Competence may get you in the door, but character keeps you in the room.
Character is core to who you are as a leader, whether or not people trust you and your overall effectiveness for the good of others.
Let's be blunt.
People simply will not follow anyone they don't trust.
Being really good at what you do is critical, but character is the bottom line for a spiritual leader.
When selecting a leader, there is a temptation to quickly pass over character and focus on competence and chemistry. We all know character matters; however, good character is often simply assumed. That's a mistake.
It is good to assume the best, but when it comes to leaders, it's difficult to "fix" a lack of character. The good news is that you can develop good character.
Intuitively, we understand how this works.
Character is something you first "feel" about others.
It's a personal sense you have about a person.
For example, with a doctor, car salesperson or public official—You immediately have a gut sense about whether or not you trust them.
That's how your mind and emotion will first assess a person's character. Your level of discernment determines how accurate you are, but that doesn't change how you feel in the moment.
Then character is assessed by behavior, for example:
—Do they keep their promises?
—Do they do what they say they will do?
—Do they do what is in the best interests of others?
—Do they do the difficult thing rather than the easy thing?
—Do they keep their promises?
As leaders, we are responsible for the development of our character and the character that we develop.
Some of the following content and quotes are from my new book Confident Leader!
Principles and Practices in Character Development
1. Self-leadership is the foundation of character development. You can't lead others well until you can lead yourself well. Leading yourself well may be about seemingly little things, such as being late for meetings or not following through in returning phone calls or email. Basically, not doing what you say you will do. It can, of course, escalate to much more significant issues such as inappropriate emotions or an overt need for control and authority.
The people who attend your church are not looking for a superhero to lead them; they're looking for someone they can count on.
People want a leader who can consistently show up and do the right thing. The expectation is not one of a perfect leader; it's of a leader whose self-leadership is worth following.
The bottom line is that a lack of competence can slow you down, but a lack of character can take you out.
If you lack skill, you can improve; if you lack character, you are destined for a fall.
2. Consistency is the real secret to character development. Consistency, unfortunately, is often thought of as boring, inflexible or lacking creativity.
Consistency, however, is not meant to reflect a lack of drive, unwillingness to risk or stirring things up when needed.
Consistency is a core character trait, not a measurement of competence.
Consistency is about keeping your promises and doing what you say you will do; that's character.
Consistency allows people to approach you not because your emotions are flat but because you are a safe person to talk to, and you can be counted on.
Consistency is a primary avenue to trust.
Consistency can best be developed in three areas: your habits, your emotions and your words.
Consistency in good habits.
As it relates to the development of consistent good habits, the majority of your effort and energy needs to be devoted to the development of good habits.
That seems obvious.
However, it's scary what a few bad habits can do to a long list of good ones.
So start with an honest assessment of any bad habits you have and work to eliminate them by replacing them with good habits.
Most of us know our bad habits, but we all have blind spots, so you may want to ask a trusted friend to help you see what you can't see.
If you fight to eliminate a bad habit without replacing it with a good one, your potential for success is limited.
Please don't miss this next thought.
Don't allow the pursuit of good habits to become a pursuit of perfection. That will backfire on you.
If you slip up, OK. Recognize it, and tomorrow is another day to do better.
And don't make the practice of good habits a legalistic lifestyle. If you want a donut one day, have one. Having a donut one day is different than having a daily donut.
What bad habits do you want to eliminate?
What good ones do you want to become consistent in?
Recommended book: Atomic Habits by James Clear.
Consistency in your emotions.
No one wants to follow a leader if they have to walk on eggshells wondering what mood they will be in that day!
God gave us the emotions we experience; they are part of our design as human beings.
How you handle your emotions can make or break your leadership.
Emotions have a place and purpose, and when demonstrated in appropriate ways at the right times, they add depth and meaning to your life and strength to your leadership.
When emotions are mishandled, depending on the circumstances, those moments can be difficult to recover from.
Consistency in your emotions does not mean a boring, lifeless person. Not at all.
Consistency in emotions means one who is self-aware and possesses the fullness of the fruit of the spirit (including self-control) that brings a healthy balance to the mix.
If the topic of leading your emotions rather than letting them lead you is of interest, here's an entire blog post I wrote that may be helpful to you.
Consistency in uplifting and encouraging words.
Our choice of words on a daily basis seems like it ought to be the easiest of these three to be consistent.
But the book of James reminds us how easy it is to have a slip of the tongue and how much damage such a small part of our body can do (Jam. 3:3-12).
Whether with your spouse, kids or those you lead, we've all spoken words we wish we could take back. It only takes a few seconds.
There is good news. There are other, better and more redemptive words that help repair the damage of ill-spoken words, like the words in a sincere apology.
It's amazing how much good the two little words, "I'm sorry" can do.
The best way to overcome speaking words that hurt and destroy relationships is to practice your consistency, from a heart level, on words that:
Increasing your consistency in these three practices will greatly strengthen your character, resulting in greater trust and increased influence.
Dan Reiland is the executive pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as executive pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as vice president of leadership and church development at INJOY.
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