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Character

In this first of three articles exploring ‘The Three Cs’, Ray Evans examines how Character relates to the work and ministry of a church leader.

Character primary image

Character, Capability and Chemistry – the three Cs – are well known in leadership literature. They are always worth revisiting and examining from multiple angles1 and are the basics of good leadership and team life.

So we will explore them one at a time.

Character

It always comes first. It is what gets thoroughly examined over a lifetime of leadership. A weakness here will see the volume turned up when leadership challenges really get going.

Depending on exactly how you enumerate them in the various passages of Scripture, 23 out of 25 qualifications focus on this. It is summed up in qualification number one, ‘blameless’ or ‘above approach’ (1 Tim 3:2). No obvious concerns, reservations, or weaknesses.

Note that is not the same as perfection (for as Schaeffer used to say: “If it is perfection or nothing, it will always be nothing in this life.”) It is about Christ-like maturity of character.

In his recent book on team leadership, The Ideal Team Player, it’s interesting to see that Patrick Lencioni focuses on character for each of his three key attributes2: ‘hungry, humble, smart’. It’s a different way of reflecting on just how significant character is in leadership.

  • Hungry – hard-working, biased to action, doesn’t need to be asked or unduly supervised, anticipates needs and solves problems without a lot of fuss.
  • Humble – it is for the team, the organisation, and supremely as Christians, for the Lord. It is not about a hungry ego needing recognition, significance, applause, reward, or personal glory.
  • Smart – not meaning clever or high IQ, but emotionally intelligent. That is, ‘aware of self and managing self’, and ‘aware of others who are different and helping manage or care for them’.

Lencioni discusses what takes place when various combinations of these traits are absent. A person who is ‘only hungry’, can act like a bulldozer – getting jobs done, but leaving people who get in the way, bowled over. ‘Only humble’ may mean passive and ineffective. ‘Only smart’ can make you a charmer who isn’t trusted.

So what about ‘hungry and humble’? You may be an ‘accidental mess maker’ – leaving people feeling used and a bit diminished.

‘Smart and humble’, but not hungry, reflects the well-known saying, ‘First out of the taxi, last at the bar’ (ask someone if you can’t work it out!) Lencioni calls such a person, ‘the lovable slacker’. Liked, but felt to be shirking a bit.

‘Smart and hungry’ can be dangerous – ‘the clever politician’ – for they can fake humility for a while, but deep down it is really more about ‘me’ than the team. Challenging stuff!

Hungry, humble, smart. How are you doing on these aspects of character development? These should enable you and your team to have a good discussion about these traits in a way that is refreshing and non-predictable. Give it a try.

A word on emotional intelligence

Before I finish though, I want to say that the area that concerns me most is that many leaders need to improve their emotional intelligence – the awareness of who they are, how they function, and how they can better lead themselves. And the recognition that others are wired differently.

Good leaders need to figure out how to help people different from themselves.

Probably some of us discovered emotional intelligence when we read Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus3. What an eye-opener, even after ten years of marriage!

Previously I have pointed to the Five Voices method of understanding your own strongest ‘voice’ and your own weakest one, and the discovery that others ‘speak’ differently from you4. That is another way of gaining some emotionally intelligent insight. Try it with your leadership team if you haven’t already.

Could it be that some, if not much, of the inability of church leaders to take forward gospel-driven change is due to a lack of understanding of how people tick? Remember that what excites us may not excite them. We see the ‘plus’ of change; they may feel the ‘minus’.

Why? Because we spend our best hours with the organisation: our church. Our members often have to give what’s leftover after a stressful and tiring week. We sound as if we have lots of shiny new ideas, they are looking for a bit more encouragement.

Of course, with a church in the university context, all this may be masked. Young adults may have a ‘thirst to know’ characteristic of their age and stage, plus they have energy, and so will give enthusiastic support to most things. If a leader comes from a church in this environment it can be quite a disappointment to come across the change-suspicious middle-aged members of other churches.

To many members in slightly older churches, change seems unnecessary. And, of course, it can be hard to ‘lead up to older men’ who should be treated like fathers (1 Tim 5:1), even if they aren’t behaving as such (!).

So is it worth you investing in finding out how you may especially grow in emotional intelligence so that you can lead even such people effectively? Remember John Maxwell’s comment on character: “People buy into leaders, before they buy into vision.”

The other two articles in this series look at Capability and Chemistry.

Footnotes

1. E.g. see Bill Hybels, Leadership Axioms (Zondervan, 2008), pp75-77
2. Patrick Lencioni, The Ideal Team Player (Wiley, 2016)
3. John Gray, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (Thorsons, 1993)
4. Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram, Five Voices (Wiley, 2016)