Leadership brings with it long days and high levels of pressure. That is not going to change. But leaders who are deeply mindful of their dependence on God are far better equipped to make it in the long haul. That may mean being honest in a meeting about a pending decision and admitting to your team, “I really am not sure right now what we should do.” If that sounds terrifying to you, I get it. None of us want to be indecisive, let alone appear to be.
In a culture obsessed with image and bravado, what I’m about to suggest might surprise you. In fact, for many leaders, it’s outright scary.
But I am convinced that effective and resilient leaders are those who walk with a visible limp. Others have made this observation in their own way. But it is one that seems so easily forgotten, neglected, or opposed.
We are tempted to believe that the most capable leaders are those who appear to have it all together, who have never tripped up too badly, who seem to possess an uncanny ability to artfully navigate the most treacherous obstacles without any apparent difficulty.
I promise you that those leaders do not exist.
Sure, some leaders really are a cut above the rest of us. But most of the leaders you will encounter are not like that, no matter how they may appear. And no leader is immune from failures and disappointments. We are all human. We are all fallen. Every single one of us.
The key distinction is how leaders learn from those experiences and incorporate them into their sense of who they are and what God has called them to do. In other words, identity and vocation get shaped–and reshaped–by experience. That’s not to say that our ontology is fluid. We are who God says we are, male and female, created in his image and for his glory. But the experience of leading, with all of its successes and failures, will shape our sense of who we are and to what we devote our lives. The question is whether a leader will actively learn those lessons through careful self-assessment, biblical reflection, and trusting friendships.
Leaders Who Have Made Mistakes
Every leader makes mistakes. In fact, most of us are aware of multiple mistakes made well before lunchtime. Some of them are strategic decisions that we simply misread. There may be no inherent moral question involved. We simply took a course of action and led our organization toward a plan that, in retrospect, just didn’t work out as expected.
Team members notice when a leader accepts responsibilities for errors in judgment, missed opportunities, and strategic miscalculations.
When that happens, leaders have a number of options. On the one hand, they can accept responsibilities and own the decision. That requires an obvious measure of vulnerability and maturity, not to mention basic integrity. If you’re a CEO, it will likely mean explaining to your board why that decision was made. Whatever your job, it will mean owning the decision with your boss. And for leaders it always goes down the organizational ladder as well. Team members notice when a leader accepts responsibilities for errors in judgment, missed opportunities, and strategic miscalculations.
Unfortunately, too many leaders seem unable to do this. Rather than owning a mistake, they may be prone to deflect and blame team members. They may try to minimize their role in the decision. And perhaps most disturbing of all, they might choose to deceive and lie in the most overt ways imaginable. We would hope Christian leaders would be immune to such temptations, but reality suggests otherwise.
Leaders not only make mistakes. They also sin. We sin against God and one another. Sometimes it’s in conspicuous and shocking ways, but more often it’s more veiled. It may be the narcissistic leader who treats employees in an almost abusive way, berating them and humiliating them in front of colleagues. But more often than not, our sin shows up in subtle ways and, if we are not careful, our consciences can be seared and the ruts of patterns of sin grow increasingly deeper.
If a leader seems intent on convincing you of their moral perfection, run the other way. If they seem incapable of ever apologizing and you can’t think of a time you heard the words, “I’m sorry” pass over their lips, be warned. The question is not whether we will make mistakes, or even if we will sin. As leaders, our calling is to learn from our mistakes, to repent of our sins, and to seek to grow in both wisdom and godliness. That requires honesty with God, ourselves, and others. And on the other side of that, we will lead differently. It may look like a limp, without some of the careless swagger of before, but it’s a gift.