The 10 Stupidest Leadership Mistakes I've Made
- Wednesday, July 01, 2009
I've tried to learn as much as I can from my mentors, training opportunities and reading about leadership from those more experienced than I. Fortunately, I've been able to avoid some mistakes by learning from the mistakes of others. With the hope that it may be the same for you, let me share what I believe to be the stupidest mistakes I've made in leadership.
1. Hiring too fast and firing too slow
When a position is open that you know needs to be filled and the right person isn't available, it's had to wait. The tendency is to fill the role with the best available person, but sometimes that's not the right person. Let me confirm that it's a lot easier to tell people they're not a good fit for the job before you hire them than after you've brought them on the team.
On the flip side, I've made the mistake of waiting too long to let someone go. I can remember one particular situation when I let a problem go for months without dealing with it head-on. It was impacting me, my family and the rest of the team. More importantly, I was getting in the way of God doing a work in this particular employee's life. I thought I was doing him a favor by keeping him on the team. The reality was that he needed to move on to experience all that God had for him.
2. Trying to fix the problem rather than the process
Not to be crass, but I've found it's a lot better to potty-train my kids than to continue changing messy diapers. Regrettably, though, there have been too many times in leadership roles when I've found myself reacting to a problem rather than addressing the process that prevents the situation from occurring in the first place. It takes a lot of discipline to rise above the emotion of a difficult situation and try to discern how a broken system needs to be fixed.
3. Putting projects before people
Others may have the opposite challenge of letting their love of people get in the way of actually accomplishing the purpose of the organization. But because I'm not naturally a people person, I tend to be too task-driven. Good leaders find the perfect balance between getting the job done and embracing the relational component of doing life as a team.
4. Delegating tasks instead of responsibility
When pushed into a corner, I naturally revert back to my perfectionist tendencies. I know in my mind the way it should be done. And if I let myself, I'll fall into the trap of thinking I'm the only one who can get it done.
First of all, I'm not that good. Someone else can usually do it better. Second, the failure to empower others with real responsibilities is a guaranteed recipe for limiting the potential of your ministry. This is the number-one reason that most churches don't grow beyond a couple hundred people. In those situations the pastor will delegate tasks. Real leadership development doesn't happen until an effort is made to build a team and give away ministry responsibility.
5. Assuming it's always black and white
Maybe it's all those years I spent in local government, fulfilling my bureaucratic responsibilities. Or maybe it's just because following prescribed rules is easier than dealing with the mess of following God's lead and making wise decisions. The reality, of course, is that much of life isn't black and white. And I've found I'm chasing my tail if I think I'm going to be able to create policies or guidelines to address or prevent every situation that could potentially arise.
6. Not following my gut
Or is that the Holy Spirit? One of my spiritual gifts is discernment. But I've noticed that people's strengths can also lead to their biggest challenges. For me, discernment can lead to paralysis through analysis. When that happens, I tend to get in the way of what God is trying to accomplish. In an effort to make the best decisions possible, I sometimes get stuck trying to acquire information rather than seeking God's direction and taking action. Yes, we're called to plan and seek counsel. But that initial reaction you sense could very well be God's prompting.
7. Dwelling on the worst-case scenario
Again, this is what happens when I let my focus wander from God to the circumstances around me. It's appropriate to plan and take steps to prevent those bad situations from occurring. It's sin when this turns into worry. It's really kind of humorous to see the stupid mistakes we can make when we begin to think we're in control. I've wasted way too much time worrying about ministry challenges that never happened.
8. Waiting until there's a problem to provide feedback
I really do hate this about myself, and I'm consciously trying to improve with God's help. But to be quite truthful, I'm encouragement challenged. Like I mentioned before, I've always had this strong sense of what the end product needs to look like. So one of my biggest mistakes as a leader has been withholding encouragement when the team delivers and only speaking up when expectations aren't met.
9. Staying busy
I've fallen into this trap too many times. In my mind I tell myself that if I'm busy, then I'm adding value. The reality is that our busyness can get in the way of effectiveness. We can be busy about the wrong things. And if we don't discipline our lives, we'll find ourselves investing a lot of time with little impact. E-mail is one example of this trap for me. If I wanted to, I could spend the entire day processing e-mail and not really accomplishing anything. That's why when I plan my week, I actually plan the times when I'm going to respond to e-mail messages.
10. Spending too much time on the details rather than the dreams
This is a natural corollary to the mistake of staying busy. When life gets busy and I get invested in all the dirty details flowing my way, I lose sight of the dreams that God has for me. Here's the reality: those dreams usually come when the pace of my life slows enough to do stuff like read, pray, rest, experience new places and meet new people. Dealing with the dailiness of life doesn't allow for that. It needs to be planned and prioritized. We need to create space to experience God and all that He has for us.
I hope this list encourages you to consider where God is growing you in your leadership role. He loves you too much to leave you where you are today.
Adapted from Killing Cockroaches by Tony Morgan. B&H Publishing Group, 2009. Copyright © 2009 by Tony Morgan. All rights reserved. Used by permission.
Original publication date: July 1, 2009
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