Four Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham


I recently picked up a book called The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham by Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley. It’s a great book that goes into detail about the life of Billy Graham, his ministry, and his influence. I wanted to highlight four (out of the twenty lessons) that struck a chord with me.

Focus on Mission

Jay Kesler, long-time president of Youth For Christ, said that Mr. Graham was like the hunter who wanted to hunt stag. If you want to hunt stag, you can’t shoot at rabbits. If you shoot at rabbits, you will never see a stag. He concludes, “Billy was no rabbit shooter. He was always going for the stag.”

Billy Graham had many opportunities to do other great things – lead universities, lead organizations, and even was encouraged to run for president. But he stuck with his primary mission. Many ministry leaders and pastors I know could easily do something else in life, but they have a sense of call for the mission field God has given them. Focus right where you are on the mission God has given you.

Live With Realistic Optimism

Everyone knows that a leader’s optimism can help carry a team or an organization to high levels. Billy didn’t claim to be the most enthusiastic person in the world. In fact, he had a couple nicknames given to him by family and close friends that might even indicate he was naturally bent toward seeing the downside of things. However, he had a vital optimism. He didn’t live in the fantasy that nothing tragic ever happened. He firmly believed that tragedy never has the last word. The best is yet to come. His optimism didn’t skirt the reality of horrible things in our world, but pointed to an even greater reality – God specializes in redeeming.

Dream Big

Harry Truman was quoted saying, “Make no little plans. Make the biggest plan you can think of.” Billy Graham was known by his team for being in the middle of new initiatives and launches. He was willing to think big. It’s been said that the reason so many dreams of starting something new don’t make it past the dawn of reality is that we are too busy focused on solving current problems. Often, chasing a new dream will help eliminate the problems on which we are so focused. When Graham charted out the beginnings of Christianity Today, there were a few bumps, but he had a dream to begin it and pushed through the tough times for the first few years and beyond. From major crusades, leadership initiatives for pastors in other parts of the world, and developing funds and connections, he dreamed big.

Ignite Other Leaders

Billy was a good listener, encourager and helped open the space for leaders to work and serve in ministry. In one conversation, he encouraged a young leader to stay focused on the main thing, and not give too much concern to secondary issues.  Billy had lots of influence igniting hundreds of people through invitations and messages at crusades. But it might be said that his influence really grew when, through careful selection, he made a deep impact on the lives of a few people close to him.  He ignited leaders through mentoring and kindness and he did it for the long term. Someone once said that a spiritual director remembers your song long after you’ve forgotten it.  The final test of a leader is if he leaves behind in others the conviction and the will to carry on.


“When wealth is lost, nothing is lost.  When health is lost, something is lost.  When character is lost, everything is lost.” 

“I want to lobby for God.”

“Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything.”

“I have read the last page of the Bible.  It’s all going to turn out all right.”

“There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches.  The wrong comes when riches possess men.”

“God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with.”

“The test of a preacher is that his congregation goes away saying not, “What a lovely sermon!” but, “I will do something.”

“Courage is contagious: When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are stiffened.”

“Mountaintops are for views and inspiration, but fruit is grown in the valleys.”

“Comfort and prosperity have never enriched the world as much as adversity has.”

“God measures people by the small dimensions of humility and not by the bigness of their achievements or the size of their capabilities.”

“Prayer is not just asking. It is listening for God’s orders.”

“Tears shed for self are tears of weakness, but tears shed for others are a sign of strength.”

“The men who followed Jesus were unique in their generation.  They turned the world upside down because their hearts had been turned right side up.”

“The most eloquent prayer is the prayer through hands that heal and bless.”

“In God’s economy, a person must go down into the valley of grief before he or she can scale the heights of spiritual glory…..One must come to the end of “self” before one can really begin to live.”

“Unless the soul is fed and exercised daily, it becomes weak and shriveled.  It remains discontented, confused, restless.”

“I am selling the greatest product in the world.  Why shouldn’t it be promoted as well as soap?”


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