And David said to God, "Was it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? I am the one who has sinned and done evil indeed; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, O Lord my God, be against me and my father's house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued" (1 Chronicles 21:17 NKJV).
Every leader will make mistakes, but not every leader will own the mistakes they make. Many will do their best to cover up their mistakes.
Leaders attempt to cover up mistakes when they:
- Blame someone else.
- Minimalize the impact of their decision and act like it didn’t matter or happen.
- Refuse to own their responsibility for the decision.
- Cover it up and assume no one would notice.
- Deny actions of wrongdoing and/or even lie about it.
In an excerpt from The Maxwell Leadership Bible, author John Maxwell said, “Times of failure not only reveal a leader's true character but also present opportunities for significant leadership lessons”. Following a major victory over the Philistines, King David made a major mistake. The king chose to listen to Satan, stopped trusting God for the defense of his nation, and undertook a census.
“David's willingness to take responsibility for his foolish action demonstrated his depth of character. He repented and accepted punishment from the hand of God, trusting in the grace of God. Even so, David's error snuffed out the lives of seventy thousand Israelites. When leaders mess up, many people suffer.
“David admitted his failure and repented. Although he faced many difficulties, David worked to restore his relationship with God and did whatever he could to minimize the consequences of his failure in the lives of others” (EQUIP Daily Devotional, http://www.iequip.org/daily-devotional/good-leaders).
Godly leaders are following David’s example when they:
- Admit they did wrong quickly and publicly.
- Repent and change the behavior or action.
- Own the responsibility of the resulting pain or punishment.
- Bare the responsibility to make right the wrong.
So often when a leader fails, others get hurt as in David’s case. It is truly a great responsibility to be a leader. We own the responsibility to hear from God as to the direction of the organization, along with our board and lead a staff. We have fundraising responsibilities, organizational responsibilities, community responsibilities and much, much more. It’s work to be a leader.
We will make mistakes along our journey, but we must accept that it is always the best to confess our mistakes and own the responsibility to make it right.
I have had the joy of working with some really great leaders in my lifetime. I count it a joy to have been engaged with growing organizations and experience those leaders’ styles of operating. I watched how they responded to problems, challenges, disloyalty and fundraising challenges.
In my early years, I worked for David Wilkerson and was responsible for logistics for the crusades and major outreaches across America, Canada, and the world. On one occasion, I was working with a city that was not meeting all of the reporting requirements we had to assure us that the details of an upcoming crusade were in order. There was a very accomplished pastor in charge of the crusade, but none of the committees we needed to have a good crusade were functioning effectively.
My job was to get them on track and to be sure we had all of the committees fully functioning. The prayer, public relations, and fundraising committees all needed to be producing reports and making progress. None of them were, and I called it to the attention of the crusade director. He told me to trust this pastor to get it all done. At the time, we could have been released from our contract with the arena if we had canceled then. On this pastor’s reputation, we went forward. Over and over, I reported to the crusade director that I could not get any committee chairman to do their job for the crusade. Finally, the crusade director told me, “Jerry, I will take responsibility for this crusade. I’m convinced this pastor will fill the building with people, and we will have a great crusade”.
Well, I quit calling the committee chairmen, and the crusade happened. We were scheduled for three days in a 10,000-seat arena on the outskirts of a town of about 100,000 people. The day arrived, and we had approximately 1,500 people show up for the event. David Wilkerson walked out onto a stage in a room that seated 10,000 and saw people spread out all over this place. We were embarrassed, to say the least.
After the service that night, he called me and the crusade director into a private meeting room. He was very upset and expressed to us how embarrassed he was and asked, “How did this happen? How did we come to be in this building, 20 miles from town and 10,000 seats? How did we end up with so few in attendance?” I stood there, quiet, and took the rebuke.
Then something happened that taught me an amazing lesson. The crusade director took responsibility for what happened. He owned the fault. He said, “Brother Dave, Jerry told me this was happening. He told me the committees were not working, and that we had no assurances of people coming to this event. I am totally responsible; because I thought this pastor would make sure that we would fill the building. I will fix this. I will have the room size reduced with curtains. I will get something done in the press tomorrow and do my best to get at least 3,000 people here tomorrow.”
I watched David Wilkerson forgive him in front of my eyes because he owned the fault. The crusade director admitted to his mistake, owned full responsibility, and then did something about it. He showed me the way to take ownership of my mistakes. David Wilkerson showed me forgiveness. He had every right to be upset and every right to rebuke those who he felt had not done their jobs. However, when the crusade director owned the mistake, David Wilkerson forgave and agreed to the plan to correct the wrong.
I often say that if you tell the truth all the time, you do not have to have a great memory. But when you lie, you really have to remember what you said. That’s not the way to live your life. Own your mistakes, deal with them, and get things right. Do the right thing for yourself, your family, and for the ministry, you are leading.
Jerry Nance, President/CEO, Global Teen Challenge