The Foundation of Leadership Is Character, Not Charisma


Plenty of highly charismatic leaders have bombed out and failed because they lacked character, which trumps charisma every time. You don’t have to have charisma to be a leader.  You do have to have character, credibility, because leadership is influence and if you don’t have credibility nobody is going to follow you.

While your reputation is about what people say you are, character is who you really are.  D. L. Moody said, “Character is what you are in the dark when nobody is looking.”  In Timothy 3:1-13, Paul lays out the necessary characteristics for church leadership.  He never addresses having a robust resume, having gone to the right seminary, or having a magnetic public persona. He talks about character traits.

Leaders come in all shapes, sizes, and temperaments. There is no one particular leadership personality. In fact, there are many. You don’t have to be outgoing to be a leader. God wants to use your personality. Paul was a choleric.  Peter was a sanguine.  Moses was a melancholic. Abraham was a phlegmatic.  They are as different as night and day.  God used them all.

The fact is you will burn out if you try to imitate somebody else’s personality.  If you want to be a leader, don’t say, “I want to be like…” and pick a model.  If you try to imitate their personality, you will most likely burn out.  All leaders are very different, there is great diversity.  What great leaders do have in common is credibility and character. All great leaders have character.  Sometimes a person gets into leadership without character and then those character flaws cause their downfall.

Hebrews 13:7-8 “Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you.  Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”  This passage gives us three characteristics of good leaders:

  • They have a message worth remembering.  When they talk, people listen.  “Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you.”  Evidently, there is something worth remembering there.
  • They have a lifestyle worth considering.  “Consider the outcome of their way of life.”  Does their walk match their talk? Does their life match what they say they are?
  • They have a faith worth imitating.  “Imitate their faith.”

If you want to be a good leader, you need to develop a message worth remembering (Do I understand and articulate the gospel clearly? What is my life message?  What does God want to say to the world through me?), have a lifestyle worth considering and have a faith worth imitating.  That’s all character.

photo credit: Saint Huck

Share With Your Friends…

Clip to Evernote
Send to Kindle
Print Friendly and PDF

Rick Warren About Rick Warren

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times bestseller The Purpose Driven Life. His book, The Purpose Driven Church, was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

  • Pingback: Rick Warren: Character Is the Foundation of Leadership. | Rivers of Hope

  • Rev. Jack Mance

    Speaking of having a message worth remembering, what sermon recording software do you personally use. SermonAudio looks stout, but sort of outdated and iphone apps like TheAmbassadorApp look cool but aren’t live yet. Anyone have that perfect sermon recorder?

  • James David Burgoon
  • Claire Burkhardt

    I would like to add to the discussion, something that I appreciated in a recent sermon of Pastor Warren’s about a Christian’s good character including being considerate and respectful of others. While a good leader doesn’t act based on “reputation” and what others will think, they do not take an arrogant stand as though they could care less what any one else thinks. They are respectful and seek to learn from others from a humble position of serving.

  • James Lewis

    Hiring people with good character is critical to ones leadership as well.

  • Brian H. Littleton

    Getting “real” and being grounded in the Word

  • Ginklestinker

    It is clear from the above verses that Christian leaders should lead by example and not by compulsion. The extent to which anyone is purpose orientated, to that extent he/she is displaying evidence of leadership. Not all leadership is good. Some of the greatest leaders in history have led the people to destruction. The direction is what matters most.

  • PM Hut

    Hi Rick,

    I’m surprised you have omitted consistency as a leadership characteristic. Consistency is extremely important.

    PS: This post reminds me of a very old post we have published, you can find it here: (yes – I know, it doesn’t have consistency as well!)

  • DaveO

    I could not agree more! The book Lead Like Jesus, by Ken Blanchard, also makes this the number one major theme, and is very well done. I recommend it highly.

  • Sandy

    A recent book by Gregg T. Johnson, How the Mighty have fallen addresses this topic with contemporary examples and the word of God. Good read and i recommend it. We can’t get enough of these books and articles thank you Pastor Warren

Receive Rick Warren's Weekly Toolbox Newsletter for FREE!

Like the content you see at Why not receive it weekly in your inbox, plus bonus material too. It's free!

  • Weekly wisdom from Pastor Rick Warren.
  • Helpful articles on every aspect of church leadership.
  • Practical insights to move you forward.
  • Occasional subscriber-only freebies.
Close This!

BONUS! Subscribe now and receive the free eBook, 7 Keys to An Effective Ministry, by Rick Warren.

We hate spam too, and will never sell your email or send you unwanted stuff.