The unfortunate truth is that you don’t need character to be a leader.
Our world is filled with skilled and influential leaders who won’t hesitate to take shortcuts that sacrifice their integrity in order to get to the top. “Nice guys finish last” is their mantra. “If you want to get to the top, you can’t play nice,” they’ll quip.
These leaders may have the talents and determination to be highly successful, but with a lack of character their legacy will be tarnished as they leave a trail of destruction in their path towards the success they achieve.
They’re successful, sure, but at what cost?
Let’s not be so fooled by the allure of success in the form of money, power, and prestige that we sacrifice our values and integrity to achieve it.
Few things are as dangerous as a highly influential leader who holds a great amount of influence but lacks character and maturity.
These individuals may be leaders, but they’re not leaders worth following.
Placing Character At The Heart of Leadership
What makes a leader worth following is character. Andy Stanley, in his book “Next Generation Leader,” defines character like this:
Character is the will to do what’s right even when it’s hard.
You don’t need character to lead, but it’s a must-have if you want to be a leader worth following.
Leaders worth following are as successful, if not more, in their inner life as they are in their outer life. When our search for success in the world outpaces our inner maturity level, that’s when we run into moral and ethical dilemmas. That’s when we sacrifice our integrity to get a step ahead. And that’s how the mighty eventually fall.
It takes maturity to lead well and sustainably. It takes maturity to be able to say no to opportunities that infringe on our convictions and values, despite how “life-changing” the opportunities may be.
And the truth is, that by saying no to opportunities of a life time in order to remain authentic and true to your character, you actually build influence and trust with those who have chosen to follow you. By saying no to opportunities that would damage your integrity that most people would say yes to, you’re demonstrating that you are a leader of character, a leader worth following.
When character is at the heart of your leadership practice, you set yourself apart from all other leaders. It shows that you are guided by a set of principles and values that are deeper than just achieving worldly success. It shows you are not willing to take shortcuts or sacrifice people for short-term benefits at the cost of eternal impact. And as such, you gain true power and influence.
Don’t be fooled - there is a cost to leadership. There are sacrifices you must be willing to make. But the rewards are worth it.
3 Keys To Becoming a Leader Worth Following
Key #1: Courage
It takes a great amount of courage to become a leader worth following. We are constantly faced with tough decisions, moments that pit us between two choices: to sacrifice what we stand for and infringe on what is right to create forward momentum, or to sacrifice forward moment to do what is right.
In our minds we may be thinking, “it’s just one time. If I sacrifice a little now, I promise to make up for it later. This is the way everyone is pushing me to go, and I’ll cause a lot less friction and disturbance if I just go with the flow. What’s the harm?”
It’s a tempting plea. One that I’ve fallen victim to numerous times. But every time we give into that voice that convinces us to sacrifice what is right in order to get ahead, no matter how small it may seem, corrodes our character.
Having faith and persistence to do what is right in the small stuff leads us to being able to continue to do what is right in the big stuff. Sacrifice on the small stuff, and you will sacrifice on the big stuff.
It requires courage to make choices that remain aligned to your convictions. Having the courage to stand up for what you believe, no matter the cost, is what makes you a leader worth following.
Key #2: Conviction
If character is doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do—no matter the cost—we must have a absolute standard of right and wrong that we base our decisions on.
Too often we rationalize our choices based on the circumstances and environments we’re in. There are choices we make in one environment that we’d never fathom making in another. To carry yourself with this moral relativism is damaging to your character and weakens your leadership. Leaders worth following don’t base their decisions on their emotions, desires, or experiences, but rather by an absolute standard of right and wrong.
Leaders worth following stand with conviction that they are not the creators of what is right and wrong, nor are they the ultimate judge of their decisions. As a result, the are convicted to a set of non-negotiables that, despite the pressure put on them, they will not sacrifice.
This conviction may stop your forward momentum at times. Your desire to want to progress and rise further to the top may need to take a backseat to doing the right thing. It isn’t always easy, but that’s what makes you a leader worth following, for what good is it to gain the world but lose your soul?
Key #3: Consistency
The last key to being a leader worth following is consistency. How often do you come across a leader who acts one way professionally, and a completely different way personally?
You may subscribe to the idea that what you do in your personal life is no one else’s business, and that it shouldn’t effect your professional standing. But regardless of how much you try to separate the two, if there is any inconsistency between the values you preach and the values you practice you will be questioned as to whether or not you are a leader worth following.
How you lead in one area should be how you lead in all areas. There should not be compartmentalizing. The way you lead your business is how you should lead your family, and how you should lead yourself. When there is consistency, people take notice and realize you’re the real deal, and not just some faux leader who talks out of both sides of their mouth.
People should not have to question which version of you will show up. They should be able to watch you at any moment in your day and have a clear understanding of the person you are.
Consistency builds trust. Inconsistency erodes trust and hampers your ability to lead.
Be A Leader Worth Following
Can you identify areas in your life where your character may be called into question? Where you are sacrificing your values to get ahead or maybe even to stay afloat?
It takes a lot of courage and maturity to be a leader worth following. This is why so many leaders in our world today seem to lack integrity and character, leaders who are sacrificing what is right in order to fill their own pockets and provide themselves with greater security. They are short on courage, conviction, and consistency.
We may be able to look at these leaders and accurately recognize their lack of character, but don’t get so caught up looking outward that you forget to look at your own inner life in order to recognize where you may also be falling short.
The most effective way, I believe, to get the leaders we deserve is to be the leader we deserve. By going first. By becoming a leader worth following.
It starts with us.
Be a leader worth following. The rest will work itself out.