The Most Important Quality of a Christian Leader
I love leadership. I have been fascinated by leadership since watching Fran Tarkenton lead the Minnesota Vikings to the Super Bowl four times during that incredible run in the 1970’s. I longed to lead like him…to perform like him…except for losing all four of the SuperBowls!
I’ve led in volunteer positions since high school, and it turns out that my primary vocation is not actually leading, but rather helping leaders lead. My role is undeniably a support role, which I really enjoy and fits me well, given my personality and history.
Given my ongoing fascination with leadership, and having done thousands of hours of coaching and therapy with Christian leaders, plus having provided training over twelve years designed to help them lead at higher levels, it turns out I have spent the bulk of my 20 plus years in my various roles pondering a highly significant question:
What is the most important quality a Christian leader can possess?
What makes the greatest difference when it comes to meaningful, effective, and fruit-bearing leadership?
Is it the ability to cast a vision? Is the ability to execute? Is it the ability to shape culture? While those are profoundly important skills when it comes to leading well, they are not character traits. Yet, that said, I would argue that it truly is the leader’s level of character, (or maturity) that profoundly shapes how well they do in casting a truly compelling vision, or executing, or shaping culture. So, when it comes to character traits is it something like confidence, or humility (tip of the hat to Jim Collins and Level 5 Leaders), or is it one’s level of self-awareness? Those are obviously very important, and yet when I think about this particular quality, I believe it is the glue that holds confidence, humility, and self-awareness together.
What is that quality? I would argue that the most important quality a Christian leader can possess is the leader’s level of inner security. What I mean by inner security, and why is it so important? And, just as important, how do you become more secure?
A leader’s level of inner security has to do with how much he or she is truly “rooted and established in love.” (Eph. 3:17) This is about how much on a heart level, (or gut level), a person has truly received deep in their soul from God, that they are loved, that they are valued, and that they have inherent worth, no questions asked. This is about receiving the love of God in your soul way beyond what you do, and how much you have learned to receive the love of God from others in transformational ways as well. (Both are necessary, really.) It can partially be seen through how much genuine inner peace and calm they have, particularly when they are faced with a crisis or conflict or tension…which tends to happen when you are leading something of real substance.
Why is inner security so important to leading well? Well, because it is the foundation for the most important leadership qualities. Please read this list of some of the most substantial character traits that are present in the leaders that healthy people love to follow the most. I encourage you to personally reflect on the importance of these qualities when it comes to leaders you love to follow, and then, I encourage you to live on the edge and consider how you fare in these qualities.
Foundational Traits of Secure Christian Leaders
- A secure leader is increasingly surrendered to the Lord. The more secure the leader becomes in the Lord, the more and more important living to please God above all else becomes. Obedience to Him becomes a higher and higher priority, and arranging their lives to grow in obedience to Him and become more like His Son becomes a much higher priority as well. To the extent that a Christian leader is insecure, human agendas have greater power. People pleasing, self-reliance, excessive ambition and the avoidance of intimacy have greater sway and can take precedence when insecurity rears its ugly head.
- A secure leader is growing. As a leader becomes more secure in the Lord, growing in Him actually becomes more and more compelling. As the love of God becomes more and more transformational, the desire to continue growing gets stronger and stronger. Insecure leaders often struggle with growing because they are drawn in by worldly agendas or struggle finding the courage or sense of worth to slow down enough to value their souls. Sadly, their lack of growth throughout their careers profoundly limits their ability to bear richer and richer fruit over the span of their careers.
- Secure leaders are authentic. While “authentic” can be a buzzword nowadays, it actually is even more important today for people to connect with someone that they experience as real. Secure leaders are authentic because they know they are deeply loved, and that the grace of God is the most powerful force in their lives. Healthy people eventually will not want to follow someone they experience as superficial or plastic, because there’s nothing truly substantive there to follow.
- Secure leaders are much more likely to be courageous. I truly believe that it takes being rooted and established in love to be courageous enough to enter the hard conversations, and make the hard decisions that leadership of any substantial nature requires. Insecure leaders tend to avoid confrontation, and making difficult decisions, because of a fear of rejection or disapproval. Leaders who do not skillfully confront poor performance or significant character flaws in key subordinates do grave damage to the larger organization, putting the organization on a course heading toward mediocrity.
- Secure leaders trust themselves. When we are insecure, it is so much more difficult to trust ourselves. We don’t trust yourself, it is so much more difficult to make good, timely decisions. Secure leaders, who trust themselves, are able to make decisions with insufficient data, and step out in faith when that is needed.
- Secure leaders are self-aware. Being secure makes it so much easier to grow in self-awareness, because you are not afraid of being rejected or shamed when you find something you don’t like! Self-awareness is enormously important for leaders. A self-aware leader looks within to understand their motives and their emotions. These gifts allow them to take ownership for their choices, which is enormously important, and also enables them to empathize with their followers. (You simply can’t empathize without being aware of your own emotions.) When a leader is self-aware, it creates a much more powerful chance for them to build a healthy, responsible culture and more powerfully connect with their followers.
- Secure leaders are confident. At some point, people lose hope when they are following an insecure leader. Secure leaders are confident in their gifts and calling, but even moreso in the goodness, power and love of God. At critical junctures, their confidence in the Lord enables them to lead confidently, much more often than not.
- Secure leaders are humble. Being truly rooted and established in love, only deepens one’s levels of humility. Feeling valued and loved by God on deeper levels, means that leading is less and less about the leader, and more and more about following God’s lead. Humble leaders see their gifts and value clearly, enabling them to assert themselves when they need to, and enabling them to defer and empower when that is best.
