What does it take to be an effective church leader? After 50 years in leadership roles in such diverse cultures as the Marine Corps, business, education, churches and politics, I'm convinced there are certain traits all great leaders share. Here are the ten characteristics of successful leaders that I've observed.
1. They Lead From the Front
Leading from the front is about visibly sharing the vulnerabilities, pressures and pain of those reporting to you. It can be tough as a pastor or church leader to show your vulnerabilities to your congregation. However, your members will have greater respect for you if you are not afraid to show your humanity.
2. They Understand That Leadership Is Lonely
A leadership position sets you apart from your congregation, and this is undoubtedly lonely at times. Although there are situations where you will lean on your congregation for assistance, you will often find yourself needing to make decisions alone. This can leave you feeling isolated from your members.
3. Team-Oriented Leaders Treat Subordinates with Respect
Building a great team requires making every member feel valued and respected, no matter their role. The mark of a bad leader is abuse of a position of power. Treat every member of your team with respect; they will feel valued and perform better.
4. They Focus on Responsibility, Not Privilege
A leadership role puts you in a place of authority visible to the rest of the congregation. A lesser leader might focus on the special privileges this brings, but a true leader recognizes that it is all about your service and the responsibility to the best interest of your congregation.
5. Practical Leaders Know Complete Security Only Comes After Death
It is a natural human instinct to seek security and safety. However, good leaders know that every good decision involves taking risks. The only time we can completely avoid danger is after we've passed on from this life. While we are here on earth, we need to be willing to venture from a place of security to a place of uncertainty.
6. They Realize Courage Is Defined by the Management of Fear, Not Its Absence
Although a church may not seem like a high-risk environment, any leadership role will involve some degree of risk. You may believe you are not a good leader if you feel fear, and your goal may be to eliminate that fear. True leaders know that courage is managing their natural fears and making sound decisions despite their emotions.
7. Successful Leaders Know Failure Is the Best Teacher They Will Ever Have
Inexperienced leaders often believe experiencing failure means they are a failure. Leaders with a growth mindset know our failures often teach us more than our successes.
8. They Understand Real and Meaningful Respect Can Only Be Earned and Not Achieved through Title, Delegation or Assignment
No matter your education or list of accomplishments, you are only worthy of the respect you've earned. Your congregation will respect you for how you conduct yourself, the decisions you make and your record of service. There is no shortcut to earning meaningful respect.
9. Good Leaders Convert the Complex into the Simple
In the Gospels, Jesus often made His point simple, using parables to illustrate His teachings. Good pastors and leaders do the same. Your congregation will remember concepts better if you explain them in simple terms.
10. Great Leaders Know Their Most Powerful Authority Is Moral
This characteristic is critical in church leadership. After all, your congregation is looking to you to set a moral example for them. If you wish to be a great church leader, you must always maintain your morality above all. Every leader fails in some regard, but you should strive for a high degree of morality.
Try adopting these characteristics for your own church leadership style. While there is no one "correct" leadership style, I believe the most effective leaders try to incorporate all of these to some degree. For church leaders, as with all great leaders, the most important characteristic is certainly a high moral standard.
Dr. Tom McElheny has served as an Elder and director of Christian education for three Sarasota, Florida churches, holds advanced degrees in business and education and is CEO of his company ChurchPlaza.com.
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