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The essential quality of leadership is good character.

“He who walks with integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will become known.”
(Proverbs 10:9 NKJV)

“Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but whoever takes crooked paths will be found out.” (Proverbs 10:9 NIV)

It doesn’t matter how intelligent, capable, or successful a leader is. Over time they will lose influence if they lack integrity. In fact, when a leader’s talent rises above their character is the fastest way to lose influence.

When leadership character is talked about, we very quickly come to the trust issue. If people don’t trust the leader, they won’t follow them, at least not for long. Good character doesn’t mean mistakes won’t be made, but it does mean people can trust your heart.

Being perfect isn’t expected in good leadership. You must be trustworthy, not perfect. When the Lord spoke to Solomon on this issue, He gave helpful insight.

Perfection wasn’t and isn’t required, but a heart of integrity is.

“Now if you walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, “You shall not fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.” (1 Kings 9:4,5)

“Upright” is the English equivalent most often used for the Hebrew yasar [r;v “y]. Literally, yasar [r;v “y] pertains to that which is vertically erect ( Gen 37:7; Exod 36:20 ) or horizontally level or smooth ( Isa 26:7 ). It also means straight ( Isa 40:3 ) or evenly distributed ( 1 Ki 6:35 ). Application in theological settings brings to mind the notions of unchanging standards, correctness, genuineness, and forthrightness. From the beginning of the relationship between Israel and God, his nature is reflected as truthful and faithful. Uprightness is a further moral aspect to Israel’s perception of God’s holy character. Note the coinciding themes in Moses’ summary hymn of praise: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” ( Deu 32:4 ). Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology.

Reading about David shows us he was human and was not perfect. But he possessed integrity of heart. Good character allows for human imperfection, but not a constant life of dishonesty, putting self before others, along with the lack of confession and a contrite heart.

Seven useful marks of good character that help me live above reproach:

1. I live by the same standards that I expect of others.

Leaders often become under pressure, short on time, and face many demands. That’s when temptation can increase. One of those temptations is cutting corners and lowering standards, and it quickly erodes character.

Good character requires that you practice the same lifestyle that you expect of others.

2. What I do when no one is looking is what pleases the Lord.

Dan Reiland wrote A person’s character is never any better than their secrets. Your secrets slowly consume your soul, erode your character, and in time are exposed.

On the other hand, your character is developed when you purposefully live to please God during the moments when the only one who sees and knows is the Lord.

3. Those who know me best trust me the most.

One of the greatest compliments on your character will come from family and close friends who see you up close. For example, my wife’s opinion of my character is of utmost importance. No one knows me better than she. I know I’m living the best life if she fully trusts me and is pleased with my integrity.

4. I keep my promises.

The bond of a leader is his or her word. It’s vital that you do what you said you would do. It could be as simple as returning a phone call or something as big as attending a particular activity for one of your kids.

Leaders who keep promises are ones with good character.

5. I am fiercely committed to honesty.

Everyone is tempted to overstate something, leave out a part of the story, or perhaps even tell a lie. But a leader should never drop his or her standards in telling the truth.

Part of our sin nature is the potential to be dishonest; therefore, we must purposefully practice truth-telling with diligence. I recommend that you allow your prayer or accountability partner to have access to your life, inside and out, so that you can stay current in your commitment to honesty.

6. My heart is sensitive to the prompts of the Holy Spirit.

You can count on the Holy Spirit to guide you in the moment; nothing is too small regarding character development. Even in “little” things, the problem with disobedience is that it slowly callouses your heart. You become less receptive to those prompts over time.

The prompt might be a reminder about kindness to your spouse, generosity to a person in need, or communicating the truth in love to a staff member or fellow worker. It might be to stop gossiping or pray for the people who think you do.

The point is to receive those prompts as a gift from God and respond to them to the best of your ability.

7. I depend upon the Lord for strength when and where I am weak.

Good character is not a legalistic practice. Grace does not evaporate when it comes to character. The Lord knows all the places where we are weak and need strength.

Therefore, we need His help. Your reliance upon the Lord rather than dependence upon yourself makes all the difference to having good character. You must exercise discipline, willpower, and personal fortitude, but God’s power is available to help you! Ask!

Written by Stan Ponz
Dr. Stan Ponz is founder and president of Make It Clear Ministries (a national ministry that began in 1973 to help people take the Gospel and the Word of God into every person's world!). Stan also serves as President of Clarity Christian College. and is married to his high school sweetheart Carol, who led him to the Lord in 1966.