The most important factor to consider when choosing a leader is not their beliefs or ideas, but their character. Experience, vision, ideas, and strategies are all important, but character trumps all. A leader can gain experience. Vision, ideas, and strategies change, but character tells who a leader really is and what they will do.
Jeremiah warned the nation of Israel about following leaders of weak character, “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.” (Jeremiah 13:23). Jeremiah knew that leaders who have consistently demonstrated deep character flaws are unlikely to change for the better, and when we follow them we can fall into their distorted ways of thinking and acting.
Character matters. Effective, transformational leadership begins with the heart. The heart question Jesus asks is, “Are you a servant leader or a self-serving leader?”
When faced with choosing a leader, here are some questions to ask about their character:
- Do they tell the truth? Are they honest and trustworthy?
- Do they do what they say they will do?
- Are they open and transparent about their life?
- Do they admit failure and accept responsibility when thing go wrong, or do they blame others?
- Are they kind? Are they decent? Do they show respect to everyone?
- How do they treat others, including critics of their ideas?
- Are they violent with their words? Are they retaliatory?
- Do they talk about “we” and “us,” or is their language “me,” “my,” and “I?”
- Do they use “us” against “them” language?
- Who is in their inner circle of influence? Birds of a feather flock together.
- What do their former colleagues say about their leadership?
- Do they listen and follow wise counsel?
- Do they have a rich inner life, a deep connection with God that guides their decisions?
Persons with poor character lead, but where will they lead you? Self-serving leaders serve themselves. Servant leaders serve others. Leadership and organizations break down when there is no trust, and trust can only come from knowing that our leaders operate from a deep heart of service.
Our culture is attracted by charismatic personalities, who may or may not have a rich inner life. We are impressed by the appearance of success. What we should carefully examine in our leaders is their character.
Daryl Eldridge is President Emeritus of Rockbridge Seminary and teaches the course, Lead Like Jesus.
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