We know that good people do good things and bad people do bad things. That’s common sense based on experience born out everyday.
So it seems logical to say that leaders with good character will be successful, will choose and achieve (good) goals, and in the end leave positive legacies. It seems equally a no-brainer to conclude that leaders with bad character will be unsuccessful, will choose bad goals, likely will not achieve them, and in the end leave negative legacies.
But reality is not so simple. Truth be told, sometimes leaders evidencing good, even exemplary, character do not choose wisely, do not achieve, are not successful, and leave tarnished legacies. Meanwhile, strange as it may seem, leaders who are “bad people” back and accomplish good goals and eventually leave their leadership role lauded for success.
FDR apparently conducted at least one affair until the day he died; yet he is regarded as one of America’s great presidents. JFK apparently “carried on” in the White House in more ways than one, including with Marilyn Monroe; yet he is remembered for his vision and for his strength in staring down Khrushchev during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
LBJ was a womanizer, and he was arrogant and crude. But LBJ helped enact both the Civil Rights and the Voting Rights Acts of the mid-1960s, changing race relations for the better at long last and forever. Nixon campaigned as the “Law and Order” candidate, than orchestrated a break-in and cover-up precipitating a constitutional crisis. Finally, the law and order man resigned in disgrace.
Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush are clearly men of deep and abiding Christian faith. They are men of good character. But both, though accomplishing some things, walked away from what many consider failed presidencies.
So people of lesser character sometimes accomplish good to great things and people of higher character sometimes accomplish very little or even falter or fail. Hmmm. Why?
Character is still a predictor. It’s just not alone in its influence. Too many other variables are at work to isolate on character (which the Right and which religious voters tend to do) and use it as our one and only assessment of a leader’s potential.
Another reason character is not in itself a predictor is that leaders are not “all good” or “all bad.” All human beings are made in the image of God; yet all possess a sin nature. We are capable of nobility and ignobility. We are an enigmatic mix of good and evil and, under pressure, in the wrong moment, who knows what will come out?
In addition, to state the obvious, God is sovereign. He works in mysterious ways. The heart of the king is in his hand and God turns it wither he will. Sometimes what we call lack of success or utter failure fits within the plan of God. Sometimes he allows leaders with bad character to flourish, and sometimes God allows leaders of good will to endure hardship. Why? Only God knows.
So it’s possible that a would-be president with multiple divorces and affairs on his record just might turn out to be a good leader. It’s equally possible that a would-be president with an exemplary reputation just might turn out to be a poor president. It’s hard to tell based on our finite assessments of their perceived character—and that’s another consideration: “perceived” character is not always “actual” character. Things are not always what they seem.
Don’t get me wrong. Character matters. But using it as a predictor of leadership success is just not as easy as we might wish.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2012
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