The term leadership is defined as “the ability to lead; an act or instance of leading; guidance; direction.” Church leadership is about how we behave, communicate and manage others.
This word is used in many forms to describe countless things, but it is ultimately the act of leading a group of people in a shared direction.
To be considered a leader, you have to have people who will follow you.
And, successful professionals demonstrate leadership characteristics even while continuing on their own personal development journey.
They are life learners and take pride in developing others.
Managing a church staff requires managers and leaders who can influence how work gets accomplished.
Effective church leaders have certain traits and characteristics that affect their interactions with others.
“Leaders are people who do the right thing; managers are people who do things right.” Warren Bennis
14 Church Leadership Traits
1. Person of Influence
Leaders influence others to get things done. They help others see what needs to be done and then show them the path forward.
Anyone can be a leader–kids can be leaders. Did your mom ever say, “She’s a bad influence on you”? That means that person influences your thoughts and behaviors.
Positive influence is what we’re going for. Leaders often influence us even though we may not be aware of it.
The CEO of the hospital I worked for would walk down the hall and pick up trash off of the floor. This example of leading by doing naturally influenced employees to do the same. It was an unspoken but powerful way to influence others.
2. Big Picture Thinker
Leaders are big picture thinkers and can rise above the day-to-day and see things from a broad perspective.
They have the ability to get people excited about where they’re going and how to get there.
People often get stuck in their own little corner of the world and need help seeing things from a bird’s eye view.
Employees need to get out of their cubes and hear stories of how their work impacts those whom the church is reaching.
My pastor does a great job of providing employees and volunteers with testimonies of people whose lives the ministry has touched.
This shows the person who cleans the bathroom that his or her work helps to impact the lives of others.
3. Believe the Best in People
Influential leaders always give others the benefit of the doubt (“a favorable judgment given in the absence of full evidence”) and believe the best in people.
A true leader first gathers all the facts before drawing final conclusions.
It’s amazing how one-sided a situation can look and how very different it seems when you have all the information.
My husband always says there are three sides to every story. Make sure you know all the facts before making judgments.
4. Others See Them as Credible
There have been so many sad examples of leaders who have fallen when they live double lives and their integrity is not consistent in every area of their lives.
A leader’s personal life needs to be consistent with his/her professional life. He/she should be the same – no matter who is around.
Employees can quickly recognize when a leader’s actions does not line up with his/her speech.
Leaders have to maintain credibility with the people they lead. This means they do what they say, say what they mean, and are able to communicate honestly with others.
5. Teacher and Mentor
Leaders are gifted teachers and love to help others develop.
They model leadership principles; help others to be credible people; identify employee growth opportunities; coach others on personal development; are not afraid of delegating responsibility and enjoy seeing others grow professionally.
Leaders are not threatened by people who are smarter than they are and take pleasure in seeing others succeed.
I always told my staff that I would know that I did a good job if I could walk out the door one day and know that things would go on as if I were still there.
Pulling people up behind us is how we all grow.
6. Master Delegator
Leaders develop others and learn to delegate responsibilities.
This is done by allowing others to make mistakes and helping them learn from those mistakes.
We learn best from making mistakes, and allowing others to gain knowledge from their own mistakes is an invaluable lesson.
All of us have had a starting point in our professional development, and allowing others to learn through experiences helps them grow professionally and gain self confidence.
7. Empower Others
Leaders empower others and recognize that making front-line decisions and taking risks are part of the development and learning process.
People need to be comfortable taking risks, making decisions, and learning from their mistakes.
Establishing boundaries, and allowing others to test decision-making skills and problem-solving not only helps with employee development but also takes the bottleneck out of addressing issues.
Regardless if the issues are internal (employee to employee) or external (organization to customer).
The most important aspect of this is not allowing the employees (or volunteers) to feel like they are hanging out there by themselves.
Debriefing after a mistake is made, and coaching them to think of what might have been a better approach, is part of the learning process.
It is very much like parenting: sometimes you need to allow your kids to fall down and pick themselves back up. That is how they learn.
8. Team Player
Leaders are team players and work well with others to get things done. They operate out of a win-win philosophy and help others to collaborate and come to agreement in tasks.
9. Celebrates Successes
Effective leaders are able to recognize success and help their team celebrate those successes. This is a critical component in team function and development.
Rewarding performance, showing employees appreciation and celebrating successes helps to keep team members engaged.
Celebrating even small successes provides the motivation and fuel to go after the bigger targets. No success is too small to celebrate and can be as simple as a public acknowledgement of a job well done!
10. Have Balanced Priorities
Leaders have a good understanding of their personal priorities and are able to keep all aspects of their lives balanced.
They understand the importance of setting personal boundaries and giving family as much focus and attention as their professional responsibilities.
They unapologetically recognize that leadership is a marathon and not a sprint, and they understand the importance of pacing themselves so they don’t run out of gas before the race is complete.
This can be difficult to do in today’s fast-paced environment, but successful leaders know how to work faster and more efficiently to achieve this balance.
11. Ethics and Integrity in Business Practice
The success of any ministry is built on the trust of its congregants, volunteers and general public.
The best way to gain that trust is to demonstrate ethics and integrity in church operations, not because of legal requirements, but because it is the right thing to do.
The integrity of any organization affects all customer groups and every area of business operations which is why incorporating ethics and integrity into the core fabric of the ministry is critical.
“Do the right thing. It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.” Mark Twain
Churches that operate with integrity do so intentionally and make it part of their culture and everyday practices.
This culture of honesty and trust helps orient new employees to understand that operating with integrity is “the way things are done around here.”
Building integrity into the culture is the foundation for ethical practices.
Churches that strive to do the right thing benefit by establishing a reputation for high ethical standards. It starts at the top and flows throughout the entire organization.
12. Transparent Accounting Practices
Transparency with finances is a basic expectation of congregants, volunteers and employees.
It serves no one when churches mismanage funds, whether it is intentional or accidental.
Careless accounting practices limit a ministry’s ability to manage its financial resources and can threaten its tax exempt status.
The church board should determine the boundaries for ethical behavior.
And, a Code-of-Conduct Statement is a great way to establish boundaries and set the expectation for employee behaviors.
This conduct statement should includes things like conflicts-of-interest, confidentiality, respect for others, legal compliance, etc.
Don’t be naive enough to think that church employees are exempt from unethical conduct. Having a written code-of-conduct statement, that employees sign when hired, helps them understand behavior expectations.
14. Management Practices
Management practices are the underlying foundation for organizational integrity, whether it is a commitment to serving the members or managing employment practices.
A ministry’s reputation can be tarnished by unresolved issues and employees observe how leadership responds to issues and follows up on promises made. Employees who trust management are more engaged and supportive of ministry efforts.
Creating a culture of strong leaders is important because it affects an organization’s ability to meet goals and achieve strategy.
Church leaders are responsible for setting the standard for behavior while preparing others for greater responsibility. A true leader is marked by their ability to demonstrate ethical behaviors while helping others maximize their potential.