I’ve been asked, “What’s the most important thing to consider when you hire someone?” There are many lists of criteria I could use. Fifteen plus years ago I started using the three “C’s” that I heard Bill Hybels give: Character, Competence and Chemistry. Over the years, I’ve added a few C’s, especially for those who will be top leadership team members. Now I have six of them I use as filters in the interview process. Calling. Character. Competence. Commitment. Conflict Resolutions Skills. And Chemistry.

But here’s the top of the top. This is the one I shared with ten young interns in a talk about the top ten things I’ve learned about church leadership over nearly four decades – “Leaders Know Character is Critical.”  So of the top things I look for in a leader? Character. Character is the most important of all. It will take you higher than you imagined. Lack of it will take you lower than you ever wanted to go. Excellent character is indispensible for outstanding leaders.

Character is top of the top because, even a little shortage, will leave a huge gap in that leader’s long-term ability to lead people. People will be patient with leaders that are growing in competence, leaders that are a bit quirky or a tad unskilled in resolving conflict. If a leader has a character issue, trust is broken. When trust goes down the tubes, everything else heads in the same direction.

The truth is, character matters. Not just in my realm of major leadership experience: a church. It matters everywhere, all the time. I’ve observed the crash of marriages due to character issues. I’ve seen businesses flounder and fail because leaders didn’t have character. I’ve watched a non-profit organization go through great challenges because a leader lacked integrity. I’ve definitely seen the pain caused by church leaders who had cracks in their character.

We can look at our nation’s recent history and see a major financial crisis in 2008-2009 because boldness or instant gratification triumphed over temperance. But even more, people knew bad risks were being taken but did not have the courage or confidence to speak up. People without integrity sold mortgages to those who could not pay them. They then bundled these mortgages into securities that were fraudulent and sold to others. People with large egos, lacking in humility, oblivious to the harm they may have been doing to others, became very rich at the expense of millions who were victims of the financial crisis and subsequent recession. Yet to this day, these same people seem unable or unwilling to accept any degree of responsibility and to recognize that the main problem was, essentially, a character issue.

The top of the top. It’s character. A collectively written article in the Ivey Business Journal said it superbly under a heading, Why Character Really Matters: When it comes to leadership, competencies determine what a person can do. Commitment determines what they want to do, and character determines what they will do.”

We must remember this. Character is not something that you have or don’t have. All of us have character. Character is not a light switch that can be turned on and off. But every situation presents a different experience and opportunity to learn and deepen character.  Michael Hyatt says character is shaped by three forces (see previous blog). How is your character being shaped? What will you do this week to grow your character?


QUESTION: Are there any additional insights you have learned about character? I’d love to hear them in the comment section below.



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