The core value of good leadership is character. Ability matters. Decision-making is vital. The skills to communicate and inspire are essential. But character trumps them all.
I was taught this growing up in a conservative, evangelical church in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I didn’t know it at the time, but the community that raised me was known as the Religious Right. Spending a few years around great biblical scholars would later show me that not everything that church taught me was true or biblical. Yet they got more right than they got wrong. (See: You Control What Matters Most)
Few things did they get more right than the idea that character counts.
While issues are important, my mentors preached the soul of a man or woman was of far greater importance than any individual debate. Two people can get a lot of work done even if they disagree on key issues, but only if trust is present. Trust is a byproduct of good character. Issues are debatable, character is not.
Character Is Not Perfection
Everyone is imperfect. The importance of character does not mean we expect our leaders to be different. Character is not perfection. Our leaders can’t be perfect. They will make bad choices, sometimes disastrous choices. Some of those choices can disqualify them from leadership, but rarely. More often than not, if a leader properly handles a bad decision—admits it, seeks forgiveness, makes amends—the mistake can actually propel them to better leadership.
However, we can’t fall for the false teaching that because every person is imperfect, bad choices can be ignored. Some are quick to excuse themselves or their leaders whenever they make mistakes by quickly comparing them to the mistakes of others. It’s a false comparison. Not every mistake is equal. Some things do have more penal consequences than others.
A pastor who has a series of affairs can be forgiven, but he should not continue to direct a church.
A teacher who says inappropriate things to a student can move on, but should never be trusted around children.
A leader who refuses to acknowledge his immorality can do significant things, but they should not be allowed to lead.
Character matters. (See: How to Better Control Yourself)