The Characteristics of Good Leadership
Some leaderships have been characterized as good and have been used as challenges for others to emulate. This description however raises an obvious question: upon what criteria were these leadership characterized as good? It is certain that some leaders, whose leadership does not fall within this category, have good qualities that others can emulate. For this reason it is important not only to know that a leadership has been characterized as good but also to know the characteristics that qualifies it as good. According to Anthony D’souza, leadership involves an inter-relationship between three elements:
(a) The quality skills and needs of the followers
(b) The need and expectations of the group
(c) The demands or requirements of the situation.1
It can be observed from what D’souza has said that the first element deals with the personality of the leader; the second, his followers and the third, the task to be accomplished.
On the basis of what has been said the characteristics of good leadership will be identified under the following headings:-
(a) The personal characteristics of the leader
(b) The characteristics of the followers
(c) The leader’s task or mission. Selected leaders in the Bible, whose leaderships
have been classified as good will form the basis of this presentation.
(a) The Personal Characteristics of the Leader
It can be observed from scriptures that God was very selective in choosing leaders for specific tasks. God specifically chose Nehemiah to spearhead the rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall; Moses to bring the Israelites out of bondage in Egypt; Paul, to pioneer missionary work to the Gentiles and David, whose kinship would have a lasting dynasty, to replace Saul. These men certainly had qualities that were essential for good leadership. God recognized these qualities in them as potentials when He chose them.
In this section some of the qualities of leaders mentioned above will be discussed in a more general way. The goal is to show that it has been recognized that the good personal qualities of leaders, when applied to leadership are characteristics of good leadership.
In reflecting on the book of Nehemiah, John White said that “the book of Nehemiah serves primarily to unfold for us part of God’s on-going plan for his people. But always it is the man, his character and his leadership that holds my interest”.2 Two important things stand out from John White’s evaluative statement about Nehemiah’s leadership that are characteristic of good leadership. The first is the character and conduct of Nehemiah himself as a leader and the second, is his leadership ability. White further commended that probably one of the reasons why Nehemiah was chosen as a cupbearer was because of a well-trained personal quality like that of a stable character. Such well-trained stable character was not just the effort of Nehemiah alone. This can be seen in the following statement – “God used Nehemiah’s active prayer life to mold him into a godly leader”.3 As a godly leader, Nehemiah was dependent upon God from whom he received his personal support and encouragement, which motivated him enough to succeed. Nehemiah achieved his ministry goal and his leadership has been characterized as good. His good character and conduct and his demonstration of leadership abilities were personal characteristics of his leadership, which made him succeed.
Moses’ childhood training as an adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter was tailored towards leadership. The incidence, which led to his escape from Egypt, revealed that he recognized his leadership qualities before God called him to leadership. However, it took 40 years from the time of his escape from Egypt, before God called him to leadership. Joyce Peel observed that Moses learns how to be a shepherd. Long years of looking after sheep taught him the patience he was to need as leader of the cantankerous children of Israel.4 This observation by Joyce Peel shows that the personal quality of patience in Moses’ life was a characteristic of his good leadership. This quality was made evident in the life of Moses through the great challenges he faced as a leader over Israel. One example was when he came down from Mount Sinai and found the people worshiping the golden calf. He smashed the tablet inscribed with God’s commandment, and, with a rousing cry, ‘who is on the Lord’s side?’, summons the faithful Levites to a massacre.5 The next day he reproaches the people and then brokenhearted, goes back up the mountain to plead for their forgiveness.6
Patience was not the only personal quality that Moses had. But it has been used to show that good personal qualities, when applied to leadership, bring about positive results. Therefore, good personal qualities are characteristics of good leadership.
Paul made great achievements in the ministry God called him to. Achievements should however be seen as pointers to personal abilities or qualities that a leader has that made him to succeed. What then were those qualities in Paul that made him to succeed? First it would be important to look at some of the achievements that Paul made. He made remarkable impact in his missionary work and also in his writing. John Stott observed that thirteen letters ascribed to Paul in our New Testament form almost exactly one quarter of the whole New Testament. It was the rediscovery of the theology of Paul which led to the reformation of the sixteenth century, that theological revolution which prompted an upheaval within the Roman Catholic Church and led to the birth of all the present day Protestant Churches.7 Paul’s educational background gave him this advantage. It should not go unnoticed that this great apostle used all that he had personally achieved in his formative years in his leadership role. Making use of his personal qualities in bringing about positive results in his leadership was a characteristic of Paul’s good leadership.
