Five of my big leadership mistakes

It does not take long being in a leadership role until we start making mistakes. I have been in various leadership roles over the past 40 years and so have had – and taken – the opportunities to make probably more mistakes than most.

Although there is a whole host of mistakes that we can and often do make, some are recurring themes to which more than a few of us seem vulnerable. In the hope that you will learn from my mistakes rather than have to make them all yourself, I offer you my Top Five leadership mistakes in the hopes that, rather than judging me, you will learn from me!

1 – Hoping issues will just go away.

Not a day goes by when there isn’t some issue presenting itself and, to be honest, a lot of them do sort themselves out. Not every little issue needs me to wade in and ‘fix it’. However, there are issues that arise that aren’t going away, that are involving more and more people and that are clearly in conflict with our core values and, more importantly, with Biblical principles.

I have come to realise that, although I generally dislike conflict, the cost of not addressing the issue and taking appropriate, calm and prayerful action is always greater than actually focussing on the issue and addressing it. Just hoping the issue will go away generally leads to greater, more costly conflict involving more people and inflicting greater damage.  

2 – Assuming everyone moves at the same pace as me.

Although I have taught quite a bit on leading in a time of change, I keep having to learn that those who are more pioneering by nature will embrace change at a quicker pace than others. There will be growing resistance to even the best new idea if enough time is not given to allow people to become used to the concept and embrace the change.

I have, to my own and everyone else’s cost, had a tendency to assume that because I can see the sense in an idea and can see what needs to change to implement that new idea, so everyone else will move at the same pace. Which is strange really, because I know how it feels to be ‘railroaded’ by those who move at a faster pace than me! I have learned that we need to allow more time than might seem necessary to me for others to grasp and become comfortable with the new thing that is being introduced.

3 – Being tempted to let the end justify the means.

The busier we become, the bigger the church becomes, the more of a reputation the ministry acquires, the great is the temptation to let the end justify the means – so long as it ends up looking OK, it doesn’t really matter what path we took to get there.

I have come to realise just how dangerous those waters can be, because God (not the devil!) is in the detail. It matters to Him that the means – the steps we took along the way – honour Him.

Just because software licences (for example, for song lyric software) cost a lot does not mean that God will turn a blind eye to us displaying the words to worship songs illegally. Just because someone is gifted in an area of ministry and there seems to be no one else to take over from them, does not mean that we should not challenge them if they are walking in ways that don’t glorify God.

It’s tempting, but the cost is high – too high. The cost is God removing His hand of blessing, because He blesses only that which is blessable.

4 – Ignoring feedback because it sounds like criticism.

Let’s be honest – being a leader means becoming a lightning rod for people who feel out-of-sorts, who want to vent, who are angry and who often don’t present what they are saying in a positive, grace-filled way.

In our hurt and wounded state, we are tempted to respond negatively, or to dismiss what they are saying because of the manner in which it was presented, or because it was them; they are always negative, moaning about everything, so we don’t consider what they are saying, we just go into defensive mode, dismissing what they are saying in favour of judging them and defending against the attack.

So tempting – but so dangerous, because they might just have a point that we need to consider and maybe even take on board.

5 – Rescuing people and situations too soon.

This is not the opposite of ‘Hoping issues will just go away’ but rather about avoiding the tendency to leap in and bail people out, thus denying them the opportunity to grow by learning to stick to their commitments, not just give up when the going gets tough. We need to take seriously the ‘Comfort-Stretch-Panic’ model of growth and allow people to be stretched without letting them drown.

This is achieved through good, ongoing communication and honest feedback. God does not leap in and rescue us at the first feelings of us being overwhelmed. He often holds off, allowing us to persevere and grow as a result.

I have found over the years that I have a tendency to step in too soon and this has had a longer-term negative impact on the growth of those around me – as well as ensuring that I end up feeling overwhelmed as I rush around trying to keep too many plates spinning.

These are just a few of the many mistakes I have made over four decades of leadership. But how about you? Do you recognise yourself in any of the above, or do you recognise other mistakes you are prone to making that aren’t mentioned here?

How are you going to address those tendencies? As with everything that we struggle with, a big step forward is bringing them into the light, honestly owning them and encouraging those whom you trust to hold you accountable in them.

Kingfisher Family celebrates its 30th birthday

  How do we learn from our mistakes?

We need to acknowledge our errors. The first step in doing this is to accept full responsibility for our role in the situation. This is not easy, but until we do we aren’t really ready to change.We need to ask ourselves tough questions, such as:

What went wrong?
• What could I do better next
• What did I learn from this?

We need to make a plan Just blaming ourselves for what went wrong will not change anything for the better.

Learning from what went wrong and making a plan about how to do better in the future will.
Maker it harder to make the same mistakes.
We need to put safeguards in place to make it harder to make the same mistakes: have greater accountability,
remove temptation, etc List the reasons why we don’t want to make the same mistakes again.
Do this as a reference point for when, out of weakness or tiredness, we find ourselves slipping back into the same old patterns of behaviour.