Character Matters

The effectiveness of a leader arises out of what I call the “Leadership Matrix.” The quality and skills of a leader alone do not determine the effectiveness of a leader. The four elements identified in this matrix work together to produce the end result of leadership: movement of an individual or group from their present reality toward a preferred future agreed upon by the group.

Those four elements are:

  • The Leader
  • The Followers
  • The Context
  • The Task.

I go into detail to describe the interaction of these elements when I teach Leadership In Ministry for B. H. Carroll. For example, you can have a seasoned, talented leader, but if the followers refuse to follow, the task is beyond their capabilities, and the context is not one of innovation or change, that leader has little chance to be effective. The same is true if a highly-motivated group of followers who have the skills to complete the task and a context of innovation, but who has someone in the lead who is looking to retire rather than advance the group’s goals, they will fail. All the elements contribute to the effectiveness of leadership. We have spent too much time examining the leader alone. Leadership is a complex process with multiple factors that determine its effectiveness.

But this matrix does not illustrate every element that affects one’s leadership. I want to add one more element to this mixture that is the catalyst of effectiveness for the leadership experience. That additional element is character.

Let me make some observations about character and leadership.

  1. You can’t hide character. Character seeps out of your life like water from a cracked water main in your front yard. There’s just enough water to create a muddy puddle that tells you something is wrong but not enough pressure to warrant you do something about it right away. Eventually, however, your water bill and the mosquito population become too large to ignore it any longer. Character finds its way to the surface no matter the charades you plays before others. Followers detect character like neighbors who see water puddling in your yard before you do.
  2. “You can tell a man’s character by two things: how he prays and how he manages his sex drive. How a man prays exposes his heart and to whom he bends his knee. How he manages his sexual urges exposes the depth of discipline in his life. Hypocrisy can mask both aspects of his life, and he can act out a persona many will accept as real. However, crisis and leisure are crucibles that reveal a person’s true character. No Oscar-winning performance can hide a man’s true identity in the heat of crisis or in the calm of leisure.” Watch a leader in times of crisis and leisure and you will see his or her true character.
  3. If leadership is built upon trust between the leader and those he or she leads, then character is trust’s foundation. It is the rock foundation upon which leadership relationships are built and upon which a group can withstand any storm or build any God-sized enterprise. The foundation of character is built by discipline(s) that develop values and practices that form the base of strength to withstand storms and climb the heights. For the Christ-follower assigned to a position of leadership, spiritual disciplines are the tools to build the “house built on rock.” (Matthew 7:24-25) These daily disciplines, such as prayer and study, build character, which followers can trust and leaders can find the endurance to carry out God’s mission call on their lives.
  4. Character is the single most distinguishing aspect of a person’s life. No matter one’s training, traits, or skills, character determines who a person is and how he or she will respond in critical issues of life. God cares more about character than our skills, personality, or intelligence because biblically, character is a matter of the ‘heart.’” The wellspring of character is the heart, the center of our relationship with God and others. The Bible warns about the true nature of our hearts (Matthew 15:18) and how we require God to change them and mold them to love and serve rather than to be loved and to be served.

Character matters. It matters in every aspect of our lives, but especially in the lives of those who lead. Pay close attention to your character. It is the key to effective leadership and longevity in leading.

  • In what ways have you observed the importance and impact of character in the life of a leader around you?
  • What does your character look like in time of crisis and leisure?
  • If God were to expose your heart to you through His Word and/or Spirit, what would you see?
  • What disciplines do you practice daily to strengthen your character for times of challenge and of rest?

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Published: Jul 5, 2018


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