We seem to have many leaders, but no real leadership to help us out of the crises we are in. Why are we unable to find skillful, righteous leaders today?
Our world is facing many crises: a COVID crisis, a supply-chain crisis, an inflation crisis, a food crisis, a debt crisis, a war crisis and an environmental crisis (just to name a few).
But perhaps the worst crisis of all is the leadership crisis. In times of crisis, good leadership is essential to steer our nations away from disaster.
We live in a world with many leaders, but little real leadership. There is a reason we are in the state we are in. What is behind the leadership crisis?
Loss of faith in our leaders
People are becoming more divided and losing faith in their leaders. Confidence in American institutions has been following a continuous downward trend since the 1970s. The latest Gallup poll showed the approval rate fell to an all-time low of 27 percent, reflecting people’s declining confidence in the institutions that govern them.
Britain isn’t faring much better, with only 35 percent of British citizens having trust in their government. Most feel that their leaders have not met their concerns and that their leaders lack integrity.
These low numbers reflect unhealthy societies. Part of this is due to poor leadership and the leaders’ inability to fix the problems that are ailing their nations.
For example, Boris Johnson was elected for his promise to successfully guide the United Kingdom through Brexit, but the challenges of that complex divorce from the EU drag on. Now he has been forced to resign as prime minister because of being embroiled in multiple scandals.
In another example, former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was forced to resign and flee the country in July because many of his policies contributed to Sri Lanka’s economic meltdown.
Leaders in history
In history, dire threats have often provided fertile ground for a great leader to rise and lead his nation away from impending disaster.
In the United States Abraham Lincoln rose at a time when the nation was being torn apart. His wise and principled leadership helped save the nation in perhaps its greatest crisis.
The United Kingdom saw one of its greatest leaders rise in that nation’s darkest hour. Before World War II, Winston Churchill called for the nation to stand up against Adolf Hitler, but sadly he was ignored until Hitler began conquering Europe. When he became prime minister, Churchill rallied his people and led the nation to victory when victory seemed impossible.
Today we are again in a state of crisis, but where are the leaders of skill and integrity we need to steer our nations away from impending disaster? Dire threats and a leadership vacuum can also set the stage for the rise of even worse leaders.
Traits of bad leaders
Bad leaders tend to have more than one of the following characteristics:
Hypocrisy: Nothing seems to get people upset more than having a leader who is hypocritical. In many nations, people saw their leaders flaunt the strict COVID rules that they themselves had set. These leaders were not willing to live by their own rules. Jesus Christ identified this form of hypocrisy—setting strict rules for others that you fail to obey yourself—as one of the primary indicators of bad leadership (Matthew 23:4).
Pride: Pride is having an undue sense of one’s importance or superiority. It often involves taking the credit for successes and blaming others for failures. Prideful leaders either believe they have all the answers or listen only to answers that confirm their own perspective. The Bible warns that pride leads to destruction (Proverbs 16:18; compare Isaiah 14:12-15).
Dishonesty: Unfortunately, we often associate politicians (and lawyers) with lying. Yet we should be able to expect people in both professions to uphold the law. In history, one of the greatest strengths of the English-speaking nations was that no one, including the leader, was above the law. But, sadly, today leaders often lie instead of taking responsibility for their actions. Jesus warned that everything will eventually come out into the open (Luke 8:17). This often happens to leaders in our world, leading many to exit their offices in disgrace.
Inconsistency: Leaders who are not consistent will not be able to inspire others to follow them. People see them as unfair if they don’t apply the law evenly—for instance, if they harshly treat their political opponents but turn a blind eye to a political ally with same fault. Today we see leaders favoring those of their own party and treating those that oppose them as enemies. The Bible instructs leaders to be fair and impartial (Deuteronomy 1:17).
Selfishness: Leaders too often use their positions to enrich themselves at the expense of the people they serve. God warned the Israelites about this tendency when they sought a king to rule over them (1 Samuel 8:10-18; compare Deuteronomy 17:16-17). Also, many leaders today are self-focused, more concerned about their popularity than making tough, but necessary, decisions in the people’s best interests. This can be seen clearly when leaders, dealing with skyrocketing national debt, prefer to borrow more now to please the people, rather than make painful cuts that will make them unpopular. One of King Saul’s greatest leadership failures was fearing the people more than he feared God (1 Samuel 13:8-11; 15:24).
Childishness: In recent times we’ve seen leaders resort to name-calling and tit-for-tat retaliation. The same behavior is seen on a children’s playground when one child blames another and yells, “You started it!” Isaiah foretold a time when mature leaders would be replaced with those who act like little children (Isaiah 3:1-4).
Bad leaders do not arise in a vacuum. They occur for a reason.
Cause and effect
What is the cause of the crisis of bad leaders?
From the very beginning, God gave mankind free will to choose to either follow Him or disobey Him. God commanded Adam and Eve to avoid the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Sadly, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s instruction. All of mankind has followed their bad example (Romans 3:10-12).
