John McCain’s observations about leadership in the colloquy with Bob Woodward at the Naval Institute Conference on Military and Politics last Thursday led me to think through the nature of leadership anew. I’ve added one factor to my original thinking—McCain’s dictum that a true leader must always do the right thing.

Here are the things I think a person must do be real leader:

—Have a vision about a better future

—Shape a mission to achieve that vision

—Be humble

—Be passionately committed to the vision and the mission

—Know and care for the followers

—Never ask the followers to do something he or she wouldn’t do

—Always do the right thing, no matter what

McCain’s added factor of always doing the right thing adds a moral element that I see is essential. The leader cannot succeed over time if he or she is willing to compromise his or her own ethics and those of the followers. Put differently, leadership only works to achieve goals that all agree are morally good.

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