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5 Things A Leader Worth Following Always Gets Right

The longer I lead and the more I see, the more I’m convinced that character ultimately determines a leader’s true success.

Moral failure takes out more leaders than it should. But real success is deeper than just avoiding the ditch.

So where does the deepest level of leadership success come from? Ultimately it doesn’t come from a leader’s skill set; it comes from a leader’s character.

Your character determines your true capacity.

Why is that?

Character—far more than skill set—determines how deeply and passionately people follow you. A leader with character is a leader worth following.

A leader who lacks integrity may have followers, but he’ll never gain their full trust or their whole hearts.

After all, we all know highly skilled leaders who are never truly embraced; they’re merely tolerated.

Character, more than anything else, draws the hearts of people to your leadership.

The greatest leaders are highly skilled people whom other people love to be around. They’re people others admire, not just because they’re smart, but because they’re the kind of person other people want to become.

Lifetime success ultimately doesn't come from a leader's skill set; it comes from a leader's character. Click To Tweet

So how do you know whether your character passes the test?

The greatest leaders I know navigate the following five things exceptionally well.

Before we get to those points, I’m excited to let you know that Highlands College is hosting a premiere leadership event called Impact Leadership Conference and members of my audience are invited. More details below, but here’s the direct link.

1. Handling Success Better Than They Handle Failure

Often people will ask you how you handled your last failure. And that’s not an entirely bad question.

Knowing how to handle failure well is essential to success in leadership.

But do you know what is harder?

How you handle success.

You would think success wouldn’t be harder, but it is, and I’ve seen far more leaders blow success than I have leaders blow failure.

Failure is, by nature, humiliating. It crushes pride.

Success does the opposite. It naturally inflates a leader’s pride. It’s intoxicating.

It takes both great self-awareness and great self-control to handle success, to not let the reports of your own brilliance or accomplishments go to your head.

The very best leaders remain humble, grounded and even self-deprecating. They don’t claim every perk of office and regularly help people who can’t help them back.

They avoid the gravitational pull of self-focus and, instead, stay focused on the mission before them and before everyone.

The ultimate test of a leader’s character is not failure, it’s success.

The ultimate test of a leader's character is not failure, it's success. Click To Tweet

2. A Willingness To Be Misunderstood

At some point, every leader will be misunderstood.

People will say things about you behind your back (or to your face) that aren’t true. People will judge your motives and get it wrong.

Sometimes you’ll only be allowed to say certain things in public, not because you’re being secretive, but because revealing all the information would make others look bad or would be breaking confidence. So instead, you look bad.

That’s just the territory of leadership.

Leadership is a bit like parenting. You have to do the right thing even if it’s not the popular thing. I’ve been there many times as a leader (and as a parent).

Great leaders have forged enough character to overcome the incessant desire to be liked. (Here are 3 hard but powerful truths about likability and leadership).

They are prepared to be misunderstood for a season, knowing that usually the truth comes out in the end.

And even if the truth doesn’t emerge in a particular instance, great leaders know that the overall track record of their leadership and character will speak for itself over time.

Leadership is like parenting. You have to do the right thing even if it's not the popular thing. Click To Tweet

3. They Have The Same High Standards at Home As at Work

Success is intoxicating. And leadership is rewarding.

People generally do what you ask them to do. Results can be measured. And progress is steady. Sometimes it’s even exponential.

If only it was that easy to home.

Many leaders who are successes at work end up being failures at home, and that’s not success.

Many leaders who are successes at work end up being failures at home, and that's not success. Click To Tweet

Your spouse isn’t impressed with your stats. Your kids don’t care about your awards.

They just need you.

They simply want you.

Too many leaders give their best at work and leave the leftovers for home. The best ones never do.

They pour the same energy and passion into their home life that they pour into their work life.

Too many leaders give their best at work and leave the leftovers for home. The best ones never do. Click To Tweet

4. Their Private Reality Matches Their Public Persona

300 interviews into my leadership podcast (you can subscribe for free here)  one of the top questions I get is “So what is ___________[insert the name of the well-known leader here] really like?”

The surprisingly good news is that most of the time, they’re actually wonderful, kind, humble, fully present and gracious, not to mention insightful.

I love it when someone’s private reality matches or exceeds their public persona.

That’s my hope for me personally too, and what it really boils down to is character.

Character is who you are when the spotlight’s not on you.

The best leaders are the same on stage or in the boardroom as they are in a private meeting.

They’re the same when they’re with one person as they are when they’re with a thousand.

And the truly great ones are the same when absolutely no one is around.

As John Wooden famously said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”

The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching. - John Wooden Click To Tweet

5. A Willingness to Help People Who Can’t Help You Back

If you’re not careful, the more successful you become, the more likely you will be to spend time only with those who can help you get to the next stage of whatever you’re trying to do.

