Why do you follow the leaders you choose to follow? The key word in that question is “choose.” We all make a deliberate choice to follow who we follow. No one follows a leader by accident.
It’s interesting to note that we can quickly rattle off a few traits in leaders we least appreciate and would not follow. This is true because those traits evoke a more visceral emotion, often attached to a negative experience. Perhaps a boss, teacher, or even a spiritual leader that led poorly.
Traits in a leader we would not follow, such as arrogant, controlling, self-serving, irresponsible, insecure, or lazy would be among the most common examples.
The positive traits, however, take a little more thought because they are not noticed as quickly as a negative trait. Negative traits jump out, but we must be looking for the positive ones.
We often list positive traits like, visionary, strategic, and problem-solver. Or, compassionate, resilient and generous. All good examples to be sure, and the potential of a list like this is easily 25 traits or more. The important note here is that no leader can excel in all of them, we must each lean into our unique design.
And our unique design as a leader requires us to accept our limits as readily as our strengths.
As leaders we all have a different set of skills, gifts, strengths; and mixed with our experience and passions they make us highly unique. When understood and embraced, they become the best version of our true selves.
But is there a set of virtuous traits of a leader that serve as the foundation for most all others? A set we would all be wise to seek in our own lives?
I don’t know that I have “the” answer, but I’m going to take a risk by presenting the three I believe are the foundation.
3 (Foundational) Virtuous Traits in a Leader
1) Wisdom born from experience and the voice of God.
“For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.”Proverbs 2:6-8
God is the source of wisdom and we are instructed to ask if we are in need. James 1:5-6.
Wisdom is rarely gained on the run, skimming the surface, in the autopilot nature of daily life.
Acquiring wisdom requires a slowing down and thoughtful process of pursuing something more priceless than gold and silver and a willingness to apply it intentionally.
Wisdom is not instant; it’s a cumulative process of layer upon layer. It’s like a bank account of great value, but investments must be made. It does not come without discipline and a willingness to reflect in quiet and wait while continuing to lead.
A great deal of wisdom is accumulated first from God, and then it’s up to us to press through problems and not give up. Solving problems is central to effective leadership and requires the practice of applying wisdom.
Therefore, we learn to practice wisdom as we lead. If we are not facing problems, engaging difficulties, and working on solutions, wisdom has no place to take root and show fruit.
2) Humility as part of one’s nature rather than something we practice.
Pride is the great destroyer of wisdom; humility and courage are its protectors. Pride can not only block your receptivity to wisdom; it can destroy the wisdom you do have.
Pride is the enemy of your soul, and the ripple effects always hurt others.
Humility is the gateway to the kind of character that God can trust with his wisdom.
Humility isn’t a skill, it’s a disposition of the heart, it’s a way of life. It’s not something you get better at, it’s a virtue you embrace.
In other words, we don’t set a goal to be more humble, we purpose to see ourselves exactly like God sees us, nothing more, nothing less. When you live and lead from that version of you, the real you, neither false humility, or foolish pride creeps in.
Another way to see it is that humility is based more on the idea that you don’t feel superior or better than others because of what you have, or your status or power, and equally, it’s not about feeling inferior to others.
Humble leaders live for others more than they live for themselves. Humble doesn’t mean insecure. Don’t confuse the two. Humility is an attractive virtue, insecurity is not. Humility is directly connected to strength, insecurity is tied to fear and our weakness.
This does not suggest that humble leaders never struggle with insecurities, but they recognize that humility is based on strength not weakness.
3) Strength that enables us to do the right thing even when it’s difficult.
We can serve from our brokenness, but we lead from strength. The two connect together in humble confidence that comes from God.
Part of that great prayer for the Ephesians by the Apostle Paul speaks of the inner strength we need and receive from Christ.
“For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. … ” Ephesians 3:14-17
- We need inner strength to make the right decisions.
- We need inner strength to continue in prayer.
- We need inner strength to stand and speak up when others are silent, even if alone.
- We need inner strength to respond well to criticism.
- We need inner strength to continue with consistency in the strategy to accomplish the vision.
- We need inner strength to confront with truth and hold to our values and convictions.
- We need inner strength to keep going when things are going well.
I’m sure you could add several more.
This means we lead from strength, but ultimately, it’s not our own. We do have personal human strength, but when the load gets big enough and the pressure rises far enough, we need strength from God.
What about leaders who are not faith-based? Don’t they lead from their own strength? Yes, they do, but it’s limited, and we lead in the realm of the supernatural, where our strength alone isn’t enough.
I wrote a devotional just for leaders connected to this idea. The title is Leadership Alone Isn’t Enough. This book may be helpful to you.
I pray the wisdom, humility and strength of Jesus upon you!
Which one would you want to focus on most this year?