The most important characteristic of a good leader

October 8, 2019

We all have influence.

Whether you want it or not, someone somewhere is watching you and being pushed in a certain direction because of you.

According to John Maxwell, ‘Leadership is Influence’, and since we all have influence, we all, somehow, fall under the category of ‘leaders’. At least, I think, that’s what John Maxwell would say.

I’m not so sure I would agree. I’m not sure if we were all called to be leaders, or maybe we were. Like I said, unsure.

But I do know certain characteristics that make a good leader.

Obviously, a good leader leads well.

A good leader can motivate the people following him or her, can take wise decisions, can keep calm in the middle of a crisis; a good leader has integrity, is honest, is accountable, can delegate responsibilities; the list is endless.

But there’s one characteristic of a leader that probably does not make it into most leadership books. A quality that a lot of us seem to forget or avoid.

A good leader, and I mean a really GOOD leader, smells bad.

Not on your list, was it?

In the Bible, a good leader is always compared with a shepherd. That’s where the word ‘pastor’ comes from.

And a shepherd’s job wasn’t always clean. It involved hanging out with smelly sheep, walking with them through dirt and muck, spending hours in sweat and tears looking for them when they were lost, and carrying them back, almost always across long distances.

You may not agree that a shepherd is what one would describe as a ‘good leader’.

But guess what? If you were a sheep, you would.

To a sheep, the presence of its shepherd was always comforting.

It was safe, it was caring and it was comforting to know that someone was looking after you while you had your head down, chewing grass.

Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. And He defined that term this way – 

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”

John 10:11

And that’s exactly what He did. He died for His sheep, for His people.

And you cannot possibly think that when He was on the cross, bleeding, bruised, gasping for breath, and flanked by two other dying people, that He smelt good.

You cannot possibly think that throughout His life, in which He ate with prostitutes, thieves and sinners that He smelt of flowers and perfume.

Because the heart of a good leader is always, always serving his or her people.

It’s always service.

A good leader smells bad. Not necessarily literally, but you get the point.

Because it’s not about sitting in an intimidating office and giving out orders.

It’s about bending down, getting your hands dirty, and working with your people – working for your people.

Of course it’s not easy, but it is necessary. The world has enough perfumed leaders.

We need the smelly ones.


But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant - Matthew 28:26
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