You almost naturally become a social climber.

The greatest leaders will resist this pull. It’s not that, they won’t spend time with other people who are as successful or more successful than they are. It’s that they will still spend time with people who aren’t.

The greatest leaders regularly find time to help people who can’t help them back.

And not just as a charity project…but because it’s just who they are.

They’re not so impressed by themselves that they can’t spend time with people who might not be impressed with them.

They’re not so caught up in what’s next that they can’t spend meaningful time with someone who isn’t on the same journey.

Sure…they’re still strategic with their time, but they have a deep sense of grounding that reminds them that life is indeed about others, not just about them.

The greatest leaders regularly help those who can't return the favor. Click To Tweet

Want to become a leader worth following?

Dr. John Maxwell is definitely a leader so many business and church leaders have followed, and with great reason.

John’s teachings have influenced my leadership profoundly.

John’s hosting the Impact Leadership Conference on Wednesday, December 4th 2019, and you can attend in person or via live-stream.

You will hear from the voices that are shaping today’s leadership and business culture, Dr. John C. Maxwell, Simon Sinek, and Chris Hodges.

This action-packed, half-day event is guaranteed to provide the knowledge you need to increase your influence and make an eternal impact.

For the first year ever, the Impact Leadership Conference will be LIVE streamed. If you can’t travel to Birmingham, Alabama, you and your team can learn from these experts at your organization. Visit for more information on our streaming options.

You can also visit for more conference information, group rates, and to register.

What Would You Add?

The great leaders I know posses all five of these character traits.

What are you seeing? Is there another character trait you’d add to this list?

Scroll down and leave a comment!


  1. Jeremy Sauvé on October 16, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    Is there a printer friendly way to print these posts or save them as a PDF?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 16, 2019 at 5:05 pm

      Hey Jeremy,

      Dillon here, Carey’s assistant.

      Sadly, we do not have an easy way to do this, but what works best for me is copy/pasting the article into a google/word doc and deleting out the click-to-tweets. It should take you less than 2 minutes!

      Let me know if I can help you more!

  2. Joel B Groat on October 11, 2019 at 11:41 pm

    Hi Carey, been listening, following and learning for at least a couple of years. Really appreciate your contribution to the church and kingdom of God. Something I’d add that you have modeled is being open to learning from those you are leading. A leader worth following knows he or she still has lots to learn and so they gladly listen to and even solicit input and feedback from others – not just peers or superiors, but those they are leading. Thanks for your continued commitment to lead humbly and lead well. Appreciate you, brother.

  3. ROSS E THOMPSON on October 11, 2019 at 9:31 am

    Hi Carey,. Reading your posts inspire me. Thanks for writing them. Do you still have the Leadership Training on church growth? Some family are asking what I would like for Christmas. That’s it. Ross Thompson,. East Aurora, NY

  4. Kabugo Hope on October 10, 2019 at 10:18 pm

    Praise God the source of wisdom and anointing.
    Am blessed to have you in my life, you always blesses me

  5. Amber-Leah Margaret Timmons on October 10, 2019 at 3:40 pm

    I would have to say that Leadership comes with knowing sometimes that you make mistakes and others notice. Leadership is not about being perfect but perfectly imperfect and slightly flawed in some way…The people may have perceptions that you are a perfect being and that may make them hate you… But Perfection is perception.

  6. Ssemanda on October 10, 2019 at 12:04 pm

    I have been looking for a message about character. I have know the keys to the kingdom of God and in life.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 10, 2019 at 1:13 pm


      Glad to help.

  7. Hung on October 10, 2019 at 11:08 am

    chung cư Bid Residence

  8. Cyndy Warnier on October 10, 2019 at 10:14 am

    I needed this today, Carey. Thank you so much. Each point has a place in my heart and my mind, and now I shall seek the wisdom of God to keep it there and use it in my ministry! I so appreciate your insights, they are filled with wisdom, the character of God, and the practicality we need in this frantic-paced culture.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 10, 2019 at 1:11 pm

      I am so glad to hear this helped you!

      Thanks for reaching out,


  9. Joseph Lalonde on October 10, 2019 at 10:09 am

    This may tie into thing number 5 but I believe a leader worth following is also willing to serve others well. It doesn’t matter if the person can repay them or not, they are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. Jesus exemplified this as He washed the feet of his disciples. He didn’t have to do this. It was a job beneath Him. Yet He chose to stoop to a level many would say only the least of these should do. His acts of servanthood are what leaders worth following should be doing.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 10, 2019 at 1:11 pm

      So true!

  10. Ron Forse on October 10, 2019 at 8:21 am

    We often hear we should not be defined by our failures. But we also must not be defined by our successes. It’s been said they’re both liars.

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