Leaders That Last

Stories abound of moral failure among Christian leaders. Yet we do not emphasise the character of leaders enough. What are the marks of leaders that last?

It is common for Christians in India to be comfortable with a spiritual leader who has a tainted personal life and questionable character, as long as they are gifted. But such leaders do not last long.

Stories abound of moral failure among Christian leaders. Often they are caught in a web of power that destroys their lives. Yet we do not give enough emphasis to the character of leaders.

In his book Finishing Well, J. Robert Clinton says, “A repeated reading of the Bible with a focus on leadership reveals four crucial observations fraught with leadership implications: Few leaders finish well, leadership is difficult, God’s enabling presence is the essential ingredient of successful leadership, and spiritual leadership can make a difference.”

Clinton concludes leaders who finished well maintained a personal vibrant relationship with God, cultivated a learning posture, and could learn from various kinds of sources, especially life. They manifested Christlikeness in character and lived out truths in their lives so that their convictions were seen to be real. In addition, they left behind one or more ultimate contributions and walked with a growing awareness of a sense of destiny and the big picture.

What can keep a leader from failure and help them to walk along obedience in the same direction? Leaders who last recognise they are on a journey of growing in clarity on three foundational life issues.

Clarity in Leaders That Last

Who am I?

Leaders that last know that they are not their own, but God created them and justified them in Christ. Their identity is rooted in this truth. Their security does not come from the approval of people, but by growing in clarity about their identity.

Such leaders also are on journey of understanding of their life purpose and destiny. They recognise God has given them skills, talents, resources, and a profession for a greater purpose. The meaning in their life comes from being part of this big picture or metanarrative. In one sense, they have found the answer to the question, “Why are we in this world?”

Their life choices reveal this clarity and they motivate others to live lives that make a difference in the world. It is a life of intentional engagement, in various spheres of influence, which they see as a gracious gift from God.

What am I Becoming?

What they are becoming is more important, to leaders that last, than what they are doing. They know that their lives of character, growing into the likeness of Christ, is more important than the things they do.

Pete Scazerro famously highlights emotionally healthy leaders as those whose doing for God does not exceed their being with God. Such leaders are on a lifelong journey of growing in their character.

But this growth does not come easily but comes out of clear commitments. They commit themselves to disciplines in their life, which help them to walk this path of resilience.

Disciplines of Leaders that Last

Personal Spiritual and Emotional Growth 

Leaders that last are disciplined and self-controlled. They invest in personal spiritual growth through prayer, meditating on the Word, reading books, and opportunities for reflection and growth. Their emotional quotient is vitally important and they find ways to grow in emotional stability.

Community, Accountability, and Relationships

Early in their journey, leaders that last realise that they cannot run their journey alone. They are to run with a community and need each other in the journey. They are open to walk in company with others and are willing to be accountable to others.

In his book, A Resilient Life: You Can Move Ahead No Matter What, Gordon MacDonald talks about the happy few whom Jesus chose to journey with. He says, “The Lord called them to become a happy few, a band of brothers, and at the beginning of the process, that might have seemed a total absurdity. After all, the group probably began as an unhappy few. How might Matthew, a tax collector, get along with Simon the Zealot when, previously, they would have been pleased to kill one another over the contrast in their politics? How might an impulsive Simon Peter team up with a melancholy, doubting Thomas? I tell you that the fact that these disparate men became a band of brothers, a happy few, is no less a miracle than when Jesus raised the dead.”

Leaders who last are people who have found a happy few with whom to journey.

Lifelong Learners

Disciples are learners. Leaders that last commit themselves to grow, not only spiritually and emotionally, but intellectually and in their areas of expertise. They are keen and willing to grow in areas of knowledge and skills beyond their own specific technical areas. A broad base of knowledge and skills is what keeps them going.

Fruitfulness and Rootedness

Leaders that last know their capacity to last depends on their connectedness to God and the community to which they belong. Such people know that their fruitfulness for God comes out of their rootedness in Christ. They remain committed to a life of resilience because they see the pursuit of resilience not as a burden but a lifelong, calculated adventure. Ultimately, their confidence is in God’s faithfulness.

As Jude says, “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24-25).