Reflections on Leadership: Anyone I Follow Must Readily Look For and Admit Mistakes
It cannot be stated as a universal rule that the best leaders in every situation are those who readily look for and admit their mistakes. In fact, there are obvious historical examples to the contrary such as a Winston Churchill. Though I loathe admitting it, pompous dogmatism often seems particularly helpful during times of crisis when a clear and unequivocal message is needed to “rally the troops,” metaphorically or literally. It’s all about having the right message.
Yet I’ve extreme difficulty respecting anyone who struggles to look for and admit mistakes. That’s not to say it’s impossible nor that I don’t. What I’m saying is that it’s a struggle. With the Churchill example, I suspect I would’ve appreciated his role in saving the country but wouldn’t have respected the man. Whether a person is defensive due to a lack of confidence or just plain stupidly obstinate due to excess confidence, I find it excruciatingly hard to muster up respect.
A couple years ago a good friend made a shrewd observation: If a person is going to have a healthy relationship with me, he or she has to be at least somewhat self-critical and certainly able to accept criticism when it’s valid. Returning to the first point, this is especially the case with leaders. I cannot follow someone who seems incapable of admitting weakness and fault. Something is wrong with me, I guess. I was born without Loyalty Mode.
Many people are able to turn off the critical thinking switch in order to mindlessly follow orders when they’re loyal to a person, institution, or movement. I lack that ability. As Isaiah 1:18 begins in the ESV, “Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord.” That’s my expectation for all people. So any person I follow must be, at the very least, able and willing to reason and be reasonable–wrestle it through. Automatic compliance to orders that are being belted out doesn’t fit within my skill set.
I’m also not looking for attractiveness, efficiency, self-assuredness, and so many of those other surface level characteristics that are common in business and self-help books. Frankly, I tend toward suspicion of those people. The sort of men and women I naturally respect are those who are adaptable, competent, discerning, gracious, humble, principled, rigorous, and self-critical. In other words, give me the Abraham Lincolns of the world over the Winston Churchills.
In closing, I’d be remiss not to personalize the matter. The truth is, I’m terrified of being the hypocrite who says, “Do what I say, not what I do.” To some extent that’s inevitable, I suppose. As Christians we’re to exhort others to be followers of Christ, a standard of faith and practice that surpasses our own. Thus the need for grace. Yet as the chairman and campus pastor of University Abbey, I want to lead by readily confessing my weakness–looking for and admitting my mistakes.