Leading is dangerous. It always has been, and it always will be. Yet, leading is required. Someone will lead. But will they lead well, and will they lead with the right convictions? Let’s look at 10 leadership principles and dangers…
1) Leading requires deep conviction
There have, however, been many successful leaders that led vast amounts of people astray. Leaders must have deep conviction; why else would you lead? Especially with how dangerous leadership is? Why lead at all unless you have the dire conviction that something must be done about something, even if you’re the someone that must do it… But it is vital that that something that we have conviction about is the correct conviction. If not, we not only risk and waste our life, if we’re an effective leader, we also risk and waste other’s lives too.
So, leading is dangerous because it requires the correct convictions. If we have the wrong convictions, we can do a lot of wrong (especially, ironically, if we’re “good” at leading). When you have conviction you lead, even if it means leading with a limp.
2) Leading requires talking well
People respect you when you can talk well, whether or not you have the character or maturity to back it up. So, talking well is important. Who’s going to follow someone that is uninspiring and doesn’t make sense? Yet, someone can talk well and amass a massive following and yet have nowhere to go, no ability to actually lead, or is only heading to a very shallow, empty place. Talking well is a blessing but can be the fancy shell that hides the hollow emptiness inside.
So, if you talk well, make sure you live well too.
3) Leading is lonely
Leading is often quite lonely. In the same way that it can be lonely once you summit a great and difficult height. It’s lonely by the sheer difficulty of the journey. But the reality is, it’s also more dangerous at the summit. So, as hard as it is and as much as you may not think you need help, if you lead, you especially need help. You need it in a way that you’re not even aware of and it’ll be harder to find than for others.
So, as lonely as leading is, you need to find people to travel with you and traverse the trails. Leading is dangerous no matter what, but it’s doubly so if you don’t have someone to help you when you fall.
4) Leading is hard, it requires leading
Part of what leading entails is setting the pace, being in front. This can be the case when it comes to work ethic, creativity, dedication, knowledge, or really all of the above. Leaders can’t and don’t know it all, and shouldn’t think they do or can, but leaders do lead. So, if they’re not always in front they’re knowledgeable and encouraging to those that are “in front” in their specific expertise. Yet, to even be competent and relevant in many fields is difficult.
So, leading is hard because it requires diligent work in various fields. It also requires wisdom to navigate what needs to be worked on and when.
5) Leading requires leading and learning
Leading requires audacity but never ignorance. It requires a type of confidence but never arrogance. It takes boldness but must never be blind. Learning must always be a part of leading and if it’s not, leading is very likely to go the wrong way. Humility should also accompany leadership. If not, followers should and hopefully won’t accompany you very far.
So, as you lead, make sure you are also learning; even from those you’re leading.
6) Leading becomes easier, letting character and integrity slip becomes easier too
As leading becomes more natural and second nature it’s easy to let character and integrity slip. When it’s more and more possible to cut corners, it becomes easier to cut corners. When the wake of your own name can carry you and you can drift on what you’ve done in the past, it can be hard to continue to deserve that name in the future.
So, as you become more competent in your leadership, don’t neglect your character. “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches” (Prov. 22:1).
7) Leading requires delegation, not dictatorship
As a leader you can’t do everything. You can’t even do a lot of things. If you’re going to actually lead you have to get people to do things. Yet, what the leader is called to is wise and loving delegation, not dictatorship.
So, carefully and humbly lead others to contribute. Without them, you would not be a leader. You have the honor, steward, and privilege to lead them. It’s not about you.
8) Leading from the front is where the bullets are
To lead is to be in the front of the fight. It is to be at the front of the fray. To lead is essentially to die daily. It is to make the hard decisions, even the wrong decisions, and it is to own it. Leading means being first out of the foxhole and on to the field. Leading is difficult and costly.
