Skills Can Kill: 4 Dangers of (Only) Skills-Based Leadership Development

Both character and competence are essential for leaders. Of David, the king of Israel, the Scripture states, “He shepherded them with a pure heart and guided them with his skillful hands” (Psalm 78:72). In other words, David possessed both character and competence.

When people think of developing leaders, they often think in terms of necessary skills that need to be acquired. Often leadership development degenerates into only skill-based training. While skills are important, there are four dangerous outcomes of only developing skills:

  1. Competence outpaces character

When leadership development is divorced from discipleship, skills can be developed while hearts grow cold. Leaders with increasing competence likely will be handed more responsibilities. If growing responsibilities are not accompanied with growth in character, the leader will eventually implode.

  1. Spotlight surpasses sanctification

When leaders become skilled, their ability often garners attention. Their displayed gifting grabs them the spotlight. But when the spotlight surpasses sanctification, leaders are set up for a fall. And they are set up to harm others along the way. If we develop over-skilled and under-sanctified leaders, we are harming the leaders and those they lead.

  1. Ability trumps availability

There is beauty to the well-used statement that “God is more concerned with your availability than your ability.” The heart of the statement is to be surrendered fully to Him, to focus on His power and not your own, to realize you are a mere jar of clay and that the power is in the message and not in you. Overemphasizing skills can cause leaders to think the power is in their ability and not in the Lord. Skill-based training, without a constant shepherding of the heart, can encourage leaders to trust themselves and not Him.

  1. Skill overshadows serving

When skill-based training helps leaders know and develop their strengths, there is the danger that leaders will only want to serve “in their sweet spots.” While there is wisdom in serving within one’s gifting, gifting must never overshadow basic Christianity—the reality that we are servants, that none of us is above setting up chairs, that none of us is above any task. Without a focus on the Lord and His work for us and in us, leaders will develop a disdain for anything outside of their skills. In other words, skilled yet selfish leaders will be developed, leaders who lead with their skills and not a desire to serve.

We must train for skills but not to the neglect of the heart, not to the neglect of character.