Monday Musings: When Leaders Make Mistakes

What I have learned about not being a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Photo by Daniela Holzer on Unsplash

For much of my adult life I have been a person who is like a bull in a china shop, crushing anything and anyone in my path. I often find myself in leadership positions. Some I have sought out and some that have found me. When I was in college and part of the leadership team for Campus Crusade for Christ, my weekly bible study started with, “What did Dan do wrong this week?” Our small group leader would walk through all the ways that I had hurt and offended people. I would leave each week with a list of folks to seek forgiveness of.

I am loud. My personality is big and my mouth bigger. I don’t worry too much about what comes out of my mouth. I am not afraid of what people think of me. Typically, I will stand by my position on things very strongly, as I’m quite confident that I’m correct in the matter (it doesn’t matter what the matter is, but I know I’m right). I am not often aware of other’s feelings until after the fact and I’ve hurt them in some way.

For me, seeking forgiveness has become a way of life.

As I continue to move through life as one who leads in the church world I have one great fear: I do not want to become a leader who engages in spiritual abuse. I follow a number of writers and thinkers on this issue and am constantly checking myself. I am aware that it would be very easy for me to become someone who uses his position to dominate, control, and therefore, abuse. Narcissism is never far from my doorstep.

While I’m not a household name or some national player on the church scene, I have influence in my own community. Let’s be honest, I have undue influence in my community. When I speak, people listen. Where I lead, people often follow. In those moments I can feel the adrenaline coursing through me. There is something about power that is intoxicating. It is during those seasons that I often ask myself, “How can I leverage this?”

I am writing all this because I’ve become pretty good at being “nice.” That is, I have learned to soften the rough edges and play a bit nicer. But, underneath the monster lives and probably will live this side of heaven. What has to happen is a constant vigilance and I have to remain good at seeking forgiveness.

This past week on the Simple Theologian podcast my friend and I crossed a line, unintentionally, by misrepresenting a friend of ours. We used a comment of his out of context and as a foil for the discussion we were having about race, racism, and anti-racism. It was wrong. Thankfully, our friend reached out and called us on it. We were able to seek forgiveness that resulted in a restoration of our relationship. We took down the podcast and accompanying video, as well as made a public statement. I think we handled the failure as best we could.

As I continue to reflect on this episode and thinking about my upcoming podcast series on leadership, I am struck by the reality that leadership demands us to own our stuff. You see, if you’re going to be a leader you often received accolades and attention. But, you will also fail and when you do it will hurt people. The healthy leader needs to own their mistakes. It is so easy, too easy, to simply reconcile situations in our minds. We can just brush them off and claim boundaries or something. For the Christian leader, we must embrace our failings and then address them head on. There can be no middle ground. If we try to nuance our failings we slide head long into spiritual abuse.

I am confident that when good things happen under a person’s leadership that the good leader deflects praise to those they’re leading and the abusive leader embraces the praise. When bad things happen under a person’s leadership the good leader takes ownership of the bad and protects those they lead.

Over the years I have become convinced that true Christ-like leadership is cruciform leadership. That is, leadership through the cross. Jesus took the evil, the sin, the diseased world on himself and instead of giving out judgment, he gave out grace.

I want to be like that.

When people interact with me through my leadership, I want them to experience grace. As a result, seeking forgiveness has become a way of life for me. The day I stop being willing to seek forgiveness for my missteps and mistakes is the day that I need to step down from leadership within the body of Christ.