So, remember when you’re in the front you are liable to get “bullets” from the front as well as “friendly fire.” The “bullet”, however, does not mean that you are a terrible person or that it was even specifically meant for you. It’s partly just that a lot of times people direct their rage at leaders.
9) Leading is failing but having the conviction to do it again and again
I’ve heard it said that “Leading is disappointing people at a rate that they can endure.” That truth resonates. Leaders don’t always get it right, but they have the conviction to continue, to endure, and to do it again until they get it right. Where the leader is leading is that important. Conviction for the cause, propels the mission.
So, have no false illusions about what leadership is. But also realize that it’s hard for every leader. So, when you fail it’s no surprise. It’s what happens when you lead. The thing is to get up again and do it again.
10) Leading effects all of life
Leading is not contained within the “9 to 5.” Leading doesn’t just happen at work. Leading is who you are and so leading goes with you.
So, ensure that as you lead at work or your organization, you’re leading and loving well at home too. If you say “yes” to something, know that you’re saying “no” to something else. Make sure you say “yes” to the right things: your faith commitments, your family, your friends.
 Notice that non-leaders get murdered and killed but leaders get assassinated. That is, people kill other people on accident and people murder people for money or as a result of someone’s rage. But leaders get assassinated because they led. Leaders literally put themselves into harm’s way in all sorts of ways.
*Photo by Mathias Jensen
Theologically what is the difference between self-confidence and pride?
God does gift individuals. And it is good to acknowledge that truth. The manager in Jesus’ parable that invested his talents and earned a good return for the owner had to have a type of confidence (Matt. 25:14-30).
Further, God created us as a “work of art” to carry out the good deeds and mission He wants us to accomplish (Eph. 2:10). So, in a sense, we can have confidence in the self that God intended us to be. Therefore, self-confidence is not in itself bad.
Of course, these truths need to be balanced by the humbling reality that we are sinners and that every good thing we have is a gift. What do we have that we did not receive (1 Cor. 4:7)? And we should always recall that every good gift and every perfect gift comes from God (James 1:17). It’s not innately ours.
Self-confidence can mean prideful evaluation of one’s ability. It does not, I don’t think, have to be understood that way though. It could mean something like: confidence in who God made you to be and in your God-given abilities. If understood that way, perhaps “God-confidence” or “God-acknowledgment” would be better.
Either way, it does not seem to me that self-confidence is inherently bad. I also think considering the opposite term can be helpful to consider: “self-skepticism” or “self-suspicion.” The Bible does say that our hearts are desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9). So, does “self-skepticism” better describe what the view of ourselves should be?
I don’t think so. I don’t think self-confidence or self-skepticism gives us the whole picture. And if left with just one of them or even a balance of both of them together, we still miss something huge! We miss our self in relation to God.
If we consider ourselves without relation to or thought of God, we’re going to get it wrong. We’ll error on either over-confidence or over-suspicion about our self. Yet, when we consider ourselves with reference to what God can and does do, we can be confident in who He has made us to be. While at the same time not obsessing about our self, because we’re focused on Him. We can have a healthy suspicion of our self but that’s not crushing. Because we know that God can and does overcome our sin.
“Pride,” at least how I think about it, has to do with what one has done. In my mind, it means someone is proud of what they themselves have accomplished. Pride is less an evaluation of one’s ability and more so a belief that’s one’s ability is simply a result of one’s own efforts. There’s no grace in pride, given or received; all is earned.
So, with pride, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of who humans are and who God is. God is the giver we, as humans, are receivers. God is, and we are contingent. Pride is a foolish misunderstanding of ontology. God is independent, humans are dependent.
Notice, King Nebuchadnezzar was humbled after he praised himself and all he thought he himself had accomplished. Nebuchadnezzar found out that God humbles those who walk in pride (Dan. 4:37). When pride comes, then comes disgrace (Prov. 11:2).
