If you could choose one thing that would help you lead better, what would you pick? You may want more skills, resources, time, or money. What if I told you there is something even more important?
We have been fed a lie about the essential needs of leaders. We learn how to build a brand, utilize resources more effectively, or any other dozens of definitions for being a successful leader. But the single greatest need for every leader is a strong character.
The single greatest need for every leader is a strong character.
Nations, businesses, churches, and communities have all dealt with the inevitable fallout of leaders who have much power but little character. We have heard many heartbreaking stories of leaders who have abused and misused their influence in the Christian community. If you are a leader, you probably don’t believe you could ever do what others have done. It’s a mistake to underestimate what you are capable of – both for good and for bad.
In Matthew 7:15, Jesus warns his disciples to be “on your guard against false prophets.” If you read the full context of this passage, you will soon discover that he defines a false prophet as someone with character issues who look good on the outside, but the inside is a different story. The apostle Paul builds on this idea when he teaches that the qualifications for leadership in the church are not a degree or innovative idea (although those things are good). For Paul, leadership is all about character. He uses words like above reproach, self-controlled, sensible, not a bully, gentle, not quarrelsome, or greedy (see 1 Timothy 3).
If you are like me, the challenge is that you want to be productive and effective. Building character takes a backseat to building your ministry or business. But what if the true success of whatever you are leading is rooted in your character? Leaders who have had character issues catch up with them leave a trail of destruction. They seem successful, but it only lasts for a season. Imagine the legacy of their leadership if character matched or exceeded competency.
“Your most important and most challenging leadership assignment looks back at you in the mirror every morning. It’s you.” Steve A. Brown
Look at the fruit of the Spirit. As a person, are you loving, joy-filled, peaceful, patient, kind, showing goodness, faithful, gentle, and filled with self-control? These traits do not often describe ambitious leaders, but they do describe Spirit-filled leaders.
In John 15, Jesus teaches us we can do nothing apart from him. You can create activity apart from Jesus, and you can even look like a success apart from him. But you will never build anything that is fruitful and lasts apart from him.
4 Disciplines that Build a Strong Character
Our character issues as leaders are best cultivated by consistently inviting the Holy Spirit to renew our life. The work needs to be done in our hearts and flow into our actions. I have found these disciplines helpful in building my character over the years.
1. Develop the discipline of being quiet and inviting God to examine your heart.
Invite God to show you in Scripture where you are not living a Spirit-filled life and ask him to change you.
2. Ask different people closest to you – in your family, work, and friendships – “What are my blind spots”?
What do you see about me that I don’t see? Listen to them. Proverbs 27:6 teaches us that “faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
3. Before you correct someone – look in the mirror at yourself.
What character issues in your life can cause you to have a clouded vision for what is happening in their life?
4. Put yourself in spaces outside your normal rhythms.
For me, this has meant retreats with other leaders where we speak candidly into each other’s lives.
If we put as much energy into building our character as we do other leadership elements, our leadership’s effectiveness would have the potential to multiply beyond what we can imagine. Your legacy as a leader will rise to an even greater degree if you are a man with a strong, Spirit-filled character.