Skills and character are endlessly debated in the discussions about what constitutes good leadership. Good skills are needed for good performance, but good character is also needed, to create a long term platform for that performance to continue.
In all these debates, the picture of an iceberg is the best way to pictorially describe what’s necessary for good leadership; the top part of the iceberg corresponds to the skills of a leader – the part that’s visible to others; the bottom part of the iceberg corresponds to the character of the leader – the part that is hidden from view, but that is necessary to keep everything moving along on an even keel. The hidden character generally needs to be three times as big as the visible skills, otherwise things rapidly fall apart.
But another truth in the skills and character discussion is the way they can lead to the rise or fall of a leader. Good skills will cause a person to rise, and lack of skills will stop that rise. Bad character will cause a person to fall, and good character will stop that fall.
Consider Luis Suarez – one of the most gifted footballers of his generation, his skills have brought him to the very top of his profession. But his character results in his downfall – three times penalised for biting opponents on the field, he is now still in the middle of a four month worldwide ban having bitten someone at the World Cup. Without skills he would not have got to where he did, but without character he quickly falls from the heights that his skills led him to.
Tiger Woods is another example. Amazing golfing skills set him on course to be the greatest player in the sport’s history. A series of marital infidelities caused him to lose his form, his sponsorship deals, and almost his career. He is only now still fighting back to become the champion he once was.
Politicians from all parties and persuasions can also be used as examples. Bill Clinton, Chris Huhne, David Mellor and so many more – all rose because of their skills, and then foundered because of their character.
The lesson? Both skills and character are important. By all means do continue to sharpen your skills. Good skills are necessary for you to become successful in anything. But also work on deepening your character. If you don’t, it will become your downfall, no matter how great your skills become.
Mark Williamson works as a director of One Rock. He’s a lay preacher and leader within the Methodist Church, author of a biography on John Wesley, and has a biography on William Wilberforce coming out in October 2014. He enjoys good films, good food, praying for London, and going for long walks with his wife Joanna. You can follow him on Twitter @markraynespark.