According to Ted W. Engstrom, David the second king of Israel was a striking contrast to Saul, the first king.8 This was because of his noble, generous and admirable qualities he demonstrated in his leadership. This comparison indicates that David’s leadership was not only better than Saul’s but his leadership can be characterized as good. John C. Maxwell also compared the two leaders. In answer to a question, which he posed – ‘Why did Saul fail as Israel’s king while David, who appeared to be weaker succeed?’ he said that it was because of David’s attitude. Unlike Saul, David tried to become a better leader.9 It is clear from these two authors that David’s personal qualities, especially that of his attitude to always be a better leader were characteristics of his good leadership. Having the qualification or qualities is one thing, but applying them in one’s leadership role is quite another. David applied his leadership qualities in leading and made an impact as a leader.
The Characteristics of the Followers
Some of the characteristics of good leadership can be identified with the followers. Before identifying these characteristics, it would be helpful to examine some definitions of leadership, to be reminded of the relationship between leaders and followers. According to Oswald Sanders, leadership is influence. It is the ability of one person to influence others to follow his or her lead. Ted W. Enngstrom defines leadership with just two words – ‘leaders lead’. Myron Rush also gave a definition of leadership and his definition of leadership as ‘leader reproducing himself on the followers’. These definitions point to the relationship between leaders and followers but most significantly, what they considered to be the goal of the relationship. Oswald Sanders and Engstrom focus on the aspect of following. This focus identifies one of the characteristics of a good leadership – willing followers. If one gives consideration to D’souza’s point cited in the introduction, that one of the elements of leadership is ‘the needs
and expectations of the group’, it follows that one reason why people will willingly follow their leader is because their needs and expectations are met. Another characteristic can be identified from Myron Rush’s definition – making leader out of followers, there is a guarantee of the continuity of that ministry. The four leaders, Nehemiah, Moses, Paul and David, whose leaderships have been classified as good, will now be used as test case to identify the two characteristics.
When Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem from Susa, he first personally assessed the situation of Jerusalem’s destruction. Afterwards he called the people and shared his vision. The Bible stated that the people responded to Nehemiah (see Neh. 2:8). This shows clearly that from the start of his mission Nehemiah had willing followers. They were willing to follow because they realize that the vision was good and that some of their needs as a community will be met. Maxwell noted that the wall of Jerusalem was rebuilt because of Nehemiah’s ability to work with people and lead them where they need to go.10 This shows that Nehemiah had willing followers.
In addition Nehemiah gave recognition to subordinate leaders as he delegated responsibilities to them. This, as he said, opens the leadership potentials for others.11 Therefore one can rightly say that Nehemiah not only had willing followers but also leaders were reproduced under his ministry.
When Moses returned to Egypt to set the Israelites free, they were at first excited. But when Moses made their situation worse they were no longer excited about freedom. However, by the end of the ninth plague they had realized that Moses was God’s servant sent to deliver them. They followed Moses’ instructions in observing the Passover and then willingly followed him as he led them out of Egypt.
There is also scriptural evidence that leaders were produced under Moses’ leadership. One example is that of Joshua, who replaced him. Joshua who had been the personal assistant of Moses was mentored by Moses to become a leader. Moses’ leadership therefore had the characteristics of willing followers and that of reproducing leaders.
Even when he was “Paul the aged”, he remained the model and leader of a group of dynamic young men. The affection he kindled in his followers’ heart was mirrored in the tears that flowed when he told them they would see him no more (Acts 20: 36-38).12 Sanders revealed in the passage cited above that the apostle Paul’s leadership had the characteristics of willing followers. His ministry had great impact in the lives of many, who were also not willing to exchange his leadership for another.
Like the Lord Jesus, Paul invested his life on a few people because he expected much from them. These were the people he took on his missionary journeys. Two of the people, Timothy and Titus became leaders of local Churches. Therefore, like Moses, Paul’s leadership had the characteristics of willing followers and that of producing leaders.
David rose to fame when he killed Goliath, the Philistine giant. Eugene H. Merrill, commenting on David’s victory reserved that with his rising popularity among the people came a deterioration of his relationship with Saul, for the king became insanely jealous of Israel’s new hero.13 It is obvious that David had a large following. People followed him because of the potential they saw in him. They recognized him as a great leader, even before official recognition was given to him.
David ruled Israel for approximately 40 years and by the time he was stepping down as king, Solomon, his son had already been groomed for that position. So, like Nehemiah, Moses and Paul, David’s leadership was characterized by willing followers and the producing of leaders.
(c) The leader’s task or commission
It can be observed from scripture that God always give a specific task or mission to every person he calls to leadership. Some of the characteristics of good leadership can be identified in the way the leaders set out to accomplish their task or mission. There are two things that are of primary importance to how a leader accomplishes his task. These are his vision and his style of leadership. A leader’s vision and style of leadership can be characteristics of both good and bad leadership. However, in this section the purpose is to shoe how these two characteristics can be characteristics of good leadership.
