Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Rare Leadership Habits of the Heart

Written by: on February 21, 2024

In the same way, our character–including our relational and emotional skills–is built around those habits, and our good character and relational skills show up before we even think about them.”[1]

  • Ravi Zacharias charged: serious sexual misconduct going back years in his ministry.
  • Jim Baker swindled millions of dollars from his followers.
  • What about Jimmy Swaggart?
  • Or Tullian Tchividjian?
  • Even Bill Hybels.
  • The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll.
  • More recently, Aaron Ivey, married to popular podcaster, Jamie Ivey, fired from Austin Stone Community Church accused of sexual exploitation with adult and minor males dating back to 2011.

Associate Professor of Interdisciplinary Humanities at Wake Forest University, Michael Lamb looks at all of this, combined with the Character Project,[2] as a researcher dedicated to exploring character and leadership.[3] Their research examines how leadership and character are developed among college and professional students, helping them to equip other institutions and businesses to educate leaders of character in their own contexts. One question the researchers ask is, “Is it possible to develop our character by emulating role models or exemplars?”  

As I read Rare Leadership: 4 Uncommon Habits For Increasing Trust, Joy, and Engagement in the People You Lead and Rare Leadership in the Workplace: Four Uncommon Habits that Improve Focus, Engagement, and Productivity by Marcus Warner and Jim Wilder, I am faced with the question that haunts each of us from one time or another: Does Christ-like character only take root in certain personalities and not others? Must Christianity be formed in only those for whom it works based on their DNA? And, based on the list of Christian leaders who lived part of their lives in broken isolation, what role do habits truly play in our character?

What Role Does Personality Play in Our Character?

I find it helpful to remember how James Clear, author of Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results highlights the most proven scientific analysis of personality traits known as the “Big Five.” Broken down into five spectrums of behavior they are as follows:

  1. Openness to experience: from curious and inventive on one end to cautious and consistent to the other.
  2. Conscientiousness: organized and efficient to easygoing and spontanseous.
  3. Extroversion: outgoing and energetic to solitary and reserved.
  4. Agreeableness: friendly and compassionate to challenging and detached.
  5. Neuroticism: Anxious and sensitive to confident, calm, and stable.[4]

Again, I find it helpful to frame our discussions on character, leadership and habits around these 5 personality types knowing we are each designed uniquely.

What Role Do Habits Truly Play in Our Character?

According to Warner and Wilder, “The fruit of 4 uncommon habits related to emotional intelligence is a dramatic increase in trust, joy, and engagement in the people you lead.”[5] The driving question of how to stay relational and continue to act like ourselves, like the person God made us to be, during suffering, weaves in and out of each chapter with the acronym: R.A.R.E.

Remain Relational

Act Like Yourself

Return to Joy

Endure Hardship Well.

Because Jim Wilder is a clinical psychologist, we learn again about brain science with the Slow and Fast tracks, reminding us of Kahneman’s System 1 and System 2 thinking. System 1 thinking is automatic and involuntary while System 2 thinking is slow, effortful and deliberate.[6] Where I see one qualifying difference (correct me if I’m wrong), is Warner and Wilder claim our Fast Track thinking regulates our emotions. Whereas Kahneman says our System 1 thinking often makes mistakes and is impulsive. Either way, what is fascinating is that Joy, Identity and mutual-mind states run in the brain’s fast track while consciousness runs in our slow-track. When the right and left side of the brain are working well together at different speeds, we know our identity before we think about the world around us.[7]  And this all takes place no matter our personality trait. (Would you agree or not?)

How might the Slow track and Fast track of Systems 1 & 2 hold hope for leaders? In working with leaders recently, I see three frameworks for habits.

The Habit of Humility

If our relational identity is the primary interest of the fast track, it serves leaders best if the core of who we are pursues humility–no matter personality type.  In this way, self importance and self promotion can stop masking who we truly are and we can act like ourselves. Richard Foster and Brenda Quinn spoke on the Trinity Forum[8] of what it means to lead with humility.  “We learn to become the servant of all and that is how we lead–we learn the lives of people. We listen to people without domination and arrogance. Humility is learning from other people.”

Without knowing the childhood stories of the Christian leaders named above, it seems their executive functions weren’t looking for Joy as the book defines it but were looking for Joy’s imposter that amplified their fantasy relationships and identity.  When life got hard, these leaders were motivated by self-importance and self-promotion. Warner and Wilder would call them immature leaders. Conversely, Simon Walker writes that mature (or mobile leaders) have an inner security and personal freedom,[9] whose capacity to do so grows from a habit of humility.

