7 Qualities a Leader Can't Afford Not to Have
by Carey Nieuwhof
How do you know you’re a leader worth following?
By definition, that’s what a leader is: a person whom others follow. (If no one is following you, you’re probably not a leader, unless you’re pre-launch, but even then, look back at your life. Has anyone followed you… ever?)
Naturally, you can gain a following through a variety of means. Not all are great.
Dictators gain following. So do cult leaders. So do criminals.
Not all leadership is great leadership.
Which raises the question, how do you know you’re a leader worth following?
If you’re a Christian, I think this adds another dimension to your leadership. You need to model leadership in a way that reflects the character and heart of Christ.
So what exactly does that look like?
I’ve met thousands of Christian leaders in my two decades of leadership, and when I think about the leaders I believe are worth following, seven qualities keep rising to the top:
Of all the qualities and characteristics I see in great leaders, humility is one of the greatest. It’s also rarer than it should be, even amongst Christian leaders. Christians don’t always do humility well. Sometimes we equate humility with groveling or low self-esteem. It is neither.
C.S. Lewis said it so well when he wrote that true humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.
God gifted you for life and ministry. But the point is that God gifted and equipped you for ministry, you didn’t. The gift always says more about the giver than it does about the recipient.
Trying to take credit for your gifting makes you like a song that ignores its composer. It doesn’t make the song less powerful; it just distorts what’s going on.
Any alternatives to humility lead straight to arrogance. And as even Jim Collins’ research has discovered, humility is the primary differentiator between good leadership and great leadership. He argues that ego-centric, celebrity-style leadership is the antithesis of great leadership.
Struggle with ego? Be a little less impressed with yourself and more impressed with your team. Better yet, be deeply impressed with God.
Most of us think integrity is a good thing, but what does the term mean?
On the one hand, it means that who you are on the inside matches what you appear to be on the outside. You are consistent to the core.
The concept of integrity springs from the original Latin root of the word, which means ‘intact.’ In other words, can you withstand the crisis intact? A house with integrity (a solid foundation that is what it says it is) will withstand a storm. A house with a flimsy foundation won’t.
‘Normal’ doesn’t test your integrity. A crisis does. If you want to see how deeply your integrity runs, just look at your last crisis.
If you want to improve your integrity, take the steps you need to ensure your private walk matches your public talk.
3. A PASSIONATE FAITH
These points are in no particular order, but still, you might wonder why a passionate faith isn’t #1. First, people would expect it to be #1… so to sound fresh and make sure you don’t skip it; it’s #3.
A passionate faith is the ultimate hallmark of Christian leadership. But the part that lags in many leaders is the passion part. Leadership can make you weary. Like paint, passion fades over time. It’s so important to make sure your passion stays fresh.
Your team will only ever be as passionate about the mission as you are. So do whatever it takes to stay passionate.
4. EMOTIONAL HEALTH
There are a lot of emotionally unhealthy leaders in leadership, but if you want to be a leader worth following, get healthy.
Your health as a leader impacts your entire church regardless of the size.
I am part of a church that’s home to over 2000 people. I don’t know many of them by name. But I do know this: the health of a leader impacts everyone in the organization. Everyone.
If you’re healthy at the top, you’ll be healthy at the bottom. If you’re unhealthy at the top, you’ll be unhealthy at the bottom. Emotionally healthy people recognize, understand and manage their own emotions and reactions. They also know, understand and can (appropriately) influence the emotions of others.
Think about it. Isn’t that what the majority of church conflict is about? Exactly.
Your church or team will only be as healthy as you are. Why? Because eventually, healthy people won’t serve under an unhealthy leader. And unhealthy people won’t stay for long under a healthy leader unless they want to get well.
Trust is confidence, and in leadership, it operates at two levels. First, there’s personal trust. Personal trust is about:
Telling the truth.
We’ve already talked about that.
But there’s another element to trust, and that relates to your performance.
There are more than a few leaders who personally have solid character but are untrustworthy as leaders because they don’t deliver. The key to instilling confidence in your team as a trustworthy leader is simple: do what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it.
If you’re sloppy, undisciplined and miss deadlines, your team will never fully trust you. And they’re right not to.
You may be the leader, but you also need to continue to be a learner. Being an effective leader is not as much about being the teacher as it is about being teachable. If you’re not learning, you’re not growing.
The truly exceptional leaders allow their teams and followers to teach them too. This isn’t just about peer learning, or learning from mentors, conferences or books. It’s about a posture of openness. The more teachable you are, the more people will love being led by you.
One of the most challenging aspects of leadership is establishing clarity.
Think about it. Leadership is complex with many variables. Your head spins from the uncertainty involved. I get that.
Leaders worth following, though, do the hard work of creating clarity.
You can’t always be certain. But you always have to be clear.
The alternative is ambiguity. No one can follow or get excited about ambiguity. And ambiguity doesn’t change the world.
HUMILITY, INTEGRITY, AND TRUST ALL BOIL DOWN TO YOUR CHARACTER
I have five habits that have helped me work on my character, covering everything from my morning routine to how to avoid moral compromise on the road when you’re away from your family and the people you care about.
These 5 habits are designed to help you build a better character that will help shape your legacy.
The 5 habits are:
An Intentional Morning/Evening Routine
Monitoring Your Public Talk
Rules for the Road