If you took a quick look around my bookshelves, you would quickly find the majority of titles crammed on each shelf fall into two categories—theology and leadership. Most of the theology books are because of seminary courses, but the leadership books are because I am constantly drawn to anything that helps me learn how to be a better leader. I listen to leadership podcasts, I organize leadership events, and I want to be around others who challenge me to be a better leader.
So when the Lifeway Women’s blog team asked me to write a blog on “Three Qualities of a Great Leader,” my mind raced with the big question, How can I narrow this down to three? Great leaders have a lot of diverse qualities, passions, giftings, personalities, and callings. Yet, as I’ve contemplated this topic for several days, I think I’ve come up with three “big” qualities every Christian leader should possess. I’m using words that start with the letter C to make it easier to remember, and I hope these are starting points for you as you consider your personal leadership journey.
First, every leader needs competence. In other words, a leader needs to know how to lead. She needs to know “how” to do her job. Whether it’s through education or experience, competent leaders are learners. Ministry leaders can easily look at the apostle Paul and learn how he grew in competence as he planted churches and learned how to lead others. His conversion on the road to Damascus in Acts 9 was life-changing, and verse 19b says, “Saul was with the disciples in Damascus for some time.” Because of his reputation for persecuting Christians, the disciples were afraid of Paul. Barnabas didn’t shy away from Paul and helped prepare him for the assignment God was about to give him. Later, Paul penned these words in 2 Corinthians 3:4-5, “Such is the confidence we have through Christ before God. It is not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God.”
If you want to increase your leadership capacity, look to the Lord for your confidence and your competence. If you sense God calling you, He will equip you.
Second, leaders must care about their character. King David penned these words in Psalm 51:6, “Surely you desire integrity in the inner self, and you teach me wisdom deep within.”
I’ve been in ministry leadership for many years, and I have seen leaders come and go. The sad reality is many of them lost their leadership influence when their character was called into question or they fell into a pattern of sin. I’ve looked up to many leaders who have sadly tarnished their ability to continue to lead because they stumbled. When there is great character, there is trust, and there is truth.
The pathway for a leader who cares about her character is pursuing holiness, seeking transparency, and pursuing accountability with others. I like how Dr. Jeff Iorg says in his book The Character of Leadership, “Integrity, then, is saying what you mean, meaning what you say, doing what you say, and meaning what you do!”1 A few of the outcomes of developing character include humility, servant leadership, purity, discipline, and wisdom.
The prophet Daniel is known for his impeccable character. Not only did he face lions, but he lived most of his life in captivity amid a heathen culture. He was a committed prayer warrior and he found friendship with three other friends who would face their own fiery furnace. I’m confident the character of these men was developed in the encouragement and accountability they had for one another as they faced difficult circumstances.
Third, leaders should exhibit the quality of compassion. In a world that is broken and hurting, a leader who shows compassion to those he leads will be remembered. The Gospels remind us over and over the ways Jesus had compassion on those who were sick, dying, and in need of a shepherd. Compassion is not just feeling sorry for someone else, but it’s the desire to alleviate the suffering of others. Compassion moves us beyond pity and toward action.
If you want to be a compassionate leader, find ways to alleviate suffering and seek to serve those who need a Savior. A compassionate leader seeks to find the best in others and is known for her kindness. She rejoices in times of rejoicing and mourns with those who are in pain. One of the greatest gifts you can give to your followers is the quality of compassion, and when you do, you reveal the character of God, just as David said in Psalm 86:15, “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth.”
Evaluate your personal leadership. How are you developing competence? How are you guarding your character? How are you displaying compassion to those you lead? Above all, are you leading from the aspect of following Christ? Seek Him and discover the wisdom He offers through His Word.
Kelly is the Manager of Magazines/Devotional Publishing and Women’s Ministry Training for Lifeway Christian Resources. She is the author of Ministry to Women: The Essential Guide to Leading Women in the Local Church and contributor to the Lifeway Women’s Bible, as well as the Lifeway Women Advent and Easter studies. In addition, she is the co-host of the MARKED podcast for Lifeway Women. She has a Master of Theology degree from Gateway Seminary and is currently pursuing her Doctorate in Ministry degree.
1. Dr. Jeff Iorg, The Character of Leadership (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2007), 24.