The political pot is already simmering, even though we won’t go to the polls to elect a new President for more than a year. Presidential hopefuls continue to jockey for position as pollsters and pundits assess the field.
Each candidate tries to persuade us they can guide our nation through the complex waters looming ahead. Some cite their business success and financial achievement. Others tout their political experience. But the most important element for effective leadership might be the most difficult to discern.
In his recent book, Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win, Fred Kiel concluded that the most important trait for successful leadership is character.
According to the Harvard Business Review, “Now, in this groundbreaking book, respected leadership researcher, adviser, and author Fred Kiel offers that evidence-solid data that demonstrates the connection between character, leadership excellence, and organizational results.”
Kiel identifies four basic traits that set effective leaders apart: integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. Leaders with character tell the truth and own up to their mistakes. Most importantly, they care about people.
By contrast, those with weak character demonstrate a negative view of human nature. Their behavior is fear based. “They assume that they know better than anybody else what people should be doing.” They are judgmental, quick to place blame on others.
The positive and negative traits identified by Fred Kiel are consistent with the Bible. Among the negative “deeds of the flesh,” the Bible lists “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions.” The positive fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:19-23). Proverbs says, “He who walks in integrity walks securely, but he who perverts his ways will be found out.” (Proverbs 10:9).
In 1908, Leo Tolstoy identified Abraham Lincoln’s greatness when wrote, “Why was Lincoln so great that he over-shadows all other national heroes? He really was not a great general like Napoleon or Wahington; he was not such a skillful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character.”
King David had his flaws. His shortcomings are clearly laid out in Scripture. But He remains one of the great leaders of history. The Bible says of David, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them. (Psalm 78:70-72).
For each of us, and especially for our leaders, the path to a prosperous future is always the path of integrity, honesty, compassion and forgiveness.