Everyone knows that leaders come in all different shapes, sizes and physical conditions. Former U.S. presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt were about as opposite as could be. Lincoln was 6 feet, 4 inches tall, lean for his height (weighing between 160 and 185 pounds) and physically strong from outdoor work, while Roosevelt contracted polio at age 39, a condition that left him paralyzed in both legs for the remainder of his life.
In spite of their physical differences, both are recognized as great leaders—Lincoln during the Civil War and Roosevelt as the only person to be elected to the U.S. presidency four times. So one's physical condition need not be a detriment to being a successful leader.
But what about a leader's personality? Must one have a particular type of personality to be a successful leader? Are we destined for success or failure based on our innate preferences in processing information and dealing with others?
When I was in high school and college, my instructors advised me and my classmates to read the biographies and autobiographies of famous people. The reasoning was that learning how other leaders thought, responded to challenges and worked with others would provide us a valuable education in how to be successful leaders ourselves. It was good advice at the time and remains good advice today.
In addition to reading biographies and autobiographies of successful people, we can also study various classification systems of personality or temperaments to better understand who we are and how we can better relate to others. Of course, God's Word, the Bible, also has numerous examples of leadership that help us understand God's perspective on this important subject. From my studies, let me share with you some of the keys that I believe are most important.
Called for leadership
When considering leadership, some of us, especially when we are younger, don't think of ourselves as leaders and don't think we ever will be. As we get older, some of us even reason that we don't want to become leaders because of the responsibilities and challenges that inevitably accompany leadership.
We dismiss leadership as something unimportant to us.
Others, realizing the attention leaders command and the good they can do, are attracted to such positions. They do everything they can to be recognized as leaders at school, college and in the community. Does it really matter whether we become leaders or not?
While there is no doubt that our own personalities, wired into us from birth, greatly affect our thinking, God also provides critically needed guidance in how we should view leadership. Simply stated, He expects all of us to become leaders. God's desire is that all of us positively influence others.
When we grow up, complete our formal educations, get married and have children, we are immediately thrust into the role of being the leaders/teachers of our children (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Proverbs 22:6). In addition to this responsibility, God wants us to positively influence others to do good works (Hebrews 10:24-25). Doing this makes us leaders.
After developing our leadership skills in this life, God also promises Christians He is calling now that we will serve Him and other people in His coming Kingdom as kings and priests (Revelation 5:10). The Bible also speaks of each of us having the opportunity to receive a crown—a symbol of leadership (1 Peter 5:4; Revelation 3:11).
As future kings and priests, we will have the opportunity to lead, teach and influence others to have happy, successful lives through love of and obedience to God. With this knowledge, there is no sense in being like the ancient prophet Jonah who tried (unsuccessfully) to run away from what God expected Him to do. Let's accept the fact that we have all been called to be leaders.
What type of personality is best suited for leadership? The surprising answer is that there isn't just one type of personality that God recommends for leaders. The Bible shows that God has used people with a wide variety of personalities as leaders.
Moses—the man God used to lead the ancient Israelites out of Egypt and the one through whom God communicated His laws—was a person who was reluctant to speak up in public. The Bible tells us that Moses was the most humble man on the face of the earth (Numbers 12:3) and that he argued that he wasn't a very good speaker (Exodus 4:10).
On the other hand, Peter—the disciple of Christ who spoke publicly on behalf of the other disciples on the Day of Pentecost and who served prominently in the first-century Church—seems to have had an outgoing personality and was very comfortable speaking up in the presence of others. On numerous occasions when Christ asked a question of His disciples, Peter was the first to respond (Matthew 14:27-28; 16:15-16).
An important concept for us to understand from these two examples is that God didn't use these two men because of their great personalities. In fact, God used them in spite of their personalities. Their ability to serve as leaders came about because they yielded themselves to God's will.
In studying personality types, I've learned that almost every strength can also become a liability if it is not applied in balance and wisdom. For example, a very talkative, outgoing person may have a hard time really listening to others. Similarly, a very quiet person may be a good listener but he or she may find it hard to speak up when appropriate. Understanding our own personalities, with our inherent weaknesses and strengths, gives us a better chance of more wisely dealing with life's many and varied challenges.
Being molded into leaders
As we think about being molded into forms best suited for leadership, we have to consider what parts of us are moldable and what parts aren't. While maturity can help all of us become more balanced in our various personalities, most of us will retain our basic personality preferences throughout our lives. Even so, it is important for us to realize that personality is never an acceptable excuse for sin or mistreating others.
We also need to understand that no matter what our personalities, God has one eternal standard of behavior that applies to everyone. Our character should supersede our personality type as a reflection of our commitment to God and His instructions. Speaking of our part in the molding of our character, the Bible tells us not to conform to the world's standards but to God's (Romans 12:1-2).
To prepare for leadership in this life and the one to come, we all need to develop holy, righteous character. This means learning to think and act like Jesus (Philippians 2:5; 1 John 2:6).
Living our lives dedicated to this principle will yield great happiness and satisfaction. It is a quest well worth the effort. May we all submit to being molded into the image of Christ Himself (Galatians 4:19) so we can become better leaders for God and our fellow man. VT