In His Own Words: What Has Billy Graham Said About Leadership?

August 17, 2012

Throughout his ministry, Billy Graham has spoken often on the topic of leadership. Here are excerpts from one of his speeches entitled “Qualities of Leadership.” He delivered this address at a civic luncheon in Denver in 1987. He also gave similar speeches at other luncheons around the country, and the truths contained within are just as applicable today.

Today, I want to talk for a few minutes on qualities of leadership. What kind of leadership will it take to solve our problems and move ahead in this country?  What must be the character test of a true leader in the modern world?  I want to mention four character tests. Each of these are personal qualities of leadership. I agree with Peter McColough, chairman of Xerox, that an executive’s personal values play a role in his ability to lead others.

The first quality that I would like to mention is integrity. Integrity has to do with soundness, completeness, unity and consistency. Wayne Porter wrote in TIME magazine last month, “Integrity has increased steadily in importance as a public issue since 1985.” When we speak of integrity as a moral value, it means a man is the same on the inside as he claims to be on the outside. There’s no discrepancy between what he says and what he does; between his talk and his walk.

The second quality necessary for leadership, it seems to me, during these difficult days is personal security. I do not mean this in the sense of physical security, job security or financial security. Newsweek magazine ran an article some months ago entitled, “Uneasy Men at the Top.” They described the job insecurities of some in the top levels of corporate management in large companies. It set the stage for one newly installed CEO to say in jest; “I didn’t mind it when they wrote my name on the office door in chalk but I did think it was a little unethical to have a wet sponge hanging from the doorknob.” I think some of you in Denver in recent months have had that experience. But I’m instead talking about emotional security. The kind that comes from knowing and accepting who we are, why we’re here and where we’re going. I do not believe that that kind of security comes from our careers alone.

Personal security includes a sense of inner peace, peace with God and peace with yourself. Job once said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” He said, “I have inner peace because of that.” Jesus once told his followers, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.”

Besides integrity and personal security, the third quality which is necessary in a leader is a sense of priority. This is the ability to separate the important from the unimportant, the critical from the trivial, the vital from the insignificant, the eternal from the temporary. It is essential for our daily tasks, but it also is true for the overall directions of our lives. Until a man gets his priorities in life straight, everything else is going to be out of order.

Then, there is one final quality that I would mention briefly, the quality of vision. When there’s no vision, the Bible says, the people perish. This is the quality of seeing what can be and ought to be done and how to get there. Now, civic clubs in cities like Denver have done more to help than possibly any other group of people outside the church. In the various places that I go and the people I meet with, I hear the stories, and I’m absolutely amazed and thrilled.

So, I challenge you today to be a person of integrity, a person of security, a person with a sense of priority and a person of vision. But most of all, I challenge you to be individuals who are committed to Christ.


In addition to his own experience as a leader, Billy Graham had the opportunity to engage with numerous world leaders throughout his more than 70 years of ministry. You can learn more about those relationships by visiting The Billy Graham Library for our latest exhibit: “Billy Graham: God’s Ambassador to World Leaders.”


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