The Leader's War Within ... and How to Win It


George Washington had an inner battle. He knew it and he fought it. We must do the same!

In their book, Washington's God: Religion, Liberty, And The Father Of Our Country, Michael and Jana Novak note:

Both the writings of the ancients (especially military heroes) and of the Bible were storehouses of wisdom, and so Washington studied both. When he ordered busts and portraits for the ornamentation of his parlors at Mount Vernon, he chose exemplars of the use of power from across the centuries: Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Charles XII of Sweden, Frederick II of Prussia. He also hung prominently on the wall of his large dining room, the most public room at Mount Vernon, two key portraits:  the Virgin Mary and St. John. He kept clearly in mind--and exemplified in his own speech and behavior--the twin message of the Bible: that men are capable of both brutishness and nobility.
For Washington himself, calming his own inner furies had been an arduous task. As a young man, he had been quite prone to outbursts of anger, so he well understood that there was a war within himself.1

Leading others requires leading ourselves. Before we take on the battles "out there" we must first deal with the battle "in here." Washington knew this. So did Paul. Writing to Timothy, his young protege, Paul said, "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching."2 Paul knew that Great Teaching + Lousy Living = One BIG Failure.

To avoid that big failure, Washington took strategic moves we would do well to emulate:

  1. He identified his war within. Washington understood his war within was his untamed temper. What leadership or character flaw is likely to sabotage your effectiveness? Name it.
  2. He renewed his mind. Washington's strategy to win the war within was to renew his mind with great lessons from history. Leader's know that we are what we think. Consequently, we set our minds on truth wherever we find it: Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.3
  3. He found an example. Washington hung portraits and placed busts in prominent places -- to remind him of the kind of man he wanted to be. We "hang portraits" anytime we develop focal points that help keep our minds fixed to the truth.

Let me share with you how this works in my leadership.

  1. Identify my war within. One of my wars within is being risk-adverse. My desire to get it right and to not fail can make me tentative and timid.
  2. Renew my mind. I remind myself that I can tackle the "impossible" because nothing is impossible with God.4 God can do far more than all I can ask or even imagine.5 As I renew my mind in that truth I become more willing to take a kingdom risk!
  3. Find an example. In my office I have a large photograph of Jackie Robinson stealing home against the New York Yankees. In baseball there is probably no greater risk. This picture reminds me of both the importance and the thrill of taking a God-honoring risk.

Now for the important question. Where do we get the power to execute the strategy? I remember the words of my predecessor, David Nicholas: "Tommy, remember that Jesus said, 'Apart from me you can do nothing' (John 15:5) and Paul reminds us that with Jesus you can do everything" (Philippians 4:13).

Strategies without power are battles lost. May Jesus himself give you the strength to win the war within!

Question: Who or what provides a helpful example for you? You can leave a comment below.


1 Michael and Jana Novak, Washington's God: Religion, Liberty, And The Father Of Our Country, page 127. 2 1 Timothy 4:16 ESV 3 Philippians 4:8 ESV 4 Mark 9:23; 10:27; 11:24. 5 Ephesians 3:20-21