7 Qualities A Leader Can’t Afford NOT To Have

How do you know you’re a leader worth following?

By definition, that’s what a leader is: a person whom others follow. (If no one is following you, you’re probably not a leader, unless you’re pre-launch, but even then, look back at your life. Has anyone followed you… ever?)

Naturally, you can gain a following through a variety of means. Not all are great.

Dictators gain following. So do cult leaders. So do criminals.

Not all leadership is great leadership.

Which raises the question, how do you know you’re a leader worth following?

If you’re a Christian, I think this adds another dimension to your leadership.  You need to model leadership in a way that reflects the character and heart of Christ.

So what exactly does that look like?

I’ve met thousands of Christian leaders in my two decades of leadership, and when I think about the leaders I believe are worth following, seven qualities keep rising to the top:

Even criminals can gain a following. Not all leadership is great leadership. Click To Tweet

1. Humility

Of all the qualities and characteristics I see in great leaders, humility is one of the greatest. It’s also rarer than it should be, even amongst Christian leaders.

Christians don’t always do humility well. Sometimes we equate humility with groveling or low self-esteem. It is neither.

C.S. Lewis said it so well when he wrote that true humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.

God gifted you for life and ministry. But the point is that God gifted and equipped you for ministry, you didn’t. The gift always says more about the giver than it does about the recipient.

Trying to take credit for your gifting makes you like a song that ignores its composer.  It doesn’t make the song less powerful; it just distorts what’s going on.

Trying to take credit for your gifting makes you like a song that ignores its composer. Click To Tweet

Any alternatives to humility lead straight to arrogance. And as even Jim Collins’ research has discovered, humility is the primary differentiator between good leadership and great leadership. He argues that ego-centric, celebrity-style leadership is the antithesis of great leadership.

Struggle with ego? Be a little less impressed with yourself and more impressed with your team. Better yet, be deeply impressed with God.

Struggle with ego? Be a little less impressed with yourself and more impressed with God and your team. Click To Tweet

2. Integrity

Most of us think integrity is a good thing, but what does the term mean?

On the one hand, it means that who you are on the inside matches what you appear to be on the outside. You are consistent to the core.

The concept of integrity springs from the original Latin root of the word, which means ‘intact.’  In other words, can you withstand the crisis intact? A house with integrity (a solid foundation that is what it says it is) will withstand a storm. A house with a flimsy foundation won’t.

‘Normal’ doesn’t test your integrity. A crisis does. If you want to see how deeply your integrity runs, just look at your last crisis.

If you want to improve your integrity, take the steps you need to ensure your private walk matches your public talk.

If you want to see how deeply your integrity runs, look at your last crisis. Click To Tweet

3. A Passionate Faith

These points are in no particular order, but still, you might wonder why a passionate faith isn’t #1.

First, people would expect it to be #1… so to sound fresh and make sure you don’t skip it; it’s #3.

A passionate faith is the ultimate hallmark of Christian leadership.

But the part that lags in many leaders is the passion part. Leadership can make you weary. Like paint, passion fades over time.

It’s so important to make sure your passion stays fresh. (Here are 5 signs your passion is white-hot.)

Your team will only ever be as passionate about the mission as you are. So do whatever it takes to stay passionate.

Your team will only ever be as passionate about the mission as you are. Click To Tweet

4. Emotional Health

There are a lot of emotionally unhealthy leaders in leadership, but if you want to be a leader worth following, get healthy.

Your health as a leader impacts your entire church regardless of the size.

I am part of a church that’s home to over 2000 people. I don’t know many of them by name. But I do know this: the health of a leader impacts everyone in the organization. Everyone.

If you’re healthy at the top, you’ll be healthy at the bottom. If you’re unhealthy at the top, you’ll be unhealthy at the bottom.

Emotionally healthy people recognize, understand and manage their own emotions and reactions. They also know, understand and can (appropriately) influence the emotions of others.

Think about it. Isn’t that what the majority of church conflict is about?  Exactly.

Your church or team will only be as healthy as you are. Why?

Because eventually, healthy people won’t serve under an unhealthy leader. And unhealthy people won’t stay for long under a healthy leader unless they want to get well.

In any organization, if you're healthy at the top, you'll eventually be healthy at the bottom. Click To Tweet

5. Trustworthiness

Trust is confidence, and in leadership, it operates at two levels.

First, there’s personal trust. Personal trust is about:

Telling the truth.



We’ve already talked about that.

But there’s another element to trust, and that relates to your performance.

There are more than a few leaders who personally have solid character but are untrustworthy as leaders because they don’t deliver.

The key to instilling confidence in your team as a trustworthy leader is simple: do what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it.

If you’re sloppy, undisciplined and miss deadlines, your team will never fully trust you. And they’re right not to.

If you're sloppy, undisciplined and miss deadlines, your team will never fully trust you. Click To Tweet

6. Teachability

You may be the leader, but you also need to continue to be a learner.

Being an effective leader is not as much about being the teacher as it is about being teachable.

