Lessons of Leadership from Billy Graham

Lessons of Leadership from Billy Graham

The world is saying goodbye to Billy Graham this week and the tributes are deeply moving. Even for those who aren’t Christians or who aren’t the “born again” type of Christian, there is tenderness in the many remembrances filling news reports of this great man’s life.

In this Leading Thoughts, I’d like to set aside for a moment the sentimental recollections of Billy Graham and look instead at the hard core. I’d like to draw out the principles, the commitments, that empowered Billy Graham and his team to conduct themselves largely scandal-free for so many decades. I want to urge us to make the same commitments.

In 1949, Graham was just emerging from the astonishingly successful Los Angeles crusade. The crowds were huge. His message was reaching the nation. The world was paying attention. The young evangelist’s trajectory was fairly obvious. He was going to be famous and successful. It was then that Billy assembled his team and with them decided they would never allow themselves to betray their cause as many others in ministry had done before. They made four commitments that changed everything.

First, they determined to do all in their power to avoid financial impropriety. They would all take reasonable salaries. They would not make their living from “offerings” given by adoring crowds. Local committees would oversee finances. All would live within their means.

Second, there would be no sexual misconduct. They would all stay accountable to each other. They would not meet with women alone. Information about their travel arrangements would be kept secret. They would keep their wives close and involved.

Third, they would tell the truth. There would be no inflated reporting about crowd sizes, for example. They would let the police or arena managers report attendance numbers. Graham and his team would stay away from the ego-driven side of such things.

Fourth, they would encourage unity. They would refuse to attack other clergy or other Christian movements. Often, Billy invited more liberal clergymen and even ministers who had attacked him to sit with him on stage. He would maintain unity as much as possible.

These are the four commitments that Billy Graham and his team observed all their public lives. They are what now allow us to remember his sixty-year ministry without reference to sexual affairs or financial scandals or “preacher wars,” as some have styled the sometimes heated, headline-driven battles between prominent clergy. Billy Graham kept it clean. He made mistakes, and he admitted them, but his mistakes were not the usual scandals of sex, money, and territory.

Now, I’ve been scanning some history here, but I imagine you know why. Take a moment and look back over Billy Graham’s four commitments. Then, envision these guidelines put into practice in your leadership role. I urge you to make them your own. I urge you to make them ironclad boundaries for your life and leadership. I also urge you to make them mainstays of the leadership culture you encourage around you.

Billy Graham was great for many reasons, but four of these reasons are truths that can help you build an unassailable life of leadership. Go forth and do as Billy did.