Competence and Character
Updated: May 10, 2019
“Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without strategy.” –GEN Norman Schwarzkopf
General Norman Schwarzkopf, the man who led the defeat of the world’s fourth largest army in 100 hours in 1991, said that leaders need to be competent and they need to have character. It sounds simple but what does he mean? It seems that there is an endless list of leadership competencies and traits published by all types of organizations. General Schwarzkopf took these elements of leadership and simplified them in two essential broad categories. Let’s take a look at what it means for a leader to be competent and to have character.
Competence is the ability to accomplish a task. Wherever you are leading today, competence is being able to meet the expectations defined by your organization. Being able to execute the tasks and organizational expectations is one of the primary reasons someone is in management. They are able to get the job done, hopefully, through influencing others. A leader without competence lacks the ability to accomplish their assigned tasks.
Character is not as easy to define or measure as competence. Character is not an individual’s morals, integrity, or ethics alone. A person’s character is how they apply these traits every day. Character is in the daily application of your values. General Schwarzkopf said, “the truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.” Simply put, character is choosing the harder right over the easy wrong.
A leader lacking in competence will fail at his or her assigned tasks. Their responsibilities to the organization will go unfulfilled and they will quickly reach their upper limits. Lacking competence does not mean that a leader is not a “good guy.” In fact, he or she may be an outstanding individual. It only means that their ability to lead and influence will be limited by their limited competence.
A leader lacking character, however, will fail those they lead. A leader without character, even if they are the most competent person in the organization, will create a negative climate that will overshadow every other accomplishment. An organization is only as strong as its people and leaders lacking in character will damage its most valuable commodity – its people.
Great leaders are competent and have impeccable character. Some leaders can have limited success if what they lack in competence is made up by their character. However, a leader without character is like a virus that will ruin an organization from the inside no matter how competent they are.
Because Leadership Matters!