According to John Haggai, a vision is important because it is a key factor in successful leadership.14 A leader can have a good vision and yet his vision does not contribute in any way to make his leadership good. Haggai points out what a leader needs to do to make his vision a contributing characteristic to good leadership. First, he says that both leaders and followers must grasp the vision. It is the leader’s responsibility to help the followers understand the vision and accept it. Second, both leader and followers must commit themselves to act on the vision. This action involves designing a goal program to fulfill the vision. In this way both the leader and followers are prepared to face difficulties and eliminate obstacles. It is in this way that a vision can be a characteristic of good leadership.15
The other aspects mentioned that can be a characteristic of a good leadership is the style of leadership. Leadership styles have been given different classification by authors. Anthony D’souza classified leadership styles in a continuum in which one end is described as task-oriented and the other as relationship-oriented.16 Myron Rush also agreed with D’souza that leadership styles can be seen in a continuum, but he used different descriptive terms for the different styles within the continuum.17 The four styles used within Rush’s continuum are: dictatorial, authoritative, consultative and participative. These authors argument about styles was not to point out the best but rather to show the importance of all of them. The point that they were making was that a good leadership had the characteristics of the different leadership styles. The leader must be flexible to the changing situations. When he is able to adjust his leadership styles to changing situations, then his leadership styles… become characteristics of good leadership. Myron Rush gave examples of situations where particular leadership styles are appropriate. He said, dictatorial leadership style is appropriate in an emergency or when people’s lives, are at stake; consultative style in conducting on-going planning for the department or organization; authoritative style when employees constantly misuse authority and participative style as people become competent in performing their routine responsibilities.18
The four leaders mentioned in this paper, whose leaderships have been classified as good, will now be used as test cases to determine whether the points mentioned here are characteristics of their leaderships.
Joyce Peel, commenting on Nehemiah’s task of building the walls of Jerusalem said that a dispirited nation needs an inspired leader who can unite and galvanize his people into action. Such a man was Nehemiah.19 These words not only revealed that Nehemiah had a clear vision of his task but also was able to make his followers understand the vision and commit themselves to act on it. This was just one reason why they were able to rebuild the walls in fifty-two days. Many Jews lamented over the ruins of Jerusalem city wall, but it took the vision of one man, who united the people and gave them hope to change the situation. Engstrom also pointed to the fact that the people caught Nehemiah’s vision and acted upon it, when he noted: “One has only to read the Book of Nehemiah to discover the importance of people at work. The leaders in building the temple and city walls never lost sight of the total goal and overall picture. They were able to keep this focus by using all the people as well as experts who were trained to do specific work”.20 Nehemiah’s leadership had the characteristic of a clear visi
on which was actively pursued by himself and his followers.
It can be observed from the book of Nehemiah, that Nehemiah used the consultative style of leadership when he got to Jerusalem to begin the work. However in the last few chapters of the book, when things were going wrong, his style of leadership changed to an authoritative one. Therefore it can be said that Nehemiah’s leadership had the characteristics of a vision and a changing style of leadership.
Moses has a clear vision when he returned to Egypt to lead the children of Israel out of bondage. The Israelites wanted to be free, but they doubted the possibility of Moses setting them free. However, when they became certain that Moses was God’s servant who will set them free from bondage, they obeyed his instructions and later walked out of Egypt following him.
The biblical records also show that Moses varied his leadership styles. Before Jethro came to visit him, he carried a heavy load of work all by himself. Myron Rush pointed out that it was an authoritative style of leadership because Moses had to make every decision.21 After his encounter with Jethro his style of leadership changed to more of a consultative one.
Paul’s vision was not only clear to him but also to his followers. Since his Damascus road experience, he knew he has been called by God to be a missionary.
Sanders observed that Paul was a missionary trail-blazer, leaving behind him a string of new Churches. It is a significant face that the greatest missionary advances of the last fifty years have followed the rediscovery or re-emphasis of Paul’s missionary principles.22 It is because Paul’s vision and principle of accomplishing that vision was so clear that long after he has gone people still followed his steps.
It can also be seen from the Acts narrative that Paul varied his leadership styles. For example, in the contention between himself and Barnabas over John Mark, Paul displayed an authoritative style of leadership. Most times he is also authoritative when dealing with issues in the Church. At other times he demonstrated a consultative style of leadership – in the issue that lead to the Jerusalem council. It can be seen that Paul’s leadership was characteristic of a clear vision and changing leadership styles.
Two things are very clear in scripture about David. The first is his vision for Israel and the second his vision for God. David was a king of war and he led his army in battle against Israel’s enemies and took the land God gave to them. He also lived his life in devotion to God. He had a vision to build a dwelling place for the Lord. Although God denied him this privilege, he made great preparations for this temple, which was later built by his son Solomon.
