FAILING TO CARE
She contemptuously flicked her thick, pointy thumb nail off her coffee-stained teeth and said, “You won by ONE VOTE.” I was in 7th grade and had just been elected as the Secretary of the Student Council. She was Mrs. Bennett, an elderly, austere teacher who oversaw the student leadership. She obviously wasn’t pleased that I ousted one of her favorite students. Seriously, if we did chad voting I think she would have called for a recount!
I didn’t reply because the one thing we all knew was that you didn’t mess with Mrs. Bennett. Her leadership was known far and wide as just plain mean. The following year I was elected President. I must have won by more than one vote because Mrs. Bennett didn’t have any mocking comments. Whatever the reason, I was smart enough not to ask.
This was my earliest encounter with a poor leader. I’ve had a lifetime since then to experience many different types of leadership; both good and bad. I’ve also been in different positions of leadership myself, where I have succeeded and failed too. The thing about being a leader is that you will always find a critic nearby. I know this because I’m a self-professed leadership critic and junkie.
I am fascinated, intrigued and captivated by leaders, both good and bad. So, hang in with me over the next couple months for a two-part blog post that will provide some leadership lessons from my own life experience. This month we’ll look at leadership fails, and next month we’ll focus on more inspiring examples.
Leadership is important because it’s everywhere we look. From teachers to top CEO’s, and everywhere in between, we are all leaders who have some level of influence on others. Today we’ll see why some leaders failed because of how they cared. It may sound simple, but caring well is a critical component of great leadership. We see God’s heart for this in 1 Peter 5:2, Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve. Let’s take a look at some leadership fails that didn’t capture the heart of God:
CARED TOO MUCH
Ms. Bennett is an example of caring too much, in the wrong way. One of her favorite students did not win and she wasn’t happy with the outcome. Granted, she was a surly gal anyway, but we can all care too much about wrong things. For instance, caring too much about the process, rather than the people can sabotage relational equity. Bring perspective to what you care about and it will help you lead better.
CARED TOO LITTLE
In High School I was on the cheerleading squad and had a teacher that would lead us at zero period for practice. She was thin, middle age with weathered skin, and most mornings looked like she pulled an all-nighter. She wasn’t very personable, and usually barked out orders and directions. In the four years I was on the squad I never connected with her, and neither did my teammates. She received a stipend for taking this role and I suspect that was her only reason for being there.
Whatever the reason, the fact remained that she cared too little. As leaders we accept the burden of responsibility to care. Even when we find ourselves in less desirable situations, we need to be able to motivate ourselves to take an interest.
CARED ABOUT SOMETHING ELSE
A college student was a site leader during a mission trip my son and I took to Mexico, to a build house. He was responsible for overseeing our group as we constructed a small 15’ x 30’ abode. His leadership style was very casual and relaxed.
At one point I asked him what size beam was needed for a roof rafter. He was chatting with a couple of girls when I asked, and pointed to a pile of wood over his shoulder. I thanked him, but as I walked away, I overheard him conspiratorially tell the girls that he really didn’t know what size was needed. Flabbergasted, I turned back around and said, “If you don’t know what size beam I’m supposed to use, you need to find out. It’s pretty important that we use the right plank!” I was shocked by such obvious neglect of his responsibility. He was more interested in flirting with the girls than making sure that the house was constructed safely. Not only was he careless, I pitied him for his lack of integrity.
Leadership requires focus, and caring helps us focus. Be sure to care about what and who you are leading, because, in some critical situations, your integrity isn’t the only thing at stake.
CARED WHAT CERTAIN PEOPLE THOUGHT
I worked with one boss that gave an inauthentic appearance of niceness to everyone. She was sweet and bubbly until there was a problem. She didn’t handle conflict well and her sweetness turned sour as she became ineffectually demanding. More than once she became upset when her performance reviews came back with 1’s and 2’s from co-workers. She was less upset about the poor working relationships she had with them and more concerned that the top-level leaders would think less of her and no longer keep her in their circles.
She cared what certain people thought. This led to an inauthentic leadership that produced many relational pitfalls along the way. As a leader when you selectively people-please you lose respect from those who follow you. Mutual respect is the best foundation and an especially sturdy bridge to cross in conflict.
CARED ABOUT HIMSELF
You can be a leader at any age, take for instance a young boy who had the ability to spread a negative attitude as fast as a wild fire. He could impact an entire group of other children without them even knowing it was happening. One grumpy boy turned into 6 grumpy boys in no time!
I have seen this in the adult work place as well. Discontent and discouragement can run rampant when a leader is the one who keeps complaining about everything that is wrong… rather than equipping others to make things right. Leaders who carry that energy care more about themselves than they do the company or mission. Sometimes we need to forfeit the right to complain, for the greater good of positive morale.
DIDN’T HAVE TIME TO CARE
The unorganized leader is one of my biggest pet peeves! I was part of a mother’s group and this leader had forgotten which mentor was supposed to give the devotional. She called me the day before, asking for help. I didn’t feel called to do it, but reluctantly agreed. My devotion ended up being predictably uninspiring and when I returned to my seat, I learned that the mentor who had originally been scheduled had prepared a personal, moving devotional for that morning. Because the leader wasn’t on top of things, a great opportunity was lost, and the original mentor was not honored.
This leader is a lovely woman, who at the time was managing little kids, so we’re going to throw a lot of grace her way! However, this is a picture of how disorganization can negatively impact a situation. If you don’t have the proper bandwidth to lead, don’t step up. Or if you feel called and you’re not particularly organized, find someone who can fill in the gaps. The lack of organization can bother others and nick your respectability, so do the best you can to be prepared.
DIDN’T CARE ABOUT ME
I worked under someone who spent more time managing his image, than managing me. On top of that he didn’t like or care about me. It was evident in how he overlooked my contributions, ridiculed me behind my back, and skipped over me in meetings.
Not caring about who you lead is the biggest leadership fail of all! No one expects a boss to be a friend, but mutual respect goes a long way and contributes to productivity and excellence. Whoever in your life is a challenge to lead, find something to respect them for and appreciate their contributions to your team.
As I said, I’m a self-professed critic of leaders. I’ve been exposed to ones that are bullies, ineffective, unintegral, dismissive, too busy, careless, and unkind. It’s easy to be a critic though, because it’s not easy to be a leader! I have made similar mistakes myself and have left a few battle scars on others. Bottom line is that being a leader is really hard.
These are unfortunate instances, but they are good opportunities to learn from. Each of these leaders cared in the wrong wayand it impacted someone they were leading… in this case, me! These real-life examples remind us how important it is to care, like Christ did, about those we lead.
It sounds simple, but don’t let that fool you, because it’s not always easy. We can fall victim to caring too much, too little, about something else, about what others think, about ourselves and get too busy or saddled with coworkers we don’t like. It is only through the Holy Spirit that we can be encouraging, authentic, caring, positive, organized, personable, approachable, gracious, trustworthy, handle conflict well, and lead with integrity.
Jesus led and He cared. Jesus leads now and still cares a lot! (1 Peter 5:7) It is only by His Spirit that we can truly lead well because it takes supernatural power to implement His call. In John 21:16 Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
No matter what your age, or role, you are leading and influencing people in your life. You’re making a difference one way or the other, but one thing is clear, you can make the best difference by caring like Christ did, and capturing the heart of God as you lead!
Tune in next month as we look at leadership examples that inspire! Meanwhile, lead well and make a difference by caring well!
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