The Character Connection

by Andy Wood on November 5, 2014

in Enlarging Your Capacity, Five LV Laws, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Cycle, Principle of Increase

Character word cloud

Maybe it’s because I had another birthday yesterday, or maybe it’s because that birthday was also Election Day.  Maybe it’s because I work with a school whose mission reads, in part, to “cherish character.”  But lately I’ve had character on the brain.

Character in leadership.

Character development.

Character habits.

Dr. King envisioned a day when Americans would be judged “solely by the content of their character.”  Our answer to that culturally is to try and not judge anybody at all.  That is, until the tide of public opinion breaks the dam of political correctness.  Or the electorate gets a belly full of whoever the incumbent is.  Or the arrogant, narcissistic preacher or politician or boss-person overestimates their awesomeness one time too many.

In spite of our fascination with techniques, charisma, methods, or technology, people of influence still have to deal with the Character Connection.

You have to deal with it when you look in the mirror, when nobody else is looking.

You have to deal with it when you’re on the pedestal, when everybody’s cheering.

You have to do it in the outhouse, when everybody’s jeering, or they have forgotten you.

In spite of our efforts to prove otherwise (and we’ve had some pretty spectacular efforts), character earns the politician the right to legislate and pontificate.  Character earns the right for the preacher to articulate truth. Character earns the business leader the right to profit in the marketplace of both money and ideas.

And a loss of character can undermine them all.

There are lots of ideas – good ideas – about what forms and sustains character when it comes to leadership.  My favorite comes from a passage in the Bible – in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work (NIV).

Something happens from the start to the end of this passage that transforms people, organizations, and even a massive movement from “infants” to an organization of fulfilled purpose and maturity.  It starts with gifted leaders.  It ends with a unified body (Church? Organization? Nation?)  And the common thread to it all is character.

Whether your job is to lead a nation or a non-profit, shepherd a business or a crowd of Baptists, or even if the only person you’re leading right now is you, character is still your number one priority.  And that character is expressed in five ways, which we’ll spend a lifetime crafting, with God’s help:

1. Unity

Why is it that the only people who can put “united” back into the “United States” is a terrorist from somewhere else?  Maybe it’s because the terrorist has a more consistent character, although heinous, than many of us do.

You will never grow beyond your ability to walk in unity, particularly with people who have different points of view.  Unity doesn’t mean we agree on everything, but it does mean we learn how to come together in spite of our differences.  Spiritual growth, personal growth, and leadership growth will always involve you in the relentless pursuit of unity.

2. Maturity

Want more influence?  More success?  Grow up!  The reason you don’t have more is because you can’t handle more. And if you aren’t pursuing the development of your own character, it really doesn’t matter what other goals you’re pursuing – even if you reach them, somebody else will enjoy the success.

Changing your character is always more important than changing your circumstances.  That doesn’t mean we aren’t supposed to be change agents.  It just means the change starts first from within.  And for followers of Christ, we have a crystal-clear image of what maturity looks like – it’s the character of Jesus Himself.

3. Stability

Paul said that the goal of gifted leaders was to get their constituents to a place where they were no longer infants, tossed back and forth by the waves or blown here and there by the winds. In other words, no longer like typical American culture today.

In its simplest terms, stability means knowing what you believe and why you believe it, knowing who you are (and who you aren’t), and keeping the commitments you have made.  A person who isn’t stable is someone who is easily distracted, easily deceived, and is always looking for the next best offer, or the next great idea.

4. Integrity

“Speaking the truth in love” is Paul’s key gateway to growth.  This calls for integrity, but integrity means a lot more than just telling the truth.  Integrity calls for balanced communication.  Having the courage to tell the truth is vital on the one hand.  Learning to say it with kindness and compassion is another.

Some people can sacrifice their integrity by declaring “truth” devoid of love.  That’s not a virtue – it’s a sign of stupidity and meanness. Truth used as a weapon of hatred ultimately falls in on itself.

Other people are so nice, they lie to protect themselves or somebody else’s feelings.  But loving liars are still liars.  Integrity calls for both.

5. Responsibility

Character starts with being faithful to your own charge – of standing your post and executing your responsibility.  Character leadership means equipping all the members of the team, the organization, or even the nation to do the same, then holding them responsible for fulfilling that responsibility.

Victims, finger-pointers, blowhards and crybabies need not apply.  People who clamor for rights, entitlements and liberties without corresponding responsibilities lack the character necessary to have the rights in the first place. They still may well have the rights, but don’t have a clue what to do with them, and wind up doing more harm than good.

 

Those five qualities – unity, maturity, stability, integrity, and responsibility – are the protein of character.  Sure, there are plenty of other qualities that can be considered.  But what these have in common is that they call you to work on you and call me to work on me before we ever try to fix somebody or something else.

They also call you and me to work together to make the organization, the church, the community, the nation, or even the household a better place.

Finally, they’re all a work in progress.  None of us ever fully arrives at any of these.  But the quest for character is worth the pursuit of a lifetime.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Martha Orlando November 5, 2014 at 4:57 pm

This is so timely, Andy! I’ve heard character defined as how a person behaves when no one is looking. Well, wait, we know God is looking! 🙂 And, He’s the final judge.
I pray to keep growing in the image of Christ because that is the best character one could ever have!
Blessings, and happy birthday again!
Martha Orlando´s last blog post ..“I Will Sing, Sing a New Song . . .”

Romualdo November 7, 2014 at 6:57 pm

This is powerful. “You have to deal with it when you look in the mirror, when nobody else is looking” (Wood, 2014). Character for me has been a process, but I truly agree that if you cannot be “right with God” at all times, even when no one is looking then you lack true character. How does one get to this place of character? You say it perfectly, by building into a level of maturity and unity with God, oneself, and those that one surrounds (Wood, 2014).

Thank you for this article, it captures character in its most simplistic, God-ordained way.

RM

Dexter Jack April 17, 2015 at 7:48 pm

Really great article and I agree with all your conclusions.

Clifton Strickland July 20, 2015 at 9:11 am

Good morning Professor,
I like to think of character in the same light as the golden rule. There have only been a few times in my life where it did not apply. My goal for the rest of this year and beyond is to never make excuses. Responsibility is something you have to ask for. Even if you earn it by getting a promotion, you must live up to what it stands for. My father taught me to respect others and always do my best. Your blog reminded me of his teachings.
Clifton

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

Previous post:

Next post: