Good character takes a lifetime to build and a moment to destroy.

The temptations we face, plus the pressures we experience, can lure us to deep regret without the discipline of strong character and trusting God to help us do what we cannot do on our own.

God helps us, but He expects us to do our part too.

Good character, often called integrity, is not literally destroyed in a moment. However, it’s in a moment that we realize the reality of what has happened and how it affects others.

The failure to develop integrity, or the breakdown of good character often takes place over a long slow road that is nearly imperceptible in the beginning. 

Keep watch over your sustained stress, prolonged and elevated pressure, and personal and spiritual disappointments. They can trigger justification and rationalization that leads to regret.

What are your triggers, temptations, and most common situations that can contribute to the breakdown of your character?

The cost of bad character always exceeds the cost of good character. 

Good character isn’t a mysterious or subjective idea, good character is easy to see in every-day circumstances, here are several examples.

  • You keep your promises. 
  • You give more than take.
  • You don’t take advantage of others to advance yourself.
  • Your private life matches your public life.
  • You demonstrate integrity in the small things.
  • You treat others with dignity and respect.

Faithfulness to these practical examples helps you develop your character, and there are many more you could add this list.

There are, however, deeper level practices that will more firmly establish the “who you are” of character underneath those everyday examples.

5 Practices that build leadership character to last for a lifetime

1) Guard your heart.

The character that will sustain you for a lifetime of leadership starts with God. The world will pull you in one direction, God draws you back to Himself, and makes the path clear.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Keep your mouth free of perversity; keep corrupt talk far from your lips. Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you. Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways. Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.

Proverbs 4:23-27

Godly character, patterned after Jesus example for us, does not hold perfection over our heads; instead, it places grace and ability in our hearts.

2) Establish a “top five traits” of character for yourself.

Traveling the long road of leadership is obviously a lifetime endeavor, but it starts fresh every day and you will do better if you have a vision of the person you want to be.

For example, you can list for yourself specific values that you want to guide your life.

In addition, you will likely find it very helpful to select about five character traits that are inspiring to you and seem a lot like the real you according to your values.

They might look something like this:

  • Humble
  • Grateful
  • Responsible
  • Generous
  • Courageous

You could list twenty-five or more, but that’s not practical.

What five character traits would those who follow you say you most exemplify? Would they match the ones you most hope is the real you?

3) Pre-make lifestyle decisions.

When you go to the grocery store you probably make a list so you don’t wander up and down the isles temped to pick up stuff you don’t need or want. That’s a simple example of pre-making decisions. In this case, of what you will or won’t buy.

The practice of pre-making important lifestyle decisions can radically alter the trajectory and outcomes of your life.

If you wait until you’re at the moment of decision, when the pressure is on and perhaps your discipline or willpower is low, it almost always results in a less than ideal outcome and regret kicks in.

You can pre-make decisions about:

  • Your budget
  • How you treat people
  • Your physical health and regular exercise
  • How you demonstrate generosity
  • Your prayer life

The point is not to make a long list.

What 3-5 lifestyle decisions can you pre-make so that when you come to them daily, weekly, or monthly, you waste no time deliberating toward success or failure, you just do the smart thing?

4) Practice delayed gratification

We live in an instant culture where if we wait more than five seconds for a website to load or an app to fully open, frustration kicks in.

If we text someone and they don’t respond in minutes we might be tempted to wonder why. Today business makes it possible to have nearly anything delivered to your doorstep in a day or two.

None of this helps us in our ability to wait for the things we want in life. That’s not an excuse, it’s just being honest about the world we live in.

Delayed gratification is the ability to resist the temptation for immediate enjoyment in hopes of gaining a more valuable and long-lasting reward.

My leadership mentor says it this way:

“Pay now, play later.” John Maxwell

The ultimate idea in a Christian worldview is that we exchange a lifestyle of personal agenda and life apart from Christ, for the eternal reward of heaven.

The same principle holds true for the daily life we live in the here and now.

Character is built by learning the ability to set aside the smaller and faster rewards for the deeper, more meaningful and lasting rewards.

5) Learn the balance of grace and growth.

The discipline of developing character is not meant to embrace a lifestyle of legalism, lack of joy or the absence of spontaneity. In fact, well developed character increases your options, lowers your pressure, and enhances your joy.

The best way to approach the development of your character is to embrace both grace and growth.

Make the growth of your character, based on Jesus’ example, your primary objective. But when you fall short, give yourself grace, learn from your short-comings and take another run at it tomorrow.

Again, this is not meant as a “lower the bar” kind of excuse, it simply recognizes that we are human, and we’ll not get it right every time.

Great character is made up of doing the small things in the right way every day, and over a lifetime, this leads you to the big things that really matter in a way that pleases God, and you are proud of.