At almost 83 years of age I believe I have earned the right to begin making some observations and drawing some conclusions about life and leadership. 

One of these is that when it comes to long-term fruitfulness as a Christian leader, competence is overrated and character is underrated.

 The simple, but disturbing, fact is that more leaders fall over character issues rather than competency issues. It seems to me that we bring people into our organizations and onto our teams based on competency (what they can do) and end up letting some go based on character (who they are and have become).

What can happen is that we add people to our teams based on competence (what they can do) and then wind up letting some of them go because of character (who they have become).

During my “Leaders Who Last” seminars I share that you can divide good leadership into two main areas:

  • Getting things done
  • Getting along

The first has to do with competency, the second with character as it is lived out in the context of relationships–which most character qualities are. It’s impossible to be considerate, compassionate and kind all by your lonesome.

The people who shine at “getting it done” are your task-oriented people, and the people who shine at “getting along” are your relational-oriented people. A leader who wants to honor Jesus will want to develop in both of these areas.

At the seminar I ask for a show of hands as to which of the two groups people feel they fall into. Far and away the majority of the leaders present are the “getting things done” types; which is to say they need to focus on character.

And so do I!

This is true confession time and I want to tell you that for many years I focused almost exclusively on the getting-it-done side of the equation, much to my own hurt as well as the hurt of those in my work and family.

The Lord slammed me big time one day through Matthew 23:23-26 where he rebukes the religious leaders for looking good on the outside but being a disaster on the inside when it comes to character and relationship kinds of things. I was that religious leader…working overtime, being competent while ignoring and neglecting to trust the Lord and taking responsibility for my character growth.

Colossians 3:12 (ESV) is a verse I have memorized and pray over regularly, which is overflowing with character traits. It reminds me of who I am in Jesus…chosen, holy and beloved and then exhorts me to put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience…a tall order for me, but not for God through me. He still specializes in the impossible, the improbable and the difficult.

A few years ago I spoke at a church and made the comment that in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (the most referenced chapters in the Bible on the qualities and qualifications for leaders) there is only one thing listed that you could clearly place in the competency column…all the others fit into the character column.

The lead pastor came up to me afterward and shared that the phrase “…able to teach,…” (found in 1 Timothy 3:2) could also be translated as “able to be teachable,” which would mean that the entire chapter has to do exclusively with character and relationships. Wow, that deepened my convictions even more!

My fellow leader, don’t make the mistake of over-emphasizing competence and under-emphasizing character. Over the long haul, that may well be your undoing.