4 Unsung Traits of a Biblical Leader

A simple online search for “leadership” yields 734 million results including definitions, articles, magazine subscriptions, videos, and books. If you add the word “Christian” to “leadership” you trim the results down significantly, but there’s still almost 12 million. But for this article, I’m less interested in the definition and the process of leadership than I am the connotation that comes with the word.

What do we think of when we think of leadership?

Most of us, I believe, think in terms of charisma and inspiration. That leadership is about moving people to your way of thinking of doing through the sheer force of your personality. That because of your passion, rhetoric, and drive you can move people to follow where you are going. And while there is merit to that line of thinking, it assumes that leadership happens in front of a crowd. But I’m finding more and more that some of the strongest leaders I know aren’t necessarily recognized as such. These are those who don’t have a huge audience and don’t overflow with rhetorical skill, but instead are a constant source of steady strength and resolve behind the scenes.

They don’t lead masses, but they lead their families. They don’t lead the movement but they lead meetings. They don’t lead the online community but they lead their co-workers and their friends, though no one has officially knighted them as the leader. And in these quiet leaders in the home, in the marketplace, and in relationships, there are certain qualities of leadership that often go overlooked. These qualities don’t have the same notoriety as qualities like great speaking ability or persuasive words, but they are nonetheless present in spades in those who do their leading in the most quiet of ways.

Here, then, are 4 often overlooked qualities of a Christian leader:

1. A leader tells the truth.

A true leader doesn’t just tickle the ears of the people who have fallen in line behind them. Instead, they are willing to engage in the unpopular business of truth telling. That doesn’t mean they are abrasive, wielding the truth like a jack hammer. But it does mean they are willing to engage in the difficult conversation that makes both them and the person or people they are talking to uncomfortable. They choose not to placate those around them because they know the truth is important and worth fighting for. They are courageous enough to stand on principle in their home, in their job, and in their relationships even though doing so might be costly.

What does this look like? In the family, it looks like the adult who is more committed to being a father or mother than to being the best friend of their teenager. In the marketplace, it looks like someone who is willing to quietly object for the good of the people they serve even at the risk of the bottom line. Relationally, this quality of leadership is borne out when a person isn’t content to let their friends make bad decisions, but instead engages willingly in honest and difficult conversations, for they know that the best thing any friend can do is help another friend walk with Jesus.

2. A leader is willing to get dirty.

Many times leaders are those who are out front, and part of the danger of being out front is that you don’t know what life is like within the pack. But the Christian leader is not content to spout directives without actually following up and through with the people who are hearing them. Instead, the Christian leader is also the burden bearer, one who not only sets the direction but picks up the rope to help pull the load.

What does this look like? It looks like a leader who actually knows the people he or she is leading, and they know them well. A leader like this isn’t afraid to be interrupted with real life concerns, and they do things like make notes to themselves to check back in regularly not for the purpose of achieving an objective but simply to be informed about what’s happening in others lives. Leaders who are willing to get dirty feel deeply the struggles of those they are leading in their home, church, or workplace. Their hands are dirty with real life stuff and not sanitized with cursory and surface knowledge.

3. A leader is decisive.

Leadership is about making decisions. A thousand times a day. And one of the overlooked qualities of leadership is the ability and willingness to make those decisions – hard decisions – in a timely manner. I know for me, as a leader in different environments, the prospect of making so many decisions on a daily basis often feels like a weight. Sometimes, a crushing weight. But the Christian leader doesn’t run form this responsibility. It’s not that they relish it, either, but that they know they have a job to do. They have a job as a father. As a mother. As a manager. As an elder. And they mean to see that job done.

Leadership looks like a person having it all together and boldly charging into the future, but the true guts of that leadership is, I believe, the courage to make actual real-life decisions in real-time with real people. Day after day.

4. A leader knows when to listen.

When I think of great leaders, I think of the person who has the plan. The one who charts the direction. The one who inspires with the rhetoric. But one of the most overlooked qualities of the Christian leader is knowing when to just shut up. The temptation for the leader is to believe he or she always has to be the one with the great idea. But leadership is at least as much about empowering and listening to others with great ideas as it is about generating them on your own.

The Christian leader knows when to listen to their kids. Their spouse. Their co-workers. Their team. And the true leader knows when someone else has a better idea than they do, or at least has brought some information to the table that should make him or her reconsider the direction they’ve planned.

Sure leaders are out front. And most of the time they’ve got some charisma. But don’t overlook the unsung qualities of true leaders. And don’t sell short those who exhibit these qualities even if they aren’t the best ones to give the speech at the end.

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Michael Kelley

I’m a Christ-follower, husband, dad, author and speaker. Thanks for stopping here to dialogue with me about what it means to live deeply in all the arenas of life. I live in Nashville, Tennessee, with my wife Jana who is living proof of the theory that males are far more likely to marry over their heads than females are. We have three great kids, Joshua (5) and Andi (3), and Christian (less than 1). They remind me on a daily basis how much I have to grow in being both a father and a child. I work full time for Lifeway Christian Resources, where I’m a Bible study editor. I also get out on the road some to speak in different churches, conferences and retreats.

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12 2nd Tier Practices that Produce First Rate Leaders

Ever wonder what separates great leaders from poor leaders?

Ever wonder whether you’re developing the practices and qualities of great leadership?