- Secure leaders don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. Perhaps one of the things that can diminish a leader’s long term effectiveness the most, is when they have to be the smartest person in the room. That substantially limits their ability to hire people that are good in areas they are not, or to take the risk to hire people that are willing to challenge them. Insecure leaders substantially hinder their ability to build a stronger talent base and robust culture.
- Secure leaders don’t overhype what can be. One of the biggest turnoffs when it comes to following insecure leaders, is when they make promises they can’t keep. Insecure leaders tend to cast a vision that is not rooted in reality, and therefore they set themselves up for disappointing those who were naïve enough to believe them, and lose credibility with the people who have a more mature grasp of things. Secure leaders are able to cast a vision that is rooted in reality, and brings meaningful focus and hope for the future.
- Secure leaders can laugh at themselves. When a leader is secure enough to not take themselves too seriously, or when they can actually share a story about a personal foible, it provides much needed room to breathe in a culture. It is also a truly positive bonding experience for their followers. When a leader can admit their frailty or limitations, it gives permission to those who are following to be real as well. That is an incredible gift to give to followers. Secondly, it creates a stronger bond between the leader and the followers because it allows the followers to connect their own vulnerability with the leaders. And, a strong relational bond is vital to leaving well over the span of time.
- Secure leaders can set and accept their limits. Secure leaders know on a profound level that the sun does not rise or fall depending on them. They do much better at letting God be big, and they can be small. Exhale! Because of this level of inner security, they can model a healthy pace for their followers, and that helps create a culture that performs much higher over the long run, because there is more energy for what really matters, rather than being chronically reactive, or driven at an unsustainable pace.
- Secure leaders create the strongest bonds with their followers. As alluded to frequently to above, the bond the leader has with their follower is perhaps the most precious gift they give to their organization. When a leader can engage in the ways listed above, it creates the strongest bonds with the healthiest followers. That sets organization up for the best future, and it sets up the leader for the most meaningful long-term legacy. And, since more than anything else, Jesus commands us to love one another, the depth of the bond we create with those we lead, the way that we are able to help them become more of who they’re called to be, is at some level the greatest litmus test of our leadership.
Well, that’s a pretty intense list, right? Secure leaders are equipped to help lead in powerful, lasting ways, bearing rich fruit over the span of time. Sadly, insecure leaders will struggle deeply over time, getting more and more exhausted because they aren’t able to model and do what bears fruit over time. If you have a different idea about what the most important quality is in a Christian leader, I would love to get your thoughts.
How Did You Do?
As you read through the list, I do hope and pray that you found that you possess many of those facets of inner security. If so, I am really happy for you. And, I’m very confident that those you lead are very grateful for your leadership. I happen to know a good number of leaders like this. They are dearly loved by their followers, and are an inspiration to many. Further, the more secure they become, the more they flourish. The more secure they become, they somehow experience even more and more of life to the full, and get deeper glimpses of God’s delight in them. Doesn’t that sound good? I do hope and pray that is increasingly your experience.
How Do You Become More Secure?
If that’s not you, or not nearly you as much as you would like it to be, please don’t despair.
The grace of God is always available for us to grow in becoming more secure. The more challenging piece of course is availing ourselves to God’s grace in intentional, effective ways. Here are some practical steps to consider to become more secure.
- Pray. The first thing you can do is to pray, as I do on a daily basis, for the courage and grace to receive God’s love on deeper levels, that you might be more secure in Him. Pray that you might live in greater freedom and authenticity and generosity. Pray that you might experience His love in such astonishing ways that you are set free to love in ways you never would have been able to on your own.
- Journal. Journaling on the are particular areas where you struggle the most. Pick the top two areas from above that you struggle the most in (for example, being afraid of confrontation or of admitting a foible) and ask God to guide you in discovering where it comes from, and invite His healing perspective and love into that part of your soul. Persevere in journaling on those areas, and see God show up over time to help you become more secure.
- Read. Books are irreplaceable when it comes to growing in becoming more and more secure. Two books that I have used in leadership trainings that are really valuable from in terms of becoming more secure as a leader would be: “The Emotionally Healthy Leader,” by Peter Scazzero, and “Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership.” The books are by seasoned ministry authors, and leaders who implement ideas from the books find themselves becoming more and more secure.
- Share. I encourage you to pray about who you might let into the areas where you are insecure. Talking with wise, safe, friends about areas you are insecure can be enormously helpful in bringing greater security to your soul. And, if you feel you need something beyond what your current friends can give, investing the time and funds in meeting with a strong therapist or coach, can be invaluable in bringing greater inner security to your soul.
- Take a Class. Classes are a kind of bridge between reading and sharing. A good class that is focused on topics that help you become secure can be a valuable tool to growing in greater security. Carey Nieuwhof (careynieuwhof.com) is a pretty well-known Christian leader who offers online classes intermittently. Peter Scazzero (www.emotionallyhealhtyleader.org) on occasion offers classes online. And, I don’t mean this in a salesy way, (although it still feels awkward to mention!) I am offering an online class that I believe will provide some grounded biblical ideas and practical steps to becoming more secure as a Christian leader. It is a class designed to help Christian leaders flourish, and core to flourishing is becoming more and more secure in our identity as a deeply deeply loved child of God. Each of the lessons is designed in some way to help you become more secure, so that you can flourish and bear the richest fruit over the span of your life. The class will start on October 10th at 11am est, and will meet for roughly six weeks. I will have more information coming early next week, but feel free to email me at [email protected] if you have any questions.
From where I sit, becoming more secure as a Christian leader is the greatest gift you can to the people you lead, and not surprisingly, even to yourself. At the very least, I encourage you to pray daily to receive God’s breathtaking, limitless love for you. If you pray about that daily for weeks and months and years, and follow what the Lord suggests, I am very confident he will find yourself becoming a more secure, and more effective leader.
Best wishes to you!
P.S. If you think someone could benefit from reading this, feel free to forward it to them.