“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:7
by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.
A good leader has a humble spirit. Humility is perhaps the key characteristic that God looks for when He chooses a person to lead (Isaiah 66:2).
When I choose captains for my soccer team, I tell them that if they want to be effective leaders, they need to have an attitude of humility. Rather than thinking about their own needs, they must put the needs of their teammates before their own, and that they should never expect anything more from the team than what they are willing to do themselves. Their influence on the team will be most evident when they embody “servant leadership.”
This is the exact view of leadership we find in the Bible. In contrast to being full of pride, God calls us to have an attitude of humility. Jesus provides for us the greatest example of what it means to be humble. Even though He was God, we see that He willingly humbled Himself to provide salvation for mankind. Paul explicitly talks about this in his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 2:5-8).
The evidence of this attitude of humility by Jesus is clearly demonstrated when He washes the feet of His disciples. Although the washing of feet was typically carried out by slaves, Jesus performed this action to show His disciples that true strength is when we serve others – not the other way around (John 13:12-17.
Great leaders watch out for the benefit of those around them, as they lead through humble service (Mark 10:42-45).
Good leaders communicate effectively. This quality was evident in Nehemiah. He was given the task of going back to Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Babylonians, and rebuilding the walls of the city. After he inspected the walls, we see him clearly communicating with the Israelites the plans God had laid on his heart for Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:17, 18).
As we see in the case of Nehemiah, effective communication begins with laying out the vision. A vision merely states the purpose of why we are doing what we are doing. As a coach I came to realize how vital this was in building a soccer program. I knew what I wanted to accomplish (win our region and district), but I needed to go deeper and identify the why. Once I did this it allowed my coaches, my players, and myself to identify who we were as a team and why we existed as a program. Below is the purpose statement I have made for our program:
The purpose of our program is to inspire our athletes towards excellence by fostering an environment that seeks to instill conviction, passion, confidence and authentic relationships among the players.
Along with a defined vision, effective communication also means a leader has to set expectations, address conflicts, listen and empathize with others and be honest, which means saying what others may not want to hear but need to hear.
A prominent church in our area recently experienced the dangers of poor communication. After providing no information to the congregation on why a pastor was fired, a firestorm of rumors was created that eventually led to a major split in the church. This was an unfortunate conclusion which could have been avoided had the leadership of the church only provided proper communication.
[As a side note, great leaders respect confidentiality and do not engage in gossip and slander. As it says in Proverbs 20:19: “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid anyone who talks too much.”]
Good leaders possess conviction. Daniel embodied this quality. Following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, Daniel was one of the Jews taken exile into Babylon. While there he went from the status of being a captive to becoming ruler over the whole province of Babylon, as well as chief over all the wise men (Daniel 2:28). Eventually, when the Medes and Persians destroyed Babylon, he was again promoted to a position of prominence (Daniel 6:1-3). God was able to use Daniel in such a position of influence in his pagan world, because Daniel was a man of conviction. In fact, he lived such a life of integrity that when the other advisors became jealous of him they could not find any charge to bring against him, except in relation to the God he served (Daniel 6:4, 5).
Like Daniel, people of conviction possess an unwavering commitment. They know what they believe and why they believe it. They live by what they say and hold themselves accountable when they fail. In addition, they display courage, as they choose to stand for what they know to be right, even if that means standing alone.
Besides having an unwavering commitment, being authentic, and displaying courage, leaders of conviction create safeguards in their lives. The importance of this came to mind when I read the inspiring story of Charlotte Brown. In the spring of 2015, she won the bronze medal for pole-vault in the state of Texas. While winning a medal in states is a great accomplishment, this is not what caught my attention as I read her story. Charlotte earned this medal as she ran down the over 130 feet runway, carrying a pole about 10 feet in length, and vaulted over 11 feet in the air; all while being blind.
In this amazing feat by Brown, she had to count her steps and incorporate a beeper to tell her when to plant the pole. Without having these safeguards in place she would not have known where she was on the runway, which in turn would have prevented her from successfully making her vault. So too, if we want to be leaders of conviction, then we need to create safeguards in our lives to help provide us with guidance and direction. The Word of God, prayer, and other believers (mentors) are examples of a few safeguards that can help keep us on the right path.
Leaders of conviction are certainly the exception in a day defined by compromise. However, when we choose to live faithful and upright lives before God then we will find ourselves, just like Daniel, being used by God in a powerful way.
Good leaders seek wise counsel. There is a Proverb in the Bible that says, “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisors they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22). As a high school soccer coach, I have applied this proverb to my program. When I first took over, I sought out other people who had the same vision and used the same principles that I did. Because I realized that to make my program successful, I needed the support of other people. Throughout my years as a coach, I have leaned heavily upon my assistants for advice, support and direction. I am grateful God surrounded me with people who I knew I could look to for guidance as I made decisions.
Good leaders recognize the importance of having others in their lives to provide them with encouragement and edification. They understand that as “iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Each of us should have at least at one person in our lives who loves us enough to encourage us when we are feeling discouraged, gently rebuke when we are living in opposition to the standards of God’s Word and give godly wisdom as we make decisions.