The Habit of Healing

“Without healing, the brain cannot be trained.  Without training, the brain often cannot recover.”[10]

Our conscious thought (the Slow Track) obsesses about problems, amplifying them through our experiences. When I talk with leaders, what I hear most often is that they feel emotionally and physically overwhelmed. At lunch with an executive leader last week, I asked her if she ever worked for a Protector leader–someone with a well-trained set of fast-track habits. Her response was that the more she moves up, the less she finds joyful identity in leaders. And, she admitted, how that quality steals joy and belonging to the group.  Might this be what sets Rare Leadership slightly apart from Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow and Simon Walker’s the Undefended Leader? There’s an underlying emphasis on group identity, group responses to weaknesses which lead to healing.[11] 

Humility Leads to Healing

Leadership involves developing a powerfully flexible and relational brain together with the ability to develop the same identity in our group. Leadership involves training skills and repatterning existing group responses.[12]

In talking about our brains, Warner and Wilder explain that both tracks have very flexible, slow, gray matter. However, white matter takes longer to develop, is two hundred times faster, and is built when we do things repeatedly.

In thinking about my NPO research project, Leading With Humility, I am trying to work out how I can chip away slowly at our current leadership crisis of current and emerging leaders lacking support.  What I am learning from books like this is that habits, repeated over the years, help white matter build. When this happens, the brain rapidly flexes to all sorts of situations.  I believe humility and healing go hand in hand for all personality types–it’s an openhandedness, a willingness to receive what one doesn’t have yet. Can humility be a habit? Might this bring a deeper healing for the Church, our organizations and families to discover new ways of healing?

[1] Warner, Marcus, and Jim Wilder. Rare Leadership in the Workplace: Four Uncommon Habits That Improve Focus, Engagement, and Productivity. Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2021.

[2] The Oxford Character Project. “Research.” https://oxfordcharacter.org/research.

[3] The Program for Leadership and Character. “Ongoing Research.” https://leadershipandcharacter.wfu.edu/research-2/grant-funded-research/.

[4] Clear, James. “Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results : An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones.” New York, New York: Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, 2018.

[5] Warner, Marcus, and Jim Wilder. Rare Leadership in the Workplace. p.26

[6] Groenewegen, Astrid. “Kahneman Fast and Slow Thinking: System 1 and 2 Explained by SUE.” SUE | Behavioural Design Academy (blog), October 17, 2018. 

[7] P. 12 of Chapter 8

[8] “Podcasts | The Trinity Forum.” Accessed February 20, 2024. https://www.ttf.org/trinity-forum-conversations/?mc_cid=c42ed475fe&mc_eid=85c2732081.

[9] Walker, Simon P. Leading Out of Who You Are: Discovering the Secret of Undefended Leadership. Piquant Editions, 2007.  P. 137.

[10] Warner, Marcus and Jim Wilder. Rare Leadership. P. 35

[11] P. 6 in Chapter 8.

[12] P. 12 in Chapter 7.

About the Author


Pam Lau

Pamela Havey Lau brings more than 25 years of experience in speaking, teaching, writing and mediating. She has led a variety of groups, both small and large, in seminars, trainings, conferences and teachings. Pam’s passion is to see each person communicate with their most authentic voice with a transparent faith in Jesus Christ. With more than 10, 000 hours of writing, researching, and teaching the heart and soul of Pam’s calling comes from decades of walking alongside those who have experienced healing through pain and peace through conflict. As a professor and author, Pam deeply understands the role of mentoring and building bridges from one generation to another. She has developed a wisdom in how to connect leaders with their teams. Her skill in facilitating conversations extends across differences in families, businesses, schools, universities, and nonprofits. Pam specializes in simplifying complex issues and as a business owner, has helped numerous CEOs and leaders communicate effectively. She is the author of Soul Strength (Random House) and A Friend in Me (David C. Cook) and is a frequent contributor to online and print publications. You can hear Pam’s podcast on Real Life with Pamela Lau on itunes. Currently, Pam is a mediator for families, churches, and nonprofits. You can contact Pam through her website: PamelaLau.com. Brad and Pam live in Newberg, Oregon; they have three adult daughters and one son-in-law. One small, vocal dog, Cali lives in the family home where she tries to be the boss! As a family they enjoy worshiping God, tennis, good food and spending time with family and friends.

