Characteristics of Effective Leadership from the Apostle Paul

Scriptures (in order of citation in text): Eph. 4:8, 12, 15, 16 | I Cor. 1:10 | I Cor. 3:16, 17 | Eph. 1:17, 18 Eph. 4:31, 32 | I Tim. 5:17, 18 | I Cor. 9:19, 20 | II Tim. 2:2 | II Tim. 2:24, 25.

While the Apostle Paul may never have written a journal article or book on the subject of leadership, it is nevertheless possible to glean some inferences from his inspired writings.  Accordingly, nine characteristics of effective leadership are listed below, each with inclusion of a corresponding biblical text and excerpt from the leadership literature.

An Effective Leader . . . . Seeks to Appreciate the Diversity of Giftedness

‘He gave gifts to men . . . for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ . . . being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.’ (Ephesians 4:8, 12, 15, 16 New American Standard Bible)

Melendez (cited in Bennis, Spreitzer, & Cummings, 1996) quotes Max DePree:

‘The simple act of recognizing diversity in corporate life helps us to connect the great variety of gifts that people bring to the work and service of the organization. Diversity allows each of us to contribute in a special way, to make our special gift a part of the corporate effort.’ (p. 298)

An Effective Leader . . . . Seeks Unity in the Context of Diversity

“I exhort you . . . that you all agree [speak the same thing], and there be no divisions [schisms] among you, but you be made complete [united] in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10).

Pascarella (1999) notes that Christ-centered leaders “. . . . appreciate each person’s uniqueness, and, from that, it seems to flow quite naturally that they nurture environments that support what business needs today—bringing people together to community, collaboration, commitment, and creativity” (p. 76).

An Effective Leader . . . . Seeks a High Level of Moral Maturity

‘Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? . . . . The temple of God is holy, and that is what you are . . . and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to you.’ (I Corinthians 3:16, 17)

Through personal, exemplary role-modeling, an effective leader must develop a corporate culture that maintains a high commitment to moral and ethical behavior.

An ethical orientation is of substantial value because it exercises the very skills of discernment and judgment that managers need to unravel the deepening paradox of competition and success. But the real reason for developing this orientation is not just what we gain from being ethical, but in realizing what we lose–in economic, social, mutual and personal terms–by succumbing to irresponsibility. (Costa, 1998, p. 11)

An Effective Leader . . . . Seeks the Wisdom and Empowerment of God

“. . . That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him . . . that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened” (Ephesians 1:17, 18).

The Christian’s primary need is for wisdom and obedience to appropriate the abundance of blessings the Lord has already given. Our problem is not lack of blessings, but lack of insight and wisdom to understand and use them properly and faithfully. (MacArthur, 1986, p. 43)

Yukl (2002) reminds us that

Influence is the essence of leadership, and powerful leaders can have a substantial impact on the lives of followers and the fate of an organization . . . The primary issue is not will leaders use power, but whether they will use it wisely and well. (p. 401)

An Effective Leader . . . . Seeks Conciliation Instead of Conflict

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving each other . . . .” (Ephesians 4:31, 32)

The issue is not an absence of conflict, but whether or not we will seek, as Paul suggests, a conciliatory, forgiving resolution to conflict. Malphurs (1997) comments,

‘I do not know of any . . . organization that has not experienced conflict. The key is how the leadership responds to the turbulence. They have a choice.  They can respond in such a way that they protect and preserve the values and vision, or they can respond so as to erode and ultimately undermine and negate them.’ (p. 146)

 An Effective Leader . . . . Seeks Fair and Respectable Compensation and Recognition

“. . . . let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor . . . . The laborer is worthy of his wages” (I Timothy 5:17, 18).

Kent (1982) suggests that “. . . . double honor refers to a proportionate increase in respect and appreciation, which includes adequate remuneration . . . .” (p. 176). Financial compensation should be administered fairly and respectably; yet, there are other ways to recognize and compensate for hard work.  Brinckerhoff (1994) offers, “. . . . Go out of your way to compliment deserving individual or group efforts.  Positive reinforcement is always appreciated. This can be constant and informal . . . .” (p. 73).

