4 Practical Reasons Character Must Trump Competence

When Jethro confronted Moses for foolishly attempting to do his work alone, he encouraged Moses to develop leaders, to build a team of people around him. According to Exodus 18:21, those Moses invited to join him were to be:

  • Able
  • God-fearing
  • Trustworthy
  • Hating a bribe

Look at the list above and notice which characteristics speak to character and which speak to competence. While competence is listed (those who are able), character is emphasized more. What does this mean for us?

When inviting others to join your team, both character and competence matter. They are both important. A person of integrity who is not skilled for the role will only grow frustrated while frustrating everyone else. So competence is important, but character is more so, and here are four reasons why:

1. Collective character cannot overcome a team member’s lack of character.

If someone joins the team who is not competent in the role, the collective competence of the team can cover the competence deficiencies. Collective competence can mask a lack of competence, but collective character cannot mask someone’s lack of character. If someone joins the team without integrity, the team’s integrity will not cover the person’s lack of integrity.

2. Competence is much easier to teach than character.

While people can surely grow and mature in their character, teaching skills and competence is much easier. A lack of character requires transformation, not just new information.

3. Character impacts the culture more than competence does.

A team member’s lack of character, if not addressed, can corrode trust and sour the whole culture. A lack of competence may harm execution, but a lack of character harms the culture.

4. People need leaders with character more than leaders with competence.

When you consider developing future leaders from the team, you will want men and women of character. Competence may grab attention, but character sustains for the long haul.