climber is a person who attempts to gain a higher social position or acceptance in our fashionable society. There is nothing wrong with giving your best effort to an organization and being recognized. The struggle with climbers is their “notice me” attitude, not being team players, their "I don't care who I have to run over" perspective, and their inability to receive constructive feedback from those around them.

The climber attitude is a multifaceted manifestation of the false self, which has many consequences. Author Peter Scazzero narrows them down into three temptations: 1. Performance: I am what I do; 2. Possessions: I am what I have; and 3. Popularity: I am what others think. Climbers embody these consequences.


I spent twenty-two years of my adult life in the military. It is an up-or-out organization. As in most career fields, you either promote or do not stay in the organization. I understand and appreciate this mindset. The military and other organizations need growing, experienced leaders for the organization to thrive.

This up-or-out requirement can lead to a temptation to overcompensate. I have worked with military members who overvalued personal achievement and worried about constantly demonstrating usefulness and performance. Being noticed for their performance became their identity.

Many of us score ourselves on our success in family, career, academics, etc. Performance, in and of itself, is acceptable and necessary. Yet, when performance becomes our defining measure, we are in dangerous territory. Our worth does not come from our worldly success. It comes from who we are in God.

When asked for a statement on how he became successful, Trappist monk Thomas Merton became indignant. He replied,

If I had a message to my contemporaries, I said, it was surely this, “Be anything you like, be madmen, drunks … of every shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success.”

Our worth does not come from our worldly success. It comes from who we are in God.


I grew up in a middle-class home. We always had enough. But we didn’t have the best by society's standards. We had a small house, a large yard, a pop-up camper, and a poodle named Bingo. We also had much love in our family.

My parents spent most of their marriage in the same home. My father died at age sixty-three, and Mom stayed in the house after his death. She only moved out after health issues forced her into a season when she needed more help in her daily life. I remember returning home after my young adult time in the Marine Corps and noticing how small the house I had grown up in was. And yet, my parents happily raised three children in our quaint small home.

Society tells us more is always better, which is the mantra of the advertising industry. What we need is more. Planned obsolescence is behind the building of products. We always need more. We always need the next, newest thing. The keyboard I am typing on has an upgrade available. The more recent version is sleeker. Even though this keyboard works fine, I want to buy the newer one.

Our possessions might make us feel better momentarily, but ultimately, they won’t satisfy us. Worldly success and material possessions are not satisfying. I am a football fan. Tom Brady is, by most measures, the most outstanding professional quarterback of all time. In June 2005, 60-Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft spoke with New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady about his success on and off the field. What he said about being satisfied in life surprised everyone.

BRADY: …There’s times where I’m not the person that I want to be. Why do I have three Super Bowl rings, and still think there’s something greater out there for me? I mean, maybe a lot of people would say, “Hey man, this is what is.” I reached my goal, my dream, my life. Me, I think: God, it’s gotta be more than this. I mean this can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be. I mean I’ve done it. I’m 27. And what else is there for me?
KROFT: What’s the answer?
BRADY: I wish I knew. I wish I knew…


At my second duty station, I remember asking one of my mentors what I must do for someone to notice me for a plumb assignment (i.e., chaplain school class officer or instructor at the schoolhouse, working on the staff of the Chaplain of the Marine Corps, getting selected for an advanced education opportunity). He had been an instructor at the chaplain school. Someone had noticed him.

I don’t remember my mentor’s exact words. Essentially, he responded with a warning to avoid trying to get noticed. Just do your work and do it well. Sometimes, good work gets recognized, and sometimes it does not. It is not about getting recognized; it is about giving your best, even, perhaps especially, when no one is looking.

Remember the child in your class who always seemed to be jumping up and down in the back of the classroom, saying, “Teacher, teacher, look at me, look at me!” That classmate who always seemed to need to be at the center of attention? Social media is sort of like that. We see only the best of people. Everything posted is about how great their life is.

Who wants to read about the mundane, or worse, the difficulties? Who wants to read about the struggles a person is going through? When you stop to think about it, we live most of life in the ordinary. Life is hard. We have good times; we also have difficult times.

I regularly listen to the Holy Post Podcast. The host interviewed San Diego State University psychology professor Jean Twenge in one episode. Several things struck me about the interview. One of the most troubling is that smartphones are the most likely cause behind the sudden increase in mental health issues among teens since 2012.  

Twenge pointed toward social media as the culprit. Teen engagement with social media increases the level of comparison: who I am is not good enough; I don’t look like she does; my clothes are not as lovely as his or hers; they have more followers and more likes than I do on my posts. The comparisons never stop. I am not as popular as he or she is.

Deeply Entrenched

The false self is the deeply entrenched self. It is us. And we are drawn to the three temptations of performance, possessions, and popularity. Peter Scazzero reminds us that it is hard to hide the “consequences—fear, self-protection, possessiveness, manipulation, self-destructive tendencies, self-indulgence, and a need to distinguish ourselves from others.”

The Apostle Paul writes, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but I practice the evil that I do not want to do” (Romans 7:19 Christian Standard Bible). Paul’s feelings are familiar in the human experience.

One significant impediment to knowing God is self-knowledge. Scazzero notes that “...we end up wearing a mask—before God, ourselves, and others. Ultimately, this fear stops us from truly knowing ourselves and blocks our growth in Christ.”