It is evident in scripture that David changed his leadership styles in accordance with changing situations. He displayed an authoritative leadership style when he led his men in battle. For example in the situation when Nabal refused to reward him and his men with food supply for protecting his servants and sheep in the fields. At other times he demonstrated a consultative style of leadership. When the biblical records are examined, one could clearly see that David’s leadership show characteristics of a clear vision and a changing style of leadership.
In this article some of the characteristics of good leadership have been identified. This was done under the following headings: (a) the personal characteristics of the leader, the characteristics of the followers and the leader’s task or commission. These divisions were based on the findings of Anthony D’souza, which revealed that leadership involves an inter-relationship between three elements – the leader, the followers and the task to be accomplished. Six characteristics of good leadership were identified and they are as follows:
a) The personal qualities of the leader, which give him his leadership ability.
b) The leaders conduct or character which is formed by the godly life he is living.
c) The willingness of the people to follow without coercing.
d) The reproducing of leaders from the followers.
e) The clear vision of the leader, which eventually becomes the people’s vision and
focus in the ministry.
f) The variations in the style of leadership to meet different leadership situations.
Six leaders, whose leaderships have been characterized as good, were used as test cases to see whether the qualities mentioned can be found in their leadership. It was proved that these characteristics were evident in each of their leadership. There are many more qualification of good leadership, but it is primary importance to have a balance in the three major areas identified. An individual can have all the good qualities of leadership and yet his leadership may not be good because of his style of leadership. Also, the people may not follow the leader because his vision is not clear to them. Good leadership does not only depend on the leader or on the follower or the style of leadership but on all three of these qualities. When there is a balance in these three areas, leadership becomes exceptional and that was the kind of leadership Nehemiah, Moses, Paul and David portrayed.
1. Anthony D’souze, Being A Leader (Achimota: African Christian Press, 1990),
2. John White, Excellence In Leadership: the Pattern of Nehemiah (Leicester:
Intervarsity Press, 1986), p 10-11.
3. Ibid, p 14.
4. Joyce Peel, A Journey Through The Old Testament: The Story of God’s
Relationship With Man Woman and the World (Oxford: The Bible Reading
Fellowship, 1993), p 35.
5. Ibid, p 41.
6. Ibid. p 41.
7. John Stott, Men With A Message: An Introduction To New Testament And Its
Writers (Suffolk: Evangelical Literature Trust, 1996), P 86.
8. Ted W. Engstrom, The Making of A Christian Leader (Michigan: Zondervan
Publishing House, 1976), p 30.
9. John C Maxwell, The 21 Most Powerful Minutes In A Leader’s Day; Revitalize Your
Spirit an Empower Your Leadership (Nashville: Thomas Nelson’s Publisher, 2000), p 4.
10. John C Maxwell, The 21 Most Powerful Minutes In A Leader’s Day: Revitalize Your
Spirit and Empower Your Leadership (Nashville: Thomas Nelsons Publishers, 2000),
11. Oswald Sanders, Spiritual Leadership (Chicago: Moody Press, 1994), p 166.
12. Oswald Sanders, Paul the Leader: A Vision For Christian Leadership Today (Glasgow:
Kingsway Publication Ltd., 1983), p 42.
13. Eugene H Merrill, I Samuel: The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Colorado: Chariot
Victor Publishing, 1985), p 449.
14. John Haggai, Lead On! Leadership That Endures In A Changing World (London: Word
Publishing, 1986), p 16.
15. Ibid. p 17.
16. Anthony D’souza, Being A Leader (Achimota: African Christian Press, 1990), p 36
17. Myron Rush; Management: A Biblical Perspective (Illinois: Victor Books, 1996), p 219.
18. Myron Rush, Management: A Biblical Approach (Illinios: Victor Books, 1983), p 226.
19. Joyce Peel, Journey Through the Old Testament: The Story of God’s Relationship with
Man. Woman and the World (oxford: The Bible Reading Fellowship, 1993), p 141.
20. Ted W Engstrom, The Making of A Christian Leader: How To Develop Management
And Human Relations Skills (Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976), p
21. Myron Rush, Management: A Biblical Perspective (Illinois: Victor Books, 1976), p 220.
22. Oswald Sanders, Paul: A Vision For Christian Leadership Today (Glasgow: Kingsway
Publication Ltd, 1983), p 967.
1. Anthony D’souza, Being A Leader (Achimota: African Christian Press, 1990),
2. John White, Excellence In Leadership: the Pattern of Nehemiah (Leicester:
Intervarsity Press, 1986), p 10-11.
3. Ibid. p 14.
4. Joyce Peel, A Journey Through The Old Testament: The Story of God’s
Relationship With Man Woman and the World
(Oxford: The Bible Reading
Fellowship, 1993), p 35.