Can We Stop Equating Stage Charisma to Leadership Competency?


I recently listened to the Podcast "The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill." Have you heard it? There is a LOT to take away, but toward the end of the second episode, one moment stopped me in my tracks. You can read this NEW POST for the details, but in summary, it reminded me that we too easily equate stage charisma with leadership competency. We need to stop this, like now. Hear me out: I love my friends that are great on stage. Some of them are equally great leaders. Some aren't. Some don't even want to be. But because they are charismatic in front of people, we assume they'll be competent at leading with people. In this article, I discuss this difference and provide a simple solution. Thanks, friends!

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Thursday, June 20, 2024, at 2:00 PM EST

Have you listened to the podcast “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” by Christianity Today?

Toward the end of episode 2, there is a concept for which every leader should recognize. This statement isn’t necessarily core to the podcast. It’s not the point. But, it’s massively important.

In the mid-1990s, events and conferences for church leaders abound. Conference creators fly in big names with even bigger personalities to keynote these events.

Mark Driscoll is one such name.

Driscoll was only a year into the planting of Mars Hill, yet he is speaking at this conference as an expert in the field. He’s treated like a celebrity pastor. Yet to this point, he’s accomplished little. He’s planted a church, which is a massive accomplishment, but that’s about it. He’s run people away, generated plenty of unnecessary conflicts, and established his “I don’t care” culture. 

So why was Driscoll celebrated and emulated so early into his tenure at Mars Hill?

Not because he had earned it, but because he was charismatic.

Driscoll is excellent on stage. That’s the fundamental reason (at least one year into the planting of Mars Hill).

Assuming stage charisma equals leadership competency a problem that exists in the church today.

We too easily believe personal charisma equates to leadership competency. It does not.

I know plenty of extraordinary leaders who are not publicly charismatic. Like you, I also know people we see as leaders and experts who only possess a winsome personality.

This second category looks great and sounds great, but they don’t perform that great when real leadership is required. They have one trick, and it’s a very public trick. They are captivating with a crowd. But that’s where their leadership ability ends.

I don’t suggest this to bash Driscoll or any other stage personality. I have a lot of friends who are great on stage. I do write this to recommend we look a bit deeper than the microphone.

Listening to this podcast reminded me of a hiring mistake I once made and how we’ve looked at leadership ever since. 

The summary is simply this:

1. Hire leaders.

2. Contract personalities.

We have to stop assuming that a charismatic personality will by default also be a dynamic organizational leader.

If this were true, comedians and actors would be the best leaders on the planet. I’m positive some are great leaders. I bet we give the rest way more credit than they deserve.

In the church, I don’t believe we should hire for the stage. The stage is an essential tool in our creation and presentation, but the platform is only a tool. Churches that reach and disciple well must scale through leadership and systems. Personalities can only lead with a mic, and that’s not real leadership.

Instead, hire real leaders. Hire people who can love and serve others while inspiring them to a greater vision. Hire people who understand the fundamentals of leadership. Hire people who are willing to learn and grow as a person and a leader. Hire people who understand that organizations need a healthy mix of people and processes.

And contract for the stage.

How can I help?

Coaching ministry and marketplace leaders through change, transition, and transformation is why I created Transformation Solutions. That includes helping you staff and structure for long-term leadership. Go right now to and sign up for a free, 30-minute conversation to decide if working together works for you.