Leadership – Getting it wrong
Talks for UCB
I hope you have remembered what I said at the beginning of this series which was that all of us are called to be leaders; or to put it in Bible language, we are prophet’s priest and kings.
Alongside this universal calling there are always several people in each church community who take special responsibility for others, and that brings with it all sorts of pressures. One of those pressures is the problem of being right. I guess you have all seen that joke that sometimes sits on a manager’s desk which says, ‘Rule number one. The boss is always right’. ‘Rule numbers two, if the boss is wrong, refer to rule number one’. The reality is that being in leadership does not always mean that you are right.
That in itself presents another pressure, one of our culture and our age. Generally people do not like or expect anyone in leadership to be wrong. Just watch what happens when a politician tries to admit to being wrong and misses the mark; the response is rarely, ‘that’s great they have admitted they are wrong, lets forgive them and move on’. Usually it is quite the reverse immediately there is a flurry of frantic digging in order to reveal further failings and we demand they resign, no that’s not enough, die, and even that is not enough, we want to dance on a their grave.
Coupled with the possibility of being wrong, there is also the cultural pressure whereby we want our leaders to know the answer to everything. I am a leader, and sometimes I am wrong and sometimes I do not know the answer and what is worse sometimes I can see a problem, which I am sure everyone else can see. I know this because they come and tell me, often in conspiratorial tones, ‘there is a problem’. I know there is problem and I didn’t need anyone to tell me what I already know, what I need is for someone to give me an answer to the problem, as I don’t have one.
So what can we do? Firstly I think that it is very helpful to admit we are wrong as quickly as possible and learn to put up with people’s reactions and disappointment. We should also look for help both from God and our fellow travellers; perhaps when they see us admit that we are wrong it might encourage them in their own struggle to get things right.
Secondly all of us need to treat those who lead us with respect when they say that they do not have an answer to some particular conundrum; maybe accepting and believing that they simply do not know.
Thirdly, and this is a hard one, I am convinced we need to learn to say ‘I am sorry,’ that can be a great help to all. But isn’t it a hard word to use?
Let me finish by telling you a positive story to illustrate what I mean.
For more than thirty years I have been involved in running independent Christian Schools and in two of them I hold the role of principal. A while ago a young lady of around twelve years old was brought to my office for some misdemeanour, it was my job to tell her off; I did so, very sternly and the young lady ended up with tears running down her cheeks. She left my office very, very subdued and quiet, so I thought I had down my job well. The next day, to my horror, I discovered that I had reprimanded a totally innocent person, who was in no way guilty of any wrongdoing. What should I do? I asked a member of staff to find the young lady and bring her to my office as quickly as possible. She walked in with fear in her face, I asked her to sit down and she did so, very carefully, her hands folded meekly in her lap. I explained to her that on the previous day I had made a terrible mistake when I told her off and I said I wanted to apologise. I looked into her fearful eyes and said, ‘I’m sorry, please forgive me’. The transformation was instantaneous, the fear disappeared and the young lady burst into the largest smile I have ever seen, I was afraid that her face would come apart if she smiled any more.
Suffice to say she went away very happy, and I must admit that I also felt good. Being wrong and saying sorry really made my day and I think it made her day too. I am pretty certain that the story got repeated many times to her schoolmate’s.
Did being wrong in that case make me a lesser person? I don’t think so; I think dealing with being wrong after the event in the right way made a positive difference don’t you? Unlike how some of us react to our fallible politicians she didn’t want to kill me, it was just the reverse, I think she thought she had a received a fantastic present. Don’t kill people for being wrong, be like our God; full of grace and forgiveness.
For UCB 3 min talks
Editor A Brookes