Learn from your mistakes. Seems like a simple concept, right?
But when was the last time you stopped to ask yourself if you’re truly learning from your mistakes? When was the last time you admitted you made a mistake?
I think there’s a fine line in here. I never want to wear a badge of “proud to make mistakes” on my chest, because mistakes are embarrassing. But I also never want to wear a badge of “mistake free since ’93” either.
Mistakes come from 2 places. New mistakes and mistakes of comfort.
New mistakes happen because we are trying something new. We step out of our normal routine, maybe swing for the fences with something, and make a mistake along the way. Whether the something we tried is a success or a failure on the whole, the mistakes we make are all part of the learning process.
Mistakes of comfort, on the other hand, happen because we are too lazy to correct them. Sound harsh? It may be, but that doesn’t make it less true. Mistakes of comfort are the result of knowing we are making a mistake, but we’ve made it so many times that we know the outcome and think we can live with it. Mistakes of comfort are dangerous and damaging to our leadership.
If you want to grow as a leader, take some time to evaluate the last few months. What mistakes of comfort keep popping up? My tendency is to laugh them off, but I know they need to change. What about you?
The bottom line is this: if you desire to grow as a leader, you need to learn to eliminate mistakes of comfort but maximize new mistakes. Taking risks can aid growth, but accepting mediocrity kills it.
Jesus was the ultimate example of an owner teaching hired hands to become owners.
If you think about Jesus’s interactions with the disciples in the Gospels, he was constantly preparing them for a day when he would not be there.
The disciples, however, were slow learners. They regularly missed the point (see the Sons of Thunder), or only made sense of what was happening much later.
But, when push came to shove, in Acts we read how the disciples were able to step up when the situation called for it. Jesus prepared them for the leadership call they were going to face.
In your leadership, I’m not saying you have to be Jesus. But one of our strongest goals should be the desire to help people moved from hired hands to owners.
In ministry, this means equipping people to find a place to serve, and to allow them to serve!
Some of my favorite conversations are with teenagers when I tell them they have the freedom to make a decision and I’ll deal with the followup, or that when they are serving their way, I don’t have to worry about what they’re doing.
Leadership means bringing other people into ownership. But you have to extend the invitation. Find the people who are willing and ready to serve, and test the waters.
How well do you know yourself? What settings do you find yourself naturally gravitating toward and thriving as a result?
I work better in a collaborative setting. When I have the opportunity to work with a group of people, my creativity goes through the roof.
For example, last year I worked with an intern. The greatest benefit was having someone with whom I could talk through decisions and ideas. When left to myself, I bog down in possibilities and options.
What about you? How do you thrive? Do you find yourself being rejuvenated by working alone? Or maybe you feel like working in a group helps you present your best?
If you have never considered this before, take just a minute and think about the last month. How many times have you tried to get together with a group of people? How many gatherings have you avoided? When did you feel energized?
Some people do better by themselves, where others thrive in community. Neither is right or wrong, unless you’re going against your wiring.
Once you have evaluated and decided how best you work, embrace it. Because I do better in group settings, I have built group times into my schedule. I have two to three groups I meet with on a regular basis, whether it be lunch, catching up, or coffee. Our time together may not always be about ministry or leadership, but I regularly grow as a result. My schedule reflects my leanings.
If you do better alone, find time to get away. Let your calendar reflect your strengths. Schedule in times to get creative.
One final word, balance is important. I may lean towards working better in a group, but I still have to find time to work alone. You may work better alone, but you cannot hide from group work completely.
Know your strength. Play to your strength. Embrace your strength. But do not neglect your weakness. Find the balance.
Have you ever seen Napoleon Dynamite? Unfortunately, the story that follows may make me seem a lot like Napoleon, and the comparison is very likely true.
In high school, I was in FFA. As part of my FFA experience, I joined the Dairy Products judging team. Our contests did not occur like the scene in Napoleon Dynamite (where he sits at a table on a stage, drinks some milk, and says the cow had gotten into an onion patch), but the basic principle of the contest was similar.
Our team would split into different groups and we would rotate through different rooms: milk, cheese, natural/artificial, and a written test. In each room, there would be a number of samples and our role was to determine the identity or defect of each sample.
I judged dairy products for four years and walked away with quite possibly one of the most productive life lessons I have ever gained, but it wasn’t how to tell if milk has gone bad.
I learned to trust my first instinct.
I remember one contest in particular, maybe my Junior year. It was early in the judging season, and the contest was right up my alley because it did not include the written test.
We went through the contest, turned in our scorecards, and our Ag teacher took us back through the contest so we could see how we did. Well, as we went through, I realized I scored a perfect score. I did not miss a single defect, flavor, or texture. I was ecstatic, until the awards ceremony.
I was wrong. I missed one milk defect (still impressive, but not perfect). The confusion came because I second guessed myself and changed my answer on my official scorecard, but not on the one I kept for after the contest.
I learned a very valuable lesson that day: trust my first instinct because it generally will not let me down.
Since that contest, especially in school, I learned to trust my gut, especially on tests and homework. Still today, however, I have worked this into my identity as I set out to accomplish different tasks.
Often times today that first instinct is a nagging feeling that I need to have a tough conversation with someone, or that something needs to change. Sometimes, my first instinct is to simply listen, or to walk away.
So, let me ask you today: do you know yourself? Are you the same way? What have you learned about yourself in your leadership journey? Can you trust your first instinct, or are you better when you deliberate?
I think we all pick up leadership lessons to which we continually return. You learned something along your leadership journey, then forget what you learned, then are reminded of the validity of the lesson.
Recently, I found myself returning to a simple principle I learned a few years ago: don’t let someone’s character surprise you.
Along your leadership journey you will encounter more and more people. After a period in the same situation, you will start to learn more about individuals-their interests, habits, and character.
Then, one day, the inevitable will happen. Someone will do something to disappoint you. They will drop the ball on a project. They will show up late, again. They will gossip. They will fail to show up at all. Any number of possibilities, and they leave you, the leader, dealing with the fall out.
Before you take it out on them, or if you’re like me, take it out on yourself, ask yourself one thing: is this in line with who I know them to be? Do these actions line up with their past behavior?
I cannot promise the answer to this question will soften the blow for you, but I learned a long time ago if I can avoid expecting people to behave in the same way I would behave, I will be much healthier.
We all have faults. I can change my faults. I cannot change yours, nor can I change the faults of those I lead. I can encourage change in others, but I can only change myself.
What recent disappointment in your life resulted from expecting your values and character from someone else? How have you worked through that disappointment? Take some time today to process the situation through the lens of “don’t let someone’s character surprise you”, and see what changes.
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