If you’re not learning, you’re not growing.

The truly exceptional leaders allow their teams and followers to teach them too. This isn’t just about peer learning, or learning from mentors, conferences or books.

It’s about a posture of openness.

The more teachable you are, the more people will love being led by you.

7. Clarity

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership is establishing clarity.

Think about it. Leadership is complex with many variables. Your head spins from the uncertainty involved. I get that.

Leaders worth following, though, do the hard work of creating clarity.

You can’t always be certain. But you always have to be clear.

The alternative is ambiguity. No one can follow or get excited about ambiguity. And ambiguity doesn’t change the world.

Ambiguity doesn't change the world. Click To Tweet

What Do You Think?

Those are seven characteristics I see in leaders worth following. What would you add to the list?

7 Qualities A Leader Can’t Afford NOT To Have


  1. Dianne Johnston on June 12, 2021 at 6:14 pm

    Carey, could you tell us a little more about clarity? I’ve come to appreciate clarity in preaching since “the art of preaching,” but can you tell us a little more about what that looks like in leading a team? I think I struggle with this the most. Thanks!

    • Chuck Hayes on June 14, 2021 at 10:42 am

      To me, Clarity comes back to the difference between managing and leading, especially when there is a ton of ambiguity for the team. In the case of the pandemic, leaders were just as awash in the uncertainty as anyone else. Suddenly, there were no experts on what next week was gonna look like. Leaders had to create clarity in that. 😛 Clarity is really hard work in this environment. For me, it was constantly reminding the team about our purpose, vision and goal. And then clarifying the values I was using in navigating through all the uncertainty. The values are really key during times of uncertainty. It’s the grid we throw everything against to figure out the “what now”. Once people understand the decision making grid, they start to gain clarity.
      When the inevitable “we don’t have the resource we had pre-pandemic to accomplish this task”, leaders trot out the operating values and the grid. Teams can then evaluate, given where we are going and what is important, what they had to work with and re-plan a new path forward.

  2. Gayle MacDonald on June 12, 2021 at 12:10 pm

    It did not take me very long in ministry to realize that ego was of not useful and was best discarded.

  3. Robyn Bishop on June 12, 2021 at 9:42 am

    Having Empathy, but not the Fixer Mentality.
    A person with empathy takes time to listen to others and be present with others in their situations, but does not seek to fix the situations. Our role to walk alongside others and help them discover what they want to do within their situation and their life.

  4. Jack on June 12, 2021 at 9:19 am

    Public relation skills – a pastor can have all these traits but still lack positive influence all because he or she lacks the basic in building relationships – intentional pr skills

  5. John on June 12, 2021 at 9:04 am

    For me , humility, intergrity , need more of that.

  6. Emmanuel Sebastian Chigulu on September 26, 2019 at 1:36 pm

    Very touching thanks

  7. D. Ayo Bankole on September 12, 2019 at 5:39 am

    This is an amazing read. Thanks for sharing Carey. If we all pay attention to these qualities, it will reduce the risk of moral and emotional compromises. Also, we can then begin to pay attention to some key areas of our lives, as we grow from one phase to another. This is like you iterating what Paul referrred to as “the elements” of leadership.

    Well done, Carey!

  8. Celso on September 11, 2019 at 9:05 pm

    4. Emotional Health…I think is a big issue these days…in the light of a number of our co-workers’ decision to end it all. My prayers to their loved ones and families. Reading the news hurts…I do not know them…they are still brothers in Christ. I’ve got a lot of questions and no easy answers. Here are some suggestions though,
    …if you love your pastor give him a big hug…EVERY TIME you see him!
    …if you care for your pastor, make it clear to him he is always welcome without reservations (TOUGH)… maybe…just maybe…things might change if there is an easier way than ending it all.
    …we need to understand that a pastor CANNOT tell all…but we still need to listen, though we don’t get the full story…we need to pray with him, though we know only so much of his burden.

  9. Mavis McKnight on September 11, 2019 at 5:02 pm

    I loved this and forwarded it to my Pastor husband.
    Thank you for freely sharing your knowledge!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 12, 2019 at 1:33 pm

      Thank you for sharing!

  10. Yiga Moses Samgar on September 11, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    Carey, thank you. Your wonderful submissions are indeed salted. God bless you!

  11. Daniel Tulibagenyi on September 11, 2019 at 11:33 am

    Thank you Carey! You’re incredibly resourceful l do enjoy everything you share. Blessings

    • Carey Nieuwhof on September 12, 2019 at 1:34 pm

      Glad to help!

  12. Dennis on September 11, 2019 at 8:44 am

    For me, “integrity” means doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason even when no one is watching and when there is no possibility for personal gain and there may even be a risk of personal loss. Anything lass is integrity-“ish.” 🙂

    • bob on September 11, 2019 at 12:31 pm


      • Dennis on September 11, 2019 at 1:03 pm

        Would you care to unpack your “no” comment a bit? One word does not a conversation make.

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