Essential Leadership Character Traits Summary[Training Boys to be Future Leaders Summary]

Pulling It All Together.

I’ve covered seven different characteristics J. Oswald Sanders considers essential to leadership: Discipline, Vision, Wisdom, Decision, Courage, Humility, and Integrity and Sincerity.

We’ve discussed how you can train your boys to reach these goals. These thoughts focus on parents, but apply to coaches or other leaders, too. You must add one additional ingredient to make an impact on any young man’s life. You must care about him and his training. If you don’t show it, he won’t own it. No matter how exhausted you are at the end of a workday, your son or boys you’re leading need support and guidance to gain those seven leadership characteristics. Here’s a quick review.


Apply external discipline at first, allowing your son to exercise discipline while you watch to see if he’s “got it.” Start with toys, cleaning his room, then the house and other chores.

Display discipline by using consequence management. Explain consequences for misbehavior or not completing a task correctly, then apply the consequences (make them appropriate to his age) until the task is done correctly.

Be disciplined about use of media. Make informed choices. Don’t let media run his (or your) life.


“People that see are rare.” J. Oswald Sander’s meant that people have to look beyond just their circumstances. Hope and optimism help you look beyond where you currently are.

Dads/Leaders—you are the male role model. Your son will imitate your actions when you’re not present. Even when times are rough, look ahead. Find the silver lining in the cloud and then tell others what it is. Teach your son to do the same. Avoid pessimism.

Use the TRLA system. Talk with your son. Read good books with him—plots that teach hope and optimism, and fulfill those expectations by the end of the story. Listen to your son to understand his thoughts, fears and concerns. Finally, analyze shows, movies, videos, video games, and other daily activities to help your son break life into manageable sections he can work with.


The beginning of true wisdom starts in God’s word—the Bible.

Wisdom is the application of knowledge and experience, plus the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If you start with God’s word, you have many examples of leaders: their lessons learned in either successes or failures. Jesus’ leadership of the disciples showed God’s wisdom in action. This wisdom is available for us to study and teach our boys.

A practical approach is to take time each week with your son and explore one example of God’s leadership principles. A study Bible at your boy’s age-level is a great investment. Start small. Make it fun and exciting. Check out actions Biblical leaders took and analyze what went right or wrong, and why. Young men will have invaluable memories of being with Dad and in handling life’s day-to-day experiences.


“When all the facts are in, swift and clear decision is the mark of a true leader.” J. Oswald Sanders

Despite the consequences, the will of the crowd, the objections of those with less information or understanding, the leader stands for the harder right, not the easier wrong. Great leaders, spiritual or secular, display this characteristic. But how can your boy become more decisive? By standing on the best foundation for his decisions.

There are two types of decisional foundations: earthly and spiritual.

The earthly foundation is basically materialistic – what we can sense or prove through testing. It lacks a transcendent governing principle and bases decisions on relative situational outcomes, not ultimate absolutes of good or bad. Materialistic decisions have no anchor except the shifting sands of the latest human thoughts, creating constant confusion about man’s identity, gender, and purpose.

The spiritual foundation of Christianity provides a supreme knowledge that surpasses man’s highest thoughts and extends down into our world, orchestrating the universe and in particular, man’s life and purpose. Your boy will build on a foundation of unshakeable rock that will withstand in the fiercest storm or the worst situation.

A tool to aid in clear decision-making is a decision matrix, comparing two or three options by their most important factors. Just like tic-tac-toe, your boy will have a clear, quick grasp of the winning solution and which course of action to take. That process will help him make a firm decision in a timely fashion. That’s what great leaders do.

Courage is…

  1. Oswald Sanders defines courage as “that quality of mind which enables men to encounter danger or difficulty with firmness, or without fear or depression of spirits.”

Fail forward. No, that’s not a typo. Sometimes, instead of failing and falling backward, your boy needs to fall, or rather, fail forward. It’s a mindset—a positive spin on what’s commonly seen as negative. Help him look for progress and learn. Most failure is not final.

Danger is real, but you can help your son learn to respond, not react to the fear of danger. Responding means a person takes in all the data, sometimes in a split second, and makes a conscious decision to take an action. Reacting means that no real upper level thinking has been applied.

Teach boys to evaluate danger rapidly using a mental decision matrix and act as soon as enough data is present to make a good decision. Start with something small – perhaps teaching them how to respond to a fire. Then train them for other emergencies or concerns. What does he do when a bully threatens him, a sister or brother, or a friend?

  1. Oswald Sanders wrote about Martin Luther’s comment as he was about to face death in the town of Worms. Martin Luther said, “You can expect from me everything save fear or recantation. I shall not flee, much less recant.” Luther’s comments were courageous and decisive because he stood on the foundation built by Jesus Christ.

The Humble Son.

The humble man stabilizes society and creates an atmosphere of teamwork, cooperation and service to others. Who we are and what we do is part of a master-plan. Not one of us is the ultimate architect, but each is a steward of all he has been given.

Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. Can we do any better than Him? God used the disciples and gave them what they needed to spread His good news to a desperate world.

Teach your son through a concrete example that we all depend on one another to get things accomplished. No one completes a task completely on his or her own. Each has a part to play, whether seen by the world as great or small.

Personal sacrifice is the oil that helps human society work. God asked Jesus to serve others and recognizes those who sacrifice for people in their lives, whether supervisors or observers take notice or not. The humble man smiles when he sees a person he’s helped succeed even if his assistance is not acknowledged. Your son needs to recognize and model actions of those who give of themselves to others.

Be the example your boy needs. Show him how it’s done in your life. Perhaps the Lord will raise you or him up like Moses and David. Perhaps not. But we know that God sees. And His reward is greater than any you will receive from a man or mankind.

Integrity and Sincerity.

You can’t trust anyone without integrity. The boy lacking integrity will tell you one thing and do another. Then, even when caught in the act, they will lie or try to explain away what they have done. They will not be honest. Their words aren’t sincere.

Below are two contrasting samples of integrity or lack thereof.

The Sel-Fish (selfish)—imagine a boy without integrity as being a spineless jellyfish. The individual will lie, cheat or steal, and even tolerate those who do, if it gets him what he wants. He floats without purpose or pattern and has no strength of will.

The Lion—visualize a boy with integrity to be like a lion. He will exude strength and confidence, standing his ground for the right reasons. The boy with integrity has a purpose in life that includes others interests. Lions are strong beasts, well trained for battling worldly rationalizing and philosophies.

You can train integrity. James Dobson would chuckle if a parent thought their boy could teach himself discipline without learning the lessons from his father and mother. (See Leadership Characteristic #1.)

Teaching and training boys in integrity means using consequence discipline for lying and rewards for telling the truth. In the process, parents and leaders must help these young men express their thoughts without fear, but with respect.

One last tip in this area is to teach your boys how to tell the difference between real life facts and clever fictions thrown at them by the media’s electronic blitz on their minds and senses. Analytical thinking and cross-talk with parents and leaders can remove the fuzzy logic used in great quantities today.

Follow the links below if you missed the other full blog posts from this series:

Next Month

The Seven Essential Leadership Principles are building blocks. The next series will be “Strong Wills, Strong Parents. Techniques to Lead the Strong-Willed Child.” We’ll discuss many issues that parents must face raising strong-willed children.

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