Thoughts on Leadership, Part 3 by Larry W. Peebles May 19, 2017 17.18
When I think of great leaders I encountered over a 35 year business career, and those I still encounter today, I conclude there is no discussion on leadership without a discussion of character. There is no shortage of information on the character traits of good leaders. One can find numerous books and articles from business magazines, leadership centers, leadership coaches and trainers, and entrepreneur magazines on the essential character qualities of a good leader. I had no trouble finding a number of such articles on the internet recently. I reviewed them just to get the content freshly processed in my mind. It is interesting that many of these articles include the same traits, and give them a similar ranking without really saying that they are ranked in order of importance. In addition, some of the same traits are described differently. For instance, are integrity, honesty and trustworthy different traits, or by definition is not an integrity-filled person also honest and trustworthy?
The word character comes from the Greek word “kharakter”, which is a stamping tool that leaves a distinctive mark. No two people are alike, and no two leaders are the same– each is distinct. Each leaves a mark or impression that is unique to that person. From my experience, and from the material I reviewed (adjusted for terminology), here are perhaps the consensus top three leadership characteristics, presented with a Biblical perspective.
- Integrity—the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles. Synonyms include honesty, decency, fairness, sincerity, truthfulness, and trustworthiness, among others. This suggests a person has a moral compass that does not waiver. People want to be treated with integrity, and will follow a leader who demonstrates this skill. Day after day, this person is trying to do the right thing for the right reasons for all involved. It’s been called the Golden Rule. Jesus expressed it in Matthew 7:12—“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
Daniel comes to mind as the Biblical example, although there are certainly others. Darius was King of Babylon where the Israelites were exiled. He had been tricked into issuing a decree forbidding everyone from praying to any god other than the king. His own staff had whispered and plotted in secret because they were jealous of Daniel. They knew of the king’s plan to set Daniel over the whole kingdom, yet “they could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.” (Daniel 6:4). They knew Daniel prayed to the One True God three times a day, and knew they could trap Daniel if they could influence the king into signing such a decree.
Daniel knew of the decree, but continued to pray to God. He was caught praying, arrested, and taken before the king. The king favored Daniel, and knew he had been tricked by his own advisors—men with no integrity. The law of the land was such that the king’s edicts could not be waived. The king had no choice but to have Daniel put in a den of lions overnight.
After a sleepless night alone and worried about Daniel, the king hurried to the lions’ den early the next morning. God had shut the lions’ mouths all night–Daniel was safe. The king had his tricky advisors thrown into the den, along with their families, where they were immediately crushed by the lions. He then decreed Daniel’s God was the True God to be worshipped throughout the land.
Daniel would not waiver from worshipping the True God, even when confronted with death. He served the king with integrity, and certainly meant him no harm, but he could not rightly worship a man. Both God and the king honored Daniel’s integrity. The Bible says “So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” (Daniel 6:28).
“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort, choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy, and choosing to practice one’s values rather than simply professing them.”
“Speak with Honesty. Think with sincerity. Act with integrity.” (Both are quotes from the public domain.)
- Confidence—the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust. Synonyms are trust, belief, faith, credence, and conviction, among others. This suggests a person has or enjoys a state of feeling certain about the truth of something. It is distinguished from self-confidence when that someone or something relied upon is bigger than oneself. When I have seen this trait come to the surface, it is invariably because the opposition is mounting up against the truth or the cause, yet the leader remains sure and is in command. The three friends of Daniel–Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego–said when they were about to be thrown into the fiery furnace by the king for worshipping God and not the king, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king.” (Daniel 3:17.) That is confidence in the face of danger.
The Pharisee Saul encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus in Acts 9. The encounter opened his eyes to the reality of the Messiah. He converted from a well-known persecutor of the Christian faith to perhaps its greatest proponent. His life was never the same thereafter, as evidenced by his confidence in the Truth he had come to know. He was also confident that he must spread the Truth, even as he then risked great persecution. Though Hebrew and Jewish, he preached largely to the Gentiles, and thereafter preferred to be called by his Roman Gentile name-Paul.
In 2 Corinthians 4: 1 and 7, Paul writes—“Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart…we have this treasure [Jesus Christ as Lord] in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” [Insert mine from v. 5.]
Paul also wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:12- “I know whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” Paul was absolutely confident in what was revealed to him on that road to Damascus, and for the rest of his life could not keep silent about it, although it ultimately cost him his life.
“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” Helen Keller.
“You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” Teddy Roosevelt.
- Commitment– the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause or activity. Synonyms are devotion, allegiance, loyalty, faithfulness, and fidelity, among others. This cause or activity is larger than oneself, and the leader can see the outcome and the benefit. He also knows the steps necessary to achieve the outcome. When Moses was chosen to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt, he knew the magnitude and the gravity of the situation. He said- “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” (Exodus 33:15). Moses knew that he might be perceived as the leader by the people, but only God could truly lead such a freedom march from 400 years of captivity in the mightiest nation on the planet at the time. Moses was committed to lead only if God was going with them on the journey to freedom.
Nehemiah was committed to rebuild the walls around the city of Jerusalem. Though he was called by God, and had the backing of Babylonian King Artaxerxes, he faced great opposition in returning from exile to rebuild the city walls in his homeland. He was told the task was too great. The locals accused him of rebelling against the king in order to set up his own kingdom. He was told he did not have the skilled labor or the necessary materials to rebuild the walls. His opposition spread rumors of impending attack, and threats against Nehemiah’s life. Distractions were everywhere, yet Nehemiah refused to come down off the wall. He would not let the distractions pull him away from the work to which he was committed. He and his men worked with tools in one hand and weapons for protection in the other. They worked with limited rest, water, food and changes of clothes. Nehemiah said –“Don’t be afraid of them [the detractors]. Remember, the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your home.” (Nehemiah 4:14). [Emphasis mine.] As the leader, Nehemiah called to remembrance the great cause of rebuilding the walls around their ancient homeland city of Jerusalem for the glory of God.
“A committed, energetic, enthusiastic, and inspiring leader is more likely to have a cooperative, hardworking and victorious team.” William C. Oakes, Christlike Leadership.
When one reflects on these top characteristics of a leader, considers the heroes of these Bible stories, and the truths reflected in these marvelous quotations, one concludes that perhaps the greatest leaders emerge when the circumstances are the direst. The greatest power to lead comes from outside the leader, from a source bigger than the leader—it comes from God Himself. As a final thought, consider this paragraph from Part 2 of Thoughts on Leadership–
WWII Fleet Admiral “Bull” Halsey, who led all the combined forces that held the island of Guadalcanal against Japanese invasion, said “There are no extraordinary men…just extraordinary circumstances that ordinary men are forced to deal with.” With all due respect to the late Admiral and to the Navy, I would modify that to say “God helps ordinary men deal with extraordinary circumstances.” This is the most important key to leadership.
God is our ultimate source of integrity, confidence, and commitment. He wrote the book on it!