If we want to be good and effective leaders, then we should seek out men and women whose lives have been defined by a consistent walk with God; people, like the apostle Paul, who are an example of what it means to walk in the Lord’s will (1 Corinthians 4:16; 11:1; Philippians 3:17). Let us ask that God will not only raise up a Paul in our lives, but also that we can be a Paul in the life of someone else. As Paul declared to the believers at Philippi:
The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (Philippians 4:9).
Good leaders build confidence and courage in others. Following the death of Moses, Joshua was placed in charge by God to lead the children of Israel into the land He had promised them. In his new role as leader, we find Joshua empowering the Israelites with the confidence and courage to fulfill this momentous task. How did Joshua do this?
Joshua recognized that his strength came from God alone. When the Israelites were ready to go into the Promised Land under Moses’ leadership, we find Joshua, along with Caleb, as being the only spies who trusted that God could help them accomplish it (Numbers 14:6-9). Now that he was given the task this time to lead them, he once again trusted in God as God reminds Him that He will be with him just as He was with Moses (Joshua 1:2-9).
Being confident in the God he served, Joshua moved forward in fulfilling his task. In a decisive manner, Joshua did not let others distract or influence him to get off course, nor did he second-guess what God had called him to do. Instead, he commanded the officers of the Israelites to prepare to take possession of the land:
And Joshua commanded the officers of the people: Pass through the midst of the camp and command the people, “Prepare your provisions, for within three days you are to pass over this Jordan to go in to take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving you to possess” (Joshua 1:10, 11).
By possessing confidence in the God he served, and moving forward with courage, Joshua bred the same attitude in the Israelites:
And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go” (Joshua 1:16).
One of the greatest challenges that leaders face is getting others to step out of their comfort zone and overcome their fear. As mentioned earlier, this is the greatest challenge I have with my soccer players. Besides prayer, the following are four steps I have taken to help my players in this area. First, I remind them of past successes they have had on the field. Second, I provide examples of others who have been successful. Third, I provide encouragement (not flattery). Finally, I reiterate to them the value and importance they have as both an individual person and as a member of our team.
Like Joshua in the Old Testament, when we place our trust in God, we will not only be men and women of confidence and courage, but we will have the ability to build this into others (Jeremiah 17:7, 8).
Good leaders count the cost. If you want to be a leader, then you have to recognize that there will be a sacrifice involved. I have had to sacrifice time doing what I wanted to do to meet the needs of those around me. Along with me, my family has also had to make sacrifices in order to support me. This is the reality we all face as God places us in positions of leadership. Of course, it is important that you create a balance in your life to avoid burn out and provide essential time for personal growth and time with your family.
Leadership also brings with it greater expectations. In leadership, you are held to a higher standard because of your position of influence. This is why James comments about those who teach in the church:
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness (James 3:1).
Finally, when we are in positions of influence we become greater targets in the spiritual battle that is waging on around us (Ephesians 6:12). In this war, we have an adversary that, like a roaring lion, is seeking to devour every follower of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 5:8). Satan knows that by attacking and destroying those in leadership, he can have the greatest impact. We must be vigilant every day to put on the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:13-18), and saturate ourselves in prayer to avoid the schemes of our enemy.
A good friend of my family’s, Doug Mastriano, is a colonel in the army. Back in 1991 his regiment, the Second Armored Calvary, was sent to Saudi Arabia to take the lead in the ground war offensive against Saddam Hussein’s most loyal and motivated unit, the Republican Guards. Talking to Doug about the various battles he was involved in during this Operation, he told me that the key to his regiment’s success was preparation. He said the following about how they prepared:
The training put an incredibly difficult strain on the soldiers and their families, but it did sharpen us into a well-tuned machine. Almost every month there was some sort of live-fire exercises, maneuver training, border duty, headquarter exercises, and all sorts of battle drills to prepare us for that day, which even included a deployment to Turkey. We had trained for years for this day – and we were ready for it.
They were certainly ready for it, and because of what they did to prepare, and what Doug correctly attributes to the power of prayer, not one man was killed in his squadron. So too, if we want to be effective leaders, then we must be like the soldiers of Doug’s regiment in counting the cost and being prepared ahead of time on what it will take to accomplish what we are called to do.
Good leaders provide hope in difficult times. In life, we are all going to deal with trials, tribulations and adversity. As a result, effective leaders help others find hope in the journey. They enable others to look forward toward the future, and not merely at the present circumstance. One year I was coaching a team that was struggling to be competitive on the field. They had talent, but just could not find ways to play up to their potential. After losing several games in a row, they began to lose confidence and the hope that they could turn their season around. In light of this, I shared with them the story about how my children took a pottery class.
The first day my kids went they were each given a lump of useless clay. The teacher told them that this lump of clay would eventually be turned into a beautiful vase. Despite a few imperfections, that is exactly what happened, as each of my kids was able to take a useless lump of clay and make it into a vase that sits on display in our house. So too, I told my players that while we may not be where we want to be, we needed to keep moving forward because just like that lump of clay, our team too can become a beautiful vase.
