Leadership: Character and Competence

Regardless of the different trends that surround leadership in our marketplace, family, politics and the church. I am with the school of thoughts that the leader’s character plays the foremost fundamental role in his or her credibility.

If a leader’s character is placed in any doubt, he automatically loses a chunk of credibility that would lead in losing the influence he has over his followers.

That is the reason why I believe Singapore’s Senior Minister Lee never hesitates to slap a lawsuit on anyone that would defame his character and credibility as a premier leader. He understands the kind of risk that is at stake which might threaten his influence.

Competence for success

Is character (though important) the only quality required in a leader?

What about competence? Have we overlooked or undermined the importance of this prerequisite in a leader in our over-zealousness pursuit for character?

If the ax is dull and its edge unsharpened, more strength is needed but skill will bring success

Ecclesiates 10:10

Imagine that you are in an office of a surgeon. And you observe his certifications from the courses of his training he had to undergo through medical school. Furthermore, you had read raving testimonials of his past successful surgical operations.

If he were to operate on you or one of your family members, I believe you would give him the full trust as he has provided enough confidence for you to allow him to perform his duties regardless whether he has a good or bad character.

As your life or your family members’ lives are at stake, you would most naturally and definitely seek a surgeon that is most qualified and experienced. If the surgeon has a good character, that would be a bonus. But in no circumstance should I believe we would subject our lives to a untrained surgeon who has a good character.

Likewise, can an uncompetent leader win the full trust of his people to follow him or her even if he or she has a good character?

Character for sustainability

The character of a leader forms the moral block or is the backbone of who the leader is, and can be describe as the capacity  to lead.

The greater the character of a leader, the greater is the leader’s capacity in leading in terms of quantity and quality.

Because leadership is such an intense and demanding role where the leader is constantly subjected to criticism, abuse and rejection, he or she must have a strong inner will and power to confront and deal with these while rallying and trudging forward. And character provides that sustainability.

In the face of such challenges, the leader’s character aids in the focus of his vision and meekness to deal with the strain in relationships around him as he leads.

The leader’s unwavering character provides the stability and confidence that the followers need as a beacon and anchor especially in marching through the difficult moments.

Leadership in 21st century

In this knowledge-based era where much is expected with the progress of mankind, I believe competence is an equally important quality in a leader that is expected and required in the 21st century. But it should be ideally built upon a leader’s character as the foundational quality.

Therefore, the immenient challenge for leaders today is to attain these two invaluable qualities that should be clearly displayed with constant renewal in his or her life.

In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

2 Timothy 2:20-21

What we truly need in this day and age are cutting edge leaders that are with the capacity, ability and the drive to raise the bar of morality, service and innovation to add value to our communities and industries by leading and creating opportunities where everyone is able to share and enjoy quality holistic living and sustainable success.


10 thoughts on “Leadership: Character and Competence

  1. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.
    Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mat20

  2. Leader is one who walk and talk, if one hope inspire people to do something, yet he or she do nothing about. Then he is also nothing.
    Like that is a saying, you want to be rich, follow the rich people.
    If you want to be teach how to be a leader, follow those who can led. Not some people who up on the stage critising Properity Gospel or Health and Wealth Gospel. Those who act self-rightousness, what did they done to the society as a whole – nothing. They keep talking poverty as purity, it is better to give than to receive – in the end, they are the one who received.

  3. Amen. That’s why we need to seek God for spiritual gifts to empower us for competence.

    However, u need to have certain good character first to be competent, like perseverance, diligence, faithfulness, wisdom etc.

    I believe God wants us to develop our character first and the competence part will come naturally as we exercise our gifting faithfully.

  4. paul2mango:

    I think the most important virtue that composites a good character is love for people- to lead is to serve and to serve is to wash people’s feet.

    That should be the reason why we do what we do with our gifts.

    The apostle Paul said, “if i speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have no love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but I have no love, I am nothing.”

  5. Amen, agreed fully of what you mentioned in tha article. Leadership = Character + Competence, esp in the kind of demanding world that we live in. However, I tend to think that there is a order to the equation.. ie that “Character” (esp pertaining to aspect of love for God & for ppl) is indeed the foundational quality by which “Competence” can be built, and if built, will fulfill the 2nd part of the equation. I believe that with a humble & willing heart, ‘competence’ can be learnt, but of of course, there could be limits realistically.

  6. In good time, everyone can bullshit about some good virtue. But I think it is during the bad time, it will show more light. Like some crisis, if he or she remind firm then he or she can say about. For those will keep on talking about good virtue and not being or doing, I really hope some crisis will happen to them – that will shed light in their fake image.
    For I have give them up, and they are not in my good book. I will never pray for them nor intervene for them in God’s presence. I must true to myself, or else I will be like them.
    Call me Jonah, I don’t care.
    Because I have give them up.

