Articles of Faith: The Number One Trait of a Leader Today!

This post is part of our Sunday Series titled “Articles of Faith.”
We investigate leadership lessons from the Bible.
See the whole series here. Published only on Sundays.

You and I, we live in disruptive times. But not unprecedented times!

For even back in Jeremiah’s day they asked the same questions as we do as leaders. What happens when everything you believe in and have worked for comes crashing down? What do you if you’re a leader in Haiti today? Everything from broken buildings, to bones, to… well, you name it, it’s broke. As you watch the news you can hear them almost say “What is next? What more can go we through?”

As leaders, here is then the big picture question that you and I have to answer everyday – What is next?

The older I get and the more people I coach, mentor, and lead, the more I realize that “what’s next” depends largely on my skill at hearing from God. This is the core question of every leader. For leadership is more about hearing from God than in our relying upon our position, education, or management best-practices.

Traits of a Leader: Which is #1?

Skill formation you might think is the number one trait of a leader. Many think this. And yes, it is vital for the leader to develop their skill base. It is how do we develop people, communicate, build teams and solve problems. They are all vital to a leader’s “success” (check out Psalms 78:70-72); however, building your skills is not number one trait of a leader.

Strategic formation, the “know-how” to be an effective planner, set priorities, cast vision and develop other leaders is another possible choice for number one. Maybe Jesus explains this best when Mark wrote, “As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon his brother and Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fisherman. ‘Come follow me,’ Jesus said ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’” It is vital for the leader today to bring others along on the journey – but…! Yep, not number one either.

I believe the number one “skill” (if you can call it that) is the skill to be open to the voice of God. I think it is a lost skill for leaders today. In fact, the longer I lead and the longer I am on this leadership journey, the more convinced I am that the majority of my leadership is not driven by my character, skill, or my strategic formation. It has far more to do with my skill, my ability, and my willingness to be open to that still small voice of the Lord. This is the “soft, whispering murmur”  that is not small at all. On the contrary, it is exceedingly powerful! More powerful than the other skills I mentioned.


Check Your Gut

When that inner voice calls to you, it strikes you in an odd, yet familiar way. You know what I mean, you’ve felt it, that feeling you get from your gut that says “this is the way,” or “check this out,” or “stop and pray now,” or “go further here,” or “stop and listen to me.” I think it is a skill because we have to learn to stay open, learn the habit of willingness, and learn to have the constant ability to hear the voice of the Lord.

Today we tend to place too much time on developing our skills, developing a strong character, or developing our strategic plans. We should rather be listening to that gentle murmur for trusting guidance.

We must never lose the skill of listening to the voice of God. This skill develops over time and with much practice. You also know the times and the devastation that comes when we did not listen to the voice of God in our lives as leaders. For weeks, months, or maybe even years, and sometimes we never recover from the mess of the opportunities missed by not listening and acting on that still small voice of our Lord in us.

In today’s fast pace changing world, when everything is upside down, when nothing is normal and the world is searching for the new norm, the new reality is that we must as Christian leaders pay attention to the development of listening to God. It is the number one trait because we can be assured that we are on the right path and leading others down the correct path, too.

In order to keep my ability to hear that voice, and then to act on it, I must spend more time than ever with my heavenly Father. Time with Him in today’s world is not an option or a “I can skip today” – it is a must if we are going to survive as leaders.

So do not neglect the “mystical side” of leadership – it is the most important side for you and me as a Christian leader.

That, my friend, is the number one issue today. I’m thankful Jeremiah had it as his number one also!

What are you doing to stay tuned to that still small voice? How can you refine your skill at tuning in and paying attention? How do you know if it is God, or not? How are you fashioning your leadership with the number one trait of leadership in your daily walk? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Tom Atema is VP of Business Development at John C. Maxwell’s non-profit EQUIP organization.
He can be reached at

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One response to “Articles of Faith: The Number One Trait of a Leader Today!

  1. Hey Tom, this is very empowering; because the challenges of life are so much that they tend to edge God out and most leaders tend to settle for the conveinient. Have been a victim of this dilemna. But yep, any day I listened I ended up triumphant. Otherwise we still end up in Nineve having been vomited by fish. Yes hearing God is paramount, the only important thing a Christian leader can do. And not just listening but alos obeying His voice.


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