Leading from the Heart: 15 Character Traits of a 21st Century Leader

It was an honor to speak at this morning’s Presidents’ Breakfast at North Georgia College & State University, with student leadership from almost 50 campus organizations, faculty sponsors, and Student Services staff.

I shared a presentation I developed to honor President Emeritus Dr. David Potter upon his retirement last year. At the time, I was searching for a book on leadership that adequately described the kind of leadership Dr. Potter exemplified during his tenure at North Georgia. I, of course, considered The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by best-selling author (and my wife’s former employer) John C. Maxwell – always a favorite, but I was looking for something that mirrored Dr. Potter’s leadership style more directly.

If you search for “leadership” at Amazon.com, you’ll get north of 73,000 book results. Only about 1,000 of those were published before 1950. I decided to use a pre-1950 text after hearing a talk from Andy Stanley with a list of 15 characteristics we’re all looking for in our leaders and that we strive to achieve in our own leadership.

Here are those 15 character traits:

  1. A leader is patient. He is not passive, but gives people the time to do things right.
  2. A leader is kind. She is considerate.
  3. A leader is not jealous. He celebrates everyone’s victories.
  4. A leader is not boastful. She shares the credit.
  5. A leader is not vain. He values others.
  6. A leader does not dishonor others. She treats everyone with respect.
  7. A leader is not self-seeking. He builds up the people around him.
  8. A leader is not easily angered. She creates a safe fail and try again zone.
  9. A leader keeps no record of wrongs. He forgives.
  10. A leader does not delight in evil. She strives for the greater good.
  11. A leader rejoices in the truth. He is transparent.
  12. A leader protects. She stands up for what is right, the organization, her team, and herself.
  13. A leader trusts. He believes in his people.
  14. A leader hopes. She does not give in to negativity.
  15. A leader perseveres. He keeps moving forward.

Many of you will recognize the source material: 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. This list of characteristics was written around 57 AD. Then why do these traits so accurately describe the characteristics of an effective leader in the 21st century?

Because the author wasn’t writing about leadership specifically, but about something even more powerful: Love.

Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love is not jealous.
Love is not boastful.
Love is not vain.
Love does not dishonor others.
Love is not self-seeking.
Love is not easily angered.
Love keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil.
Love rejoices in the truth.
Love protects.
Love trusts.
Love hopes.
Love perseveres.

So, why do these characteristics sound so much like a leader we’d like to work for, or a leader we’d like to be?

I believe it’s because of the following:

A leader who loves

  • the job he’s doing
  • his organization
  • the people he works with

leads from the heart.

That’s the kind of leader we need in the 21st century, and that’s the kind of leader I challenge you to be.

Leading from the Heart [PDF]

Handouts [PDF – four to a page]

About Bryson Payne

Author of Teach Your Kids to Code, Speaker, and Professor of Computer Science at the University of North Georgia.

View all posts by Bryson Payne

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