I’ve met more than a few ineffective leaders who have great intentions, but just haven’t developed the skills and attitudes that separate great leaders from poor leaders.

So what separates great leaders from not-so-great leaders? There are many things, but these 12 overlooked practices stand out to me as often-missed qualities and characteristics of the best leaders I know.

The good news is none of them are genetic. They mostly consist of attitudes and disciplines.

Change your attitude, gain some discipline, and you can become a far better leader too.

For the sake of helping all of us lead better, here are 12 often overlooked practices great leaders develop.

Great leaders:

1. Make complex matters seem simple

This is much more difficult than you think. As Woody Guthrie is quoted as saying, “Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple.”

Great leaders stick with a problem or idea long enough and engage it deeply enough to clear away the fog and reduce the concept to its simplest forms so anyone can understand it.

This doesn’t mean they dumb it down. Rather, it means they make the concept accessible. And because it becomes accessible, more people are helped, and more people follow.

For a sermon: If you can’t say it in a sentence, you shouldn’t say it. I realize that’s difficult, but here’s the process I’ve been using for years to reduce complex ideas into single sentence summaries.

And when it comes to something larger than a 30-60 minute talk (like a project or initiative), work on it long enough to develop a 30 second elevator pitch (here are some quick hints at how to develop one). Again, if you can’t say it in 30 seconds, you probably don’t understand the problem clearly enough to proceed.

And even if you don’t, no one else will understand it clearly enough to follow.

2. Fight for clarity

In leadership, confusion reigns until someone makes things clear. Clarity is what great leaders bring to the table.

I find one of the best ways to become clear on issues is to ask questions, pull away to think and pray about it, sometimes for days or weeks and then take the idea back to the team for more discussion. Usually, clarity emerges out of the process.

But clarity doesn’t happen automatically. You have to fight for it.

3. Refuse to make excuses

Ever notice that the best leaders rarely make excuses?

In fact, the leaders who make the most progress make the fewest excuses. And the leaders who make the most excuses make the least progress.

This is one of my pet leadership themes: You can make excuses, or you can make progress, but you can’t make both.

4. Think abundance

A scarcity mindset will kill your organization or church over the long haul.

Yes there are seasons for restraint. Yes, every organization needs a bean counter.

But if you think small you will stay small. If you think it’s not possible, it won’t be.

5. Regularly sift through key priorities

It would be amazing if you could set your priorities once at say, age 22, and just cruise through life without readjusting them.

It just doesn’t work that way.

Great leaders are continually assessing and reassessing how they spend their time, energy and resources.

I realize that every 3-6 months now, I have to rethink who I’m meeting with, how much time I’ll make available for certain activities, and rethinking our organization goals and progress.

6. Think won’t, not can’t

How you speak to yourself matters.

Rather than saying “I can’t” (even internally), great leaders instead say “I won’t”.

That small change moves them from realizing they could do something, but have chosen not to. While you may not always say that out loud in front of people (it’s rude), telling yourself you won’t reminds you that you had a choice and exercised it.

While that might seem like a small difference, it’s the difference between people who let life happen to them and people who make life happen.

7. Master self-discipline

Self-discipline is a fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Self-discipline is simply taking responsibility for your actions, health, attitudes, schedule, words, mistakes and decisions.

To not do so makes you…irresponsible.

8. Think we, not me

Truly great leaders die to themselves.

As Jim Collins has so surprisingly and famously demonstrated, the greatest leaders in the corporate world are…humble. They are determined, but they’re not selfish. Jesus would agree.

They believe in a cause greater than themselves and serve the organization or cause they’re a part of. They don’t expect it to serve them.

If you want to be great, die to yourself.

9. Decide to work for their employees

One day you’ll be such a great leader everyone will serve you, right?


The greatest bosses realize their employees don’t work for them, they work for their employees.

If you show up with a ‘how can I serve you?’ attitude, you be a far more effective leader.

10. Get started early

This one’s simple. Just set your alarm earlier.

For whatever reason, early risers do better in life. They’re happier, healthier and more productive.

Get a jump on your day, and you get a jump on leadership and life.

11. Arrive on time

Great leaders are rarely late. This is another simple leadership discipline that can get you far.

Show up on time. Show up prepared, and you will be ahead of most people.

12. Practice self-care

The best leaders take time off. They don’t work 24/7. They realize they have limits and they respect them.

As I outlined here, almost every leader will either practice self-care, or will revert to self-medication.

Don’t believe it? Ever notice you eat worse when you’re under stress? That you swap out exercise when your schedule fills up in exchange for more caffeine? If you answered yes, you’re self-medicating, and it takes down a huge slice of business leaders and church leaders.

What Do You Think?

There are many more characteristics, but these are 12 I think deserve more daylight than they usually get.

What would you add to the list?

> Read more from Carey.

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Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is lead pastor of Connexus Community Church and author of the best selling books, Leading Change Without Losing It and Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. Carey speaks to North American and global church leaders about change, leadership, and parenting.

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What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> Amen!!
— Scott Michael Whitley
comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you so Much for this great article. It has open my eyes on where we have faltered and the things we need to work on. God can never indeed be the problem. It's us.
— Bertille
comment_post_ID); ?> Thanks for this information. It helps me begin to look at the church in a different light.
— Faith Jackson

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.