Character over competence

I’ve met and worked with many ‘leaders’ whose technical competency, level of knowledge in their subject area, and knowledge of the organisation we worked for far outshone mine. But, even though making yourself a subject matter expert might help you progress into formal leadership positions it does not make you a leader.

char ·ac ·ter

  • the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.

com ·pe ·tence

  • the ability to do something successfully or efficiently.

As we start in our careers, we need to learn and develop to become efficient at what we have been hired to do. But, as we continue to progress, so do the attributes that make us a valuable employee. True leaders, as they progress, will focus less on technical competence, spend less time hiding behind the security of their corporate knowledge, and pay more attention to their character and applying it to the  organisation. That is what makes great leaders.

Those who do not possess the character to become a great leader will continue to build upon their technical competence, but that will only take them so far. They may continue to be in formal leadership positions, but they may not be inspiring  leaders, and their foundation will be built upon bricks of technical competence. They will be subject matter experts trying to be leaders. Great leaders, however, spend the time to create a foundation of competence before building upon it with their character. They inspire those they lead and bring subject matter experts together to create great teams.

With training, someone can continue to add competence bricks to their wall, making them an even better subject matter expert. But that’s not what leaders should be. A leader’s  foundation needs character bricks that are not easily made. They can only be built upon the intrinsic values that already exist; character trumps competence.

How many competence bricks you need as a leader will vary with your industry, especially if it’s a technical industry. But, as soon as you meet that threshold the same principle applies: the greater your character, the better you will be as a leader. It’s really as simple as that.

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