The political cauldron is beginning to boil. Presidential and congressional candidates are in full campaign mode.

Each candidate tries to persuade us they can guide us through the multiple storms of the pandemic, social unrest, climate crisis and economic recovery. Some cite their business success and financial achievements. Others tout their political experience. But the most important element for effective leadership might be the most difficult to discern. In his book, “Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win,” Fred Kiel concluded the most important trait for successful leadership is character.

According to the Harvard Business Review, “In this groundbreaking book, respected leadership researcher, adviser, and author Fred Kiel offers evidence-solid data that demonstrates the connection between character, leadership excellence, and organizational results.”

Kiel identifies four basic traits that set effective leaders apart: integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. Leaders with character tell the truth and own up to their mistakes. Most importantly, they care about people.

By contrast, those with weak character demonstrate a negative view of human nature. Their behavior is fear based.

“They assume that they know better than anybody else what people should be doing. They’re judgmental, quick to place blame on others.”

The positive and negative traits identified by Fred Kiel are consistent with the Bible. Among the negative “deeds of the flesh,” the Bible lists “enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions.” The positive fruits of the Spirit are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5:19-23).

In 1908, Leo Tolstoy identified Abraham Lincoln’s greatness when he wrote, “Why was Lincoln so great that he overshadows all other national heroes? He really wasn’t a great general like Napoleon or Washington; he wasn’t such a skillful statesman as Gladstone or Frederick the Great; but his supremacy expresses itself altogether in his peculiar moral power and in the greatness of his character.”

King David had his flaws. His shortcomings are clearly laid out in Scripture. But he remains one of the great leaders of history. The Bible says of David, “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” (Psalm 78:70-72).

The way forward through this painful and challenging year will ultimately be determined by the character of our leaders, our nation and ourselves. As the Scripture says, “We know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts” (Romans 5:3-5).

Bill Tinsley reflects on current events and life experience from a faith perspective. Visit Email

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