Is Your Lack of Competency Actually Revealing a Character Issue?

by Ben Sternke on December 12, 2012

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One of the basic tools I come back to again and again in the coaching I do with 3DM is called the Character/Competency Matrix (more here). Jesus makes it clear that the people who follow him will be equipped to do the same things he was doing, and, remarkably, even greater things (John 14:12)!

Character - Competency Matrix

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Thus disciples of Jesus are learning to both be like Jesus (character) and do like Jesus (competency, or skills).

Sometimes in a coaching huddle we are focusing on character, other times on competency. However, one thing I’ve noticed is how interconnected and interwoven character and competency are. They aren’t isolated aspects of our lives that we can focus on independently. They are intricately connected, like a tightly woven fabric. I’ve seen this play out in two distinct ways.

Firstly, sometimes we develop certain competencies in order to hide specific character issues. Many times the things we’re “good at” turn out to be great places to hide from the character work God would like to do. An ability to speak persuasively to others can be a crutch that prevents us from developing the character traits of gentleness and kindness. The skill of taking a new frontier for the kingdom can cause people to avoid dealing with issues of impatience because they’re always hopping from new initiative to new initiative.

Secondly, sometimes our competencies are limited on the foundation of our character. In other words, sometimes we start by focusing on a competency area, and find out that the reason there is a lack of competency is because of an unwillingness to grapple with a character area.

One way I’ve seen this play out, first in my own life, and now when I coach others, is when talking with leaders about the necessity of what we call L1 leadership at the beginning of any new kingdom venture. L1 leadership refers to strong, directive leadership that starts moving in a direction and calls people to follow, being very clear up-front about both the prize and the price of the vision. The posture is, “Here’s the vision God’s given me. Here’s where I’m going. I’d love for you to come along, but you don’t have to.”

Oftentimes I meet younger leaders who realize they haven’t done this very well (I certainly didn’t at first either). When we begin to dive deeper into why they haven’t developed this competency (processing it through the Learning Circle), interesting character issues come to the surface! For example, “What if people mis-interpret me and think I’m a jerk?” and “What if people leave?” Both of these reactions reveal character issues.

“What if people think I’m a jerk?” I remember having this reaction, but then grappling with why it mattered so much to me what other people thought of me. Why am I allowing a concern for my own reputation keep me from bearing kingdom fruit? My concern for my own reputation was preventing me from leading others in an appropriate way. In other words, pride (concern for my reputation) was preventing me from loving people well (expressing L1 leadership). The competency issue revealed a character issue.

“What if people leave?” Again, I remember having this reaction. Following it around the Learning Circle brought the deeper reflection: why do I care so much about people leaving? If they leave, then I don’t look successful (pride rearing its ugly head again!). Also, having people around helps pay our bills! So if people leave, I lose a sense of security. In this case I was allowing fear to prevent me from loving people well. The competency issue revealed a character issue.

Character and Competency are fluid, interconnected realities, and keeping our eyes firmly fixed on both (instead of focusing on them as isolated parts) can be a powerfully catalytic combination that accelerates our growth as disciples of Jesus.

7 comments
Orlando Baptist
Orlando Baptist

Your right Ben - Character and Competency do go hand and hand and seeing them in that way can be hugely beneficial in our growth as disciples.

Anthony Parrott
Anthony Parrott

That makes sense. And, when applying these terms to leaders in particular, irrelevant is probably a decent word. Fortunately, for all potential disciples, no one is irrelevant. However, one must be discipled *into* leadership. I have too often seen low skill/low character people expect to placed into leadership of something. But, as my pastor likes to say, there is no such thing as a self-sent, self-anointed, self-appointed leader.

Anthony Parrott
Anthony Parrott

Ben,Ben, A friend of mine pointed me towards your blog and I have appreciated it for the past few months now. I am worship director at a church in northwest Iowa and we have started a missional community movement in our church this past fall. I am very thankful for 3DM's resources and it has been great reading your thoughts and input as well. Also, fun fact, I am originally from the South Bend/Mishawaka area, so its nice to know that the Missional Community movement is in Indiana! One thought and question the chart above. I feel slightly uncomfortable calling the low skill/low character folks "irrelevant." I feel that many times those are the exact people that God calls into action; they are perhaps even the people that Jesus invested the most time with. Of course, it was always with the purpose of moving them up to the "fruitful" quadrant, but I'm not sure that Jesus would have called them "irrelevant" in the first place. What do you think?

Ben Sternke
Ben Sternke

Hi Anthony, thanks for commenting.I can understand how "irrelevant" might feel like a pejorative term, but I really don't mean it that way. I'm simply referring to the fact that when a leader is low on character AND low on skill, their opportunity to cause harm is limited, whereas a highly skilled/low-character leader has lots of potential to cause harm. The matrix simply reminds what our task is with the disciples God has given us. We don't find these people ready-made, but we are developing them into the top-right quadrant, no matter where they are when we find them.Maybe another good way to fill out the quadrants, then, is:Low-skill / low-character: LIMITED HARMHigh-skill / low-character: LOTS OF HARMLow-skill / high-character: LIMITED FRUITHigh-skill / high-character: LOTS OF FRUITThe point is that these aren't static realities - it's simply a picture that reminds us we need to invest both CHARACTER and COMPETENCY in those we lead!Ben

Stu
Stu

Ben, i love these thoughts, brother. The intersection and connectedness of Character and Competence cannot be overstated. I do have one question that i'd love to see you address, though. I've seen a lot of leaders like the one(s) you described above NOT care about people leaving or thinking they're a jerk, because in their mind, they are on their own mission. "God has called me to this, and you can come along if you'd like," can also lead people to not care whether or not people are with, or what they think of them. Either way, it's still pride. But what would you say in terms of addressing that end of the spectrum of leadership? miss you, bro. stu

Ben Sternke
Ben Sternke

That's a great question, Stu. (And great to hear from you! - hope all is well).In the case you mention, I think this would come up as a competency issue in some of the later phases of discipleship and leadership development. For example, L2 and L3 leadership are much more difficult for the kinds of people you describe to do well, because the posture is more of a coach, more "coming alongside," a lot of patience and laying down your life for those who are following you.When those kinds of people realize they're not "good at" L2/L3 leadership, usually when we dig we find pride and impatience at the core.Again, great question!B

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