“In a president, character is everything,” writes Peggy Noonan, speechwriter for both Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. She continued, “A president doesn't have to be brilliant. . . he doesn't have to be clever; you can hire clever. . . You can hire pragmatic, and you can buy and bring in policy wonks. But you cannot buy courage and decency; you can't rent a strong moral sense. A president must bring those things with him.”

What she says of a president is true of any leader regardless of their leadership responsibilities. Leadership character is not optional; it's essential. You dare not lead without it.

If one character trait stands out above the others, it's INTEGRITY. Embrace this one and you embrace many of the others. Integrity is wholeness . . . entireness. . . completeness . . . soundness. It's what personal health is to your body, what 20/20 vision is to your eyes. Integrity has nothing to hide. It's an open book.

Psalm 78:72 says of David, “And David shepherded them (Israel) with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” That's a perfect balance for a leader. David skillfully handled situations that had no rules, no boundaries, no precedence. And in his character, he had a heart of integrity. He wasn't perfect; no leader is. But David was complete, whole, sound.


·         Tells the truth every time, not just when it's convenient.

·         Means what it says and says what it means.

·         Is financially accountable, wise in handling money, especially another's.

·         Is personally reliable; it keeps its promises. When it says, “I'll meet you at 9:00, it's 9:00 not 9:05.

·          Is privately pure. No double life that causes shame and disgrace to the family if known.

“He who walks with integrity and works righteousness, and speaks truth in his heart. . . will never be shaken.” (Psalm15)


What drives your success as a leader? You might think it’s your impressive skills. They are important, but the lack of skills is not what derails many leaders. Skills are too easy to learn.

When leaders fail to thrive, the culprit is often their leadership character, not their lack of skills.

Mark Miller uses the picture of an iceberg to illustrate leadership. 10% of an iceberg is visible above the water and 90% below. Let the part above represent leadership skills, the things leaders do and people see all the time (set the vision, establish goals, plan, resolve conflict). Let the part below, the unseen, represent leadership character, what a leader is on the inside.

90% of a leader’s effectiveness is determined by what’s below the waterline. Leadership character ultimately drives what a leader does and why they do it. It colors everything we do as a leader.

Many leaders spend most of their time and energy developing the 10%. They earn BBA/MBA degrees from prestigious universities, take in leadership seminars, hire professional consultants, whatever it takes to make them successful, good, prosperous in the 10% above the waterline.

Yet, little or no effort is spent developing the 90% of leadership character, who they really are as people. They’re like the man who built a nice house—beautiful, big, comfortable, loaded with luxuries. Foolishly the house was built on beach sand. You’ve heard the story. When the hurricane hit, the house collapsed, the valued client said “no,” the business went bankrupt, key people left the company, a marriage ended, the family fell apart, a life was shattered.

“Character is the ability to meet the demands of reality.” Henry Cloud.

The real stressors of life are not the business issues, but the character issues.

Character always rules


Character is the #1 issue in leadership. Howard Hendricks has said, “The greatest crisis in the world today is a crisis of leadership, and the greatest crisis of leadership is a crisis of character.”

            We see characterless leaders in corporations, like Enron, Andersen, Worldcom

            Characterless leaders in government like Richard Nixon

            Characterless leaders in athletics like Tiger Woods, Johnny Manziel

            Characterless leaders in finances like Bernard Madoff

            Characterless leaders in many marriages and families

            Characterless leaders in big churches and large ministries

These leaders didn’t fail in their competency; they excelled in what they did. They failed in their character. “99% of leadership failures are failures of character,” (General Norman Schwarzkopf.)

Servant leadership is character based. It deals with the heart, the center or inner core of our being from which our thoughts, actions, and habits flow. Servant leaders don’t just act differently. They are being transformed in their inner being which affects their leadership. It’s the inner life that counts.