Leadership & Formation #4: Six Characteristics

Leadership & Formation #4: Six Characteristics

 If finishing well is a preferred objective of your life what are the characteristics of people who finish well?  What can we learn from biblical, historical, and contemporary Christian leaders that will help us to be able to finish well?  When I am called home by the Lord I hope to cross the finish line utterly exhausted having given my all for kingdom purposes that matter, have set a model for my grandchildren to follow, having acquitted myself with honor so that I can lay my meager offering of dedicated service at His feet.  Like Paul, I want to be able to say…

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8 Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing (2 Timothy 4:6-8).”

My mentor, Dr. J. Robert Clinton conducted exhaustive qualitative research to determine how God develops His leaders.  He first published his findings in the late 80’s and has since validated his original conclusions by studying the lives of over 3800 leaders.  In analyzing the data using grounded theory methodology four overarching observations came to light fraught with huge implications for leadership and how leadership is effectively developed…

  • Few leaders finish well.
  • Leadership is difficult.
  • God's enabling presence is the essential ingredient of successful leadership.
  • Spiritual leadership can make a difference.

In his own words Dr. Clinton presents his findings in support of his conclusions.

“Identifying the fact that few leaders finish well was a breakthrough warning for me. This led to further study. Why do few leaders finish well? What stops them? What helps them? What does it mean to finish well?  Comparative study of effective leaders who finished well has identified six characteristics. While there may be other characteristics that I have not seen, certainly these are important ones. Not all six always appear but at least several of them do in leaders who finish well. Frequently, effective leaders who finish well will have four or five of them seen in their lives. And some like Daniel in the O.T. and Paul in the N.T. demonstrate all of them.”

Characteristic 1:  They maintain a personal vibrant relationship with God right up to the end.

Example: Daniel is the classic O.T. leader who exemplifies this. In the N.T., Peter, Paul and John all demonstrate this. See their last writings—the tone, the touch with God, the revelation from God, their trust in enabling grace for their lives.

Characteristic 2:  They maintain a learning posture and can learn from various kinds of sources—life especially.  

Example: Daniel is the classic O.T. leader who exemplifies this.  See Daniel, chapter nine, for a late in life illustration of one who continues to study and learn from the Scriptures. Paul and Peter are the classic N.T. leaders with a learning posture (see 2 Peter 3:18 and 2 Timothy 4:13).

Characteristic 3:  They manifest Christ-likeness in character as evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

Example: Daniel is the classic O.T. leader who exemplifies godliness (see the summary references to him in Ezekiel 14:14, 20). In the NT, note the evidence of character transformation in Paul’s life (2 Timothy 2:24 and an illustration of it—the book of Philemon). These were men who over a lifetime moved from strong personalities with roughness in their leadership styles to strong personalities with gentleness in their leadership styles.

Characteristic 4:  Truth is lived out in their lives so that convictions and promises of God are seen to be real.

Example: Joshua’s statement about God’s promises never having failed him in his closing speech demonstrate this characteristic of someone believing God and staking his life on God’s truth (Joshua 23:14). See the many aside truth statements that Paul weaves into his two letters to Timothy. See his famous stirring convictions echoed in Acts 27:22-25.

Characteristic 5:  They leave behind one or more ultimate contributions.

Example:  In a study on legacies left behind by effective leaders who finished well I have identified the following categories…


  • Saint (a model life that others want to emulate),
  • Stylistic Practitioners (a ministry model that others want to emulate), mentors (extensive personal ministry; end product changed lives),
  • Public Rhetoricians (extensive public ministry; end product changed lives), pioneers (start new works for God; end product is new churches, new movements, new works for God),
  • Activists (those who correct wrongs, end product, changed institutions, societies, etc. which reflect justice, fairness, etc.),
  • Artists (those who introduce creative ways of doing things; end products—whatever is created— as well as a model for how to do things differently),
  • Founder (a special category of pioneer who starts a new Christian organization; end product, the organization),
  • Stabilizers (those who can work in churches, movements, and other organizations to improve them and keep them alive and consistent; end product the organization revitalized and efficient),
  • Researchers (those who find out why things happen the way they do in Christian endeavor; end product an, understanding of the dynamics of things that can help others in Christian work),
  • Writers (those who can capture ideas in writing in order to help others in Christian work; end product, the writing produced), and
  • Promoters (those who can motivate others and inspire them to use ideation, to join movements, etc.; end product people committing themselves to new ventures).

(Many other legacies are possible but these have been clearly identified.)

Characteristic 6:  They walk with a growing awareness of a sense of destiny and see some or all of it fulfilled.

Definition:  A sense of destiny is an inner conviction arising from an experience or a series of experiences in which there is a growing sense of awareness that God has His hand on a leader in a special way for special purposes.  Over a lifetime a leader is prepared by God for a destiny, receives guidance toward that destiny, and increasingly completes that destiny. No Biblical leader who accomplished much for God failed to have a sense of destiny, one that usually grew over his/her lifetime. 

Examples: Joseph’s dreams and his saving of the embryonic nation; Moses’ saving of the nation; Paul’s vision to take the Gospel to the Gentiles.

Conclusion:  “The classic example in the O.T. of a good finish is Daniel who manifests all six characteristics. The classic example in the N.T. other than Christ is Paul. There are gradations of finishing well.  Some finish well but not quite having all six or lesser intensity on one or the other major characteristics. This list of characteristics is probably not complete. But these are certainly evident in many leaders who have finished well.”

  • Which of these characteristics are true of you?
  • What will be your legacy?
  • What lasting contribution will you make?
  • If you keep going as you are what legacy will you leave?

Stay tuned in for the Barriers to Finishing Well.

To be continued…

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