God generally allows us to do what we want, even though we often make choices that are against His law. He won’t force us to follow Him. Instead, He will allow us to learn by experience that our own choices and ideas, made without God’s guidance, lead to disaster (Proverbs 14:12).
The good news is that good leadership is coming! Jesus Christ will return to be that perfect Leader that this world desperately needs.Take, for instance, ancient Israel, the only nation to ever have God as its Leader. The people rejected God and wanted a king like the other nations around them. They made this choice despite God’s warning that the king would abuse his office for his own profit at the people’s expense (1 Samuel 8:4-18). The people still insisted on a king, so God gave them what they wanted (verses 19-22).
In our modern secular world, many have disregarded God’s hand in their lives and chosen to demote God to the realm of myth and fable. In a recent Gallup poll, fewer people than ever before said they believe the Bible is the literal word of God, halved from 40 percent in the 1980s to 20 percent today. On the other hand, 29 percent say the Bible is a collection of fables and legends recorded by men.
Our modern nations are going down the same track as ancient Israel. Israel became a “sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity” (Isaiah 1:4). Their sinfulness extended throughout the society—from the children to the leadership (verses 5-6). God specifically described the leadership this way: “The whole head is sick” (verse 5). Spiritually and morally sick, that is.
We are facing the same problem today. Our societies are becoming sinful from top to bottom. Sinful societies produce leaders who share the same problems—and sometimes worse. Because of our sins, God has not provided us with leaders capable of dealing with our challenges. He warned that our problems would become so entrenched and unsolvable that eventually no one would want to rule (Isaiah 3:1-7).
It is during dire times like this that we need strong leaders who will serve the people, make good decisions and lead their people with integrity.
Being a servant
A leader can make a huge difference in the outcome of a nation. When bad leaders are in power, “the people groan.” In contrast, a righteous leader will cause those he rules over to “rejoice” (Proverbs 29:2).
We expect our leaders to perform their civic duty—their duty toward the citizens of the nation.
Jesus contrasted two types of leadership: godly leadership vs. the normal leadership of this world. Worldly leadership is basically the exercise of power over people. Too often leaders use their power to accomplish a personal agenda and to enrich themselves. This type of power is very corrupting, and often those who rule like this do not want to give it up (Matthew 20:25).
Sadly, some of the most extreme examples of self-serving and corrupt leadership are found in the world’s poorest nations—the nations that need good leadership the most.
In contrast to bad leaders, godly leaders make themselves servants and serve their fellow man. In fact, Jesus used a word that is much stronger than servant.
“And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:27-28). Jesus Himself is the greatest example of a leader who sacrificed and served the people, even to His own hurt.
So, what are other attributes of a good leader?
Attributes of a good leader
One of Israel’s greatest leaders was King David. The Bible identifies two keys to his success as a leader. David led Israel “according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands” (Psalm 78:72).
Good leaders need both skills and integrity to lead. A person who has great character but lacks skills will face great challenges. And a person who has skills but lacks righteous character will eventually be a bad leader.
Skillful people may speak eloquently and have great organizational and people skills, but lacking character, they will eventually abuse their authority for their own gain.
Skills can always be learned, or even supplemented by others around the leader, but character must be personally developed. If you were to contrast good and bad leaders, you would notice that the main differences are in character attributes, as opposed to skills.
The Bible contains many instructions about what makes a good leader—one who produces success, peace and happiness—and all of them involve personal character.
- Moses’ father-in-law advised him to appoint leaders who were “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness” (Exodus 18:21). Good leaders will be careful to appoint people of upright character to serve in their government.
- God expects the judges over the people to be “wise” and “knowledgeable,” to “judge righteously” and to “not show partiality in judgment” (Deuteronomy 1:13-17; 16:18-19). Being fair and impartial is an essential quality for anyone who leads people.
- Leaders should not abuse their power to enrich themselves (Deuteronomy 17:16-17). Instead, they should use their authority to benefit and serve the people.
- A leader should “write for himself a copy” of God’s law and “read it all the days of his life” so that he learns to fear God and obey His instructions (Deuteronomy 17:18-20). Good leaders will consider themselves to be under the law—not above it.
- Those who wish to follow God are to flee from the “love of money” and pursue “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:10-11). Good leaders will not be driven by greed, but will be guided by strongly held moral principles.
The Bible provides much guidance and insight on being a good leader. Tragically, because the nations today largely reject the Bible, they are not being led by men and women who follow these principles.
Learning godly leadership
Though our world lacks good leaders, you can learn to lead righteously and develop godly character attributes in your own life. You can rule over your own affairs and learn to serve those in your sphere of influence.
The good news is that good leadership is coming! And not just good, but perfect leadership.
Jesus Christ will return to be that perfect Leader that this world desperately needs. He will set up the government of God that will have no end and will bring peace, prosperity and happiness forever more (Isaiah 9:6-7).
Until then, we can pray fervently, “Your kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10).