Most people say they’re above-average drivers, have above-average looks, above-average intelligence and are above-average in their professions. Psychologists call this self-enhancement. Mathematicians call it impossible. But it’s said to be at an all-time high today, particularly in the young-adult generation. A whopping 94 percent of college students think they have above-average leadership skills, according to David Brooks, from an interview with Fareed Zakaria.
This is problematic, because if you think you’re better at something than you really are, you’re less likely to work at it. You expect it to come easily to you. But that makes you less likely to succeed. Most men who play in the NBA will tell you it was really hard to get there – they’ll tell you of great coaches, years of strenuous practice sessions, grueling off-season training, special diets and more. The guys who thought it’d be easy, for the most part, they’re gone. 1
It applies to leadership in anything, not just basketball. Good intentions are never enough. To become a leader, you must first have some idea of what it means to be a leader, and then you need to do the hard work to get there. Whether you’re still in college or you’ve already launched your career, your current circumstances can be the training ground for future successes. If leadership is what you aspire to, what can you do today, regardless of your circumstances, to move in that direction? Let’s examine three characteristics of leaders and some practical ways to develop these qualities.
1. A leader must strive for excellence. On the one hand, God alone knows whether your aspirations for leadership will be realized – that is, whether the external circumstances of your life and work will be transformed in the way you hope. You might do everything “right” and still be overlooked. Our external circumstances are not necessarily a barometer of whether our lives are pleasing to God – sometimes the wicked prosper, while God’s best servants faithfully toil in obscurity, like Joseph in a jail cell in Egypt (see Psalm 73 and Genesis 40).
Remember that God’s timetable may be different from yours, and be faithful with what He’s given you right now, while also striving to be a wise steward of your current growth opportunities. The Bible says that whatever your hand finds to do, you should do with all our might (Ecclesiastes 9:10). And that in everything you do, “work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23–24). That means that in serving your “human masters” (your bosses or professors) you are actually serving Jesus Christ. So do it with excellence, as best you can.
Paul gives us an example of godly striving —