I’m sure you’ve heard the question many times: What does it take to be a good leader? Of course, the answer depends on who is responding to the question.
Two major concepts are: a leader is born; and training produces a leader. Government and many large organizations lean toward the latter: proper training makes a good leader. And if someone fails, just retrain him or refresh his training. If he fails big-time, replace him and start over.
The late Dr. Lem Boyles, Col. ChC. USAF (Ret.) said in his book, Leadership: The Minister’s Responsibility, “The need for well-trained, highly qualified leaders in the Christian realm is one of the most critical problems we face in the church today.” I agree, and that also applies to the secular world. Without well-trained leaders, our churches and organizations are faltering. But Dr. Boyles taught that training alone is not sufficient. True leadership entails more than just filling a vocational slot: true leadership involves a higher calling.
So, what does it take to be a good leader? I have an interesting book by Hans Finzel titled The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make. In other books we find many formulas and lists of qualities such as: “10 Keys to Successful Leadership” (different sets of ten by Sonya Shelton, Jill Geisler, Jonas Clark, and others). There are other sets of three, five, seven, twelve, and more. Various writers call out attributes such as emotional intelligence, influence, or authority as the key. But although those qualities are involved in leadership, they fall far short of being the keys.
John Marks Templeton stated a good point in his book Discovering the Laws of Life, “Someone who possesses good leadership abilities can accomplish much more [by leading] than one who pushes.” A leader is not one who stays in the background pushing for his agenda, but is out in front leading by example. Pushing people is similar to herding cats–it doesn’t work.
In his book, Principle-Centered Leadership, Stephen Covey said, “…we often attempt to short-cut natural processes–substituting expediency for priority, imitation for innovation, cosmetics for character, style for substance, and pretense for competence.” Although they might not realize it, this is designed failure by incompetent leaders.
Covey stressed that true leadership is practiced or manifested “from the inside out.” Ruth Simmons, 18th president of Brown University, emphasized “There is no formula for inner work. Leadership is a habit of mind.”
Covey and Simmons point us to the true person: the core of our being: character, integrity. Character is involved in every aspect of our lives. Poor character is based on a façade of some sort, but good character is based on a foundation of truth. And good character is built into our lives by habitually choosing proper responses in every situation. As living and working safely is a result of good habits, so is good character.
So, what does it take? It takes a person of Godly character; one who listens to counsel but is not swayed by pressure. It takes a person who has committed to live by a high moral standard no matter what the circumstances are. Whether one is to be a leader in church, scouting, military, local or national politics, school, or business, the multiple and diversified qualities that are required can be boiled down to one word: Character. Make that two words: Good Character. Good leadership is character-based leadership.
So, what is good character based on? Humanism? No, that includes relativism. Reliable or trustworthy character can never be based on a “whatever is right for you” philosophy. That denies leadership. Is good character based on “all religions lead to the same destiny”? No. Various religions contradict each other; and some religions mandate killing people. That generates confusion and results in tyranny.
The bottom line is: Good character, integrity, is based on God’s law. And Jesus summarized the law in His statements in Matthew 22:37-39; “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and most important command. And the second command is like the first: Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” This is the foundation for good character and sound leadership.
Do you desire a leadership position? Establish your relationship with God and ask Him to guide you. Establish a wholesome relationship with people. Take proper training. Excel in your vocation. Don’t push people. And when the opportunity arises, humbly accept the responsibility and remain accountable to others.