The Five Marks of Truly Great Leaders

Leadership is hard. But, for those who are connected to God, it doesn’t have to be complicated. And, with God in the equation, clear direction and effectiveness is assured. 

David was one of the greatest leaders in human history. His leadership legacy begins and ends with his humility.

And David knew that the Lord had established him as king over Israel, and that his kingdom was highly exalted for the sake of his people Israel. 1 Chronicles 14:

David knew who had made him king and why. He did not suffer under the delusion that it was his ability or power that placed him in this position of responsibility. He also understood that the purpose of his position was not about him. He was a leader for the sake of God’s people.

Pride always aborts great leadership. A massive study was done by a secular organization that produced the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins (a tremendously helpful read). Over many years they tried to identify the five characteristics that made good companies great. They wanted to avoid the obvious issue of leadership, but in the end, they could not. In every case they found the single greatest component was a leader who’s strongest characteristics were humility and servanthood. A strong, but unassuming leader who served for the sake of the company.

If you want to be a great leader, this issue must be settled. It is not about you. God exalts one and puts down another and He has a plan. Your current position is not a stair step in your resume, but an opportunity to accomplish God’s agenda for the lives of people. A leader is a servant placed in his position by God and must stay wrapped in the servant’s apron of humility. It is the noble robe of every great leader.

Coming out of such humility there must be dependency and theobedience that follows. A truly humble leader knows his source. Compelled by that understating, he continually turns to God for direction. With that direction, he humbly and quickly obeys.

And David inquired of God, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you give them into my hand?” And the Lord said to him, “Go up, and I will give them into your hand.” And he went up to Baal-perazim, and David struck them down there. And David said, “God has broken through my enemies by my hand, like a bursting flood.” 1 Chronicles 14:10-11

There are many one-shot wonders in the leadership ranks. Men who won one victory and then faded. A mark of great leader’s is perseverance.They are wise enough to keep depending upon the Lord with each new decision. Some leaders experience a victory by God and they program the pattern, assuming that the Lord will always work the same way. Or, perhaps they forget that it was the Lord who directed them and they think they can win the next battle on their own (which was King Saul’s fatal flaw). David, however, kept inquiring. In the next battle, God had a different plan. But David humbly listed, genuinely trusted, and fully obeyed.

And the Philistines yet again made a raid in the valley. And when David again inquired of God, God said to him, “You shall not go up after them; go around and come against them opposite the balsam trees. And when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then go out to battle, for God has gone out before you to strike down the army of the Philistines.” And David did as God commanded him, and they struck down the Philistine army from Gibeon to Gezer. 1 Chronicles 14:13-16

The final exam of leadership, though, is the hardest. When results occur, natural accolades follow. This is the acid test of humble leadership. The best leaders are filled with gratitude. They keep deferring all praise to the real Leader in the equation. They remember the source. Any fame has come from God’s activity through them and those who serve with them. They are simply God’s servants. They will be exalted in due time by Him…and that is enough.

And David said, “God has broken through my enemies by my hand, like a bursting flood.” 1 Chronicles 14:10-11

And the fame of David went out into all lands, and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations. 1 Chronicles 14:17

Leadership is hard and those who navigate well to the finish line are rare. But for anyone who desires to be a truly great leader there is an amazing simplicity. Remember who put you in leadership and why. Humbly, dependently listen to the Lord and do exactly what He says, letting Him literally lead through you. Maintain this pattern consistently and give Him all the glory.