Characteristics of a leader

The term ‘leader’ is used, and perhaps misused, often in our society. Leaders exist in our family, places of worship, philanthropic boards, businesses, government, and every other group or institution that inhabits our lives. But how many so­-called leaders really possess the necessary characteristics to succeed as a true leader in their specific arena?

With a desire to achieve excellence in my own field, I found particularly intriguing the results from a CEG Worldwide LLC survey. The coaching program for financial advisors reported the following six characteristics as those which successful individuals value most in their advisor:

  1. Character – Personal qualities such as integrity, honesty or dependability rank highest in any trust relationship. You can’t just tell people that you are honest and trustworthy. Good character must be demonstrated through actions and conversation about values – theirs and yours.
  2. Chemistry – The ability to be “in sync” with individuals is crucial. You connect with others when you intuitively know what they want to talk about and you generally see eye to eye on important issues.
  3. Caring – It is not enough to just care about another person’s well-being. You need to demonstrate your concern through actions and conversations during which you discover who and what are most important to them.
  4. Competence – This is about being smart, technically capable and a leading expert in your field. Establish your authority and build credibility by writing articles, giving presentations, speaking with groups or donating your expertise to worthy causes.
  5. Cost-Effectiveness – Simply put, deliver true value. Whether in your community or your profession, there is merit and worth to the service or knowledge you provide.
  6. Consultative – Being consultative is the framework for any ongoing partnership. It involves a collaborative relationship, consistent and meaningful contact, and a customized form of communication that satisfies all involved.
“Leadership is not an act. It is my life, a way of living.” – Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership

I was raised by my mother and father to always strive to make a difference in people’s lives and in the community we share.

Some years ago, I bought a Steinway piano because my mother loved playing the piano. It was a way for us to connect while living in different parts of the country. I took lessons and would play to her over the phone. The experience gave us both great joy, but after she passed away the piano was a painful reminder that she wasn’t around anymore. I quit playing the instrument and let it gather dust.

After several years, I realized the piano needed to be played. After much searching, I found the right place for it: a church with an active music ministry, serving several different congregations, which desperately needed to replace its aging piano. Every time I visit and hear that piano, it’s like having a connection to my mom. She would have been happy that so many people get to enjoy the music from this piano as talented pianists play it.

It’s not a great stretch to say that everything I needed to know about wealth management, I learned on the family farm. I grew up in Nebraska, and by the age of five, I was driving tractors and doing daily chores—tending cattle, cutting hay, growing wheat, raising pigs and sheep. These chores were a less-than-glamorous introduction to one of our country’s greatest qualities: hard work is rewarded.

On the farm, you couldn’t see the fruits of your labor until many months into the future. You had to wait until July or August to harvest the wheat you planted the previous fall. The work of rotating crops would not be repaid until you reaped a stronger crop the following season. There was always something that needed doing today to make sure you were rewarded down the road.

The life of a farmer is also one of uncertainty. You had no idea whether a hailstorm would take out the wheat crop or a drought would starve your crops. While much is out of your control, you can succeed over the long term by sticking with sound plans for planting crops and tending livestock.

In many ways, these are the same lessons I teach my clients. We can’t be certain when the next financial crisis will hit, where the next market bubble will occur or even what the financial markets will do next week. Because we can’t predict the future, it’s important to have a strong plan on which to rely in good markets and in bad.

Whether by donating a Steinway piano or by helping my clients utilize their money to accomplish greater goals, I feel fortunate to have the opportunity, in both my personal and professional life, to positively impact the lives of others.

What characteristics do you value in a leader?

Perhaps more importantly, what qualities do you strive for to earn the title of leader? Whether you are determined to be a leader in your profession, community or family, there are many lessons in character and leadership to be learned from the individuals profiled in this book. Their stories will serve us well in our ongoing process.

Gordon J. Bernhardt,
President and Founder
Bernhardt Wealth Management,

Since establishing his firm in 1994, Gordon Bern­hardt has been focused on providing high-quality ser­vice and independent financial advice in order to help his clients make smart decisions about their money. He specializes in addressing the unique needs of successful professionals, entrepreneurs and retirees, as well as wom­en in transition throughout the Washington, DC area. Over the years, Gordon has been sought out by numer­ous media outlets including MSN Money, CNN Money, Kiplinger and The New York Times for his insight into subjects related to personal finance.