Qualities of a Successful Leader - Biblical Leadership, Part 3

photo by Bill Rudge

"Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed." Proverbs 15:22

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

This month we continue our series on the principles of Biblical leadership. Whether you are in the role of leader or not, this study can contribute to the growth and maturity of every Christian.

Show Humility

Humility may be the key characteristic God looks for in choosing a leader.

But this is the one to whom I will look [esteem]: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:2).

When I choose captains for my soccer team, I emphasize that an attitude of humility is essential if they want to be effective leaders. They must put the needs of their teammates ahead of their own. Their influence on the team is most evident when they embrace “servant leadership.”

This is the exact view of leadership we find in the Bible. Contrary to being arrogant and boastful, God calls us to an attitude of humility. Jesus, Himself, provides the greatest example. Although God incarnate, Jesus willingly humbled Himself to provide salvation. As the apostle Paul admonishes:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

Jesus’ humility is clearly demonstrated as He washes His disciples feet (John 13:12-17). Although the washing of feet was typically carried out by the lowest of slaves, Jesus performed this action to show His disciples that true leadership, love and strength are demonstrated when we serve others – not the other way around. Great leaders lead through humble service:

And Jesus called them [disciples] to Him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45).

Communicate Effectively

Nehemiah was given the task of returning to Jerusalem – which had been destroyed by the Babylonians – and rebuilding the walls of the city. After inspecting the walls, he clearly communicated to the Israelites the plans God had laid on his heart for Jerusalem:

Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work (Nehemiah 2:17, 18).

As with Nehemiah, effective communication begins in laying out the vision. Vision states the purpose of why we are doing what we are doing. As a coach I understand how vital this is to build a soccer program. I know what I want to accomplish (win our region and district), but I need to go deeper and identify the why. Doing this allows my coaches and players and myself, to identify who we are as a team and why we exist as a program. The purpose statement for our program:

... is to inspire our athletes towards excellence by fostering an environment that seeks to instill conviction, passion, confidence and authentic relationships among the players.

Along with defined vision, effective communication requires a leader to set expectations, address conflicts, listen, empathize with others and be honest; saying what others may not want, but need, to hear.

A prominent church in our area suffered through the experience of poor communication. When the congregation was provided no information as to why a pastor was fired, the firestorm of rumors ensued, eventually leading to a split. The unfortunate result could have been avoided, or at least minimized, had the leadership provided proper communication.

[On a side note, great leaders respect confidentiality and do not engage in gossip and slander. As it says in Proverbs 20:19: A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much.]

Possess Conviction

Daniel embodied this quality. Daniel was one of the Jews taken exile into Babylon following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Over the passage of time he was elevated in status from captive to ruler of the entire province of Babylon and chief over all the wise men (Daniel 2:48). Later, when the Medes and Persians destroyed Babylon, Daniel was again promoted to a position of prominence (Daniel 6:1-3). God was able to use Daniel in positions of great influence in his pagan world because Daniel was a man of conviction. In fact, he lived such a life of integrity that when the other advisors became jealous, they could not find any charge to bring against him, except in relation to the God he served:

Then the high officials and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God (Daniel 6:4, 5).

Like Daniel, people of conviction possess unwavering commitment. They know what they believe and why they believe it. They live by what they say and hold themselves accountable when they fail. They display courage as they choose to stand for what they know to be right, even if that means standing alone.

In addition to being unwavering in commitment, being authentic, and displaying courage, leaders of conviction create safeguards in their lives. The importance of this came to mind when I read the inspiring story of Charlotte Brown. In the spring of 2015, she won the bronze medal for pole vault in the state of Texas. While winning a state medal is a great accomplishment, this is not what caught my attention. Charlotte ran down the over 130 feet runway, carrying a pole about 10 feet in length, and vaulted over 11 feet in the air to win the medal – all while being blind.

Brown had to count her steps and incorporate a beeper to tell her when to plant the pole. Without these safeguards in place she would not have known where she was on the runway, which in turn would have prevented her from successfully making the vault. So, too, if we want to be leaders of conviction, we need to create safeguards that provide guidance and direction. The Word of God, prayer, and input from other believers (mentors) are some of the safeguards that can keep us on the right path.

Leaders of conviction are the exception in a day defined by compromise. But when we choose to live faithful and upright lives before God we will find ourselves, just like Daniel, being used by God in powerful ways.

Seek Wise Counsel

There is a Proverb in the Bible that says:

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed (Proverbs 15:22).

I have applied this proverb to my coaching program. When I first took over, I realized that to make the program successful, I needed to surrounded myself with people who had the same goals and vision and principles I did. I am grateful for assistant coaches and others who help provide support, counsel, insight and guidance.

Good leaders recognize the importance of having others in their lives to provide them with encouragement and edification. They understand that as “iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Each of us should have at least one person in our lives who cares enough to encourage us when we are feeling discouraged, gently rebuke us when we need correction and provide godly wisdom as we make decisions.

If we want to be good and effective leaders, we should seek out men and women whose lives have been defined by a consistent walk with God; people, like the apostle Paul, who are examples of what it means to walk in the Lord’s will (Philippians 3:17). Let us ask that God will not only raise up a “Paul” in our lives, but also that we can be a “Paul” in the life of someone else! As the apostle Paul declared to the believers at Philippi:

The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:9).

Next month we will conclude this series on Biblical Leadership as we will examine additional qualities of successful leaders.