A Simple And Revealing Character Test Every Leader Should Try

So how are you really doing when it comes to your character development?

It can be a bit difficult to tell, can’t it?

Character, like so many things, seems hard to measure. It would be great if you could get a simple reading like you would for your cholesterol or blood pressure. Then you’d know.

Over my time in leadership, I’ve discovered a simple test that tells me more than anything where my character is truly at.

And often I’m not thrilled with the results.

It’s so simple you could do it in less than a minute.

Let me explain.


The Test

The best way I know to assess the state of my character is to simply analyse how I responded during the last crisis I found myself in.

It could be a crisis at home, at work, in my family—or any situation in which I had to respond quickly to conflict or less than ideal circumstances.

The test?

Watch how you responded to the crisis. It will tell you exactly where your character is at.

So, how did you react the last time…

Your kids melted down in the back seat?

Your spouse got defensive when you suggested some things to do on Saturday?

Your ideas got shot down at the meeting?

You showed up Sunday and a key element for the service was missing because someone else messed up?

Your computer crashed and you lost the last 30 minutes of work?

You got stuck in the longest line at the grocery store and it made you late for your next meeting?

You read that email criticizing your leadership?

Be honest.

What did you think?

What did you say?

What did you do?

Boom. There’s the true state of your character.

Now you can see why I don’t like what this test reveals.

But the principle is hard to dismiss: 

Crisis reveals character.

In fact, nothing reveals the true state of your character better than how you handled your last crisis.

Wouldn’t It Be Great If the Opposite Was True?

I would like to believe the opposite.

I would like to believe that the true state of my character is revealed when I’m prepared for a meeting, a Sunday, a work day, a family today. And to some extent it is.

But the truth is I can usually pull myself together quite nicely for those occasions. And that can lead me to believe I’ve got my character under control when maybe I haven’t.

So go ahead and live in denial. But you will stunt your growth. You will stunt your opportunity to be truly transformed.

Nothing reveals character like a crisis.

But remove the margin, introduce some surprise, test my limits and I go back to my default.

Sure, if you’re not flying off the handle like you used to with every minor issue—kudos.

But don’t convince yourself you’ve arrived just yet. Let your last crisis show you what’s still needs care and attention.

After all, as I outline here,  it’s your character, not your competency, that determines your true capacity.


Let Your Last Crisis Be Your Clue to A Better Future

You will be tempted to convince ourselves that your reactions under pressure are the exception to the rule (you were under stress….it happened so quickly).  But they reveal more about than any of us care to admit.

What if those crisis points were a window into what God wants to do next in our lives?  What if we didn’t dismiss them, but saw them as a huge window for growth.

I find that when I’m under pressure I learn more about myself – my cracks, my weaknesses, my true motivations, than at almost any other time.

Don’t treat your bad reactions as defeat though.


Get through it.

Treat it as an opportunity to grow.

Those crisis points will show you what God wants to work on next.

God’s motivation, of course, is good superb. He wants to move us from this to this.


Avoid the Critical Mistake Too Many Leaders Make

So if you really want to grow as a person and as a leader. What do you do when you’ve seen your character in all of its ugliness?

I’ll tell you what you’ll be tempted to do.

Ignore it.

You will live through the crisis and simply move on.

That’s what most people do. And that’s why most people never really grow.

They just keep making the same mistake over and over again.

Sure, you’re not spiteful now. But that’s because there’s no crisis now. You were spiteful yesterday. And you will be spiteful as soon as the next crisis hits, unless you drill down.

Now you will resist drilling down.

You will think “I got through this. The crisis is over. I’m just going to ignore it.”

HUGE mistake.

It’s a recipe for perpetual emotional immaturity. It’s a strategy perfectly designed to stunt your growth.

So have the courage, when things are ‘normal’ again, to do the soul work.


Try This At Home

So how do you learn after your last crisis?

Start by trying to isolate how you felt and how you behaved.

This list is nowhere near complete, but here’s what I look for in me:











Divisiveness I caused

And the list goes on.

When I spot those in myself—as horrible as they are—I need to work through them.

How do I work through them? How should you work through them?


1. Pray

Get down on your knees and confess your sin to God. He’s the one who heals, restores and makes hearts new.


