A few days ago I posted the first in a series of essays on what I have found to be five attributes of a high-capacity leader. These attributes seem to function in two ways that matter to everyone of us. On the one hand they are like horses harnessed together to pull a load. And at the same time, individually they have the capacity to sabotage what could be accomplished by the others. This is the second of four essays on this theme.
There is a good shift taking place. While it seems that the majority of training and leadership expectations focus on one’s competencies, there is a lot of emphasis these days on the character that lives deeper than competencies. To that extent we are on the right track. As I and many of my colleagues believe, influence flows out of who you are not what you can do. Character is not the only thing that matters, but without it nothing else matters much.
However, in the popular conversations, it seems we often speak of leaders ‘having character’ as if that means they possess a strength of will to sustain them through the challenges they face. Or, we use character as a synonym for integrity. To be sure these qualities flow from a leader’s character. However, I mean to imply something more.
The character of a leader is the personalized imprint of God on the inner life. It is not merely the imposition of a predetermined list, (i.e. the Boy Scout Law: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly,etc.) I think of character as the comprehensive and unique landscape of one’s soul — the integrated package of convictions forged by experience and the internal formation carried out by the Spirit of God which shape our behavior.
Character makes an imprint on everything we do, every relationship we maintain, and every facet of our behavior. It is more than who I am when no one is looking. It is also who I am when everyone is looking.
It is a matter of soul and spirit. Spiritually, it is reflected in 2 Chr. 16:9
“The eyes of the Lord search to and fro throughout the earth, that he might fully support the man whose heart is completely his.”
At the same time, leaders need to have skills–significant skills! In a changing world, leaders must continually develop and sharpen their abilities in order to lead with effectiveness. Good intentions are no match for competent leadership.
Don’t misunderstand my comments on character to mean that skills don’t matter. We live in a demanding world. In fact, most leaders find they are expected to be competent in a wide range of arenas they were never trained in.
Influence flows out of character, but high capacity leaders are also highly competent. They don’t flaunt their expertise, but they are constantly working to develop their skill-set. Character-deep leaders understand the relationship between character and competency. While character may be the key to influence, they have also learned to rely on their competencies much like a master-mechanic relies on tools. When the tasks demand it, they pull out different tools, use them with wisdom, and then put them back into the tool chest for another day.
In a world characterized by quantum and continuous change, we will always need new skills. We can benefit from skills that minimize personal deficits, but more importantly, we need to hone those skills that build on personal strengths.
Ps 78:72: “David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hand he led them.”
1 Tim 4:11-15: “…do not neglect your gift…be diligent… so that everyone may see your progress.”