Providing hope to others in difficult times requires leaders to persevere and move forward. The greatest example of perseverance I have personally witnessed was during a high school game I coached against one of our regional opponents. It was an important game because both teams were undefeated and tied for first place. As the game began, it became apparent our team was better. We kept the ball on the other team’s half as we took shot after shot, while at the same time preventing them from scoring. In the end, we won 9 to 0.
While there were many great moments that happened in the game by my players, the greatest impression was actually made by the opposing team’s goalkeeper. As I watched her warm up I was impressed with her work ethic. However, what especially caught my attention was that she had a prosthetic leg. (I learned after the game she had lost her leg about two years earlier as a result of a boating accident.) While I had a high respect for this girl, I wondered how she would be able to play goalkeeper. In all my years playing and coaching soccer I had never seen anyone play soccer with a prosthetic leg.
When the game began, I quickly realized that what I perceived as a “limitation” for this girl was in fact a driving force in her life to do something that I am sure many people told her she could never do. Here was a young lady who could have easily stayed at home and made excuses, but she instead chose to persevere through the loss of one of her legs. And what inspired me more than the fact that she played, was how she played. She did everything a goalkeeper is supposed to do in a game: dive, catch, punt, and communicate with her teammates. Unless you knew beforehand, you would not have thought she had a prosthetic leg.
As my team began to score and put constant pressure on the opposing team’s defense, it was clear we were going to win the game but she never stopped working hard. She kept encouraging her teammates. She got back up every time after she dove for a ball. At one point in the game she made a great diving save that caused her prosthetic leg to become loose. Without any dramatic effect, she hobbled over to the bench, fixed her leg, and came right back out like nothing happened. Until the final whistle, she continued to give everything she could for her team. She was a true inspiration to everyone at the game and a perfect example of perseverance.
Just like this young lady, effective leaders never make excuses. They persevere through difficult times and provide hope for those around them. These are the type of people God is looking for as leaders. He wants to use those who, in the midst of life challenges, will place their complete faith and trust in Him. He wants to use those who can provide hope for others in difficult times. As Paul shares in his letter to the church in Rome:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Romans 5:1-5).
Good and effective leaders inspire others. One of the greatest lessons I have learned as a soccer coach is the difference between motivation and inspiration. Motivation is something that is outside of us. When I first started coaching, I was taught how to motivate my athletes. The basic ways to motivate were out of fear or reward. I would often find myself saying the following to my players, “If you don’t work hard today you will have to run sprints; if you do work hard today then no sprints at the end.” However, by merely motivating my players I not only had to continually do this, but I found out that I was not getting the most out of them.
By contrast, inspiration is something that is internal. As coaches we have found out that by inspiring our players we are able to help develop within them an internal love and passion for, and joy in, the game. This in turn dramatically impacts their overall effort as well as their ability to inspire those around them.
So how does a good leader inspire others? Consider the three ways that I have used to inspire my athletes. First, I remind my athletes about their roots. One of the traditions I have started with my seniors is to take them to our local YMCA. The reason why I take them there is because it is the place that our high school program held their first game. I tell them what sacrifices were made and how far our program has come. I remind them that they need to remember the tradition that they are part of and to consider what legacy they want to leave behind.
In addition, I tell them that this field was the first place I ever played a game of soccer; that when I first started to play I merely played because I loved the game. I was not so much concerned about who won as I was more focused on just playing because I enjoyed it. I tell them to remember the feeling they used to have when they first played soccer and to never lose the love and joy that they had back then.
Along with this, I inspire my players by building a sense of community. I remind them that we are all working together for a common good and that each member is essential to accomplish it. We have chosen a redwood tree as being one of the symbols we wear on our practice shirts. Despite their extreme height, redwoods have shallow roots. However, to give them the strength to withstand the wind, the roots of the redwood tree interconnect with the roots of other redwood trees. Thus, when the wind blows it does not blow against one tree, but against a forest!
Finally, I inspire my athletes by investing into their lives. I show them through word and action that the purpose of our program goes beyond winning; it is to help build character in their lives.
Taking these steps to inspire my athletes has enabled my coaching staff and myself to build a reputable program in our area. Beyond this, it has allowed us to make a difference in the lives of our athletes. Upon being invited to a banquet for being an influence in her life, one of my athletes gave me a frame with the following quote by Bob Nelson, “You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within.”
The apostle Paul was an effective leader for the Lord. One reason is because he inspired others in their walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. His words to the church at Rome should resonate with all of us:
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord (Romans 12:11, NIV).
In a time when we desperately need effective leaders, make sure you lead and follow others who have a humble spirit, communicate effectively, possess conviction, seek wise counsel, build confidence and courage in others, count the cost, provide hope in difficult times, and inspire others. Those who lead in this manner will have a far-reaching impact for God and will be a blessing to others:
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan (Proverbs 29:2).