We should, however, understand that there is a difference between “pride” and “pleasure.” King Nebuchadnezzar didn’t just take pleasure in his kingdom and in all that God had entrusted to him, he took pride in it. That is, he acted as if he was responsible for it all himself. He exalted himself and failed to exalt God.
I believe it is good to take pleasure in the abilities God has given us—whether preaching, building cabinets, or whatever. In a movie about Eric Liddel, a Christian Olympic runner, he says, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” There’s nothing wrong with taking pleasure in what God has given us to do. But, notice an important point: Liddel said, “God made me fast.” Liddel acknowledged God even in his abilities.
But wait, didn’t Liddel run? Didn’t Liddel sweat? Didn’t Liddel sacrifice? He showed amazing discipline to be an Olympic runner, right? Yes. And every good gift is from God. Including Liddel’s ability to do each of those things and also his ability to breathe and his very existence was from God.
So, I believe one could evaluate themself as very good at what they do and that it required a lot of work on their part to become effective, without being prideful. How so? They acknowledge that it is all a gift. Discipline—a gift. Breathing—a gift. Etc.—a gift.
Perhaps the fundamental difference between “pride” and “self-confidence” as we are considering the terms is this: One is an exaltation of self without reference to God, the other can be confidence in God with reference to who He has made you to be.
The apostle Paul had a sort of confidence—we see it demonstrated through his letters and missionary work—but he also said it was not him but Christ in him (Gal. 2:20). Paul, after He met and was radically transformed by Christ, was not so much confident in himself as what God was able to do through him, though he was a mere disposable jar of clay (2 Cor. 4:7).
So, I believe it is right and good to have a kind of self-confidence in who God has made us to be even while we work at killing pride.
*Photo by Nicolas I.
How can we know if our motives are gospel-focused or not? In the below video I outline a way to filter out motivations that are not gospel-focused.
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).
When we see gray clouds we know a storm and rain are probably coming. Proverbs leads us to see other connections and correlations from other phenomena and make other important deductions. Just as if we see gray clouds we know rain is coming, if we see pride we know disgrace is coming.
Disgrace follows pride like dessert follows dinner; one comes then the other. Superiority then scandal, self-importance then shame. Disgrace follows pride as surely as two follows one. There’s a sequential relationship. If one is not humble there will be humiliation.
The prideful person, however, may not even see or experience the humiliation though. They may further puff up against the pain rather than confront their inadequacies.
The arrogant are in the dangerous place of not seeing their own ignorance. If we see ourselves as superior, we aren’t in a good place to see our own stupidity. Those who think they stand then should take heed lest they fall (1 Corinthian 10:12).
What is the solution? Humility.
We should be willing to admit we are sometimes wrong. We have done wrong and been wrong in the past, we should know that this could (and will) happen in the future too.
Christianity gives a basis for humility. It teaches us repeatedly that we don’t always get it right. And Jesus said, blessed are the humble who know that truth (See Matthew 5:5ff).
Christians should be willing to listen, willing to learn. We should be humble because our Lord Jesus has called us to humility. We don’t know it all and we should admit that truth.
“With the humble is wisdom.” Those who know they don’t know, are in a good place to know. If we realize what we don’t realize, we are open to realizing.
Pride → disgrace.
Humility → wisdom.
 Christian behavior is not based on knowledge alone, that leads to pride and destroys others, even those for whom Christ died; Christian behavior is based on love grounded in the knowledge of Christ. We tend to think we know all we need to know to answer all kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. As Eugene Peterson has said in his paraphrase of the Bible, the Message: “Knowing isn’t everything. If it becomes everything, some people end up as know-it-alls who treat others as know-nothings.” I appreciate what Richard Baxter said, “If we have any knowledge at all, we must needs know how much reason we have to be humble; and if we know more than others, we must know more reason than others to be humble” (The Reformed Pastor, 144). I also appreciate this from Thomas à Kempis: “What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? …I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God” and neighbor?” (The Imitation of Christ).
 Proverbs also tells us repeatedly that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”