Leadership is a huge topic in today’s world, as it should be. I like to say, “Nothing happens without leadership,” and the intercessors often bump me with, “No, intercession comes first.” I then back up and say, “Yes, but the first answered prayer is for a leader.” It’s that important. Think Joseph, Moses, Paul. Of course there is Jesus Himself.

When we speak of leadership, we are typically thinking in terms of the out-front charismatic leader. Makes sense, but what if we turn this concept on its head for another look? What if we could widen the spectrum of what leadership entails, what leadership could be?

If leadership is really about influence, then there is a genuine leadership potential in every person, especially when we introduce the character qualities of love, joy, peace, kindness, faithfulness, loyalty, and courage. These qualities radiate and draw…and thus influence.

Peter is the archetypical leader in the gospels, but a more mature Peter encourages leaders to first of all “be examples to the flock” (1 Pet 5:3). We would probably say that Peter had a high leadership gift, but the right influence required qualities God would build into him over time.

The quietest person can have these character qualities and thus the most amazing influence. Yes, there are leadership gifts, but in God’s kingdom it’s His character that makes the difference.

Character transcends charisma.

Nehemiah was the cupbearer to a serious king, Artaxerxes. Not a bad gig. Affluence, prestige, and influence were his. Who would have guessed that inside this stylishly dressed man was a passionate idealist and risk taker?

Hearing the desperate condition of Jerusalem sparked a passion that ignited a leadership gift in Nehemiah he never knew existed. Vision has this power to tap the potential within us.

Apparently looking sad in the presence of the king is a risk not understood today, but after prayer, he took the plunge. Passion will do that. Vision will do that. Everything was on the line, not to mention his willingness to trade in a privileged life for one of danger.

Let’s back up and take a look at Nehemiah the man. There is a quality in him that became essential to his greatness but is easily overlooked in our current fascination with the topic of leadership.

I asked myself, what caused this powerful king to choose Nehemiah to be his cupbearer? Was it his knowledge, skill, polish, political savvy? As soon as you ask this question, you know the answer. Trust. The king was no fool. He needed a man who could be trusted. Completely. A man who could not be bought at any price. Artaxerxes discerned in Nehemiah a rare level of integrity, and knew he could be trusted.

Trust: the essential leadership qualification.

Most of us tend to think in very binary terms: either people are or aren’t “leaders.” We’ve all heard and probably made remarks to this effect.

What we have in our minds is the archetypical Type-A entrepreneurial person—and in a certain context this makes perfect sense. However, this stereotyped leader would be completely ineffective in many situations in which leadership is required. Think leadership in a CPA office, as an administrator, in the hospice business, managing a research lab, or a graphic designers office. All of these leadership functions call for something different than our default definition of “leadership.”

It’s probably more accurate to think in terms of everyone having some form of potential leadership, but each person’s gift shows up in environmentally-specific ways. For example, many highly successful CEO’s are introverts. Some organizations require quiet, friendly, steady, detailed leadership—a style that would totally frustrate the fast-paced extrovert.

So leadership comes in a wide span of different packages, but here are some of the common factors we have discussed that describe excellent, godly leadership:

  • We have defined leadership in terms of our influence upon those around us, and that opens up a whole world of possibilities. Influence is the effect that character has upon others over a period of time.
  • And character is the bottom line for every leadership style. We have looked at a famous biblical leader Nehemiah and traced his highly effective, pioneering leadership directly to his character.

Our takeaway from this conversation is simple: if we seek to use our leadership gifts to influence by example and if we allow God to keep refining the character that lies underneath our leadership, we can rightly dismantle limiting stereotypes of leadership and widen our understanding of the various needs for and expressions of excellent leadership. This will help us better understand our own calling as well as affirm the various leadership gifts in others.

Next, watch my message on how love fuels all!