10 Characteristics of Leaders Who Last

As a seminary professor, I work with young leaders. I have learned the most, though, from leaders who have been long-term leaders. Admittedly, these findings are anecdotal, but here are ten common characteristics of those long-term leaders from whom I have learned.

  1. They begin with a determination to finish well. They run the race with the end goal in mind. They establish appropriate boundaries to maintain their integrity, and they continually push themselves to improve.
  2. They always have a vision bigger than they are. Their vision is so big – so “God-sized”–that relaxing makes little sense as long as more remains to be accomplished. Nor do these leaders ever want to fail morally or ethically; their task matters too much to let that happen.
  3. They take care of themselves spiritually. They read the Scriptures, pray, study, worship, fellowship—and lead out of the overflow of their walk with God.
  4. They take care of themselves physically. The long-lasting leaders I have met eat properly, exercise regularly, and sleep well. They cannot avoid the effects of aging, but they don’t contribute to poor health by making bad decisions. 
  5. They invest in their family.  My experiences reveal a common pattern: leaders who last are good spouses and parents. They work hard at their profession, but not at the expense of their family. 
  6. They treat people well. To put it simply, these leaders are nice people. They respect others, including those who disagree with them. Long track records of strong, healthy relationships give them credibility as they lead over many years. 
  7. They share the workload. These leaders delegate well without shirking their responsibility to lead through influence and vision casting. They have learned that failing to share the work is not only exhausting, but it is also arrogant. 
  8. They do not let discouragement set in. It’s not that they don’t get discouraged; it’s just that they don’t wallow in that emotion. They deal with fires of conflict before they become consuming. They do not like failure, but they know failure is seldom the end of the story. 
  9. They have genuine friends.  Their friendships may not be numerous, but they are nevertheless real. Because they have friends, these leaders know they always have a support system. 
  10. They have learned to laugh. Some of the best long-term leaders I know are also the ones who most readily laugh. Somehow, they are deadly serious without taking themselves too seriously. 

I’m grateful for what I’ve learned from leaders who last. Give us your insights so today’s young leaders might remain strong leaders for years to come.

What have you learned from leaders who have led well for years?


  • mark says:

    The really good ones constantly make it a point to talk to others. No one was deemed too far beneath them to be talked to. Even teenagers, for whom most people in leadership have no concern, are spoken to with decency.

  • You reminded me of J. Robert Clinton’s The Making of a Leader. His research discovered five habits of those who finish well.
    1. Lifetime Perspective
    2. Repeated times of Renewal
    3. Spiritual Disciplines
    4. Lifelong Learner
    5. Mentoring

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