What Determines Your True Potential? (You Might Be Surprised)

What Truly Determines Your Potential (You Might Be Surprised)

If someone was to ask you, what single factor determines your potential as an effective leader more than any other factor, how would you answer it?

For years, I would probably have said the answer is ‘competency’.

Competency determines capacity. It’s simple, right? The more competent you are, the greater your potential, the greater your capacity.

Learn some new skills, finely tune your craft, develop your gifting, train hard, find a great mentor and spend hundreds – maybe thousands – of hours honing your talent, and you will realize your potential.

According to that line of thinking, the only real cap on your capacity is your competency.

And that’s a great theory.

Except it doesn’t really pan out.

Without naming names, you and I can effortlessly think of highly gifted cyclists, golfers, football players, preachers and politicians who all lost careers and the future God was giving them not because of competency issues (they were arguably the best there was), but because of character.

What felled them wasn’t at all related to skill or ability, but to character: cheating, embezzlement, corruption, sex, greed or ego (or a combination of the above) did them in.

Which prompts this question:

What are you working on?

Chances are, you’re doing something to hone your skill. You’re taking a course, reading a book, heading to a conference, reading blogs, hiring a coach and working on your game, whatever your game is.

Which is great. I do that too. I value that. I’m 100% in on getting better.

But what if that’s not the factor that determines your ultimate potential?

All the competency in the world can’t compensate for a lack of character. Not for long.

Eventually, ultimately, your character is your lid.

Like it or not, here’s the truth:

Character, not competency, determines capacity.

So the question I want to ask today is simple.

What are you doing to grow your character?

Because it’s way easier to ace a course on communication than it is drill down on your inherent unkindness.

It’s so much easier to hire a coach to help you manage better than it is to figure out why you lie.

How are you growing your:















These things (among others), which few people talk about, ultimately determine your capacity.

For the over achievers among us who default to skill over heart, consider this:

Your competency leaves the first impression, but your character leaves the lasting impression.

The crowd is intrigued by your competency, but your family is impacted by your character.

Still resistant to doing the work on your heart? (Many I talk to are. I was for years).

Well…consider this:

Your kids will never read your resume.

Your spouse will only think about how you made her feel when she’s sitting at the table waiting for you take the podium.

Your friends aren’t impressed with your stats.

They only care about you. The real you.

And so does your heavenly Father.

So what are you doing today to develop your character?

After all, that will ultimately be your legacy. And it’s the one thing that truly determines what part of your potential gets reached.

Just ask some great athletes who aren’t allowed to play anymore.

Just talk to some unemployed executives.

Just ask the preacher with no pulpit.

Or for further impact, talk to their families and colleagues. They’ll tell you what matters most.

All of this to say one thing.

What are you doing today about your character?

Even asking the question is a start. A good one.


  1. Angelica Rose Schackow on February 1, 2019 at 12:21 pm

    So blessed by this.

  2. questioner on September 8, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    Enjoyed the article. So……how do you go about working on your character? What are the steps? How do you know you’re making progress?

  3. […] all, as I outline here,  it’s your character, not your competency, that determines your true […]

  4. db on June 4, 2014 at 9:12 pm

    This is the first post that I read a few months ago (and the one that led me to read more and more this blog) Congrats!

  5. Jenni on September 1, 2013 at 5:36 pm

    This is a very good message. However I think there is a little more to it. I have been thinking about potential all morning. And yes, you are absolutely right about character being paramount to us reaching (or even surpassing) our potential. My questions are these; who gets to decide our potential? And what about factors beyond our control, like illness and life events? They effect potential as well. Sure you could argue that character can overcome those, but the more cirumstances put in your way, the more character and courage it takes to overcome them. It’s something to consider anyway.

  6. Sean Stewart on February 19, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    I love this!!!! We need to be asking this question all the time. Just imagine where the failed superstars could be if they spent just half of their time on character!

  7. cnieuwhof on February 14, 2013 at 5:58 am

    Thanks Tommy, Emily and Dan. The longer I lead the more I realize how significant character is.

  8. Dan Richardson on February 14, 2013 at 12:14 am

    Bang on

  9. Emily Hendrickson on February 8, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    This is good stuff, Carey. So grateful for your voice!

  10. Tommy Lynch on February 8, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Thanks for this post Carey. Wonderful truth here and such great encouragement to take the right step in developing our character. God bless!

    • Elizabeth Pulanco on September 5, 2014 at 6:55 am

      Thank you very much for the encouragement and the reminder that Character formation should be on-going and a life long change to maturity… I cried reading about Mark Driscoll and also thinking of some pastors if not all who are struggling….

      • Carey Nieuwhof on September 5, 2014 at 10:40 am

        Thanks Elizabeth. Appreciate that and for sure, it’s a tough season of the church.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.