When You Get It Wrong – Mike Hill
Dodge the bullets, not the issues!
An article I read in the paper this past week caught my attention. It was reflecting on the Government’s handling of the Covid 19 pandemic, and in particular what the general population (whoever they are?) thought of the Government’s performance. I am aware that our readers will take differing views on this. The point being made in the article, however, is an important one for leaders.
The research showed that the general public understood only too well this virus is difficult; that we don’t know enough about it and therefore the likelihood is that Governments would make errors along the way. The article contended that the reason why the Government’s popularity rating is now on the downward slide, is that they seem to take the view that they have not made any mistakes and if anyone is to blame, it really isn’t them!
My intention is not to judge the Government, but to make the bigger point that all those in leadership need to think about. What do we do when we make a mistake, or when we pursue a course of action and have misread the mood of those within our church or organisation? If you are a parent what do you do when you have made a mistake in the way you parent your children? I write not as an expert but as someone who has certainly made some mistakes along the way.
Years ago, my staff and I had a plan to re-order the church where I was the senior minister. We had plans drawn up, we had it costed and we were sure that this plan would add a new dynamic to the ambience of the church building as well as enhance our worship. I felt sure that this was right and the minimal research we had done amongst congregation members pointed us in the direction of the plan.
At the church’s Annual Meeting, a colleague presented the plan with both confidence and competence. I thought we were ‘home and dry.’ I asked for questions and/or comments. An elderly gent, who I liked very much, and more to the point was hugely valued amongst the congregation, slowly rose to his feet. “May I say something please, Rector,” he started.
What followed was a demolition of the building plan that hadn’t even started! He began by reminding me that he had been attending the church for seventy years. I can’t recall everything he said, but I can remember thinking, “This is not a hill worth dying on.” Others stood up and attacked the plan. “It’s too expensive; it will ruin the view from the back of the church; the screens will obscure the stained glass in the east end…”
I listened to the comments and not really having a clue what to do next, I stood up and thanked members for their contributions. I then apologised for the fact that I had misread the mood of the congregation and told them that they could be assured that this plan would not be acted on, though I didn’t assure them that it would never be implemented.
A room full of people whose mood was turning ugly changed. They felt listened to, they felt surprised that their (then) young Minister was willing to backtrack. Truthfully, I went home a bit flattened by the experience, wondering how I would explain this change of heart to the very enthusiastic architect the next day. But I also reflected on the leadership lessons that might be learned.
- Leaders don’t always get it right! Imagining that you have a hotline to God and that He can only speak through you, would be a potentially attractive thought, but it would be a wrong one.
- It is tempting to believe that you must be right, and it’s ‘them’ that have got it wrong.
- At the heart of our faith is the currency of forgiveness. Some leaders think that an apology is a sign of weakness. My reflection is that a genuine apology is always a sign of strength.
- Sometimes good ideas are really good ideas, but the timing of their proposed implementation is wrong. Some years later, long after I left, most of the changes that I had proposed were completed with unanimous support from the congregation.
- You will have disappointments along the way, but you need to learn to process them positively. I think this is where a coach or a mentor can be invaluable. John Donne wrote, “no man (or woman) is an island”. It amazes me how many leaders exhaust themselves, which is often a preamble to burn-out, by trying to process their hurt and disappointment on their own.
- It’s been said too many times, but there is an important truth to be learnt here, and that is, we can all learn from our mistakes. I think I slightly tire of gurus who overplay this truth to the point where you might imagine that we should go and intentionally make mistakes – just for the potential learning. Not so!
- It’s always wise to reflect on the issues that you need to hold your ground on. Picking the wrong issues will lead you into open warfare and no-one wins in that scenario.
Remember, if you are a church leader, a church is a voluntary associational group. In plain English that means that no-one has any obligation to attend your church. They have chosen to do so. That’s why the skills of leadership in such a group are so subtle. We don’t have the ‘hire and fire’ dynamic of commercial life. Our task is different and harder.
I imagine that if a corporate big shot read this article, he/she might judge me to be a pussy cat. Far from it. If you can hold to the seven points above, I think you will have a much better chance of leading an emotionally healthy organisation, where people choose to be.
Thank you for your leadership and for what our God is doing in and through you.
CEO, GLN UK & Ireland
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