2. Read the Scripture through a fresh lens

Too many people read the Bible because they’re supposed to. I read it sometimes as a character study in what to do and what not to do.

For example, I just finished reading through the life of Kings Saul and David. Neither was perfect, but Saul consistently displayed emotional immaturity in his leadership. He shrank from his responsibilities as king. He was perpetually insecure to the point of paranoia.

David, while imperfect, showed incredible self-discipline and clearly understood delayed gratification in his early days, refusing to lift his hand against the Lord’s anointed.

I can learn from that.


3. Get some help

Yep. Go see a counselor. Talk to close friends. Confess your sins to each other. Process your shortcomings with a mentor.

It’s essential that you do this not just when you’re in crisis but when you’re not in crisis. You will grow the most then. And you will prepare yourself proactively before your next crisis hits.


4. Read, Listen, Grow

I am constantly reading, listening to podcasts and growing in the area of emotional maturity.

Classic sources like Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence can help you a lot.

Pete and Geri Scazzero have an amazing ministry on emotional and spiritual health in ministry. Reading Pete’s book, The Emotionally Healthy Church, a decade ago was a game changer for me.

And finally, if you want a simple cheat sheet to get you started today, listen to Andy Stanley’s free 4 part Enemies of the Heart podcast. In about 90 minutes total, Andy will walk you through how to deal with anger, jealousy, guilt and greed. Incredible. And of course, you can pick up his book on those subjects as well. Exceptionally practical and helpful advice.

So what’s the bottom line?

Crisis reveals character.

You can write it off as instinct or proof you’re human. But you won’t grow from it.

Your character is proof you’re still sinful and that Christ would like to take over more territory in your life.

What are you learning about crisis and character?

Leave a comment.


  1. Ed Swift on December 27, 2018 at 8:23 pm

    I’ve only just now quickly perused over this article.
    But wow! You can believe I will be reading/studying this and more here like it in the immediate future.
    What a way to examine ourselves, and what a mirror to the soul this kind of work is.
    it encourages me to k ow that I’m not just sulking when i harbor such works to read. but am in fact doing the soul work as you suggest.
    My ex wife hated my books, and now I think I know why.
    To her they represented the work I was indeed trying so desperately hard to do, the very work she resented being reminded she herself might have benefitted from, had she been willing to do the introspection. She was not!
    Thank You for your good work, well done.

  2. Liam on October 17, 2015 at 6:07 pm

    It hurts so good :’)

  3. […] A Simple And Revealing Character Test Every Leader Should Try  “So how are you really doing when it comes to your character development? It can be a bit difficult to tell, can’t it? Character, like so many things, seems hard to measure. It would be great if you could get a simple reading like you would for your cholesterol or blood pressure. Then you’d know.” Carey Nieuwhof give us a good way to know where we stand when it comes to a character checkup. […]

  4. […] A Simple and Revealing Character Test Every Leader Should Try […]

  5. […] A challenge test from Carey Nieuwhof’s blog – COMMENTS […]

  6. Lawrence W. Wilson on June 5, 2014 at 7:07 am

    For me, the crisis response isn’t really born from the moment. It rises from what’s deep inside. I don’t want simply to manage my responses better. I want to be a happy person. That makes #4 the most important action, I think.

  7. db on June 4, 2014 at 9:01 pm

    While I agree with the “Watch how you responded to the crisis” part, It is important to stress out how difficult to assess that self-awarness process can be. Feelings may be easier to identify than Attitudes. Body language may sometimes send those around us unintended signals with potentially harmful consequenses. ” How we responded to a crisis” sometimes actually mean ” How we think we responded to a crisis”. Specially if emotions were running high. If I were to choose a real simple,revealing TEST it would be: VIDEOTAPE YOURSELF. next time you deal again with that difficult person/situation

    Daniel B

  8. Dave on June 4, 2014 at 2:10 pm

    Now you went and did that….(sigh). Painfully good. Thanks for sharing.

  9. […] Source: Careynieuwhof […]

  10. Jon Stallings on June 4, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Great suggestion Carey to evaluate our last crisis. I have come a long way, but still a long way to go.

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