Thousands of books and millions of pages have been written about leadership because leadership is essential to healthy thriving families, churches, businesses, and governments. It is also essential for creating and leading thriving schools.
Here is a short distillation of six of the most important principles of effective leadership. Although I could add more “C’s” to the list, these six, if consistently practiced, will significantly enhance our leadership in every sphere of our lives.
Character is the most important attribute for any leader because it is the foundation upon which the other leadership qualities are built and are directed. John Dickson has written that:
Almost all of the relevant literature [on leadership] of the first 150 years (from 1776) in the United States emphasized the importance of example or character. It “focused on what could be called the Character Ethic as the foundation of success—things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule.
[This is because] character is central to leadership. Unless a leader is trusted by the team, he or she will not get the best out of them. This is because all organizations are still communities of people in relationship.
And relationships are built on trust and trust is built on character. Throughout the Bible a person’s character is front and center in selecting leaders. We are reminded that while people are swayed by appearance and other attributes in selecting leaders, the Lord focuses on the heart—the character—of the individual in calling leaders.
When they came, Samuel looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:4ff
Likewise the selection of church leaders is to be based on the character of the men to be ordained:
This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—
If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. Titus 1:5ff
Moreover, the leader’s character sets the standard for others to follow:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:31–11:1
Following and building upon character is conviction. Leaders without character have no convictions but leaders with convictions have character. It can be good or bad character giving rise to good or bad convictions but effective leaders have convictions. Albert Mahler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, writes:
Authentic leadership does not emerge out of a vacuum. The leadership that matters most is convictional—deeply convictional. Convictions are not merely beliefs we hold; they are those beliefs that hold us in their grip.
A conviction is a belief of which we are thoroughly convinced. We are convinced this truth is essential and life-changing. We live out of this truth and are willing to die for it ...
If you think about it, just about every leader who is now remembered for making a positive difference in history was a leader with strong convictions about life, liberty, truth, freedom, and human dignity. In the long run, this is the only leadership that matters. Convictional leaders propel action precisely because they are driven by deep convictions, and their passion for these convictions is transferred to followers who join in concerted action to do what they know to be right. And they know what is right because they know what is true.
I believe that leadership is all about putting the right beliefs into action, and knowing, on the basis of convictions, what those right beliefs and actions are.”
Convictions are necessary so that the leader knows the right decisions to make and has the courage to make them.
A leader’s character and convictions enable him or her to be willing to pay the price of leading. For example, the Apostle Paul paid a steep price for his leadership of the church and his ministry of evangelism:
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:23–28
In the passage above the word danger appears eight times. Paul also mentions daily pressure—something to which most of us can relate. It is inevitable that any good leader is going to face opposition—especially Christian leaders whom swim against the cultural tide—and who lead by character and conviction. This was true of Moses, David, Jesus, and the Apostles. It has been true of most leaders throughout history. It will be true for us.
Because it is costly, leadership requires courage to lead. It is dangerous, if not physically, it is emotionally, socially, culturally, and often spiritually dangerous and challenging.
Spurgeon recognized the need for courage in leadership. In a sermon to challenge and encourage the pastors of his day, Spurgeon declared:
Well, brethren, you and I are committed to the onward course, we cannot go back; neither can we turn to the right hand or to the left. What shall we do, then? Shall we lie down, and fret? Shall we stand still, and be dismayed?
No! In the Name of the Lord, let us again set up our banner, the royal standard of Jesus the Crucified. Let us sound the trumpets joyously, and let us march on, not with the trembling footsteps of those who know that they are bent upon an enterprise of evil, but with the gallant bearing of men whose cause is Divine, whose warfare is a crusade.
Courage, my brethren; behold, the angels of God fly in our front, and, lo, the eternal God Himself leads our van. ‘The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.’ "Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea."
Leading with character, conviction, and the courage to pay the cost of leadership is not enough. Effective leaders must care, they must love. It has been said that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Paul echoes this truth when he declares that:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 1 Corinthians 13:1
The two greatest commandments—the commandments upon which all the others are grounded—are that we are to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength and that we are to love our neighbor (which includes those we lead) as ourselves.
Jesus cared deeply, so much so that he wept. Even though he was about to raise Lazarus from the dead, Jesus hurt because others hurt:
When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.” Jesus wept. So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” John 11:33–36
Jesus was a strong leader and a strong man—“a man’s man”—but he cared enough to weep in public over the pain of others. He cared and others knew it.
Obviously leaders must be competent. He or she must have the requisite knowledge and skills to lead. As leaders we must constantly hone our God-given natural and spiritual gifts. To use what has become a bit of a cliche in education circles, we must be life-long learners who set the pace for effective leadership. Paul tells Timothy:
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 1 Tim. 1:6ff
Our Christian schools are, or should be, equipping students to be leaders, leaders with Christian character, deep biblical convictions, Holy Spirit empowered courage, who are willing to pay the cost to follow Christ and to lead others, who care, and who are well prepared, competent to serve God and others. I can’t think of a greater mission!
That equipping begins with us. As leaders we are to be models of godly character, conviction, the courage to pay the cost of leadership, and on caring for those being led.