Character is essential in leadership. Your competency determines what you can do. Your commitment determines what you want to do. But your character determines what you will do. It shapes how you engage the world around you, what you notice, what you reinforce, who you engage in conversation, what you value, and what you choose to act on. The list goes on.
There are more books on leadership that focus on style than on character. It seems that we are more interested in leaders who can get us what we want rather than leaders who model the life we need to live. At times we act as if character is old-fashioned and out of date. At other times we are reluctant to discuss character because we cannot measure it objectively.
Failure of Character
When mistakes are made in leadership, we usually look first at a leader’s shortcomings in abilities and gifts, when the root cause is a failing of character. A lack of self-awareness is rooted in character. Not being willing to listen to others because of the perception it will undermine your leadership is a problem of character. The fear of making decisions reflects character. Selective truth-telling is a measure of character.
On a more positive note, challenging decisions made by others, because they are morally or ethically wrong, requires character. Dealing with prejudiced and unfair behaviors by others requires character. Creating a culture of constructive disagreement so others can challenge your decisions without fear of consequences requires character. Truthtelling requires character.
Christ-Centered Leadership Necessitates Character
Character is essential to leadership, especially Christ-centered leadership. Let’s look at what the apostle Paul says about character.
Let’s use the pattern of READ, REFLECT, RESPOND, and RETURN as a way of examining one aspect of character in the scripture.
READ: Galatians 5:16-25
Focus on the scripture verses in italics.
Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law. Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.
Paul names nine qualities of character known as the “Fruit of the Spirit.” These qualities can be divided into three categories: relationship with God, relationship with others, and relationship with yourself.
Without these qualities, you cannot and will not reflect who God has created you to be as a leader. The Fruit of the Spirit reflects the characteristics of God in human form. Ultimately revealed in Jesus, these are the characteristics of Christ-centered leaders. Your character as a leader produces this fruit.
Relationship with God
The first category is love, joy, and peace.
Love: This is agape. It means unconquerable benevolence. No matter what a person might do to you by way of insult, injury, or humiliation, you never seek anything other than his or her highest good. It is a feeling of the mind as much as it is of the heart; it concerns the will just as much as it does the emotions. It describes the effort of seeking the best for all people, even for those who seek the worst for you.
Joy: This shows your trust in God. It means to know God as the God of all circumstances. You are living into who God created you to be regardless of life situation or setting. Being rooted in God, joy is not upon the happenings or consequences in your life. It is seeing the situations of life as opportunities for trusting God.
Peace: This is Shalom. It means everything that makes for a person’s highest good. It is more than the absence of conflict or trouble. It is the calmness of heart and mind, which comes from the all-pervading consciousness that your life is in the hands of God. It is being at one with God, yourself, and others.
Relationship with Others
The second category is patience, kindness, and generosity.
Patience: This is an action-focused upon people rather than circumstances. It means to overlook the inconveniences of the world in regard to people. It is an attitude, which leads us to deal with others with love, forgiveness, and long-suffering, just as God in Jesus has dealt with us. It also means to be disciplined in regard to wants or desires.
Kindness: Again, this is an action focused on people. It means to love and care for people with the same love and care God in Christ has loved and cared for you. It reveals your inner life because kindness is the integration of the inner character and the outward expression of your life in relationship to others. You are making the way easier because you are related to the people around you.
Generosity (goodness): It means you see people doing the best they can in every situation and circumstance. Your actions reveal the love of God to the point that those around you who are comfortable in their apathy, unconcern, and insensitivity are afflicted by your very presence, and those who are afflicted by the pains and problems of life will be comforted by your same presence. It refers to the life of a person who can be caring and strong at the same time.
Relationship with Yourself
The third category is faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Faithfulness: This means you are trustworthy or reliable. It means keeping your promises and being dependable.
Gentleness: This is a matter of self-awareness. It means you know yourself to the point that you are pointing others to God as you love and care for them. You are teachable and considerate. And because who you are grows out of your relationship with God, humility is revealed in the way you relate to and treat others.
Self-control: This means you control desires and wants. You control yourself to the point that you are fit to be the leader of others. As a leader, it is easy to step out of the character of God and into the passions of your own heart. Your passion (fallen nature) is often opposed to the passion of God (your true created nature).
To be led by the Spirit is to be obedient to God’s plan and purpose for your life. Paul knew within himself the struggle to be who God had created him to be. He knew the distinction between the works of the flesh (his own desires) and the fruit of the Spirit (God’s desires) through his own experience. His life had been in chaos. His sinful nature in rebellion against God made him at war even with himself and split his life into fragmentary deeds. Then came the reconciling love of Christ, integrating his life with God and with others. It is all centered on the unifying love of Christ.
Evidence of Integrity
The evidence of your integrity (joining of inner life and outer life) is shown in your obedience to the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. The evidence of the character of God in your life and leadership is called “The Fruit of the Spirit.”
The fruit of the Spirit is the outward expression of Christ dwelling within you. Powerfully and surely the Spirit works. Sometimes dramatically, sometimes slowly, and most times imperceptibly, the Spirit works in your life and is seen in your relationships.
Character is essential to leadership, especially Christ-centered leadership. There is much more, but this lays a partial foundation for understanding the importance of character in leaders.
There once was a woman who had a deep desire for peace in the world as well as in her life. She became frustrated because both seemed out of her reach. The world seemed to be falling apart and her personal life wasn’t that great either.
One day while shopping, she noticed a new and different store. One she had not seen before. She stepped inside and was surprised to see Jesus behind the counter. She knew it was Jesus because he looked just like the paintings she had seen in museums and in devotional books. After several glances at him, she got the nerve to ask him, “Excuse me, but are you Jesus?”
“I am,” he replied.
“Do you work here?” she asked.
“In a way; I own the store.”
“Oh, what do you sell here?”
Jesus replied, “Just about everything. Feel free to walk up and down the aisles, make a list, see what it is you want, and then come back and I’ll see what I can do for you.”
Well, she did just that. She walked up and down the aisles, writing furiously. She made her list: Peace on earth, no war, guidelines for guns; Peace in families, harmony, no dissension; Food for the hungry and housing for the homeless; and Resources for those in poverty. She found honesty and hope, as well as care and compassion. She was excited to see many of the things she wanted for her community and for the world.
By the time she got back to the counter, she had an extensive list. She hands her list to Jesus. He looked it over, smiled, and said, “No problem.”
He bent down behind the counter, picked out several seed packets, stood up, and laid the packets on the counter.
“Seed packets,” Jesus answered. “This is a catalog store.”
“You mean I don’t get the finished product?”
“No, this is a place of vision and dreams. You come and see what it looks like, and I will give you the seeds. You go home and plant the seeds. You care for them and nurture them to help them grow. Someday someone else will reap the benefits of you planting and nurturing the seeds.”
The woman was disappointed, as well as a little put off. She turned to the person behind her in line and asked, “Do you believe what he just said? Are you going to do that? Are you going to plant the seeds so someone else can reap the benefits? Are you going to do that?”
Character is revealed by your leadership.
“…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…”
Who you are is how you lead!
Give God thanks for the people you met today. In what situations did you feel you were making decisions based on character? With whom was your character challenged? How did you respond? How did you assist others in developing the character of their lives? Who is helping you grow in character? What will you do differently tomorrow as a leader? Ask God to give you the faith to be the leader God has created you to be.