Why do leaders fail?
Over the past few years there has been a growing number of leaders who have had to step down or who have been revealed to have been morally compromised after their death, all as the result of a lack of genuine accountability. That have managed to live double lives, often for many years until finally their secret life is exposed, often with results that are very damaging for the ministry or church they are involved with and for the wider body of Christ.
But before we judge others for moral failures, we need to do a reality check and admit that we are all vulnerable to making mistakes that damage leadership credibility and that end up damaging both ourselves and other people.
There are various warning signs that you or I might be heading in the dangerous direction of moral compromise:
- I choose isolation over community.
- Sin usually happens in secret, and so one early warning sign of potential moral failure is to prefer to separate ourselves from meaningful community.
- I have stopped confessing my sins.
- Confession stops when sin starts, and so, when we fall away from a regular practice of confession, we leave the way clear for moral compromise to seep in.
- I don’t think of the consequences.
- I am thinking of the action and the pleasure that is attached, but not the consequences. But sin always has consequences. People always get hurt. Often more people get hurt in more awful ways than we would care to contemplate. Keeping the consequences in mind is a very healthy thing.
- I don’t believe the rules apply to me.
- In general we deplore moral failure in leaders, but when it comes to you and me, there are always extenuating circumstances. The rules don’t apply to me, and so I skirt round them or rewrite them. I manage this by avoiding relationships where I am going to be held accountable.
- I can no longer cope and this is my way out.
- The burden of leadership can be overwhelming and over time there can be a desperation that grows to bail out, to self-sabotage so that the decision is taken out of my hands.
Do you see yourself in any of the warning signs above? Can you detect a drift away from accountability, towards the danger zone of moral compromise? We are each of us responsible for maintaining a walk of holiness, of keeping ‘short accounts’ with God and with others. However, that is more easily attainable when we are in a culture that encourages accountability, where being honest about our struggles is not a sign of weakness but of health and strength.
James Kouzes and Barry Posner, in their book ‘Credibility’ highlight what they call ‘The six A’s of Leadership Accountability’. These are: accept, admit, apologise, act, amend and attend. To grow an accountability culture that encourages openness and honesty, each of these six attributes needs to be present.
Accept. No leader – indeed, no person – is perfect and without weaknesses and temptations. The first step on the path to healthy accountability is to have the honesty to admit when mistakes have been made, or when we are experiencing temptation, or when any of the four points above are beginning to become a reality. Before we can ask for help we need to accept the fact that we need it.
Admit. Admitting to weaknesses and mistakes, rather than causing a loss of leadership credibility, actually increases it. Attempting to hide mistakes will be much more damaging and will actually erode credibility. What Kouzes and Posner call ‘admitting’, the Bible calls ‘confession’. It really means agreeing with the truth; first of all with God and then with those with whom we have formed an accountability relationship.
Apologise. Accountability is about bringing things into the light in appropriate ways. If we have wronged someone or some people, the best way forward to is to admit it and honestly ask for forgiveness. This shows people that you are addressing the issues, rather than seeking to cover up.
Act. Act quickly to reverse the slide through the warning lights mentioned above. Ask yourself – have you stopped any of the spiritual disciplines that you used to have in your life? Have you stopped praying specific prayers? Have you stopped seeking out others to spend time with them, encourage them and pray with each other? Act now to reverse the slide, before the slide becomes a landslide that will shipwreck your ministry and the lives of others around you.
Amend. The importance of making amends is something that is often overlooked. It is all very well for the leader to have noticed the slide, for them to be encouraged by their accountability group to turn things around and ‘return to their first love’. But what about the people who have been hurt in the process? It goes a long way in terms of leadership credibility when leaders not only own their mistakes but are seen to act to address the damage those mistakes have caused.
Attend. Attend to the reactions and attitudes of those you lead. Ask for feedback – make yourself accountable to the wider group. Are my steps to accept, to admit, to apologise, to act and to amend having a positive impact on others, or are further measures needed?
We need to grow an accountability culture in church, because where accountability is lacking, real people get hurt, the Body of Christ is damaged and the Gospel of the Kingdom is brought into disrepute. As the Psalmist so wisely says,
“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
Take a moment to consider the five warning signs above; do any of them ring true in your life? Who do you have in your life that you can honestly discuss this with? Remember…
“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.”