Defining the false self is not a complex endeavor. Unfortunately, it is the self we have lived for most of our lives. And yet, 

finding our true selves means allowing God to find and reveal our true selves to us… It is a desire planted in us by God.

-James Martin

Living in the true self is the antidote to the pitfalls of the false self. We now turn to the true self.

True Self

True self living is the opposite of the self described above. It is who you are and who you are becoming. David Benner writes that it is 

not something you need to construct through a process of self-improvement or deconstruct employing psychological analysis. It is not an object to be grasped…, it is not… some inner hidden part of you. It is the total self whom God made you to be. It is the “unique face of God that has been set aside from eternity for you.


Most of us live our entire lives without knowing who we are. Fear is at the heart of the false self – the fear of being found out for who you are. A few weeks ago, a young leader offered me a coaching session that would become a podcast episode. During the conversation, he asked me a question about my deepest struggles. The question led me to rediscover my Enneagram Type One personality. All Enneagram types have incredible gifts to offer the world. They also have areas of challenge. 

My type is known as a reformer. Everywhere I look, I notice wrong things that need to be corrected, and I desire to fix them. I want others to do things right - speak concisely, follow the rules, and look well put together. I want people treated justly. When I am healthy, my personality is an incredible gift. My desire to do things with precision is a gift to my family and the organization of which I am a part.

My personality can be destructive when I am not emotionally healthy. I am an excellent self-critic. I often contend that my writing, speaking, leadership, and life fall short of God’s design. I become a critic of those around me, personally and professionally.

I hide behind fixing and correcting as I procrastinate to put something into the world that won’t be perfect (like these blog posts). Through some coaching and deep conversations over the last couple of years, I have grown in understanding the value and limitations of my reformer personality.

Relational Connection

Can you see the struggle between my false self and true self? God created me as disciplined, attentive to details, persevering, self-controlled, responsible, fair, and considerate to do what’s good for others. When healthy, I integrate compassion, justice, and graceful discipline.

Sometimes, I don’t realize that when I share my insights or advice with people, they will feel controlled, pressured, or criticized. I never want people to feel judged. In my heart, I am a person of good intentions. It’s tough for me that my well-meaning suggestions are not fully appreciated.

When we do not connect well, we can make course corrections in our own lives and grow in our relatability. You will see both effective and ineffective relational aspects if you read my story closely. When I am emotionally healthy, my personality is helpful to people. I see better ways to do things in organizations and more effective systems, and I will complete my work rightly and in order. When I am emotionally healthy and living into my true self, my self-criticism is quieter, my rough edges are smoothed out, and my spirit is more settled.

Purposeful Leadership

In A.D. 400, Augustine wrote in his Confessions, “How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self?” He prayed, “Grant Lord that I may know myself that I may know thee.” Augustine was one of the great thinkers and writers of the early centuries following Christ's death and resurrection. How is it that we in the modern church have forgotten his prayer? We forget this prayer to our detriment.

Authentic relationships with others and God require self-knowledge – understanding who we are so we recognize false self living when it arises – and then living into our true self, the essential person God created us to be. James Martin offers two helpful questions to help us evaluate if something is indispensable to who we indeed are:

  1. Is this part of myself keeping me from being more loving and generous?
  2. Is this keeping me from being closer to God and to other people?

If we answer yes, we must move away from these things that take away from being more generous and loving.

Spiritual health and self-awareness are integral to purposeful leadership. Knowing our true selves, as God created us to be, allows us to lead authentically and effectively. The journey to self-discovery can be complex and challenging, as we often struggle with a false self rooted in fear and insecurity.

Purposeful leaders cultivate deep self-knowledge, including recognizing and addressing the challenges and limitations of our personalities. They seek to understand their unique gifts and strengths and learn to use them to serve others and make a positive impact.

Embracing our true selves enables us to form authentic relationships with others and God. Living in our true selves makes us more loving, generous, and compassionate, enhancing our ability to lead purposefully and creating a positive ripple effect in the world.

Purposeful leadership is woven from relational, spiritual, physical, and emotional threads. Purpose comes as leaders cultivate these four dimensions to create healthy life rhythms for a life of meaning and fulfillment. Understanding and living into the true self is essential for purposeful leadership, allowing leaders to lead authentically, compassionately, and effectively.

Your Turn

Knowing our false and true selves is essential to living a purposeful life. The false self is the part of us driven by our ego and based on what others think of us. It is characterized by performance, possessions, and popularity. The true self is the part of us connected to God and characterized by humility, restfulness, openness, and vulnerability.

The modern world rewards the false self. We need to achieve, accumulate, and be popular to succeed. But this is a lie. True success comes from knowing and living our true selves.

To be a more effective, purposeful leader, start by understanding yourself. This is a complex but essential process. Once you know your true self, you can begin to live in alignment with it, allowing you to lead with greater authenticity, integrity, and purpose.

Take some time to reflect on your life. 

  • Where is the false self showing up in your life?
  • How has this part of you show up in your relationships?
  • What is most important to you?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

When you know yourself deeply, you can live a profoundly purposeful life.

None of us are perfect people. All of us have areas that require growth.

Purposeful living is vital to a flourishing life in unity with others. Purposeful people evaluate their areas of challenge and commit to doing what is necessary to be the people God means them to be.

Friend, what must you do to live a more purposeful life? Send me a note and let me know. I love to hear from readers and support them on their journeys.

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