Six Signs of a Life-Giving Leader

by Andy Wood on March 24, 2014

in Leadership, Life Currency


I didn’t know how to describe it at the time. I was only in the eighth grade, for crying out loud, and a “lost church member” at that.  But on that February day so long ago a new leader – a new pastor – showed up at my church.  And for the first time in my life a preacher held my attention throughout his message.

I didn’t know that the adults in the church had been argumentative and divisive.

I didn’t know that we had been through months of spiritual lethargy, coldness and conflict.

All I knew was that there was something completely different about this man, this preacher, who to this day I consider my pastor.  What I know now is that he was and is a life-giving leader.

Compare that to a Christmas card I received from a church a few years ago.  This church had also had a new leader come to town.  And the impact was just the opposite.  For months people on the staff of this megachurch had jumped ship at the first opportunity.  And those who remained were desperate to be the next.  I’ll never forget is the hollowed eyes and prisoner-of-war expressions on the faces of the staff and employees of this church – not just one or two, mind you, but the entire staff.  The message was clear:  Merry Christmas! Sweet Baby Jesus, get me outta here!

What I suspected then, and know now, was that this church was being led by a life-sucking leader.

Regardless of the venue – Church World, Business World, even Disney World – every person in a position of authority or leadership has a choice. You can be a life-giving leader or a life-sucking leader.  Life-giving leaders create energy, enthusiasm, passion, and loyalty.  They have a contagious way of infusing a sense of purpose, motivation, and confidence in those who follow them.

Life-sucking leaders?  Just the opposite. In their wake you’ll find dispirited, defeated, discouraged people, divided organizations, and a general spirit of fear or powerlessness.  What’s scary is that on the surface, many of these leaders and the organizations they front appear successful, at least for a season.

How can you tell the difference? How can you know to what degree you are a life-giving leader?  The best way I know is to turn to the ultimate life-giving leader – the Lord Jesus Himself.  Based on His impact and leadership, I have discovered twelve ways to recognize a life-giving leader when you see one.   Here are the first six.

1.  Service:  He prioritizes needs above procedures.

 And He said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent (Mark 3:4).

If Jesus was the ultimate life-giving leader, the scribes and Pharisees were the ultimate life drains.  And nearly every time the issue with Jesus was the same:  He didn’t follow their sense of procedures and policies when it came to His miracle-working ministry. (I’ll leave you to meditate on the irony of that.)

Jesus had this crazy idea that laws and rules – even God’s laws – existed to serve needs, not thwart them.  Life-giving leaders to the same today, even at the risk of being criticized for it.

2.  Purpose:  He prioritizes purpose above pleasure.

If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire…” (Mark 9:43).

Lest you assume that life-giving means “feel-good” or “carefree,” let me be clear:  Life-giving leaders get it when the stakes are high.  Jesus came to seek and save a lost world of people, you and me included. And the first recorded word of his public ministry was, “Repent!”

Life-giving leaders are purpose-oriented.  They understand why the organization exists and what the vision or mission is, and that’s their priority.  And if that means being willing to deliver the bad news, so be it.

3.  Encouragement: He gives courage to the committed.

“Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God,  who will not receive many times as much at this time and in the age to come, eternal life” (Luke 18:29-30).

Jesus was saying this to a band of brothers who had done this very thing.  In short, He was encouraging them.  To a group who still had a lot to learn, He was letting them know they got something right.

Life-draining leaders rarely, if ever, encourage. It mystifies them why somebody should be encouraged “for doing their job.”  Life-giving leaders are not only committed to encouragement, they look for different ways to do it.

4.  Clarity: He offers understanding in a world of confusion.

In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men (John 1:4-5).

Uncertainty and confusion breed fear. Life-giving leaders have a way of cutting through all that. They communicate simply and effectively.  They make sure the people they lead are all on the same page when it comes to what is expected, what is needed, and how they fit in.

What’s different about the life-giving leader, however, isn’t just that they talk with clarity.  Even a cult leader does that.  What made Jesus different then, and makes life-giving leaders different today, is that they also demonstrate…

5.  Integrity: He embodies what he preaches and leads out of his own identity.

When John said that in Jesus was life and His life was the light of men, He hinted at one of the many things that made Jesus different.  When Jesus set out to change the lives of others, He did what no hypocrite would ever dare:  He invited ordinary people to follow Him around and do what He did.

Life-giving leaders are real.  The illustrate with their lives what they proclaim with their authority.  And the lives they live whet the appetites of those who follow to become just like the leader.

6.  Generosity:  He gives lavishly, even to the point of being sacrificial.

“Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Jesus embodied the heart of a God who so loved the world that He gave.  That’s what life-giving leaders do. They give. They give to their employees, to the organization, to the customer, to the community.  They look for every possible way to contribute; their generosity is limited only by their desire to be able to give even more in the future.

That’s something you don’t find in jealous, insecure people in places of power or authority.  Life-sucking leaders maintain control at all costs, and they fear giving too much.


In the next post I’ll show you six more qualities of a life-giving leader.  For now, I hope you recognize that at any given point, you may choose to use your influence to infuse organizations and the people in them with life or death.  People rarely choose a culture of death on purpose.  But through their desire to maintain control, hold on to power, or satisfy their misdirected ambitions or ideas, they can paralyze people and leave organizations and teams powerless.

There really is a better way.

GR Bud West March 25, 2014 at 9:08 am

Good job with this! As you know, many “leadership” lists have little to do with leadership and everything to do with position. In this case, even though I inferred that you primarily had pastors in mind, I went ahead and applied my “leadership litmus test” to your list. It goes something like this: “could a leader serving as a janitor in the basement of an organization (or society) successfully apply these constructs, attributes, or characteristics — or do these factors apply exclusively to members of executive teams.” Of course, each item on your list could apply equally to those at the proverbial “top” or “bottom” of organizational or societal structures.

A syllogism of agreement on point one: if leadership means “to go out ahead and show the way” (Greenleaf, 1977); and if people who already know where they need to go and how to get there need management, rather than leadership; then the only situations involving procedures or other standardized processes that would require leadership as the appropriate form of directing, would include those situations where the standardized processes and procedures fail to achieve the desired outcomes (efficiency or effectiveness), as determined by the associated stakeholders.

Based on that syllogism, I question if Jesus actually prioritized “needs above procedures” or if He otherwise determined (as the ultimate stakeholder) that universally, the procedure in question no longer worked to achieve the outcomes that the Father had originally intended. To me, the word “prioritizing” reads like a one-off or like an exception to the rule. Whereas, in this case, it appears to me that Jesus was actually replacing the ol;d procedure with a new standard.

Jim Blanchard March 27, 2014 at 3:08 pm

Dr. Wood,
I find this to be a word in season and a course correction opportunity in some of these areas for those of us entrusted by God with influence in leadership positions. We have a choice of frustration through lack of knowledge or truly leading ourselves before attempting to lead others. Ultimately a leader has a God given vision and definite sense of purpose within the scope of that vision and discover that within the Kingdom of God it is not a self-serving agenda that will endure, but rather all of the attributes of life-giving leaders seem to revolve around choosing to submit one’s self to be governed by the “royal law of love” (James).

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