There are leaders, and then there are leaders of leaders. Dr. Christopher Howard, a member of the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), knows a lot about growing leaders. He was named one of the "20 Most Interesting College Presidents" by The Best Schools in 2015.

During Dr. Howard's six and a half years as president at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, enrollment, retention and alumni giving all increased, and the college produced its first Truman and Goldwater scholars in 20 years. Dr. Howard himself is a Distinguished Graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, and as a Rhodes Scholar, earned a doctorate in politics from Oxford University. He also has an MBA with distinction from Harvard Business School.

Dr. Howard's service to his country began as a helicopter pilot, then an intelligence officer where he was assigned to the elite Joint Special Operations Command. After 9/11, he served in Afghanistan in the Air Force Reserve and was awarded the Bronze Star. He also served as the Reserve Air Attach to Liberia.

Now as the eighth president of Robert Morris University, he is grooming young leaders to work in a variety of fields and in a variety of situations. I was incredibly inspired by my conversation with Dr. Howard and asked him to share his formula for great leadership. Here it is in his own words.

"Many talented and well-educated men and women have never made the journey to become effective leaders of character. Our global financial markets and indeed the very foundations of our economic system were nearly destroyed because many individuals failed to appreciate what I call the eight attributes of character-based leadership."

1. "Leaders are self-aware."

"Leaders require not only self-knowledge but the capacity to stand apart from oneself and accurately assess one's motives and actions and, when necessary, self-correct."

2. "Leaders are contextually aware."

"Leaders understand their place within their environment. Some leaders may spend their entire careers in one field; others may be called upon to lead in vastly different situations. In either case, successful leaders are constant students of their changing environment and understand that what allowed them to succeed in one set of circumstances may not work in another."

3. "Leaders are students of leadership."

"Many of the challenges that today's leaders face have been faced by others before them. Successful leaders study other great leaders and learn lessons for their own lives. And wise leaders know to glean lessons from outside their own domain. The best qualities of leadership transcend a unique environment."

4. "Leaders are effective and efficient communicators."

"Leaders are masters of the written and spoken word, and they are able to communicate in language and at a level that is effective and appropriate for their audience."

5. "Leaders are empathetic."

"Theodore Roosevelt said, 'I never would have been president if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota.' His experiences in the Badlands as a hunter and a rancher helped him understand his fellow Americans and see people's worth based on their character and accomplishments, rather than on their economic status, formal education or social standing. No one can fully comprehend the life journey of another, but we all share a common humanity and successful leadership requires a sincere effort to understand the emotional makeup of other people."

6. "Leaders are accountable."

"Although leaders find pleasure in accomplishment and hold others to the same standard, they are aware of their accountability to their organization and their community. When it comes to accountability, leaders stand not at the top but in the middle between those who are accountable to them and those to whom they are accountable--whether it be stockholders or the electorate or the greater good of humanity."

7. "Leaders act courageously."

"Physical and moral courage are characteristics of leadership. Without courage, leaders will not take risks; they cannot do what is right. However, courage can be displayed in many ways. The battlefield requires courage, but so did the non-violent acts of resistance of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr."

8. "Leaders have character."

"This is the foundation of leadership. Leaders earn the respect of their peers by being trustworthy, honest and sincere. Of all we do to prepare our students as leaders, this is most important. Of all the characteristics of leadership, honor is paramount, and best taught by example."

Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.

Published on: Feb 5, 2016