The Dangers of Competence without Character
communication,  education,  faith

The Dangers of Competence without Character: Developing the Whole Student

“You’re wrong. My daughter could never do something that dishonest. Have you seen her?”

Malinda sat across from me in the small university room adjacent to tournament headquarters. Her voice shrieked and quavered. “Sylvia’s one of the most competent young ladies her age.”

Sylvia’s competence was not in question. She had been disqualified by tournament officials for plagiarizing evidence in her national championship debate round. Sylvia denied it.

Her teammate Missy was horrified — she had no idea what had happened. Still, the consequence was the same for both of them. The guilty and the innocent. Both extremely competent. Both disqualified and embarrassed. Both shedding lots of tears.

They left the room. Missy, the innocent party, and her mom returned — to apologize. Sylvia’s parents sent a letter threatening to file a lawsuit for defrocking their daughter of her “rightful” rewards.

A few years later, I heard from Missy. She was happily married, serving in her local church, and raising her son. She shared that Sylvia, in contrast, had left her home and her faith, was estranged from her family, and had made some devastating life choices.

Competence is not enough.

I have spent four decades in education. Three decades coaching communicators. Two-and-a-half decades mentoring leaders. In that time, I have seen this story played out too many times. Too many parents and teachers emphasize competence — at any price.

Unfortunately, a price often paid is a student’s character. They are pushed so hard toward “excellence” that values, morals, and consideration of others take the backseat.

Without character, competence becomes dangerous. Think of the leaders you know. Competent mayors, governors, and presidents. Pastors, teachers, and business executives. Persuasive communicators, policy-makers, and spiritual guides. Competent, character-driven leaders use their competencies to serve people for their highest good. Competent, character-deficient leaders are dangerous. You’ve seen them.

When Paul wrote his letter to the Christian in Phillippi, he encouraged them to grow in Christ-like character, beginning with where they focused their thoughts. Here’s how Paul says it:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. (Philippians 4:8, NIV)

Christians are invited to grow our competence on the foundation of this kind of character: true, noble, admirable, all of it. This happens when our thoughts and actions are focused on Christ’s character.

And, just like competence, character is trained… How do you help your students grow excellent character? How do you coach them to grow in competence that is based in this kind of character?

Share your answers in the comments!

Dr. Teresa M. Moon is President and CEO for the Institute for Cultural Communicators. She empowers extraordinary leaders globally to influence culture. Her mentees have spoken at the White House, G8 Summit, United Nations, throughout the United States and in 20-plus additional countries. She is an internationally recognized speaker, author and leadership coach.


  • Rachel

    It’s very important for our kids to be able to critically think about why we want them to act a certain way! Making discipline educational can help build that character.

  • Heidi Dagman

    We have picked a different character quality for each new school year and have tried to do a daily word study. This year we chose the word integrity. Would love to hear the ideas of other parents on this topic?

  • Victoria Schwartz

    Character is what Jesus modeled. Jesus exhibited roughly 27 Godly characteristics by example and the spoken word. Character is everything. Competency is a variable…character is a requirement. Yes, God placed excellence into every believer and yearns for us to “see” it & grab hold of it for the purpose of moving the Kingdom forward; all for HIS glory. How can we RE – present Jesus to the world, if our character doesn’t IMMINATE Him? It is impossible to love like Jesus if we lack the character to withstand the waves. Character is ONLY built & strengthened through relationship with our Savior. Amen.

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