I was asked a simple yet powerful question the other day: what makes a leader truly successful?

Effective leaders let others make decisions, they give away all the credit to the team, and they accept the blame regardless of if it was their fault.  They have clarity of vision and courage in action.  Knowing others will replicate what they say and do, they model the defining values of the organization.  They are mission-makers, culture-creators, and team-builders.  They care deeply about the mission and the team they lead.  They are strong communicators.   They ask a lot of good questions.  They surround themselves with truth-tellers.  Their teams have strengths they lack.

They feel it is their responsibility to help others excel.  They pour their knowledge and experience into others.  They coach and mentor.  They help others identify and optimize their strengths.  They coach to aid in improvement and bring out the best in their team.  They are ambitious for others.  When others they have helped win, it is their greatest victory.

Leaders believe that solving the problems and meeting the needs of others are their calling.  They assume the burdens of making tough and sometimes unpopular decisions.  They do not hide from their duties.  They are pro-active in addressing issues.

Experience helps but having the most years on the job does not produce our best leaders.  Degrees and credentials do not define the most influential leaders.  Magnetism and charm do not explain our most productive leaders.  Being the brightest person in the room does not make one a highly gifted leader.

It all comes down to character.  Integrity, compassion, competence, hard work, courage, responsibility, and selflessness account for the leaders who have profoundly positive impacts on organizations and people.  The have the willingness to listen and treat everyone with respect.    They are honest with others and themselves.

Leadership debacles are always character failures.  When we review all the scandals in business, government, and the non-profit sector, it always tracks back to character.  Conversely, the strength of character accounts for success in leadership both in times of prosperity and crisis.

The skills and subjects leaders need to have and know must be taught.  However, as Pastor Karl Flagg once noted, best practices can never replace the best people.  Organizations would be wise to recruit, hire, onboard, train, evaluate, and promote for character.  A bad hire today may be the unethical supervisor of tomorrow.  The character of leaders becomes the culture of organizations.  A highly respected Fire Chief in our region calls it character-based hiring and it works.  To answer the question which kicked off this column, it is integrity which ensures why and how leaders persuade teams to attempt challenging missions and produce record results.