I heard an interesting leadership concept recently that challenges the well-established maxim of “Character Precedes Competence.” I’ve been taught that when it comes to influential, transformative leadership, what makes good leaders great is what lay beneath their abilities and skills – the nature of their very selves. Who they are is more impactful than what they know how to do. In fact, the only lasting, “deep” change they can effect is based on the trust, loyalty, integrity, compassion etc. they evidence in their lives.
As pastors and ministry leaders (and spouses, parents, friends, workers, church members…as followers of Jesus) character is paramount in all our relationships.
The challenge came in asking the question “Where is character produced?” While we’re certainly born with personality, proclivities, bents – our “style” – character is a processed development of those traits through life and its experiences. Some of that process is intentional, but some is unintentional. Indeed, the more intentional the process, the greater control we have in the type of character we develop, and vice versa.
The presenter of this new concept shared a leadership model that begins with competency as its base and has redemptive impact as its goal. The thought is that in ministry leadership, we learn a lot of skills and concepts. (In fact, we tend to overload on them.) It’s where we begin. To get to the point where those competencies have a redemptive impact involves developing and integrating them into our selves – our characters.
I’ve been thinking of this in light of my past experience in carpentry. I grew up knowing about hammers and all the wrong ways to use them. My dad would constantly be after me for leaving his good hammer out in the rain, hitting rocks (and bricks and bugs) with it, using it as a “throwing axe” at trees, and generally wreaking “hammer mayhem” around our house and neighborhood. I had no clue how to use a hammer (no fault of my Dad…he tried!)
When I started a construction job, I was introduced to the proper use of a hammer (long before they let me near a power saw!) I was amazed. I saw guys doing things with hammers I had no idea you could do. And it wasn’t throwing them at trees. It was productive, efficient and lasting work. The way they handled their hammer was as if it were an extension of their body. Their hammer had purpose, and they knew how to wield it. They were able to create majesty and beauty with the use of their skill.
So it is with our competencies. In the model being shared, we have a choice how to wield our competencies. We can simply use them in a utilitarian fashion and hope they get the right results. This is often the mistake we make. All the skills and concepts we learn sit around in our “shelved toolbox” until we need a quick fix or impressive action. Once used, it is shelved again, often to be forgotten.
Or we can intentionally and continuously work with our competency so that it intentionally and continually develops us. Over time (as the presenter explained), competencies adhere to our values and become principals that undergird our decisions and actions. These principals, when tested and tried through adversities develop our character. That character then becomes the platform for transformational leadership and redemptive impact.
So my question for us is this: how intentional are we in not only developing our competencies, but in allowing them to develop us?