What makes a good leader?

Date posted: 23/03/18

 What makes a good leader?


If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.

What makes a good leader? It’s a question we constantly ask in the world of sport where we’re only too aware how significant an impact leaders can have on success. Good leaders may be extrovert characters who inspire by their sheer force of personality or introverts who set an example others want to follow. There’s clearly no ‘one size fits all’!

Leadership is a topic we’ve been considering on the Christians in Sport Podcast this season and it has been fascinating to hear the views of elite sportspeople like rugby coach Chris Jones, golfer Alison Nicholas and rower Debbie Bruwer (nee Flood). We may wonder whether it’s possible to be a leader at the highest level of sport and follow Jesus, but these three are convinced you can. So what does it look like to lead well as a Christian? How can the Bible help us get our thinking straight?

Before we dive into God’s word, here’s a question to consider: Are we prepared to put our shared goal first and ourselves down the pecking order?  It’s a question that needs to be at the forefront of our thinking. Do we have enough conviction in the cause, whether that’s reaching the world of sport for Christ or seeking to win the league title, that we will let that trump any personality clashes? To lead well, we need to have that attitude and inspire it in others. We need to see how the chemistry of our team can be harnessed to help rather than hinder the cause.

That’s what Debbie Bruwer found as a GB rower training for Olympic Games and World Championships.



The model

There’s no better biblical paradigm for leadership than Jesus Himself and Paul explains this brilliantly in chapter two of his letter to the Philippians. It’s well worth reading the whole chapter, but here are verses 3-8 (NIV) to focus on:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

To lead as a Christian means we must be willing to serve. Our model is the One who gave up the most exalted position possible to carry out His Father’s great salvation plan. Jesus made Himself nothing, literally emptied Himself, so that He could serve us. He had the best of everything, but was willing to become nothing.

If we start from the position of serving, we will be leading by example - Christ’s example. Look at the traits that are highlighted. In humility, Christians are to value others above themselves. That’s radical for a start. It’s so often the case in sport that putting yourself forward is held up as the way to go. Humility doesn’t mean being a pushover or putting yourself down, but it does mean raising others up.

It also means putting others’ interests first, even when we find that really hard. Alison Nicholas touched on this when she spoke of how she approached different players on her European Solheim Cup team.



Above all, we are called to have the “same mindset as Christ Jesus”. That takes some getting our heads round and we will always need to work on it. As Alison put it in our interview: “What would Christ do in this situation? That’s the question I ask myself.”

If you would like to look further into Philippians 2, we have written about it previously here.

The method

Servant-hearted leaders are core to all that we do at Christians in sport.. As sportspeople, we love a good acronym or slogan to help explain something. For example, this year British football has seen the introduction of the VAR (Video Assistant Referee) to help improve on-field decisions. Maybe you’ve used SAQ (Speed, Agility, Quickness) techniques to sharpen your training or questioned the role of DRS (Decision Review System) in cricket? Well, here are four ‘Cs’ of Christian leadership:

A godly character is the non-negotiable primary ‘C’ of Christian leadership. Passages like 1 Timothy 3 v 1-13 and Titus 1 v 5-9 are helpful in underlining this. If we’re not servant-hearted and Christ-centred, we won’t be effective leaders, no matter what skills we have. In Titus 1, Paul says leaders must be “blameless” and “hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught”. Another aspect brought out in 1 Timothy 3 is that leaders “must also have a good reputation with outsiders”. Before looking at any specific gifts or talents, a leader needs to be rooted in God’s word and someone who is clearly living for Him in action and speech.  

What makes a good leader?


The second ‘C’ is competency - does he or she have the spiritual gifts to achieve the task in hand? Competency should never take precedence over character, but it is vital. God gives His people different gifts to serve each other, so different roles are suited to different people. Consider the range of gifts, from leadership and teaching to encouraging and administrating, we see in New Testament passages like Romans 12 v 6-8 and 1 Corinthians 12.

Conviction is the third ‘C’. To lead well, we need to be committed followers of Jesus and we need to have the God-given skills to do this. But we also need conviction in the cause we’re pursuing. A sporting captain will not be nearly as effective if he or she is not fired up by the cause the team are vying for. If he or she is happy to lead a mid-table side when the manager is targeting promotion, the other players may lack motivation themselves.

Conversely, if the captain’s conviction remains strong, he or she will keep putting their all into their leadership, even when results may not be going the team’s way. In Colossians 3 v 23, Paul writes: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters”. As followers of Jesus, our conviction comes from whom we are serving. If you’re looking to lead as a Christian, what shapes you more - the specific task or doing it for Jesus?

Rugby coach Chris Jones is a passionate man and was very clear on this in our interview.



As we look to lead, are we sufficiently convicted of the cause we’re pursuing to give it our all? Ultimately, Jesus’ call to all his followers is to make disciples of all nations. That’s the root conviction, which needs to drive us on. Competency is not enough. We need conviction. We need to align ourselves with the cause and ask ourselves are we going to give things up to achieve the goal? Will we die to self to make team work?

Finally, ‘C’ No 4 is chemistry. We all have different gifts and personalities, which godly leaders recognise and allow to flourish for the common good. Much of what Paul writes about in Ephesians 4 is the need for unity in Christ as every part of His body, the church, works together for the common good. Paul says the church has one body with many parts, which God has combined. But he realises this can be a challenge, so says in verse 2: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love”.

Often the best and most successful sports teams feature a real range of personalities. Their coach or captain will recognise this and build a team centred on a shared conviction. Using a profiling system like DISC can help appreciate different people’s personalities are harnessed to create a strong chemistry.

Ultimately, a good leader is someone who brings others with him or her as the opening of this article suggests. It’s great to see Christians leading in the sporting world as it is in all walks of life. If we remember the call to serve like Jesus, there is no better basis for leadership than that. Let’s then apply the four ‘Cs’ to lead in the sporting world where God has placed us.

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Graham DanielsGraham Daniels, Cambridge United Football Club
Graham is Director of Football at Cambridge United FC and is General Director of Christians in Sport. He is an associate staff member of St Andrew the Great (StAG) Church, Cambridge