One of my alumni observed this about leadership the other day and it is absolutely true. Leadership really comes down to character.

In the end, the successful leader is not the most knowledgeable or charismatic. The effective leader does not have the longest tenure or resume or most credentials. None of these qualities – in the absence of integrity – ever produce genuine long-term success for any organization.

Every leadership failure can always be traced to a lack of integrity. The CEOs who are arrogant and never listen so they miss great ideas, sound counsel, or warnings from good employees. The CEOs who are self-absorbed. They are takers not givers so they can never find a talented team who will remain with them. The CEOs who cannot be honest with themselves or others. They deny mistakes, blame others, falsify success, and invite scandal. The CEO who is not competent but still clings to the position putting self before the mission, team, and customers. Their company always underperforms or fails as a result.

Honesty, competence, humility, hard work, sacrifice, compassion, generosity, and empathy. These are all the defining values of successful leaders.

No one follows anyone who they cannot trust. No one stays on a team when it’s all about you. The mission and team are ignored with a leader who makes it all about him or her. The mission and team should be at the center of everything our leaders do.

The character of the leader becomes the culture of the organization. It will outlast the tenure of the leader.

Decades later, the culture of an organization is perfectly predictable by the character of a founding or long serving CEO – absent the intervention of a transformative leader to positively change it. For example, if the first or long serving CEO was a micromanager, micromanagement will be the culture of the company decades later even after his or her retirement. Their personal insecurity is expressed through the dominant model becoming micromanagement which then erodes trust, performance, retention, efficiency, and productivity.

Values explain successful leadership. Character becomes culture. Companies excel or crumble on this single defining issue.

Companies will never outperform the character of their leadership. For leaders and all employees, recruit, hire, promote, and retain for character. Treat like it matters more than anything else because in the end, it really does.