Finishing Well in Leadership

finishing well in leadership

“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23)

Every leader would want to hear this commendation from the Lord at the end of their time here on earth. Every leader wants to finish well.

But in Dr. J. Robert Clinton’s research on biblical leaders, historical leaders, and contemporary leaders, he concluded that few leaders finish well. About one in every three leaders finishes well. We can observe this in the Bible; even today, many Christian leaders fall from grace and do not finish well.

We know very well why many Christian leaders do not finish well. I John 2: 16 tells us that the lust of the flesh (illicit sex), the lust of the eyes (abuse of money) and the pride of life (power & pride) are the common causes of the downfall of leaders. However, in Dr. Clinton’s study, he outlined six characteristics of effective leaders who finish well, lessons we can all learn from.

Six Characteristics of Leaders who finished well[1]

  1. Leaders who finished well maintained a vibrant personal relationship with God right up to the end.
    Daniel in the Old Testament and Peter, John and Paul in the New Testament demonstrated this in the tone of their writings. They all demonstrated the touch of God, the revelation from God and their trust in the enabling grace of God in their lives that made them finish well.
  1. Leaders who finished well maintained a learning posture and can learn from various sources – life especially.
    They continued to study and learn from the Scriptures and were life-long learners. Futurist Alvin Toffler once said, “The illiterates of the future are not those who can’t read or write but those who cannot learnunlearn, and relearn.”
  1. Leaders who finished well manifest Christlikeness in character as evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.
    In the New Testament, for example, we note the evidence of character transformation in the life of the Apostle Paul. Over his lifetime, Paul moved from a strong personality with roughness in his leadership style to a strong personality with gentleness.
  1. Leaders who finished well lived out the truth in their lives so that convictions and promises of God are seen to be real.
    Joshua’s statement about God’s promises having never failed him in his closing speech demonstrates this characteristic of someone believing God and staking his life on God’s truth. (Joshua 23.14).
  1. Leaders who finished well left behind one or more ultimate contributions.
    Effective leaders left behind lasting legacies.
  1. Leaders who finished well walked with a growing awareness of a sense of destiny and see some or all of it fulfilled.
    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 lifetime.

These are some of the characteristics of leaders who finish well. Finishing well in leadership involves intentionality in the leader’s life. It just does not happen by chance. Above all, God is also the One who develops the leader over his lifetime. Leadership evolves and emerges over a lifetime. Leadership is a lifetime of God’s lessons. This is why Dr. Robert J. Clinton defines leadership as a process rather than a formal position:

Leadership is a dynamic process in which a man or woman of God with God-given capacity influences a specific group of God’s people toward His purposes for the group.[2]

Do you want to finish well as a leader? We can learn from these characteristics. The Apostle Paul warns us in I Corinthians 10:12 – “Therefore let the one who thinks he stands, watch out that he does not fall.” This is a piece of sound advice for us all.

Ike Agawin
ServeBeyond Director

[1] Clinton, Robert J. The Making of a Leader: Recognizing the Lessons and Stages of Leadership Development, 2nd ed. (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2012). p. 204-207
[2] Ibid, p. 10.