 An Effective Leader . . . . Seeks a Servant’s Heart and Subjection to God

“For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more . . . . I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some” (I Corinthians 9:19, 20).

There are practical ways to demonstrate a servant’s heart in a position of leadership. Referring to Robert Greenleaf’s (1970) essay The Servant as Leader, and the text, Servant Leadership (1977), Yukl (2002) writes,

Service to followers is the primary responsibility of leaders and the essence of ethical leadership. Service includes nurturing, defending, and empowering followers . . . . Servant leaders must listen to followers, learn about their needs and aspirations, and be willing to share in their pain and frustration . . . . Trust is established by being completely honest and open, keeping actions consistent with values, and sharing trust in followers. (p. 404)

An Effective Leader . . . . Seeks to Mentor and Train the Next Generation

“. . . . The things which you have heard from me . . . . entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also” (II Timothy 2:2).

Developing the next generation of leaders is an essential characteristic of leadership. “We leaders of today, and the leaders in our organizations who follow us, must become skilled, committed growers of effective leaders, staff, and governance people. We have no more important task” (Hesselbein, Goldsmith, & Beckhard, 1996, p. 306).

John Maxwell (1997) defines mentoring as an “enlarging process,” helping followers to: (a) see their potential, (b) cast a vision for their future, (c) tap into their passion, (d) address character flaws, (e) focus on their strengths, (f) enlarge them one step at a time, (g) put resources in their hands, (h) expose them to enlarging experiences, and (i) teach them to be self-enlargers (pp. 130-135).

An Effective Leader . . . . Seeks to Guide and Correct with Patience and Gentleness

“And the Lord’s bond-servant must be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness, correcting those who are in opposition” (II Timothy 2:24, 25).

Wiersbe (1989) comments,

Meekness [or, gentleness] is not weakness. It is power under control. . . . In the Greek language, this word was used for a soothing medicine, a colt that had been broken, and a soft wind.  In each case, you have power, but that power is under control” (v. 2, p. 35).

Allied with gentleness is patience, or “long-suffering,” or “long-tempered.” “. . . . The ability to endure discomfort without fighting back” (Wiersbe, 1989, v. 2, p. 35).  “The patient person endures negative circumstances and never gives in to them” (MacArthur, 1986, p. 126).  Effective leaders will be characterized by patience and gentleness as they guide and correct their followers.


As a transformed man, Paul operated as a transformational leader. And from his writings we can assemble a compelling list of characteristics for effective leadership.

What strikes the observer is not necessarily “what” Paul did but “how” he did it. Pheffer (1998) comments,

It seems clear that in the future, success will come to those organizations and those leaders who not only know what to do but how to do it, and have the skill to accomplish change and implementation [or transformation]—thereby turning performance knowledge into organizational action and, as a consequence, superior organizational results. (p. 160)

As a transformational leader, the Apostle Paul established the church of Jesus Christ trhoughout the known world. He was a change agent in its most dramatic and courageous sense.  Leaders of today who wish to transform our world would do well to study and follow the characteristics of leadership taught and exemplified by the Apostle Paul.

Bennis, W., Spreitzer, G., & Cummings, T. (Eds.). (2001). The future of leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Brinckerhoff, P. (1994). Mission-based management. Dillon, CO: Alpine Guild.

Costa, J. (1998). The Ethical Imperative: Why moral leadership is good business. Reading, MA: Perseus Books.

Hesselbein, F., & Goldsmith, M. & Beckhard, R. (Eds.). (1996). The leader of the future: New visions, strategies, and practices for the next era. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kent, H. (1982). The pastoral epistles. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books.

MacArthur, J. (1986). Ephesians. Winona Lake, IN: BMH Books.

Malphurs, A. (1996). Values-driven leadership. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Maxwell, J. (1997). Becoming a person of influence. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Pascarella, P. (1999). Christ-centered leadership. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing.

Pheffer, J. (1998). The human equation. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Wiersbe, W. (1989). The Bible exposition commentary: Vol. 1& 2. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Yukl, G. (2002). Leadership in organizations (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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