The Single Essential Trait of a Great Leader

Courage is an indispensable trait of a great leader. (Photo by Dalton Touchberry on Unsplash)

The dictionary defines courage as the "mental or moral strength to venture, persevere and withstand danger, fear or difficulty." As the definition implies, courage covers a wide variety of situations—from the soldier who strives against all odds to save lives and accomplish the mission to civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. who risked everything to help ensure that others recognize that all men—and women—are created equal.

Melanie Greenberg identified six attributes of courage in an article for Psychology Today. Cleverly, the author includes quotes from the famous to illustrate each attribute. The six attributes she highlights are:

Feeling Fear Yet Choosing to Act: "I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it." —Nelson Mandela

Following Your Heart: "To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself." —Soren Kierkegaard

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Persevering in the Face of Adversity: "It's not the size of the dog in the fight, it's the size of the fight in the dog." —Mark Twain

Standing Up for What is Right: "Sometimes standing against evil is more important than defeating it." —N.D. Wilson

Expanding Your Horizons, Letting Go of the Familiar: "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore." —Lord Chesterfield

Facing Suffering With Dignity or Faith: "A man of courage is also full of faith." —Marcus Tullius Cicero

Professor Bill George wrote in Forbes (originally published as a Harvard Business School Working Knowledge paper) that "courage is the quality that distinguishes great leaders from excellent managers." Having worked with more than 200 CEOs, he uses his experience and research to conclude that the best CEOs are the ones who have the courage to make bold moves. This boldness "inspires their teams, energizes customers and positions their companies as leaders in societal change."

Dr. George presents examples of courageous leaders from Ford, General Motors, Pepsi and Unilever to illustrate how their bold decisions benefited their companies. He added Alibaba, Amazon, Delta, Merck, Nestle, Novartis, Starbucks, Tesla and Xerox to the list of authentic leaders who have built great global companies by making courageous decisions. He also explained how a lack of bold decision-making has hurt Kraft Heinz and Coca-Cola.

Today's churches and ministries need strong, courageous, effective leadership. Courage is indispensable.

Just before Moses died, at the direction of the Lord, he selected and anointed Joshua to replace him. Joshua was a brand-new leader and needed instruction from the Lord. Here's one of the first things the Lord told Joshua: "Be strong and courageous, for you shall provide the land that I swore to their fathers to give them as an inheritance for this people" (Josh. 1:6).

God gave this command to Joshua three times (Josh. 1:6, 7, 9). If the Lord repeated it that much, we are safe to assume that strength and courage are prerequisites to effective leadership. Note that even though Joshua was anointed, he still had to choose, with the Lord's help, to be strong and courageous.

New Testament believers have access to the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches that we weren't "given a Spirit of timidity [or cowardice], but a Spirit of power [miraculous, might, strength], love [agape] and discipline [self-control]" (2 Tim. 1:7, NASB, author's explanatory notes).

After Pentecost, the change in Peter's life illustrates the appropriation of strength and power from the Holy Spirit. Less than two months before Pentecost, Peter had denied the Lord three times. After Pentecost, he stood before a crowd of at least 3,000, explaining that Jesus was the Messiah and had been raised from the dead, and that they were responsible for His death. As a result, 3,000 came into the kingdom (Acts 2).

Shortly thereafter, Peter and John were entering the temple when a crippled beggar approached them. Peter healed the beggar in the name of the Lord. Members of the Sanhedrin were upset about the miracle and that Peter and John were preaching the gospel, so they had them arrested. Before the same Sanhedrin that had condemned the Lord Jesus to death, Peter preached the gospel with boldness. The Sanhedrin commanded him and John to stop preaching in the name of the Lord, which they promptly ignored. They went back to their companions and reported what happened, prayed for boldness and power, and were filled again with the Holy Spirit (Acts 3, 4).

Today's church has experienced a failure of moral leadership, which is responsible for many of its problems. Will we preach the entire Word? Will we address society's norms that conflict with the Bible, or will we conform our message to our culture? Will we shape messages to fit the beliefs of our elders and donors? Will we seek to be strong and courageous? Will we seek the empowerment of the Holy Spirit?

James R. Russell is a professor of economics at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

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Dr. Steve Greene is now sharing stories, teachings, and conversations with guests who lead with love on Love Leads, a new podcast. Listen now.

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