6 Characteristics of Leaders Who Finish Well

“Time flies!”

With only two weeks left of 2016, these two words seem to be the most popular expressions around this season.

Now, let’s do a post-mortem for this year. How was 2016 for you? To be more precise, how did you fare in relation to your New Years Goals you set earlier in the year?

If you’re like me, you may be an enthusiastic self-start but a lousy finisher. You may have succumbed to the forces of status quo. You have fallen victim to your habits. This is no surprise. In fact, neuroscience shows that 88% of New Year’s Resolutions fail. If you’re in the 12%, congratulations! (Comment below so I can learn your secret) However, if you’re like me, we have some work to do.

Bobby Clinton who has studied biblical leaders makes a poignant observation that few leaders finish well. There are around 800 or so leaders mentioned in the Bible. There are about 100 who have data that helps you interpret their leadership. About 50 of these have enough data for evaluation of their finish. About 1 in 3 finished well. Anecdotal evidence from today indicates that this ratio is probably generous. Probably less than 1 in 3 are finishing well today.

Bobby Clinton, professor of leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary, shares six characteristics of individuals who finished well.

1. They maintain a personal vibrant relationship with God right up to the end.

Daniel is the classic O.T. leader who exemplifies this. In the N.T., Peter, Paul and John all demonstrate this. See their last writings—the tone, the touch with God, the revelation from God, their trust in enabling grace for their lives.

 2. They maintain a learning posture and can learn from various kinds of sources— life especially.

Daniel is the classic O.T. leader who exemplifies this. See Daniel chapter nine for a late in life illustration of one who continues to study and learn from the Scriptures. Paul and Peter are the classic N.T. leaders with a learning posture (see 2Pe 3:18 and 2Ti 4:13).

3. They manifest Christ-likeness in character as evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit in their lives.

Daniel is the classic O.T. leader who exemplifies godliness (See the summary references to him in Eze 14:14,20). In the N.T. note the evidence of character transformation in Paul’s life (2Ti 2:24 and an illustration of it—the book of Phm). These were men who over a lifetime moved from strong

4. Truth is lived out in their lives so that convictions and promises of God are seen to be real.

Joshua’s statement about God’s promises never having failed him in his closing speech demonstrate this characteristic of someone believing God and staking his life on God’s truth (Jos 23:14). See the many aside truth statements that Paul weaves into his two letters to Timothy. See his famous stirring convictions echoed in Ac 27:22-25.

5. They leave behind one or more ultimate contributions.

In a study on legacies left behind by effective leaders who finished well I have identified the following categories: saint, practitioners, mentors, public rhetoricians, pioneers, crusaders, artists, founder, stabilizer, researchers, writers, promoters.

Examples: Daniel’s ultimate contributions include: saint, (mentor), writer, stabilizer. Paul’s ultimate contributions include: saint, mentor, pioneer, crusader, writer, promoter.

Of course, in addition to these standard categories there are also unique legacies that leaders also leave behind. These have to be described individually for each leader.

6. They walk with a growing awareness of a sense of destiny and see some or all of it fulfilled.

A sense of destiny is an inner conviction arising from an experience or a series of experiences in which there is a growing sense of awareness that God has His hand on a leader in a special way for special purposes. Over a lifetime a leader is prepared by God for a destiny, receives guidance toward that destiny, and increasingly completes that destiny. No Biblical leader who accomplished much for God failed to have a sense of destiny, one that usually grew over his/her lifetime.

Examples: Joseph’s dreams and his saving of the embryonic nation; Moses’ saving of the nation; Paul’s vision to take the Gospel to the Gentiles.

Question: What needs to change in your life to finish well?


  • This is an incredible article! I was delightfully surprised to see such a strong tie in too truth. I loved #6. It’s where I am. Thank you for sharing this timeless wisdom.

    • Yes so true Ruth. Thanks for reading my post!

  • Lila charles

    Thank you Paul! This was a lovely article capturing the true essence of servant leadership through making reference in the Old Testament and New Testament. Leadership entails giving/Serving with one’s heart, soul and mind which requires a growing connection with the Lord as the apostle’s demonstrated for us.

    • My pleasure Lila! I love how you said leadership requires the heart, soul and mind and connecting it to our Lord! Appreciate you reading!

  • Michelle King Eigemann

    Thank you for this post there was so many powerful nuggets of truth tucked within your words. I have been experiencing more revelation into God’s divine plan for my life and the only way to finish strong is to continue to be led by the Holy Spirit and not bound by fear. I dress daily in the armor of God as I head out in an attempt to fulfill my purpose.

  • George Moore

    Paul – Thanks for your Blogs! I especially like this one as I need a constant reminder to stay focused on the important things in life which typically are not the urgent aspects which clamor daily for our attention. #1 is foundational to our walk with God and all else is an outflow our love relationship with Christ. Merry Christmas!

  • This is a hugely missed topic. So much is said about how to prepare well, start right and make a big entrance. Unfortunately finishing well is often not as grand but how much more important it is. I’m reminded of one of my professors in seminary. He faithfully taught for nearly 60 years, even up to a few months before he passed away. He finished well! I think part of the problem is that instead of finishing well and leaving a legacy we often are just trying to get to the point where we don’t have to work so we can do all the “fun” things in life.

    For me I think I need to be more strategic in thinking about my future, 10+ and 20+ years out. I need to think of my family and how what I’m doing right now is going to affect them in 20+ years.

  • claytonwhitson

    Hey Paul – Really like your blogs, this is such a great one, I was compelled to leave a few remarks because this is certainly an area of passion for me. It is a difficult race to run and finish well. As you started your blog off, I feel as though I would fall into the 12%, unfortunately, I’m not sure I have any great revelations on how to be in this place.

    I simply chose to try and do things differently. I chose to really try and follow Jesus and not the dollar. Over the last two years, I was horrified around how many corners my decisions were based upon the dollar: jobs, insurance, vacation, many aspects of raising children, fear, anxiety, confidence, success – the list could go on and on.

    I asked God to help me begin to understand the currency we will use in eternity. My thought pattern was that if I could begin to understand this currency and use it now, I will be better equipped to step into eternity.

    In a very quick summary, I believe much of the currency we will carry with us into eternity will be the fruit of our lives. There’s quite a bit of debate on what this fruit is, but in the simplest way, I believe Scripture says it best: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

    On occasion we hear about these virtues in church, but when discussing leadership (even leadership in churches), I don’t think we hear enough about this. Partially because, they are difficult to measure and how can you measure your effectiveness, personal growth or ROI. Often our goals are S.M.A.R.T. goals or some other worth-while acronym and we expel great amounts of efforts trying to meet these measurable goals. There is nothing wrong with setting these kinds of goals as believer’s as long as we are not forgetting to develop the elements that will carry on with us to eternity.

    I would point out a very small passage that points to a very small crack in a door we spend very little time exploring: So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

    Those who finished well had the right perspective and vision: focusing on the eternal. Bless you all and have a Merry Christmas.

  • Pingback: The Top 10 Leadership Posts I Read The Week Of December 15th | Brian Dodd on Leadership()

  • Great blog post Paul! To finish well…stay small, stay focused, stay passionate, stay persistent, stay to the end!