When Leadership Goes Wrong

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We’ve probably all worked for a leader who never made mistakes—or rather, one who wouldn’t admit to his or her own mistakes. But mistakes are a part of learning. I love to hear about the accomplishments of a successful leader, but sometimes I learn best when humble leaders are willing to share what they learned when they messed up. Here are a few notable mistakes I have under my belt:

  • Jumping to a conclusion before waiting for all the information

  • Not following my gut until it was way too late and I had a big problem on my hands

  • Skipping the meeting before the meeting to help rally the stakeholders

  • Spending too much time trying to convince people of a direction, and losing the window of opportunity to move forward

  • Letting other concerns divert my focus from my ministry

  • Letting my job become my mistress for a season

  • Firing too slowly, convincing myself attitudes will improve or capacity and competence will increase

  • Hiring too quickly when I’m desperate for a solution and I settle for any person rather than the right person

  • Allowing misalignment to go unaddressed, or assuming it will get better on its own

  • Releasing someone for misalignment before giving him or her an opportunity to improve

  • Not speaking truth to power when I might have been the only person who could

  • Speaking truth to power at the wrong time or in the wrong way

  • Putting progress or projects in front of people

  • Putting my relationship with someone in front of what God was calling us to do

  • Becoming impatient with my leader rather than waiting on God’s timing

  • Not leveraging my influence with a leader who needed my encouragement and leadership to pull the trigger on a decision

  • Convincing myself that every single decision is a deal breaker if it doesn’t go my way

  • Going through seasons of apathy where I fought for nothing and no one

  • Not saying enough encouraging words to someone

  • Saying only encouraging words when some correction was needed

  • Keeping a dying ministry or program alive longer than I should have

  • Killing a successful program that was providing more life and health in the church than I previously thought

I hope you can tell two things by this list. First, I’m not a perfect leader. In my thirty-plus years on this leadership journey, I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. If you are afraid of making mistakes, you should not be a leader. If you fear the day you have to stand in front of others and tell them you were wrong, you should pump gas or sell knives. Innate within leadership is the probability that you will make mistakes.

Second, leadership is not an exact science. If you do the same thing twice, it can be exactly right in one instance and the absolute wrong action in the next situation. Leadership requires prayer, discernment, collaboration, intuition, research, experience, confidence, self-control, and guts to take risks.

Above all, leadership requires humility. People will follow a humble leader anywhere. But a proud leader will fall soon and hard. Because of your gifting, your ability to cast vision and compel a crowd, people will say nice things about you, and the danger is you might begin to believe what people say. Pride is a dangerous trap in anyone’s life, but more so in the life of a leader.

For a church leader who can rally people to a cause, the stakes are much higher. Your fall will not only mess up you and your family, it will mess up the lives of scores, perhaps hundreds, of people around you.

So lead with confidence, and lead with grace. Lead with integrity, and above all, lead with humility.

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