By Bob Peters

Have you ever held more than one job been a member of more than one church, attended more than one Bible study, or joined more than one club? If you have, chances are you’ve observed more than one style of leadership. No one leadership style is best; any style gives you the potential to lead successfully.

You may have noticed a link between a particular style of leadership ad personality type. Understanding your type can help you identify your natural style of leadership.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s take a look at the four basic temperaments described as far back as the writings of Hippocrates. The choleric, sanguine, phlegmatic, and melancholy temperaments each have obvious strengths as well as weaknesses. As you consider your leadership style by understanding your temperament you will be able to concentrate on your strengths while becoming aware of potential weaknesses.

Paul Choleric: “Do It Now”

A leader with this temperament is often goal oriented. He or she acts quickly, gets things done, is confrontive, delegates work, and is well organized. A choleric often feels a compulsive need for change and has a strong desire to “right wrongs.” Strong-willed and decisive, unemotional, and difficult to discourage, this type exudes confidence and believes he can run anything.

After his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, Paul understood what his mission was and dedicated his life to it. He felt passionately about it, as we can read in Scripture. He didn’t hesitate to confront the churches and their leadership. He insisted on change, and he had very little patience with those unwilling to accept the truth
(Ro. 6:15-18).

A business acquaintance whom I’ll call John is another “do it now” leader. In a recent conversation he said, “I’m not stubborn or ornery, just strong-willed.” His idea of relaxation is planning his next major project. John’s strong desire to move quickly on things is frustrated time and again by the bureaucracy of the city government with which he works. This environment gives him plenty of opportunity to practice patience.

A results-oriented, “do it now” leader can be tough on people. He has little tolerance for mistakes and can often rationalize his actions with the belief that the end justifies the means. The people oriented sanguine, the next leadership style we will discuss, complements this leadership style.

We read in Acts 13:2 that the Holy Spirit gave choleric Paul a sanguine partner-Barnabas- to help him with the ministry.

There are other sanguine characters in the Bible, but perhaps no one typified this temperament more than the Apostle Peter.

Peter Sanguine: “Trust Me”

The energy and enthusiasm of sanguines inspire others to “join in.” Sanguines often volunteer for jobs, charm others to help, and are busy thinking up new activities. They are excellent networkers. Because of their strong desire to feel necessary, they like to have a vote before major decisions are made. If you want to see someone with this temperament shine, you’ll tell a sanguine you couldn’t have done the task without his or her help. Sanguines are “limelighters” who crave social recognition. Freedom of speech and freedom from control and detail work rank high on the sanguine’s list.

Peter certainly fits here. He had an appealing personality that was good on stage. In Acts 4 we see him make his case before the Sanhedrin without wavering: “Salvation is found in no one else” (v. 12). In the courtroom that day Peter created an excitement and enthusiasm for the gospel that remained with him throughout his ministry.

Temperament is easily discernible from a child’s early days. My two-year-old daughter, Leah, is sanguine like her mother. We have photographs of more than fifty friends and relatives on the refrigerator. On a good day she can name them all! Her disposition pulls people close to her. She always has something on her mind she’s convinced you need to know. Even as she lays her head on the pillow at the end of the day, her prayers to “Father Heaven” are a listing of the people she knows and loves.

Where does a “trust me” leader need help? Too often he or she can be controlled by circumstances. Peter was quick to respond to Jesus’ question in Lk. 9:20, Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, the Christ.” Yet, after Jesus was taken captive, Peter denied even knowing Him… three times. The same man who eagerly acknowledged Jesus’ lordship now denied even their friendship.

The sanguine temperament is easily distracted, struggles with follow-through, and because of a generally impulsive nature often gets priorities out of order. A real balance for Peter would be someone like Moses.

Moses Melancholy: “Do It Right”

The melancholy temperament thrives on detail, is persistent, thorough, orderly, and organized. When a melancholy sees a problem he’ll work to find a creative solution, strive to keep it on schedule, and finish what he starts. Although he tends to function best as part of a team, he usually prefers to participate as an individual contributor within that context. He also tends to be cautious about change and will ask numerous questions to make sure he understands.

A melancholy often chooses difficult work (imagine leading the Israelites to “a land flowing with milk and honey” without a map!) and can be hesitant to start a project for fear of doing it “wrong.” Moses continued to question God’s commission at the burning bush. To encourage him to take on the challenge, God provided help through a skilled orator, Aaron (sanguine).

One of the most successful business people I have worked with had a melancholy temperament. He was a database administrator. Talk about a match made in Heaven! Jim (not his real name) was meticulous in his pursuit of system perfection, and it showed. However, this strength would often cause delays with long-term assignments. Jim constantly struggled with work that didn’t meet his standard. He overcame that by surrounding himself with people who could drive the project to keep it on schedule.

One area of difficulty for the melancholy temperament is a tendency to overemphasize the negatives. This can easily lead to depression and a low self-image that may lead, when combined with high standards and a desire to succeed, to “paralysis by analysis.” Moses typified this unwillingness to move until he was satisfied with God’s responses to his questions.

Nehemiah Phlegmatic: “Status Quo”

The motto of the phlegmatic may well be, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it!” The phlegmatic has great administrative ability, is good under pressure, mediates problems well, and is patient, competent, and steady. This “even keel” mentality often seeks the easy way to accomplish an objective agreeably and peacefully. Phlegmatics are team players with a capital “T,” and they seek agreement through group decision making. When Nehemiah was faced with the overwhelming task of rebuilding the wall, he relied heavily on his administrative and organizational skills. In only fifty-two days he was able to link the people with the plan to accomplish the objective.

Someone whose leadership style is an interesting comparison with Nehemiah’s, though he is the same temperament, is Abraham. In Genesis 24, as Abraham communicates instructions to his servant, he shows his concern not only for the end result but for the process. In Gen. 24:1-8 Abraham offers specific instructions as well as a number of options should the original plan not work.

A coworker, whom I’ll call Steve, has all the characteristics of a phlegmatic temperament. I’ve never met anyone who can be as cool under pressure as he can. However, Steve’s tendency to “tread water” for days can cause a great deal of frustration for subordinates who are waiting for a decision from him. The way for Steve and other phlegmatics to get around this tendency is to delegate whenever appropriate and use a group decision-making process as often as possible.

Phlegmatic leaders often desire to work alone, not letting others into the process. They also internalize issues they’re struggling with. If you can possibly avoid it, don’t ask a phlegmatic for an immediate response, since he needs plenty of processing time.

The Ideal Team

Of the four types we’ve looked at, whom would you like to see on the building committee at your church?

(The above material was published by the DISCIPLESHIP JOURNAL, 1993)

Christian Information Network


Each of the four temperaments has inherent strengths and weaknesses. After reading the descriptions below, which temperament do you think most closely describes you?

Paul Choleric: “Do It Now”

* Goal Oriented
* Dynamic
* Independent
* Acts quickly
* Stimulated activity
* Delegates work
* Little tolerance for mistakes
* Demanding of others
* End justifies the means

Peter Sanguine: “Trust Me”

* Inspires others
* Life of the party
* Sincere
* Energetic
* Creative/Colorful
* Charming
* Undisciplined
* Decides by feelings
* Easily distracted

Moses Melancholy: “Do It Right”

* Detail conscious
* Schedule oriented
* Persistent
* Orderly
* Thorough
* Need to finish/have closure
* Perfectionistic
* Hard to please
* Prefers analysis to work

Nehemiah Phlegmatic: “Status Quo”

* Competent
* Steady
* Mediator
* Easygoing
* Good under pressure
* Sympathetic
* Overly cautious
* Resists change
* Resents being pushed