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Sunday
Sep302012

When we allow competence to replace character


What follows was posted today (September 30t)h on The Resurgence:

Today,September 30, Dave’s latest book, Mistakes Leaders Make, comes out. In it, he catalogs 10 mistakes, while closing with a suggested list of what the next 10 mistakes would be. This post is the second of a mini three-part series from him on three of that next set of mistakes.

At almost 73 years of age, I believe I have earned the right to begin to make some observations and draw 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.

Hired on competency, fired on character

The simple but disturbing fact is that more leaders fall over character issues rather than competency issues. It seems to me that we too often 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).

I teach at my Leaders Who Last seminars that you can divide good leadership into to main areas:

  1. Getting things done
  2. Getting along

The first has to do with competency, and 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 relationally oriented people. A leader who wants to honor Jesus will want to develop in both of these.

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!

Convicted about competence

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 hurt as well as the hurt of those in my work and in my family.

God still specializes in the impossible, the improbable, and the difficult.

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 disasters on the inside when it came to character and relationship kinds of things. I was that religious leader: working overtime and being competent while ignoring and neglecting to trust the Lord and taking responsibility for my character growth.

Colossians 3:12 is a verse I have memorized and pray regularly over. It is overflowing with character traits and reminds me of who I am in Jesus: chosen, holy, and beloved. It 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.

Able to be teachable

Last year, I spoke in Moscow, Idaho, at Christ Church, which is pastored by Douglas Wilson. I 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.

Doug 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 exclusive with character and relationships. Wow, I thought, and it deepened my convictions even more.

My fellow leader, don’t make the mistake of overemphasizing competence and underemphasizing character. Over the long haul, that will be your undoing.

In case you missed it, here’s the first post in this mini-series.


 Order your copy of Mistakes Leaders Make from our bookstore or on Amazon today. Consider having Dave speak at your church on leadership by emailing him: davekraft763@gmail.com.

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