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How to Develop the Indispensable Quality of Leadership

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Character… You can’t buy it, earn a degree in it, and you can’t borrow it, but you can develop it. Without it, few will follow you, at least not for long.

Character itself, like a heartbeat, can’t be seen, but it can be felt, and you know when it’s working well or skipping a beat. In this respect, the absence of character is devastating.

The outcomes of character can be seen. I wrote a post describing seven practical indicators of good leadership character, and you can read it here.

This post focuses on developing your character.

How to Develop the Indispensable Quality of Leadership

It has been said that when it comes to good character, you either have it or you don’t. But that’s in relation to a moment in time. For example, when you hire someone.

When I’m considering a decision to hire or not, at that point in time, the candidate either has good character, or they don’t. That’s not a “judgment,” it’s a discernment that leads to a decision. That’s not the time to say, “Well, ‘Bob’ is highly competent but has huge character flaws; let’s hire him and see what happens.”

That’s very different than the ongoing process of a leader, especially a young leader, with who continues to develop their character, both in her strong and weaker areas.

We all have our stuff to deal with it, and we continually face tests of our character, but that’s different than someone who consistently and knowingly makes poor choices.

That said, I sometimes hesitate to put character over competence, because they’re both vitally important. We have to be good at what we do, to continue to improve and make progress.

Competence and character are a partnership that should be inseparable, but unfortunately, they’re not. Therefore, character must always come first.

The truth is that a lack of competence can trip you up, but a lack of character can knock you down.

When it comes to leadership, character quickly finds its way to the issue of trust.

  • Do people know the real you?
  • Do you keep your promises?
  • Can people count on you?
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Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together.