The Danger of Outside-In Leadership

Leaders who lead from the outside-in spend an unhealthy amount of time concentrating on their outward life instead of their inward life. The danger in doing this is that the core of who we are and what drives us come from the inside. The inside life of a leader is reflected through their actions and behaviors. A leader who loses focus of his inward life is traveling a dangerous path.  Leader’s who are outside-in still can cast a compelling vision, build a tribe, and deliver results. At the same time they can also, over time, develop cracks in their character and integrity because character, integrity, morals, come from the inside of a person.

History is full of examples of people and companies with outside-in leaders who have come crashing down. It does not matter your position or title, everyone has the potential to succumb to being an outside-in leader. Even President John F. Kennedy lead a life from the outside-in. Feel free to read more about his outside-in leadership and life in The Dark Side Of John F. Kennedy. The past few years we have seen many leader fallen because of not focusing on their inward life. But we have also seen people who have left a lasting legacy of greatness, who where inside-out leaders. I want to provide you with two examples of coaches who exemplify being an inside-out and outside-in leader.

First, an example of a true inside-out leader was John Wooden, the legendary basketball coach of UCLA. Who “in 2009 was named by Sporting News as the greatest coach of all time in any sport.” He lived with character and integrity in every area of his life. His example show what can happen if you continue to make the right choices a long period. This is only done if you focus on your inward life.

Second, an example of an outside-in leader is former Penn State coach Joe Patterno (Enough said).

Becoming an outside-in leader can be avoided if we intentionally focus and develop our inward life. Here are some suggestions on how to maintain your inward life:

Take time to evaluate your current inside condition and then make the necessary changes. (This might require seeking professional help).

Take time to find people who will sharpen and hold you accountable.

Take time to daily think about and develop your inside life.

Take time to think about your core values and beliefs then choose to live a life that reflects them.

Take time to know and understand yourself.

Question: How do you maintain living and leading from the inside-out?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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23 thoughts on “The Danger of Outside-In Leadership

  1. Just saying – Wooden is one of my leadership hero’s.

    I am with Bill on this and still have to work hard to not lead from the outside in – it is a progress not perfection area for me. One way I have been working on this is in an intentional prayer focus on the inward areas – I pray about them which obviously help and I am being reminded of it on a daily basis and I say it out loud so I hear too. This is one way I try to work on the inside.

    Good thoughts!

    • I wrote this post also still need to work at being an inside-out person and leader. I know it will be a life long process. Having a “Intentional prayer focus” is such a great way to stay inwardly focused. I often pray God would show me those areas (Which I can’t see) that would cause me to be distant from Him. To shine His light on those areas. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Daily I spend time in prayer, I put on the armor of God and I read the Bible. Sometimes that is not enough, sometimes I need to really unplug from the world and spend even a greater amount of time with God. I also find praise and worship songs help inspire throughout my day.

    • Taking time to connect with God through prayer and bible reading is such a big factor to leading from the inside. Thank you for sharing, wonderful thoughts.

  3. To live from the inside-out, for me, requires an active and concentrated building of my Faith in God, my walk with Jesus and my reliance on the Holy Spirit. I must clear the cobwebs and dust from between my ears and focus on Him. He draws me to read Scripture and He listens to my prayers. I don’t know if it would make me a good leader, or not, but I do know that I cannot navigate my life without Him.

  4. Great information Dan! Loved the inclusion of Coach Wooden. I’m currently reading his book One-On-One With Coach Wooden. It sounds like he lived a great life and gave everything he could.

    • He is a great person to learn from. After you finish reading the book, let me know how it was. I have read The Pyramid of Success and it was a great book. Thank you for reading and sharing.

      • Will do Dan. It might be awhile as One-On-One is a devotional/daily book to read. I’m at day 25 and it has been a great book. The reviews on Amazon seem to echo the same. I’ll have to check out Pyramid of Success.

      • Will do Dan. It might be awhile as One-On-One is a devotional/daily book to read. I’m at day 25 and it has been a great book. The reviews on Amazon seem to echo the same. I’ll have to check out Pyramid of Success.

  5. Absolutely, 100%, on the money! :)
    What a great comparison with Wooden and Patterno. I think other great examples of outside-in leadership could include politicians who’ve been in the news lately (Blagojevich, Cain, Gingrich). So much of their efforts are spent on having an impact in public, that they lose all concern for their private character. Thanks for sharing.

    • Those are such good examples. Having good character is foundation to doing great things. It starts with making right choices, no matter who can see us.

      Glad you stopped by. I checked out your blog and I’m looking forward to reading it.

  6. Great post. The Presidency is being debated on this, as we know we have leaders who can lead well but their character is flawed, so we know leadership CAN be attained without strong character.
    I have been making myself accountable to people and always being transparent with others. This helps me to continue to look inside and make sure I am being honest with myself.

    • Great points Marc. This is why many of the leaders who are in the spot light are falling, for everyone to see. Because they have not made the right choices and have cracks in their character.

      Having people who know you weaknesses or struggles hold you accountable is key. Thank you for sharing.

  7. I am constantly reminded of how much my leadership changes when I’m focused more outside-in. When I’m working through my own character flaws and getting closer to God personally, my leadership thrives, the ministry grows and we move forward. When I’m focused more on the outside, the ministry suffers. I think it’s God’s way of keeping me humble and focused on Him. On top of that, I read my bible, pray, have times of private worship, and am constantly challenged by those around me to grow.

    • You bring up a wonderful point, one in which I relate with. When I’m not focused on God or being inward focused, everything seems to flow smother. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  8. Dan, this is a book I absolutely must go out and purchase. I will add this to the list of books I need to read. Awesome post.