Over the course of the summer I was able to sit down with student leaders from different churches and help them grow in their concept of what leadership looks like. One week, over our time together, we had two people share a similar message: leaders make mistakes.
Today, I want you to hear the same message: Leaders make mistakes. You will make mistakes.
The challenge in leadership is not avoiding mistakes, but what we do when we realize we have made a mistake. Here are three steps to help your mistakes lead you to growth.
For some of us, this may be the most challenging step. Maybe the mistake you made grew more out of a reaction to a decision you made or something you said. Maybe your mistake was a planning mistake, or it had something to do with a choice you made along the way.
No matter what, until you realize you made a mistake, you cannot move forward and learn from it. This is where key voices play an integral role. Having people around you whom you can trust to say what they think you may not want to hear makes all the difference in the world.
Years ago, I served a church and enjoyed a strong relationship with my pastor at the time. We had an important meeting with another church leader one afternoon, and it ended poorly. Later that day he and I came together and I was able to share my opinion on where the meeting went south. Because of the relationship we had, we were able to work through the situation and move forward.
If you want to grow as a leader, please understand you are not infallible. You will make mistakes. What’s worse is that sometimes the people around you will know you made a mistake long before you know it. But, once you realize a mistake has been made, what you do next is paramount.
When you make a mistake, never be afraid to admit it. I would advise against wearing your mistake as a badge of honor, but also don’t treat it like a toothache–if I ignore it long enough, it’ll go away or I’ll die.
When someone in authority over me makes a mistake and admits it, more often than not I respond with a higher level of respect for them. I had a high school basketball coach who tried to get us ready for a game by showing us the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan. He wanted us to know we were only playing a game, and the game should be fun, but the desired outcome is not what he hoped. Instead, we played poorly. Later, when reminiscing about his decision, he admitted to me he made the wrong choice in trying to motivate us that way, and I respected him for his honesty.
Own your mistake. Take responsibility for it. Apologize when necessary. But most importantly, once you own your mistake…
Very few people enjoy stubbing their toe on the same support beam in the same spot of their house. They either move into a new house or change how they walk around. Actually, can I say no one enjoys stubbing their toe?
Now we get into the nitty gritty of leadership. The leader who makes the same mistake over and over eventually drives away the people he or she is leading. After all, very few people enjoy following someone who is unwilling to learn or to grow.
If you, however, can learn from your mistakes, you become someone who adds value to the lives around you. Then, over time, you slowly begin to make fewer and fewer mistakes. But it does take time, and lots of it.
The bottom line is this: if you want to grow as a leader, you have to learn from your mistakes. So, are you learning from your mistakes? Are you making changes? Or are you repeating the same action over and over and hoping something (or someone else) changes in the process? Learn from your mistakes and see what happens.
Today, let’s get back to basics: expanding your leadership influence.
Would you care to hear a secret? The people you lead can probably identify your ruts long before you can.
Some ruts are secrets, but some are not.
Routines can serve to give us energy, but ruts drain us. When we are drained, people around us notice. When we lose focus, people around us notice.
Sure, you can fool some people, but the ones who know you can spot the struggle.
So, let me ask you: what would the people around you identify as a rut you’re currently fighting through? Seriously think about it.
Now, ask yourself: is this truly a rut in my leadership?
A while back I wrote about the redundancy of leadership. The more I think about it, the more I realize that redundancy does not bother me the way it bothers other people. I do not mind the mundane nature of some tasks. In fact, I find energy in the redundancy. But that’s a post for another day.
The danger of embracing redundancy is simple: redundancy can dig a rut, too.
In my own leadership, there are areas where the redundancy of leadership has actually become a rut. Maybe the same is true for you?
So, what your next step? Identify the rut and choose a course of action–stick it through and wait for the terrain to change, or steer hard to one side and see what breaks loose.
Either one may not work the way you expect, but at least now you know you’re in a rut.
Lead well today.
I have a dirt driveway. Well, part of it is dirt, and part is caliche. When it rains, the dirt turns to mud (obviously), and I avoid driving through the mud. Sounds simple right?
I avoid the mud for two reasons: I hate getting my suburban muddy and I hate having to drive through dried ruts (created from driving through mud in the first place).
