Competence Matters, but Character Matters More

Character: moral excellence and firmness

The mainstream media became enamored with Bill Clinton in 1992 and sought to convince the American people that “character doesn’t matter.”
Let me share just a few of the hundreds of statements, in print and in the media, that exist on the record. You’ll quickly recognize this effort by the press to undermine the moral values that we called “character.” Hold on to your hat.
“… we can remember that we are electing not clergy but political leaders — who need to be principled and devious, compassionate and brutal, visionary and, sometimes, utterly egotistical. If we try to do much better, we will end up doing worse.” — Suzanne Garment, San Diego Union-Tribune.1992
As it turns out, character DOES matter. You can’t run a family, let alone a country, without it. How foolish to believe that a person who lacks honesty and moral integrity is qualified to lead a nation and the world! Nevertheless, our people continue to say that the President is doing a good job even if they don’t respect him personally. Those two positions are fundamentally incompatible. In the Book of James the question is posed, “Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring” (James 3:11 NIV). The answer is no.

James Dobson, Sept 1998


Character matters.

I’ve been typing those words for company presentations for at least 15 years. I believe in character so strongly that I went to work for a leadership development group that preaches it in every training we do. No, I didn’t just start thinking about it in 2016. I’ve thought it as long as I have had an opinion about humans. Especially those who choose to be leaders.

Stephen Covey – American educator, author, businessman, and keynote speaker – was best known for his work regarding the importance of what he considered two of the most important elements of leadership: competence and character. I’ve listened to his videos, read his words and typed out many of his thoughts about leadership. Covey believed that these two elements were necessary for someone to be a good leader. In one of his books, he shared that “character is built on integrity and intention and competency is built on capabilities and results.” Being associated with the LDS belief system, Covey was highly influenced by the moral teaching and values found within that teaching. Most people familiar with the group’s philosophy are aware that they emphasize institutional and personal morality and courage. So it’s no surprise that character and competence would be important, even foundational, to Covey. (Whether or not these teachings have led to pure motives is for another day.)

Thinking about my own beliefs regarding character, I have been struck by the number of evangelicals (for clarification, I am referring to ‘a person who is committed to the Christian gospel message that Jesus Christ is the Savior of humanity’) who have softened on their commitment/requirement for the nation’s leader to be a person of known character. This of course is not referring to a perfect person. Nor is it meant to imply that we would ever find a national leader who is flawless. My confusion and dismay has surfaced as I recall the past words of those who consider themselves to be conservative, bible-believing followers of Christ. I don’t remember a time in my life where public evangelical faith leaders would refuse to denounce anyone who attempted to become our nation’s leader who showed no remorse or humility regarding their moral failures.
Honestly, it has been a baffling time.

Character matters; leadership descends from character.
Rush Limbaugh

I have never believed that government officials should be required to confess the Christian faith as theirs to receive my vote. But what I have come to believe is that both of the elements that Covey describes are required to make a good leader of a nation. And both would be required for me to cast a vote for them. A failure in either of these, without some sort of acknowledgment or apology, breaks trust with people who are following. And Covey’s research shows that the “quickest way to decrease trust is to violate a behavior of character.” Trust is like a bank account. Character matters because it’s like a massive deposit to the bank account. When it’s missing, there is a huge deficit that occurs regarding future ‘spending’. When trust has been violated multiple times, or if a person is known for their questionable character, it is likely that those who listen to them will have a difficult time believing anything they say.
Trust develops when someone is consistently authentic – being true to themselves and others, saying what they mean and meaning what they say.

I’ve spent years developing my thoughts and convictions regarding character and competence in leaders. I chose to abstain from voting for the next president because neither candidate has demonstrated to me that they possess both these elements. My prayer is that 2024 will produce someone in whom I can gladly cast my vote. Someone who represents integrity, humility and capability.
Until then, I will pray for the elected officials as God has instructed His people to do. And I will seek wisdom to live my convictions as a citizen of this nation.

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