Leaders vary by occupation, personality, and style. There’s no specific formula specifying exactly how to lead well. Still, great leaders throughout history share a common set of characteristics. In this article, we would like to fill in the picture of a leader for you—one quality at a time. The four features listed certainly do not represent a comprehensive list. However, if a leader lacks any one of them, then he or she will be limited in an important respect.
Character gives rise to discipline and responsibility. It’s the inward character that enables a person to stand firm. Character is not inherited, nor can it be purchased. It cannot be built instantly, but instead requires years of construction.
Character shows itself in a person’s consistency. Jerry West, former Los Angeles Laker and member of the NBA’s Hall of Fame, once remarked, “You can’t get much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good.” Character gives you the resolve to do what’s important, even when it’s not convenient.
In addition, character brings respect. When you don’t have character within, you won’t have respect without. J.R. Miller once wrote: “The only thing that walks back from the tomb with the mourners and refuses to be buried, is the character of a man…What a man is, survives him. It can never be buried.”
Perspective flows from a leader’s mind and relates to their vision for the future. Perspective brings insight. It allows a leader to see sooner, and to see farther, than others.
What you think depends on where you sit, and where you sit determines what you see. Aware of this fact, leaders realize that they must constantly put themselves in the place of others. A leader can only cast vision insofar as they can understand and relate to another person’s perspective. Great leaders factor in a person’s background, personal values, and stage of life when they communicate. They seek to connect before attempting to convince.
Leadership requires courage—the courage to risk, to reach, to put one’s self on the line. The word courage itself comes from the French word coeur, which means heart. Thus, leaders must have the heart for the task of working with and engaging others. The leader’s heart somehow speaks to the hearts of those around her or him, inspiring and touching them.
Courage is contagious. As Billy Graham says, “When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” Courage is also the power to let go of the familiar. The courageous person follows the motto: “If at first you do succeed, try something harder!” Finally, courage is belief that has been put into action. As Dr. Ashley Montagu wrote, “The only measure of what you believe is what you do. If you want to know what people believe, don’t read what they write, don’t ask what they believe, just observe what they do.”
Favor may be the most mysterious of the four traits, but at its root, favor simply means influence. In particular, favor implies the sort of special relationship that motivates extra effort. For example, if someone “does a favor,” they go beyond what is normally expected. Leaders with favor are treated by others as favorites, that is, they are particularly well-liked, and even loved, by those they lead. Favor comes from skill, especially the skill of connecting with people (charisma).
Favor also results from finding your calling in life. Awareness of one’s calling comes from the following sources.
- Knowledge: I’ve always known that this activity is something I enjoy.
- Focus: I can do nothing else; this is always on my mind.
- Passion: I want to do this; nothing else holds as much interest for me.
- Personhood: This is part of who I am.
- Giftedness: This is something at which I excel.
- Blessing: I have experienced providential help in this activity.
Healthy, effective leadership brings together character, perspective, courage, and favor. Indeed, an absence of any of these qualities limits a person’s influence. Without character, a leader is unstable—prone to moral failure. Without perspective, a leader has no sense of direction. Without courage, a leader cowers at the sight of a big challenge. And without favor, a leader cannot persuade others to take action. Which of the four elements do you have in greatest supply? How has it benefited you?