I have served under many different leaders over the years and have been influenced by all of them. Here are a few lessons I have learned about what sets a leader ahead of the rest, making them truly great.
Others > Them
Great leaders care deeply about people, so much so that they care about them more than themselves. These are the people who are eager to lift up others, both publicly and privately. They take the time to develop their team and the people in their care. This takes time, possibly one of the most valuable resources to a leader, but developing, discipling and investing in others is paramount to a leader’s success.
Great influencers will not manipulate—spiritually or otherwise—their team to cajole them in something for personal gain. Instead outstanding leaders are willing to take a hit, personally, in order to see one of their own thrive as they do their best to follow God. They hold on loosely and are able to cheer and celebrate when their people grow and thrive and occasionally move on.
Being Healthy is a Priority
You should be able to see the fruit of this health. Can they maintain relationships? Do people want to be around them? How do they speak about others—both publicly and behind closed doors? Or if they are struggling with some kind of hurt or addiction, are they seeking help? Leaders are not immune to pain and sin of this world, but in order to lead well, they need to make sure they are as healthy as they can possibly be. Of course they are human and will not be perfect, but they strive instead to be the best version of themselves in order to help and serve their team as they lead.
And as healthy people, they don’t encourage unhealthy behaviors or habits (gossip, creating a toxic culture, workaholism, etc.). Rather, they hold themselves to a higher standard, knowing their words and influence carry weight and expectation. Great leaders will not only discourage gossip or drama, but actively dismantle it and show their followers a better way to resolve issues by modeling it and taking the time to walk them through it—conversation by conversation, covered in grace and truth.
Leaders Are Learners, Too
Great leaders are humble, curious and passionate—they are always up for learning more and finding ways to do things better. Whether it is learning from reading, listening to podcasts, attending conferences, higher education, a mentorship relationship or some combination of all of these—the best influencers want to learn and are dedicated to it. A natural overflow of their learning is that it gets passed along to those they lead and creates change in their lives. Just like anything we get excited about, we want to share it, so when a leader learns something that challenges or inspires them they bring it to the table and present it to others, furthering the impact and ripple effect.
Ask the Right Questions
One thing I am constantly impressed with as I watch great influencers is how they ask the obvious, sometimes uncomfortable questions, as well as the ones that require nuance. They are not scared to go deep or have things get uncomfortable as they ask questions in order to draw out the truth. As they ask questions they are taking in the responses and reconciling them with what they know to be true, often times helping people to find a true north in a culture full of relatives, toxicity and low standards. They take the time to process and converse, without judgement, but instead with loving wisdom and care.
Don’t Compromise Character and Integrity
Without character and integrity, they know they will not get far. The spark of charisma and flash of talent may get attention for a while, but a leader can’t out-lead their character and integrity, it will always find them. Cutting corners, telling lies or being unfaithful over time chips away at the essence of what makes an influencer great. Actions that show a lack of character and integrity will have severe consequences to which no person is immune.
But when a leader shows up who does the right thing, but publicly and privately, that doesn’t go unnoticed. It may not be glamorous: keeping accurate records, treating people well, having difficult conversations, but it is certainly appreciated. And by doing so they are setting a standard and expectation, one that our culture has long decided was obsolete and laughable. The best leaders will bring back the value of having character and integrity by showing it in action, daily.
I’m going to state the obvious—an influencer is just a person. Even if they are great, they are not perfect, they are a product of a sinful, broken world just like you and me. And just like us, there is hope for change. Realistic expectations go a long way in life, for everyone. Leadership is not for the faint of heart, mind, body or soul. It requires a lot. And it should because we are better because of the leaders we have learned from. It is not easy to lead, whether we are talking about a large congregation or small group, so having grace and compassion for leaders who show up every day and do their very best is something we can bring in order to be great followers.