Leaders and Finishing Well
What does it mean for leaders to finish well? How important is it that leaders understand this idea? Not every leader finishes well. In a study of over 1,500 Christian leaders and Christ followers down through history, Dr. J. Robert Clinton made a startling discovery: only 1 in 3 leaders will finish well. Not very encouraging news; however, there is still time to make a change. I believe every leader should wrestle with this question and the earlier in life, the better.
The apostle Paul’s writings to Timothy provide a glimpse into this concept of finishing well. In reflecting on his life, sensing that the end was near, he writes to his dear friend Timothy:
I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them that love his appearing. ~2 Timothy 4:7-8
Paul’s final comments to Timothy, suggest that “finishing well” is a worthwhile endeavor. Paul is clear about three things here: he fought the good fight, did what he was called to do, and he kept his faith. In light of Dr. Clinton’s results, I think it benefits all leaders to ponder the question: Am I living in such a way that I will finish well?
Jesus, once told a remarkable story that illustrates this concept about “finishing well” in the Parable of the Talents. If you recall from the story, only two of the three workers are successful and have a return for their master. They hear the words, Well done, my good and faithful servant. The 3rd worker, on the other hand, didn’t finish so well and never heard those words.
In Dr. Clinton’s article, “Finishing Well” he writes about some of his observations about leaders:
- Few leaders finish well.
- Leadership is difficult.
- God’s enabling presence is the essential ingredient of successful leadership.
- Spiritual leadership can make a difference.
This concept of “finishing well” has had a major impact on almost every decision I make in my personal, professional, and ministry life. So what does it mean for leaders to finish well? To some degree this answer will vary among leaders; however, there are some common threads. Dr. Clinton suggests that there are at least 6 characteristics notable in his research. Most leaders who finish well have 4 to 5 of the following:
- They maintain a personal vibrant relationship with God right up to the end.
- They maintain a learning posture and can learn from various kinds of sources – life especially.
- They manifest Christ-likeness in character as evidenced by the fruit of their lives.
- Truth is lived out in their lives so that convictions and promises of God are to be real.
- They leave behind one or more ultimate contributions.
- They walk with a growing awareness of a sense of destiny and see some or all of it fulfilled.
I know I have benefited from grappling with this concept. I have had to make many adjustments in my own life along the way. I will continue to make as many as I need to. For, I am dedicated to living in such a way that I, too, will one day hear those words: Good and well done my faithful servant.
J. Robert Clinton, “Finishing Well: Six Characteristics.” Journal Article