6 responses to “Rare Leadership Habits of the Heart”

  1. Cathy Glei says:

    Thank you for your post. I would enjoy hearing more about your project!!! It reminded me of a quote I read. In Chapter 2: ‘On Thinking Humbly of Oneself’ of the book, The Imitation of Christ by Thomas A Kempis, he states, “If it seemeth to thee that thou knowest many things, and understandest them well, know also that there are many more things which thou knowest not. Be not high-minded, but rather confess thy ignorance. Why desirest thou to lift thyself above another, when there are found many more learned and more skilled in Scripture than thou?. . . To account nothing of oneself, and to think always kindly and highly of others, this is great and perfect wisdom.” Just keep chipping away at the crisis.

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      What a profound quote — thank you for sharing it with me. Today I am meeting with our pastor who, from my observation, embodies intellectual humility. He seeks to understand the Scriptures from a posture that I rarely see in those who teach the Word. I cannot find words to describe what I experience as I learn from his teaching. I am hoping my conversation with him will give me more direction on my projects this semester. I am working on three and each are dependent on the other. Thank you for being interested in my project I am calling Leading With Humility. Scott’s response below is very interesting to me and I wonder what you think of his observations?

  2. Scott Dickie says:

    Hi Pam….thanks for your post. Your question at the end, “Can Humility be a Habit?” was the question emerging in my mind as I read through your post. My initial response is…”I don’t think so.”….with a few question marks afterwards! From my perspective, humility is a character trait that the Spirit grows up in us as we intentionally create habits to abide in Christ and walk in step with the Spirit. So I would see humility as a by-product of my habits that sustain and grow my relationship with Jesus. Of course…it goes deeper than that….and the question, “What makes one person move towards teachability and a humble recognition that they don’t know everything and another become defensive and blame others?” is an interesting exploration. At least part of the answer has to be secure relational attachments (which the authors reference) that allow us to risk vulnerability because we know we are loved as we are (we really are…not the front stage/masks we most often wear). Still…I’m not sure we can truly choose to be humble….we might choose a humble response while still thinking deep down that we’re right/better. Ultimately, I think it’s grown up by God as we process the challenges of our failures and the ugliness of our arrogance & ego and our identity in Christ and our family of origin……and….and….and.” And as we do life WITH God, not do ministry FOR God….we are transformed into his likeness. I’m still not convinced that we can do anything to train our fast-thinking (the authors certainly didn’t convince me), but if it can be transformed, I wonder if that’s more the work of the Spirit than us? Perhaps we consciously decide (slow track) to engage in spiritual practices that facilitate the Spirit’s transformation of our fast-track? Pure speculation…I’m just glad God continues to form me into his image through my fast and slow thinking…and those all-too-common times when I’m ‘not thinking’ at all!

  3. mm Pam Lau says:


    I deeply appreciate your thoughts here. I also value your statement that we work WITH God and not FOR HIm.

    It’s the following statement I have a question about: “Still…I’m not sure we can truly choose to be humble….we might choose a humble response while still thinking deep down that we’re right/better.”

    In light of the above statement, how do you interpret I Peter 5:6, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the Might Hand of God so that at the proper time time he may exalt you.”

    What do you think it means to Humble Yourself?

  4. mm Dinka Utomo says:

    Hi Pam!

    Thanks for highlighting humility in your post. I resonate with your post regarding it.

    You write, “I am trying to work out how I can chip away slowly at our current leadership crisis of current and emerging leaders lacking support. What I am learning from books like this is that habits, repeated over the years, help white matter build. When this happens, the brain rapidly flexes to all sorts of situations. I believe humility and healing go hand in hand for all personality types–it’s an openhandedness, a willingness to receive what one doesn’t have yet. Can humility be a habit?”

    Based on your professional experiences, can humility be considered a habit, and if so, how can people intentionally cultivate and maintain this quality in their everyday lives? How does humility take the role as a primary source to enhance willingness to serve others in your context?

    • mm Pam Lau says:

      You are now asking questions my Stakeholders asked me more than a year ago. A shorter answer would be humility can become a habit through spiritual disciplines. I am drawn to the quote: We have a moral responsibility to choose our experiences. I can choose to repent or to pray or to give in secret or celebrate someone else. Further, As a Christian if I know the depth of my dark heart, my helplessness, then God’s work and life through me is the only work worth focusing on–not self. I can write that line 1,000 times but until my heart embraces that truth – I don’t know humility. Preaching the Gospel to myself is a daily discipline. Thank you for thinking about this!

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