AFTER I drafted these points below I asked myself, “Does the Church really need another ‘leadership’ article?” Whilst my answer was in the negative, I thought it was still worthwhile to hone and publish these points for clarity in my own thinking. Perhaps they’re beneficial for your thinking, too?
First, my ‘qualifications’ as a leader from which this list is gleaned. Mainly experience in the secular workforce, professionally. But I did get my first ‘diploma’ in team leadership nearly twenty years ago. I’ve most often been required to provide leadership rather than be the assigned leader. And the style of my leadership has most often been as facilitator of groups or mentor to individuals. As an advisor, the power I’ve had to utilise has been personal and information, to achieve results through others because of influence, rather than through actual positional power.
Perhaps you’ll read the following list and determine for yourself my ‘qualifications’ based on how you feel about what I’ve written.
So, here goes. Here is my Top 40 list of traits of good Christian leaders.
1. Reward innovation – a competent leader knows they need good minds. They reward thinking that innovates. There’s no such thing as ‘leave your brain at the gate’ for a good Christian leader. Of course, roles boundaries help with context.
2. Punish nothing – why suppress love? In leadership, tough love can easily morph into abuse. The punitive motive does not seek for the best in the one who’s led. Let a consequence be its own punishment. Punish no further. Permeate the relational dynamic with grace. At times a lesson needs to be learned, but no ‘interest’ ought to be added.
3. Embrace heart – passion is pivotal in the Kingdom of God. As a leader, I want to embrace people’s passion, believing it’s Holy Spirit inspired.
4. Talk holiness – akin to Deuteronomy 6:4-9, it’s the leader’s responsibility to talk up the Word and will of God, and the Lord’s revelation at works in our lives.
5. Use process – I prefer the Ian Macdonald Systems Leadership process for team leadership and team membership, which I was introduced to in 1993. Such a process values the roles of all players in the team. Good leaders appreciate the importance of fair, efficient and effective process, which is above all well communicated.
6. Teach enjoyment – passion comes from joy, and leaders understand that connection. Joy is intrinsically motivating and a leader typifying joy exudes what most want as a trait of their being.
7. Listen intently – the best leaders are humble enough to listen in a way that the one who talks with them feels they’re the only ones present in that space at that time.
8. Nurture authenticity – it can be hard work being ourselves. Some need permission. Others just find it plain hard. Others, again, do it well; encourage them within the group. Authenticity will then be unlocked because people won’t be afraid of being vulnerable because it’s valued.
9. Exemplify encouragement – the good leader is an encourager. They model what they value that everyone should do. These types of leaders don’t believe encouragement is an exclusive gift given to some; encouragement is seen as a fruit of the Spirit in terms of kindness.
10. Value history – a good leader understands they stand on the shoulders of others before them. They understand nothing is foundationless, and they give credit where it’s due.
11. Take responsibility – a good leader understands the value of taking the blame for things that go wrong. They know it’s the system of leadership that needs fixing, not people. This creates a sense of safety and wellbeing in people.
12. Regularly debrief – many things and events are honoured and helped by simply taking stock. A good leader plays a capable counsellor when required. This pastoral concern shows people where their leader’s heart is at.
13. Make time – time is space and space made means people feel valued, respected, and safe. This is a radical concept in our age. But its wisdom is eternal.
14. Communicate clearly – the good leader knows that communication is more than what is said; it’s what’s not said, as well as what’s communicated intrapersonally through what work of reflection done — often days and weeks after a crucial conversation took place. Communication is not just a once-it-happened event. Meaning changes all the time.
15. Are conventionally radical – the good leader makes what adds value, but looks radical, something of convention. Love is radical, yet love is not extremism; it’s of such value what’s radical becomes conventional. We might call it innovation.
16. Are carefully accountable – a good leader doesn’t use accountability to club people over the head. They themselves exemplify a measured and proactive careful accountability, so when they exercise it, it’s genuine, appreciated, and value-adding.
17. Embody advocacy – a good leader respects that what appears to be a small thing to others is a big thing to another person. They advocate gently though firmly for the individual with a lone voice.
18. Retain perspective – little things given outweighing power can render projects inefficient and ineffective. The leader leads by asking “How important is this?” with the implied answer, “Not very.”
19. Manage crises – leaders of stature manage crises as cognitive challenges, not as emotional battles. Good leaders are realistic, but in a crisis they become situationally optimistic to lead others through the turmoil.
20. Clarify roles – a good leader gives everyone a distinct role; and, as much as possible, each role is equally pivotal in comparison with others’ roles. People appreciate being of value to the purpose of the whole.
21. Trust results – a good leader knows that sound input equals valuable output which equals transformational outcomes. They know good results will come.
22. Are positively appreciative – a good leader uses appreciative enquiry (AI). They recognise more is gained in focusing on strength than weakness.
23. Are ever gentle – in an oft violent world, a good leader is a paragon of safety, assurance, and peace. With a good leader everyone is safe.
24. Endure failure – the good leader doesn’t make much of failure other than where the system failed. Good leaders accept and appreciate that human factors of failure are inevitable.
25. Celebrate humbly – success is a sign of synergy. A good leader uses success to remind the team of T.E.A.M. (Treat Each Actual Member).
26. Lift underdogs – in keeping with John 3:30, a good leader shows where love abounds: in lifting underdogs from the ground.
27. Are steadily faithful – a good leader is emotionally adult. They’re emotionally reliable and stable, and are worthy of the trust that’s placed in them.
28. Enable diversity – good leaders appreciate difference, acknowledging sameness of thought and ideal as a limiting sign. Adversity is embraced in a diverse culture, and disagreement is fostered and wrestled with. A good leader encourages disagreement in order that it might be discussed maturely.
29. Relinquish control – a good leader is not a bad manager. They understand the corrosive nature of a leader’s positional power. They’d much prefer to use personal power to endear themselves to others and information power to empower others.
30. Have loving resolve – a leader never gives up when that’s easily the expectation. At the end of a good leader is the second-wind dependence on God, who inspires and innovates through them once more by his Spirit.
31. Enjoy moments – a good leader is alive spiritually, and they maximise awareness of the moment.
32. Are the blessed – the blessed of the Beatitudes. The biblical leader understands the power in the Kingdom reversal — that things that seem against us are for us when we continue via faith.
33. Shelve ambition – progress and achievement are about team and Kingdom, and ultimately God. The good leader doesn’t get the cart before the horse. They achieve their personal goals through the noble works of working with and for others.
34. Are happy dying – the good leader is happy either dying to themselves, or in the actual practice of dying itself. They live within the tensions of the truth of Philippians 1:23-24.
35. Shun fame – too much notoriety is not good for anyone. The good leader withdraws from popularity as much as they can. And they recognise their own envy at others’ success, and they resist that, too.
36. Love family – what sort of witness are we to the veracity of the Kingdom if our families are in a shambles? Yet, the good leader is happy to learn from their errors. But family is one area they’re keen to do right — as much as possible. Family comes first, always.
37. Rest well – good leaders take care to get their rest and so not be a burden on others — so far as it depends on them — due to their weariness. But an exhausted leader also brings glory to God when they deal gracefully in their weakness.
38. Value compassion – having had their heart awakened, a good leader won’t fail in the area of compassion. They sense they need time to replenish when their compassion is fatigued. They see compassion as the gauge of their godliness.
39. Are self-aware – a great skill of momentary reflection that good leaders personify. Their self-awareness causes them to repent, and often.
40. Desire God – no greater esteem has a leader got to give than their esteem of God who leads them ever by his Spirit. Worship of God is their number one love.
© 2016 Steve Wickham.