  7. james:

    I believe your ideology is subjected to the arena of leadership that is at work.

    For instance, as MM Lee recently affirmed Suharto’s legacy of bringing prgress to Indonesia despite the late President’s corruption streak.

    That shows that in a political context, competence is more highly esteemed and required in running a country towards economic development. Thus it could mean that a person with good character but with limited competence might bring a downfall of a nation with his wrong judgement.

    In a church context, of character is placed above all else in being a leader. And I agree you about the limits. However, I believe in this manner if we are talking about the same thing… is where the leader must be aware of his limits and keep learning, or if not he should get the RIGHT people to complement and enhance his leadership.

    I think being a leader in a church is a tall order as people look to you for spiritual guidance. Thus if the leader is “blind” how can they also lead the “blind”.

    Leaders in general must know the know-hows and do it to path the way ahead for their followers. That’s leadership in essence.


    I share the same sentiments with you… True character is revealed in adversity just like the tea bag story.

  8. A recent article on leadership in the context of Singapore politics to provide some more perspective on this subject:

    Mark Of A Leader ‘Not In His Top Grades’

    That is the assessment of those who were top students. They value competence, leadership qualities, including EQ, more. -ST
    Jeremy Au Yong

    Mon, Apr 07, 2008
    The Straits Times

    ACADEMIC grades are a useful measure for identifying a potential political leader but it should not be the topmost criterion.

    That assessment came, interestingly enough, from people who were top students, with four As in their A levels.

    They were reacting to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s statement on his urgent search for a successor in an interview on Tuesday, when he also highlighted the brain drain among the 4As students. PM Lee had also indicated that based on past experience, it would take about three elections to groom a leader.

    The Straits Times interviewed 10 people who had 4As, and the key traits they seek in the country’s leaders are competence, capability and leadership qualities, including emotional quotient or EQ.

    Top grades are not critical, they added.

    Even a PM without a university degree is not anathema to civil servant Jenny Tan.

    ‘I’m not vehemently against it,’ said the 28-year-old. ‘It’s just one factor. Work and track record are more important.”

    Another civil servant, Mr C.L. Lian, 31, put it this way: ‘The person must have demonstrated intellect and problem-solving ability, but the emphasis doesn’t have to be on grades. I’m sure Bill Gates would be someone you want.’

    Mr Gates, co-founder of software giant Microsoft, is one of the world’s most famous university dropouts.

    Mr Lian added that though the current selection system was sound, the grooming period might have to be shortened.

    ‘Currently, there is this grooming period but we may not have 20 years to give,’ he said, referring to PM Lee who entered politics in 1984 and became PM in 2004.

    Mr Lian said it was important for the political leaders to decide which parts of government need leaders with knowledge and experience in government, and which ministries can do with leaders without government experience.

    He cited Senior Counsel K. Shanmugam – who is going straight from being an MP to Law Minister – as a case of a person who was not groomed to be a minister, but had the right skills and experience.

    Some interviewed, like Nominated MP Siew Kum Hong, felt there may be a need to change the way leaders are chosen.

    Said Mr Siew, who had 4As in his A levels: ‘Now, we seem to be going about choosing one like we go about giving scholarships. There’s this list of objective criteria.’

    The answer to who should be the next PM will depend on how the question is framed, he added. ‘If we are looking for technocrats and managers, then you’ll be competing with the world. If you frame it differently, if you’re looking for leaders of the future, you probably could come up with a different characteristic.’

    MP Baey Yam Keng, another top scorer, said academic excellence was a ‘necessary although not sufficient’ criterion. Even then, he said exceptions could be made. ‘Grades are important at the entry point but over the years, they become less and less important.’

    In his interview with The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao, PM Lee had highlighted data that show one in four – 150 out of 600 – top A-level students yearly works overseas after their studies. ‘This flow is going to continue. So it’s a big challenge to find successors, particularly for politics,’ he said.

    The extent of this brain drain does not surprise those interviewed, who added that it is not at the heart of the problem.

    Said corporate tax associate Sarah Seow, 26: ‘I believe the greater problem isn’t the brain drain, but the political apathy of my generation.

    ‘I know that among my peers still staying on in Singapore, many of us are talented and intelligent enough to become the Government’s next tier of leaders – the only problem is that we may have become so caught up in our own careers and desires that we don’t see a reason to get involved in politics.’

    This article was first published in The Straits Times on Apr 4, 2008.

    Read another related article of PM Lee’s response- http://www.straitstimes.com/Free/Story/STIStory_224599.html

  9. Character without knowledge and right attitude is like a handicap. If I were to choose, character and attitude is more important cos you can always catch up on knowledge.

    A person with the right “spirit” has already won the battle over a negative blame-all person who has no light to guide him/her.

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