Ruts can be annoying. The make the ride rougher, because I can never seem to find the right spot to drive through the rut.
But, ruts can be beneficial. When I’m driving down the dirt road leading to our house, I can tell which part of the run is the muddiest by looking at the ruts.
We all have ruts in our lives. I bet you didn’t see this one coming, right?
Not just ruts, though. We also have routines.
I have a specific routine when I park my suburban. I always back in. I have no solid reason or justification for it, I just prefer to avoid the ruts in my driveway when I’m starting my day. Not swerve around them, but bypass them altogether.
You have routines, too. It may be exercise, food choices, weekly schedules, the order you get ready in the morning. Routines give structure to what can often become a chaotic world.
Routines are good. They help us prepare for what comes next, because we know our routine. After completing Task A, our routine says it’s time to move to Task B. It’s simple.
Until a routine becomes a rut. What used to be simple and natural, now feels forced and rough.
Honestly, I think routines and ruts are both very natural, but I do not think they are both beneficial. Ruts mean the time to change has already passed; change now becomes necessary.
I have no secret weapon today, but let me challenge you to do something: take a sheet of paper (or open a note on your phone) and write down 4 things: first write down three routines you have; then write down one rut you find yourself trying to navigate.
Now, you’ve identified a rut. What do you need to do to get out of it? Who can help? What do you need to give up?
Sometimes I wonder if everyone operates the same way I do. Today, let’s find out.
When I drive by certain landmarks and have a memory come to mind, it is generally something I was listening to at the time. As a result, I can drive by a windmill and remember the song that was playing, or under a bridge and remember a conversation I was having. Or, on a tractor, drive by a fence post and remember the point of the story I was at in an audiobook. Crazy, right?
But one place in particular is different. There is one spot between where I live and where I grew up that every time I drive by it, I feel like a 7th grader again.
Honestly, I do not know if the memory comes from that long ago or not, but it’s a spot where over time I have assigned a specific feeling: the feeling of awe at finally having arrived–being an athlete. It was undoubtedly one of my first early bus rides, but the emotion remains. Every time I drive by that spot, I feel optimistic, energetic, and old.
I may not know you well, but I’m going to guess you have something like that. It may be a spot where you fell in love. Maybe it is a note you keep in a safe space. It might be bigger, like your old car from high school, or your very first instrument. Or, maybe, it comes with a person. You think about the first person to encourage you to push for something more, or the first person to point something out to you.
Whatever it may be, I want you to think about this: you are not the same person you were in that moment, in that memory.
I am not a 7th grader anymore, though my wife may accuse me of acting like one from time to time. More than that, I had no clue I could ever become the person I am today.
Again, I would venture to say the same is true of you.
We change over time. We mature. We grow. We make mistakes. We get things right, and we grow some more.
Take a moment today and celebrate that you are not who you were in that memory. You are something more, something better, something different. And, if you’re not better than you were then, take a step today to correct that.
Last week I went to camp. One of my roles at camp was to teach leadership to a group of 12 students. What I did not anticipate, however, was the leadership challenge I was going to face in the process.
The kids were great. They were willing to step up and serve, they had humble spirits that were willing to learn, and they poured back into their own groups to make a difference.
The challenge was on my end. I had two roles while at camp: leadership and sound booth. There were certain times in the schedule where the two overlapped, and so I was faced with the tension of the 3rd question: both things need to happen, but I cannot accomplish both at the same time.
(Side note: If you do not know the 3 Questions, click here to read about them. The 3rd question asks “Who can I get to help?”)
The tension of the 3rd question boils down to this: asking other people to help actually helps us accomplish more. Revolutionary, right? Maybe not. In fact, this concept is completely logical. It makes perfect sense that the more people we ask to do something, the more we can get done.
The tension, then, comes when we as leaders would rather do something on our own for any number of reasons. Maybe there’s a certain level of glory in being in charge of something, or we enjoy accomplishing the task. But at the end of the day, if we want to lead, we have to answer the 3rd question.
So, today, what are you holding onto that you can let go? What is on your plate that overwhelms you, but you are afraid to ask for help? What can you ask someone to help with in order to create some forward momentum? Answer the third question this week and see what happens.