The Only Leadership Trait You Absolutely Need

When God looks for leaders, he doesn’t value what we tend to value. In 1 Samuel 16:7 God says, “‘For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart’” (ESV). In his kingdom, character is paramount because the king we need is one who can reconcile us to God.

On our own, we aren’t powerful enough or smart enough or pretty enough to do that. If we were, God could have just given us a king who could supply those things. But that’s not our main problem. Instead, we’ve been separated from God by pride and disobedience, so we need reconnection.

God doesn’t want us to try to find identity, security and happiness apart from him in a king (whether literal or metaphorical); he wants us to find those things in him. He is power and beauty and significance and security in abundance. So when he chooses leaders, he doesn’t say, “That’s an impressive résumé,” or “Wow, you’re so articulate.” He looks for someone who listens to and allows the Spirit to work through them. It’s why he chose David. Later in 1 Samuel 16 it says, “And the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David from that day forward” (v. 13).

Israel’s search for a king was really their search for salvation—and it’s our search too. We all long for identity, security, and happiness, and whatever we think can provide that is what we pursue. For some, it’s financial security. For others, romance. For others, family. The “kings” are as varied as our own hearts. But they all have this in common: They can’t save us.

The universal human mistake is to look for salvation in the wrong places. Adam and Eve saw the fruit in the Garden, thinking it looked good, but in the end, it led to death. Israel looked to Saul to be the king who could save them, but in the end, his pride left the nation in ruins. We do it, too: We grasp on to the most compelling good thing around, we expect that good thing to do God things, and in the end, it’s a disaster.

The book of Proverbs says it plainly, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (14:12).

Every king but God lets us down. Because no king but God can offer what we need most—salvation. Salvation comes only from being united to God. And when it comes to being united to God, achievement is irrelevant: Character is paramount.

So when we’re evaluating others—a friend, an employee, a pastor—we should prioritize character. It’s not looks, status, or money that will carry us through life; character brings more blessing into our lives than charisma.

This is true for our self-evaluation, too: How much time do we spend preparing our character? If that’s what God is looking for, and what we should be looking for, how much time do we spend working on it ourselves? Character matters more for our future than cash.

We spend a lot of our time building lives that, in David Brooks’ language, look good on a résumé. But what good is a strong resume if your character is corrupt? After all, what do people say about you at your funeral—that you made a lot of money and stayed fit well into your fifties? Or that you were a person of patience, compassion, and courage? The former are résumé virtues. The latter are eulogy virtues.

Résumé virtues can impress a lot of people. But eulogy virtues matter more—and not only after we die, either. They matter now. They matter eternally. What makes us truly beautiful in God’s eyes, and the eyes of others, is character. So if you focus on anything, focus on developing character.