How can leaders get out of the mess they themselves created -- and strengthen relationships in the process?
How do you respond when you mess up? When I really mess up my first impulse is to want to hide it, justify it or to run away. This inclination is even stronger when I mess up as a leader.
It turns out the way out of the pressure and mess is actually the opposite of hiding – the way out is to admit fault and pursue honest communication and restored relationship.
Working definition of this leadership concept:
Admitting fault means being open, forthright and proactive about confessing when you are wrong immediately after discovering it. It involves cultivating an attitude of being correctable. To have the courage to admit fault requires having confidence in one’s value independent of one’s performance.
Benefits for leaders who practice admitting fault:
1. It affirms that leaders are not perfect but that they are, in fact, people like everyone else and they make mistakes and do wrong things. Drink that in a minute. So often people are intimidated to lead because they think they have to always do everything right or know all the answers, but no one does because perfection is impossible. Leaders do not have to be perfect, but I believe they do have to be willing to admit fault.
2. It keeps leaders humble. Humility is the safest place for anyone, but especially a leader who might tend to think they are as awesome as people -- or their successes -- tell them they are. Humility enables us to think of ourselves with “sober judgment” (Romans 12:3 ESV). My friend Kay cautions, “If you are a leader believing you might somehow have it all together and your authority gives you some wall of security against fault, this could be the most dangerous pitfall you face!”
Benefits for the community where the leader leads:
1.It preaches the good news. None of us is perfect. We don’t do everything right. But, because of Jesus, there is always a way back. Repent (turn away from the wrong path you are on), confess your fault, receive the Lord’s forgiveness, make amends as needed and enjoy restoration of intimacy with Christ and freedom from guilt and shame.
2.It communicates value and respect to others.
3.It cultivates an environment where others around us are allowed to fail, fall short, disappoint – admit it – and receive forgiveness. We want to encourage others to confess and acknowledge their faults as soon as possible, as it not only paves the way for authentic and intimate relationships, but can help us address problems created by their fault as soon as possible (which is always the best time to deal with problems!)
Biblical inspiration and support:
In 1 John we read, “7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. 1 John 1:7–10 (ESV)
John explains if anyone says they are without sin, they deceive themselves! To be honest is to have to admit fault and apologize from time to time.
In Galatians 2:11-14 the Apostle Paul confronted the Apostle Peter (Cephas) for wrong doing. Peter was a leader before Paul was a leader, and yet, Peter needed correcting. Being a leader does not mean we will always do everything right. Leaders aren’t perfect, but there is a path of repentance and restoration for them, like there is for others.
Paul teaches that if someone is found sinning, the community is to gently restore the community member (Galatians 6:1). Sin is not the end of the line for the Christian; we do not throw people away. Neither do we ignore the wrong doing. We have fellowship as we live in the light with one another (1 John 1:7) by getting things out in the open and going through a process of restoration.
Matthew 5:23-24 tells us that if we are about to approach the altar and realize someone has something against us, that we should go make it right with them first. Going to church does not automatically make us godly, we need to follow Jesus’ teaching and models as we are now enabled by the Holy Spirit. When we wrong someone, it is our responsibility to go to them, confess, apologize and make amends. After that, it is their decision how they will respond to us, but we must do our part.
The idea of those in authority apologizing to those they have authority over may seem a bit counter-cultural to some of us. It is not something we often witness in the marketplace or politics. Our experience may make it uncomfortable, but that does not mean we should avoid admitting fault. When I was raising my kids, I tried to apologize to them often, because I found if it had been a while since my last apology the apology gears inside me would get rusty and it would seem really hard to admit fault to them. I found that when I would confess my wrongdoing and ask for forgiveness, they were gracious to forgive me. I now see that my apologies communicated value to them, and was part of keeping our relationship alive and intact. As their leader I also gave them a model of how to handle situations where they were at fault.
First, if you cannot think of the last time you were wrong, I encourage you to spend some time humbly before the Lord, perhaps using the Time of Confession tool available here.
Sometimes we have a clean conscience because we have been open and honest with the Lord, but sometimes we may have gotten caught up in pride and our hearts have become calloused to the promptings of the Spirit showing us where we are not acting rightly. But God is so gracious! We can ask him to sensitize our hearts to our own wrongdoing. (To see the plank in our own eye, see Matthew 7:3.)
I heard once somewhere* that there are 5 powerful statements that can transform relationships:
I’m so sorry.
I was wrong.
Please forgive me.
I forgive you.
I love you.
I mentioned before that if I get out of the habit of saying the first few, it seems hard for me to do so, so I made up a catchy punk song that I am sharing with you.
(I love music and I’ve made up songs since I was very little. I like making up songs to remember things and to share things I’m learning with others.)
I’m hoping it’s cheesy enough that after you listen these powerful statements will continue to run through your mind and heart and be on your lips the next time they are needed. Let’s challenge each other to admit fault at some point this week.
*I have looked and have not been able to find where these originated. If you know where these 5 statements come from, please let me know so I can give the source credit!
A Parting Word on Admitting Fault:
Saying I’m sorry is easier the more often we say it.
View a related video to this article.
When have you seen admitting fault work powerfully?
What makes it hard for people to admit fault?
Hi! I'm Jeri Howe.
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