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David Ingram insightfully wrote, "Leadership acts as the catalyst that makes all other elements work together in an organization; without leadership, all other business resources lie dormant." Given its' importance, the characteristics of a good leader have long been subject to debate, speculation and opinion. The discussion normally centers on issues of capacity (skills) and commitment (intention and effort). But research finds that followers and organizations want and need more than capacity and commitment-they also want and need their leaders to demonstrate character. Leaders need to give appropriate and balanced attention to capacity, commitment, and character when defining and executing their roles.

Here are character traits research suggests leaders should aspire to embrace and demonstrate. Where do you rate on each?

  1. Personal Integrity: having consistency between values, words, and behavior.
  2. Ethics: can distinguish between right and wrong, willing to face ethical dilemmas, and holds themselves and others accountable to high standards of professional and organizational ethics.
  3. Openness: openly shares pertinent information with others in the organization, makes their thinking available, and encourages broad participation in decisions and actions.
  4. Organizational Integrity: implements a system of checks and balances to enforce the ethical standards and policies of the organization.
  5. Courage: holds the organization accountable for doing what it says it is going to do and what it should do.
  6. Power: takes an equitable, fair, and responsible approach to the use of power.
  7. Humility: represents contributions accurately, accepts praise graciously, and shows sincere appreciation to others.
  8. Gratitude: shows others sincere personal appreciation for their contributions to the organization.
  9. Forgiveness: while holding people accountable, they are also willing to forgive and move forward without retribution.

General Norman Schwarzkopf believed "Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy." In reviewing this list, do you have the character to lead?


Grahek, M. S., Thompson, A. D., & Toliver, A. (2010). The character to lead: A closer look at character in leadership. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice And Research, 62(4), 270-290.

Ingram, D. (2016). The Importance of Leadership in Business.


Larry Hart

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