Why Character Counts

why character counts

I have a small ad from a magazine hanging in my office at home. It shows a teenage boy doing a handstand on the grass. Behind him is a grade school boy doing a nice somersault. And behind him is a little guy with his bottom up in the air, trying to get his body over the hump. Below is the caption, “When you’re out in front and others follow, that’s leadership!”

Leaders are those who have followers. Even if you’re not the “designated” leader and others follow, you are still leading. Being a leader is not about a title or a position. It’s about influencing and modeling. Leaders influence discipleship, and that’s why being a godly leader is important.

Any leader, even unintentional ones, can lead in directions that either help or hinder others in their daily journeys toward Jesus. We never quite know who is watching. So the most important transactions for us are those of the heart — our own discipleship and character.

Once on an airplane, I watched a politician I recognized provide humble and gentle care for an older person on the flight. That politician didn’t know I was watching. He didn’t know that he was being a leader at that moment. But his acts of kindness have already had implications in my life.

Shortly after this, I also watched a student in an InterVarsity chapter, who obviously had leadership gifts, turn the whole fellowship in a negative direction because of his personal bitterness toward another person. He didn’t see any immediate effects of his little cynical, critical comments, but the character of the whole group changed over time.

This is why working at leadership is not the first step in becoming a leader. Following Jesus is. Jesus was clear about our inner life: “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:18-19).

The Pharisees, by neglecting the internal issues, often led people away from God rather than towards him. That can also be true for us: bitterness of heart, jealousy, lack of love, unforgiveness, judgmentalism, pride, or anger — these and more will inevitably come out of our mouths or be reflected in our actions.

And these attitudes of the heart will become far more evident in our leadership than our well-crafted plans.

—Steve Hayner, former president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Read more on leadership essentials and stay Motivated to Lead by being the person God created you to be.