5 Factors That Do Not Guarantee Effective Leadership

Leadership isn’t based on a formula, and success isn’t guaranteed. Instead, it is artful and involves change, nuance, life circumstances, and the many variables of human nature.

Only inexperienced leaders assume that because they desire to lead, the road ahead is guaranteed.

Three things are required to even begin leading.

  • Purpose – without a heart-burdening problem to solve, a clear goal, a mission/vision, leadership can’t begin.
  • Influence – without influence, to some degree; you cannot move people in the direction of the vision.
  • Opportunity – without opportunity, an open door, the affirmation and partnership of others, it’s difficult to get started.

On the other hand…

You might be tempted to think that because you lack a particular attribute or qualification that you can’t lead effectively. That’s not true. You may need to compensate for that absence, but God fills in the gaps for all of us.

The primary focus of this post is a caution about relying on any certain gift or privilege to guarantee effective leadership.

For example, one might think something like ordination (a sacred and worthwhile endeavor) guarantees leadership. Where in fact, it’s a spiritual commissioning that recognizes a call to ministry and a commitment to serve the Church of Jesus Christ faithfully.

In my own leadership journey, I remember the deep significance of my ordination, but that didn’t guarantee that I could lead.

From the long preparation process, years in fact, to the final prayer that evening, it was profoundly meaningful. But my spiritual leadership began as I was developed and gained experienced.

5 Factors That Do Not Guarantee Leadership (with practical helps in the right direction)

This is a very nuanced post; I trust that you can read between the lines to find a few helpful nuggets to apply in your realm of leadership.

1) Personal Charisma

Charisma is an incredible gift; it brings energy, wins the room, and draws people to you. But charisma alone does not make anyone a leader.

Think of your favorite movie stars, musicians, or athletes who have incredible charisma. Now, how many are leaders? You may find that list to be surprisingly short.

The thing about charisma, while it can be an incredible advantage, it can also cause a leader to stumble. 

Relying too heavily on charisma can create great gaps in the other disciplines of leadership that are necessary to sustain substance and productively over the long run.

Character will always win over charisma.

Don’t misunderstand; character and charisma together are a formidable combination, but developing character takes so much effort than expressing charisma; it’s easy to depend on the latter.

The point is this, lean into character rather than depending on charisma.

2) Titles and Positions

It sounds noble to say, “I don’t care about titles,” but I’ve found that when we are honest, most people do care.

It’s okay to care about your title as long as it doesn’t become unhealthy, like finding your value from it or thinking it has anything to do with your ability to lead.

When it comes to your leadership, it’s influence, not your title, that makes you effective.

It doesn’t matter where you are on the org chart; you can still make decisions and create positive change.

My all-time favorite content on this subject is John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership. I highly recommend the timeless concepts in this book.

3) Strength Of Personality

Strength of personality in the right context is an asset to your leadership; it can handle tough questions and help solve problems quickly. But a strong personality can sometimes operate like a freight train — hard to stop when rolling.

Confidence is always needed for effective leadership.

After my book Confident Leader! came out last year, a friend quipped, “Well, confidence is necessary, but I’ve learned I can be confident and yet wrong.” Of course, we laughed but understood that truth.

Strength of personality, even confidence, does not guarantee leadership.

Confidence plus genuine caring will always take your leadership farther.

Caring about people will always trump strength of personality over the long run.

When the people you serve know that you genuinely care, all the other gifts and attributes you possess are more fruitful and longstanding.

4) Impressive Intelligence

I’ve sat at many tables with leaders so much smarter than I am, many truly brilliant, and I admire that gift. Intelligence is important to any leader.

Intelligence, however, does not guarantee successful leadership.

I’ve also been at tables with super bright leaders who were so lofty they missed what was really happening. It’s possible to be right about research and facts but wrong about what to do with that knowledge.

Intelligence is certainly important, but common sense and discernment win the day.

Wisdom always wins over intelligence alone. Wisdom is the application of knowledge, its discernment combined with knowing when and how to take action.

The truth is, the combination of common sense and Holy Spirit directed discernment can take you and your leadership a long way.

5) High Octane Passion

You have a big idea; you’re fired up, you’re willing to work hard. Passion is critical to leadership.

But we all know that passion alone, no matter how zealous, doesn’t make the vision happen.

Passionate leadership is vital, it inspires people, but discipline and diligence are what sustains leadership over the long run.

Discipline and diligence, especially when the going gets tough, is the real fuel to continue making progress over time.


Passion, from even the most zealous leader, has ups and downs and ebb and flow. Passion alone doesn’t guarantee that leadership works.

I’ve known leaders over the years who became so frustrated and discouraged, saying, “I care so much, I work so hard, and I preach my heart out. Why isn’t it working?”

It’s easy for us to armchair coach that kind of thinking, but in the moment, that feels very real to the leader who is giving their all.

The best thing for all of us is to aspire toward the right combination of passion and disciplined diligence.

Which one of the above five speaks to you or is helpful in connection to someone you coach?

4 thoughts on “5 Factors That Do Not Guarantee Effective Leadership”

  1. Dan, the point that character always wins over charisma is so good. Especially when choosing leaders at church, having the wisdom to know the difference is imperative. Couldn’t agree more that charisma alone definitely can invite immediate acceptance from others, but in the long run can contribute to an underdevelopment of the core character that sustains the refining fires and the other disciplines of leadership required over the long haul. So much in this article that I said “amen” to.Your wisdom continually sharpens me as a leader! Thank you.

  2. Gerald Polmateer

    “It doesn’t matter where you are on the org chart; you can still make decisions and create positive change.” I think this is essential for every person to keep in mind. Years ago when I was in school the man who was teaching us asked about how we would identify the leaders. He told us to watch and see who the people turn to when they want advice or make decisions. That person speaks for them. Great leaders want the best for the people they lead. Poor leaders are focused on what they want. Great leaders lead people to higher places and are blessed by the people they lead. Poor leaders are oppressive and complain about the people they should be leading.

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