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March 22, 2012

Shoes that Fit

Effective leaders learn to embrace who God has made them to be

“You did such a great job. I have big shoes to fill!”

My words, meant to compliment, betrayed how intimidated I felt. My predecessor was as good a leader as her reputation boasted. As she slid the mantle of leadership from her shoulders to mine, I simply knew I could never lead as well as she did.

Too often as leaders, we spend our effort trying to fit into someone else’s shoes. We strive to live up to the high standards of our predecessors, exceed the expectations of those around us, and meet our own dreamed-up ideals.

But the most effective leaders learn to wear their own shoes. They embrace their own personalities, operate out of their strengths, and learn to grow as leaders.

Embrace your own personality. I have a friend who’s fun in every sense of the word. She’s mature and deep, but she makes life entertaining and comical. Her delightful way draws people to herself and to the Lord. Her fun-ness is a magnet and I love it.

But I can’t copy it. When I try to break the ice with a crazy game, it feels phony instead of fun. When I buy gag gifts for those I lead, they end up being lame instead of lighthearted.

I’m a melancholy leader, contemplative and reflective. I admit I wish I weren’t so serious, and from time to time I try to wear my friend’s fun personality. But anytime I’ve tried to wear her shoes, I’ve fallen flat.

Instead, I’m learning to embrace the temperament God’s given me, becoming more comfortable in my own shoes. Simply acknowledging my own disposition, finding its benefits, and resting in the fact that it actually makes me more beautiful has helped diffuse the desire to wear someone else’s shoes.

Dance in your strength. My favorite shoes are a pair of black pumps with subtle pleating on the side and a practical heel height. They are cute and comfortable. I wear them with everything, because I’m confident, relaxed, and full of life when I’m in those shoes. When I have those shoes on, I’m not thinking about my shoes, I’m thinking about living life.

In the same way, when I lead in my strengths, I don’t need to think and double-check that I’m doing things right. I’m just “on.” What’s challenging to others comes naturally to me. I leave work energized and people around me are motivated to do their best. My leadership and influence bring joy and excitement, and it’s apparent to everyone.

Fully embracing your God-given strengths is like puttin’ on your dancing shoes! You discover the thrill of doing exactly what you’ve been created to do. As you live out your strengths, you begin to find your groove and instinctively move to the rhythms of leadership.

Admittedly, discovering your unique gifts can be difficult. It takes a bit of self-cognizance and God-awareness to recognize the talent and ability God’s given you. But affirming and utilizing your strengths allows you to discover the joy of dancing in your own shoes.

Grow into your own shoes. My daughter has a pair of black patent leather flats in her closet she’s been waiting to grow into. Every few weeks she’ll try them, only to be disappointed that they’re still too big. And every time, I assure her eventually they will fit.

Even as we dance in our strengths, life and ministry have ways of pointing out places where we need to grow. We work so hard to improve and keep checking to see if we’ve arrived, only to walk away disillusioned that we’re not there yet.

The challenge in growing into our shoes is resisting the temptation to compare shoes with everyone around us. We’re to grow into our own shoes, not those of another leader.

We can take hope from knowing that God is faithfully growing us into just the women and leaders he wants us to be. We need only to endure the temporary annoyance of slipping around in too-big shoes. God promises that the day will come when we fit perfectly into our own shoes.

As I tried to hide my insecurities from my predecessor, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “I think you’re doing a fine job fitting in your own shoes!” Her words gave me hope. No, I did not need to lead as she did. I simply needed to wear my own shoes—shoes that fit!

Esther Feng and her husband live with their two elementary-age daughters in Central New York. Esther currently serves as development communications coordinator at MOPS International and is a freelance writer, blogging at EstherFeng.com

Related Tags: growth, leadership, roles


Great article. I wholeheartedly agreed as I was reading along. And was pleasantly surprised to see your name at the end. Still love to grab coffee sometime and hear about all you're doing. :) Obviously, doing well.

Very freeing thoughts, Esther. I love the idea of shoes in our closets awaiting the right time to wear. Well spoken.

Thank you so much for this article, I have forwarded to my mailing list. God bless you all the way from London.

Esther! Love you! Made me get all teary. Well said, talented friend. You look good in those comfy shoes! xoxo Annie

Walk tall in those comfy cozy shoes and remember you are a daughter of the Risen King. You don't have to fill any other shoes but the ones He's given you!
Thanks for the great reminder.


Needed those words. Encouraged. Thanks!

I tend to feel intimidated when my eyes are on other leaders. I am encouraged by your idea to work through our own strengths and then I am even more encouraged when I "Look to the LORD and his strength;seek his face always." 1 Chron 16:11. Thank you for sharing from your heart.

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