The Scariest Part About Being a Leader

When you fail someone you are leading, here are some steps to get back on track.

Let’s get this straight before I move on: Whether you think you are a leader or not, you are.

Leadership is influence. And at some level and somewhere you influence someone else, and that makes you a leader. School teachers influence students. Parents influence children. Friends influence friends. Managers influence employees, and pastors influence parishioners.

Furthermore, leadership means that what you do or say provides an opportunity to change a situation or a life. And that potential for good—or evil—is what scares me the most about leadership.

For over forty years I have either supervised people in business or led them in ministry. For years as a banker, I managed hundreds of employees. For decades as a pastor, I’ve overseen hundreds of volunteers and staff. Some would say I was the best boss they ever had; others would say something else. I would say I led the way I live—imperfectly, but passionately.

I always try to do my best, but still I fail. Often.

Recently, I made a decision with the best of intentions, but things didn’t go the way I’d hoped or expected. What caused me the most angst was realizing that my decision had affected someone I love in a painful way. I could have led so much better than I did. I should have known better. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever figure this leadership thing out.

My poor handling of a tough situation sent me into an emotional tailspin. Honestly, I thought about quitting. I reasoned, “Maybe I need to find a job where I work all by myself, like a postal carrier, so I can be insulated from causing any more harm.” (No offense intended toward mail carriers.)

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Again, it’s the potential for good or evil that scares me the most about leadership. My decisions and my leadership can bless or devastate others. True for me. True for you. And if that doesn’t freak you out just a little, then you need to stop and realize the power of your influence.

Okay, I failed (and so will you). What now?

• Own it. Denial is dumb. You and I can’t change and won’t grow unless we take personal responsibility for our decisions and actions.

• Confess your sin. Have an honest conversation with God and a humble conversation with the person you failed. Being an imperfect human is okay, but it’s not okay to be stubborn and proud.

• Keep growing. Rather than getting lost in debilitating depression, ask yourself: What went wrong? What can I do better in the future? What did I learn?

• Get over it. Here’s a newsflash: You can’t undo what’s been done, but it doesn’t do you or anyone any good to live buried under guilt and shame. If you’ve truly owned it and confessed it, you can live free of condemnation. Move on.

• Stop being so surprised by your imperfections. I never want to discount or deny how the ripple effect of my decisions and leadership matters. However, regardless of how many leadership books I’ve read or how many years I’ve been leading, I always will be in process. Besides, there is only one perfect leader who ever walked the planet. I am not him. Neither are you.

• Don’t forget the good. Yup, you and I have made some dumb choices. We’ve made plenty of mistakes. But the influence of our good decisions and our better moments of leadership have changed a lot of lives in an extremely positive way. Rather than fixating on the failures, praise God for all that he has done through broken vessels like you and me.

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I suppose it’s good that leadership still scares me a bit. Awareness of my responsibility keeps me humble, and dependent on Jesus. Thankfully, he hasn’t given up on me, and he never will.

So I’m not quitting.

Neither should you.