As a young leader, I was 100 percent convinced that competency was the key to effectiveness in leadership. I no longer believe that’s true.
To be sure, competency is important. People get hired because of their competency, remunerated because of their competency, respected because of their competency, and promoted because of their competency. And arguably they should.
Moreover, competency can and should be developed. Like you, I want to get better at what I do. I want to lead better. I want to communicate more effectively. I want to take others to a higher level.
Toward that end, I read books, listen to podcasts, attend seminars, and take classes. Growing in my competency is a high priority.
But here’s what I’ve come to see. A lack of competency isn’t what takes out most leaders. The ditches alongside the road of life are littered with the bodies of people who were great at what they did but neglected who they were.
All of us can name highly gifted pastors, politicians, athletes and other public figures who failed not because they weren’t good at their job, but because they weren’t good in their job.
From Bill Hybels to John Edwards, from Matt Lauer to Antonio Brown, it’s pretty clear competence alone isn’t enough. In fact I’ve come to believe your competency will take you only as far as your character will sustain you.
Carey Nieuwhof put it another way: “Competency starts something that only character can finish.” One bad move…one momentary indiscretion… one systemic compromise…could topple what a lifetime of competency had built.
So, what do you need to do to ensure your character grows as much as your competency? Here’s the short answer: Work twice as hard on the former than the latter – on who you are more than what you do
Unlike the natural motivation you have to grow in your competency, growing in your character will take more intentional effort. Yet making that effort is exceedingly important.
Here’s the thing. You don’t grow in your character by reading books, listening to podcasts, attending seminars, or taking classes. It just doesn’t happen that way.
So what can you do?
Here are four keys to growing godly character:
1. The discipline to maintain a close personal walk with God.
Cultivate a daily habit of Scripture reading and prayer. But don’t allow this to become a mindless ritual. Make it an intimate interaction whereby you listen to what the Lord might be saying to you and then you look for a way to respond. David’s request, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any hurtful way in me…” (Psalm 139:23-24) needs to regularly be echoed.
2. The value found in close community.
Life together with others who know you and love you allows for victories to be celebrated, failures to be shared, and transformation to be experienced. Lone wolf leaders are not only lonely – they are vulnerable. Solomon wisely observed that “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
3. The commitment to receive constant feedback regarding blind spots.
By definition, blind spots are areas that we don’t see until they get us into trouble. Be open to admonishment from your spouse, your close friends, and your colleagues. Give them permission to tell you the last 10%. And recognize a hard yet important truth: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6).
4. The willingness to go see a counselor before you really need to.
All too often, character issues are like an iceberg. It’s what’s under the surface that sinks ships. What is seen above the waterline of our lives – outbursts of anger, verbal abuse of others, pride and arrogance, an unwillingness to be wrong – is just a small part of a greater issue. Unless we deal with the heart issues – the wounds and beliefs driving the behaviors – the outward manifestations will never be resolved. “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom for the future” (Proverbs 19:20).
Character and competency. Failure in the latter can certainly limit your leadership. However failure in the former can be fatal to your leadership.
But when they are both elevated, the leader has unlimited potential for impact. And isn’t that what we all long for?