Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden. —Genesis 4:3-16

Cain and Abel both knew how to make an offering. Otherwise, God would have instructed Cain rather than remind him to follow the proper method. But Cain chose not to do what he knew was right. When a person deliberately does not do what is required, it is often evidenced by a growing pattern. For this reason, it is best to address the first failure firmly—even if seems to be a small one—because it may prevent more serious problems. Cain's first failure, not following a known procedure, led to a very serious sin: murder. In confronting Cain, God used questions to seek an admission of guilt—then clarified the wrongdoing and assigned an appropriate consequence despite Cain's lack of confession. He also demonstrated the way to mitigate the negative aspects of a punishment without changing the punishment itself. It is easy to regret taking difficult actions with people, and this causes some leaders to later remove the punishment. Choose to be a leader who knows how to show firmness yet compassion by keeping the consequence intact and appropriately mitigating some of the negative aspects.

Live It

  • Ensure the requirements of each assignment are clear and understood.
  • Look for early warning signs, such as discontent and avoidance, and talk with the person to understand the issue and prevent future problems.
  • When noncompliance is evident, use questions to explore the person's understanding of what he or she did wrong—and give the person a chance to admit the wrong.
  • If the person will not admit it—and you know you have the facts straight—don't hesitate to take action, carefully communicating the failure and its consequences.
  • Listen to the person's response, but avoid the temptation to minimize the failure or reduce appropriate consequences.
  • If you learn new facts during the conversation, independently confirm the facts and decide if the consequences need to be modified.
  • Consider the long-term impact of the consequence and mitigate negative fallout if appropriate.

See It

One company found out the hard way the result of dealing with failures too harshly. Over the years, an inappropriate "zero defects" philosophy had morphed into a style of leadership that handled even innocent mistakes with serious, visible reprimands and consequences. When one employee discovered a serious mistake, she was panic-stricken and sought to hide her mistake. But it only cost the company more, ultimately resulting in a loss of approximately $40,000 for the small company. The employee was fired, and more fear was created. The leaders realized they needed to change their approach. A policy was communicated: employees who immediately brought their honest mistakes to management would not be fired. Their resolve was quickly tested. Another costly mistake was soon made, but this time the employee brought it to their attention as soon as it was discovered. The leaders had to resist the urge to fire the employee, but in doing so, they initiated a new, less fearful environment within the company.

Be Alert for Incorrect Mind-sets

This incident occurred after Jesus's disciples had significant and repeated experiences with His powerful teaching and miracles. By this time, Jesus expected a greater level of understanding than His disciples displayed.

And He left them, and getting into the boat again, departed to the other side. Now the disciples had forgotten to take bread, and they did not have more than one loaf with them in the boat. Then He charged them, saying, "Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod." And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "It is because we have no bread." But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, "Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?" They said to Him, "Twelve." "And when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?" And they said, "Seven." So He said to them, "How is it you do not understand?" —Mark 8:13-21