Master yourself first


I have an email list of subscribers to whom I send out weekly updates, and I recently invited readers of this column who have contacted me in the past to join that list. I received this reply from one of them:

“Thanks for the updates, but I came to you in the first place because I was and I am still looking for a financial help to aid my plan of doing business. I’ve managed to secure little funds from other well-wishers but I am still hunting for a little not more than K150,000 to push me.” It signed off as D.M.

D.M. had initially contacted me in February 2014, asking for a contribution towards the K140,000 he needed to attend a church youth conference in a neighbouring country. Over a year later he was still asking for money, this time to finance his business.


This week’s column, originally published in September 2013, is for D.M.’s benefit.

Original article

In his book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, leadership expert Dr John Maxwell tells the story of successful businessperson Jerry Anderson. Jerry started as an entrepreneur in the early 1970s, but within a short period his first business folded. He decided to join an organisation, but the organisation was investigated by the state and forced to shut down. Jerry launched yet another business but after pouring all his best efforts into the business for three years, his venture was still failing.


Jerry went to see an older gentleman who always seemed to be successful in his businesses and asked him about the secret to his success. The wise mentor revealed to Jerry that he based all his business dealings on specific values and principles. He had taken sayings from the book of Proverbs, categorised them into topics, and written them down in a small notebook which he carried around with him everywhere. Whenever he had a business problem or question, he referred to his little book for the answer.

Jerry’s mentor gave him a copy of the book and encouraged Jerry to put the principles into practice. Before long, Jerry’s business had turned around and for the first time made a profit. He expanded throughout the state of California, and eventually sold off the business. Building on what he had learned, Jerry set up yet another business which grew to become the largest in its field in the US, employing over 1,000 people. Jerry sold that business too and, together with his mentor, set up an organisation in 1989 known as La Red Business Network which focuses on sharing the principles that they had learnt with other people in the marketplace.

La Red was invited to Columbia to teach the principles to prison guards in 143 prisons. Columbian prisons are notorious for their endemic violence and corruption. Within a year and a half, prison culture had changed. The murder rate in the prisons had reduced dramatically from one murder every day to only two murders throughout the whole year. Prisoners started writing letters to the government saying that they wanted the training that the prison guards were receiving.

Jerry Anderson’s l i f e and business changed when he changed. Before he was introduced to the values and principles that led to his transformation, all his best efforts resulted in failure. No matter how hard he tried, he simply kept on reproducing the same negative results. The simple truth is this: Life does not give you what you want; it gives you who you are. You cannot give what you do not have. You can only reproduce what you are.

Transformational leaders are people who have been transformed themselves. You cannot change the world until you are changed. Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, once said, “I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.” It was only as Jerry lived the principles that led to transformation in his own life that he was able to create and lead an organisation that is contributing to transformation in entire communities, organisations and even nations.

English playwright Philip Massinger wrote: “He that would govern others, first should be master of himself.” Transformational leadership begins with mastering yourself. Leaders have to be able to lead themselves before they can lead others. Leaders have to experience transformation themselves before they can lead others down the path of transformation.

Much of what we learn in life is caught not taught. We pick up beliefs, behaviour, attitudes from the people around us. The people we spend the most time with, and people we admire, tend to have the greatest influence on us. Motivational speaker, author and entrepreneur Jim Rohn often said: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. In order to have a transformational influence on our world, we need to model transformation.

The words of this poem by an unknown author express it very well: “When I was a young man, I wanted to change the world. I found it was difficult to change the world, so I tried to change my nation. When I found I couldn’t change the nation, I began to focus on my town. I couldn’t change the town and as an older man, I tried to change my family. Now, as an old man, I realise the only thing I can change is myself, and suddenly I realise that if long ago I had changed myself, I could have made an impact on my family. My family and I could have made an impact on our town. Their impact could have changed the nation and I could indeed have changed the world.”

There’s a well-known saying; “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Gaining wisdom is more valuable than getting handouts. D.M. needs to stop asking for fish and start learning how to fish. Perhaps subscribing to my free weekly updates is a good place to start.

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