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Competence or Character, Which Is More Important?

What about judgment?

Recent national events brought the issue of competence and character to my mind. The question I posed above is which is more important?

Likely most of you readers might be thinking, “Why do I have to choose between the two, can’t I have both in the people who work for me or I work with?”

That is the goal, right? To have competent people who have good judgment and possess good character. In job interviews and on resumes we are primarily looking at a person’s experience and abilities — their competency. The character aspect and judgment are much harder to discern. Likely those aspects will only come out from reference checks or perhaps in oral interviews. Maybe even after the hiring — during the probationary period.

So which of the two or three above characteristics of a person do you judge to be most important? For me it all falls to character. If someone lacks a skill, it can be learned. If judgment becomes an issue, experience can hopefully overcome a shortfall in that area.

When it comes to character, that aspect of a person cannot be massaged or managed. It is set early on in a person’s development and likely more so in the home.

If character is the point of failure, it doesn’t make a difference how competent a person is. That person will use any competencies they have to manage and manipulate circumstances to meet only their personal needs, ignoring what it does to others or the organization.

Hard to determine — but hire for character first!
Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.