Skip to content

Character is Most Needed Indispensable Leadership Quality

By David Burton, University of Missouri Extension

Visit any bookstore and you will find shelves of books on leadership with catchy titles and big promises. According to David Burton a county engagement and community development specialist with University of Missouri Extension, a good place to start is with “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader” by John C. Maxwell.

“One reason I like it is that Maxwell and I both think the most indispensable leadership quality, and the one most lacking in our culture today, is character,” said Burton.

Someone once defined character as “what you do when no one is watching.” 

“A person does not need to search the headlines long to see examples of lapses in character among leaders,” said Burton.

A few examples this week include: people willing to lie for a job, employees accepting money for work not done, false stories to gain fame and breaking the rules to gain an advantage. 

According to Burton, there are four important things to know about character. 

First, character is more than just talk. Anyone can say they have integrity but only action is the real indicator of character. 

“Ultimately, your character determines what you see and what you do and it is impossible to separate your character from your actions,” said Burton.

Second, character is a choice while talent is a gift. We cannot choose our parents, select the circumstances of our upbringing or even pick our IQ. 

“We do create our character every time we make choices to cop out or to dig in, to bend the truth or stand under the weight of it,” said Burton.

Third, character will bring lasting success with people. Followers do no trust a leader whose character they know is flawed. 

“At times, our culture seems to be struggling to recognize what strong character looks like or involves,” said Burton. “But strong character brings success and it might even change how you measure success.”

Fourth, leaders cannot rise above the limitations of their character. Highly talented people can fall apart because of their lack of character. 

“People with character flaws are destined for one or more of the four A’s: arrogance, feelings of aloneness, destructive adventure-seeking or adultery,” said Burton.

Few people in the last half century have changed as many lives as John Maxwell. Burton believes his book, “The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader,” can make a positive change in a person’s leadership direction if they will give it at least 21 days.

“Maxwell notes in his book that everything rises and falls on leadership. The challenge is that leadership develops from the inside out. If you can become the leader you ought to be on the inside, you will be able to become the leader you want to be on the outside,” said Burton.

For more information, contact a MU Extension community development specialists working in southwest Missouri:  Pam Duitsman in Christian County, (417) 581-3558; David Burton in Greene County, (417) 881-8909 or Maria E. Rodriguez-Alcalá in Jasper County at (417) 358-2158.