10 Leadership Lessons From the Proverbs
February 28, 2023
Leaders are learners, and great leaders are constantly seeking wisdom from those who have gone before them.
If you are a young pastor who is aspiring to great leadership, your shelves are probably chock full of leadership books to help you improve your skills in leading your family, your ministry team, your church, or all of the above.
I have quite a few of those books myself. But of all the leadership books I’ve read, Proverbs is probably my favorite.
Here are 10 leadership lessons from the book of Proverbs.
1. Great Leadership Starts With Integrity
Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity
than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.
Leadership has to start with leading yourself well. You may be skilled, charismatic, or gifted, and those things may serve you well and advance your influence. Nevertheless, those abilities will only get you so far if you have not cultivated integrity.
In fact, a lack of moral and spiritual integrity will invariably be the ultimate demise of a leader, regardless of their abilities or charisma.
2. Great Leaders Work on Sharpening Their Skills
Do you see someone skilled in their work?
They will serve before kings;
they will not serve before officials of low rank.
Important as integrity is, emphasizing it as the first among many virtues a great leader has does not negate the fact that great leaders are also great at their jobs. They practice their skills, pursue further education, and constantly evaluate themselves for improvement.
No one wants to follow a leader who doesn’t work as hard as them or doesn’t do as good of a job as them. Conversely, a worker who is skilled will eventually be recognized as a leader who is worth following and looking up to.
3. Leaders Set the Temperature of the Room
When the righteous increase, the people rejoice,
but when the wicked rule, the people groan.
Growing up, my dad would often remind me, “What you do affects other people.” This axiom is immeasurably more true for leaders. What you do affects other people; who you are affects other people—even the emotional energy you carry into a room or meeting space affects everyone else in the room.
People are looking to you. Do what you can to ensure that they rejoice at the thought rather than groan about it. This goes for your moral integrity, as well as your general demeanor and attitude.
4. Wise Leaders Constantly Ask for Advice
Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
Although everyone looks to the leader for the answer to whatever challenge lies ahead, the leader should feel no obligation to have all the answers. While the leader is called upon to make the final decision, that decision should never be arrived at without the advice of others.
Wise leaders cultivate relationships with trusted confidants, both inside and outside of their immediate context, whom they can lean on when facing an important decision. Making leadership decisions in a vacuum without any outside input is a dangerous place to be.
5. Great Leaders Are Fair and Just
If a king faithfully judges the poor,
his throne will be established forever.
In a kingdom, wherever poverty exists, especially when others are living in abundance, it is invariably a result of the injustice of the king. Great leaders are equally concerned about the well-being and success of everyone under their care or in their sphere of influence.
6. Great Leaders Are Emotionally Mature
A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
but a wise man quietly holds it back.
I’ve often heard it said, “Ministry would be easy if it weren’t for the people.” Usually the veteran leader who utters such a sentiment is only half joking at the moment it passes through his lips.
Pastors and leaders love their people. But sometimes their people act foolishly, sinfully, or in ways that hurt or downright infuriate their leaders.
Wise leaders know that while their anger might be warranted, they must be incredibly careful about how they express it. A leader can lose hard-won credibility in an instant with an unfiltered outburst of rage. Wise leaders express their frustration, anger, or disappointment in constructive ways. Sometimes, that means biting your tongue in the moment.
7. Great Leaders Look out for Those Who Can’t Look out for Themselves
Open your mouth for the mute,
for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.
As integral as the causes of justice and mercy are to the mission of the church, unless senior leaders care deeply about them, the church or ministry you lead will never do as much as it could have to speak on behalf of those who have no voice.
Great leaders champion the cause of the impoverished and oppressed, mobilizing people to rise to these challenges. Championing the causes of justice and mercy often requires that leaders cash in some of their leadership capital, and they may even incur criticism. Nevertheless, this is the call of leadership.
8. Wise Leaders Don’t Try To Lead People Who Don’t Want To Be Led
Do not speak in the hearing of a fool,
for he will despise the good sense of your words.
Certain people you lead just need to hear hard truths and for you to be patient with them as they progress toward a better tomorrow. But then there are other people who you really shouldn’t waste your breath on.
Wise leaders learn to discern the difference between someone who needs extra grace in the path of being led and discipled, and those who simply do not want to be led.
9. Great Leaders Tackle Ambitious Goals
A wise man scales the city of the mighty
and brings down the stronghold in which they trust.
One of the key roles of a leader is to call people to do things that they otherwise might not have done, or even that they might not have previously thought possible. Leaders reframe reality for those they lead, set ambitious goals, cast compelling vision, and help people step into everything that God created them to be.
10. Wise Leaders Plan Ahead
Know well the condition of your flocks,
and give attention to your herds, for riches do not last forever;
and does a crown endure to all generations?
As much as young leaders are aware of the reality that they aren’t going to live forever, they also know that time is on their side. Nevertheless, the bill will eventually come due on problems and challenges you defer.
Wise leaders think beyond the immediate goals of this current week, month, or year. They cast long-term vision for those they lead.
They also think about succession and retirement early, along with all the logistical and financial implications of both. They have an acute understanding of the fact that even if they have faithfully served for decades, they can hamper those they have led and cause them unnecessary pain if they fumble the handoff on the way out the door.
Leaders, Get Wisdom.
In the words of Solomon, “Get wisdom; get insight…Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you” (Proverbs 4:5-6).
Even more than the pursuit of knowledge or skill, make the pursuit of wisdom central to your leadership. And as you do, may God bless you with influence that helps shape those you lead and bring them closer to Jesus.
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