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When you fail as a leader

In my last blog I talked about the importance of self-leadership and I compared it to riding a bicycle. To lead others you have to lead yourself.   I had a good friend read the blog and email me a question: “What do you do when you fall off the bike?” He feels like he’s gone through a sea…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
In my last blog I talked about the importance of self-leadership and I compared it to riding a bicycle. To lead others you have to lead yourself.
I had a good friend read the blog and email me a question: “What do you do when you fall off the bike?” He feels like he’s gone through a season where his failure to lead himself well has undermined his leadership of others.

Who hasn’t gone through a tough season in life? Who hasn’t experienced a time when you’re struggling to see the future? Sometimes, even waking up in the morning can be a chore.
And the problem with being a leader is that the whole train grinds to a halt if the engine stops working. You can only fake it till you make it so long. When you begin to lose self-confidence and drive, negative thoughts can begin to swarm your mind. You may find yourself in a far place, isolated from the life of faith and vision that God designed you to live.

In each of the times when, as a younger man, I was stripped of my leadership position, I found the experience crippling. Just getting back to a place where I could believe in myself and take some risks again was difficult. I was in a fog of problems and impossibilities. And those over me didn’t help – they couldn’t see my potential or work to creatively tap it. All they could see was the fact that I was a bad fit where I was.

We fail as leaders for different reasons. Here are a few:

1.    A crisis in your personal life.  A divorce, a death, a bout of depression, teenagers running amok. Any number of things can derail you.
2.    The Peter Principle.  You advance in your job to a place where new competencies that you don’t posses are required.
3.    Politics/outside events.   You get sideswiped by events outside your control that you didn’t anticipate.
4.    Taking your eye off the ball.  Boredom and complacency cause you to not bring your “A game.”
5.    Not asking questions.  Too many leaders get lazy and stop asking the why? and what? questions that enable them too more clearly see reality.

So what do you do when you’re the head of GM and you know you’re supposed to lead but no one follows? Or what do you do as a parent when your own children don’t do what you ask them to do? Usually there is a failure in your self-leadership – so how do you get back on the bicycle?

1.    Face the Facts.  Leaders must first define reality. If you’re the emperor and can’t see that you’re wearing no clothes, then you’ll lack the credibility to lead. Chances are you’re perceived as defensive and unapproachable by your followers and you’ve got a problem – you need a reality check!  Here are three ways to get a reality check:

a)    Spend a few days away reflecting on your life and leadership performance.
b)    Ask for an anonymous 360 assessment from your peers and followers.
c)    Ask your boss for a brutally honest evaluation

2.    Come Clean.  If you’re failing as a leader, your followers know it. You may be the last one in the room to recognize the obvious. The only way to begin to restore the trust you’ve broken is to describe reality and apologize for the part you played in creating whatever mess that exists.

3.    Right-size yourself.  You may well be in over your head, in a leadership position that doesn’t fit you. Have the humility to step back from responsibilities you can’t shoulder and the courage to grow in other areas. Chances are that some of your followers could do some of your tasks better than you, so give them the chance.
4.    Get back to basics.  A gut check will show you ways you could better lead yourself. Here are some questions to ask yourself:
Do I set monthly goals?
Am I tying these goals to a regular To Do list?
Do I use a daily calendar to optimize my time usage?
Do I balance my priorities?
Am I spending daily time with God and asking him to lead me?
Everybody fails. We learn to walk by repeatedly falling down. The best thing to do if you’ve skinned your knee is to stop beating yourself up, take a clear-eyed look in the mirror and decide to get back on the bike. The future is probably much brighter than you realize.

Comments (5)

  • St. Mark of the Cross

    okay…so I failed the whole stinking test – now what! Failure as a Christian leader is a very difficult thing, because we in the body of Christ do not accept failure in leadership. We have seen this in the “news” of leader failure in the body. When it says in Galatians 6:1 “…you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of meekness…” that does not mean that only leaders are spiritual, but body members need to be gentle and kind to fallen leaders. The word of God does say “…the gifts and calling of God are without repentance…” I believe if WE all will do our part, and accept leaders who fail and repent…failure will not always lead to disaster. Maybe a different idea in what is being said, I don’t know…but I have ministered to many fallen leaders, helping them get back up. I believe “us” fallen, (because when one member/leader weeps, we all weep) will be more able to get back on track when we find that the body of Christ is tenderhearted, forgiving for Christ’s sake. Then we will all get our eyes on Jesus, and know that we are all sheep, and my experience with sheep in the barn they all stink.

  • Ok, in all the years I have heard “set goals,” never have they been for monthly goals. That is quite brilliant. I have set annual goals, short-term goals, long-term goals, but never monthly goals. For some reason, this is really ministering to me! HA!

  • Seth-

    I always enjoy reading your writing! The last couple on self-leadership especially, have been a boost of encouragement for me to re-focus and seek the Lord. Just wanted to say thanks 🙂


  • I failed as a leader when I was a young man. I was in a church that really, the elders or pastors just put a tape in the player and then everybody wanted them to lay hands on them and tell them how spiritual they are, that was pretty simple, all you had to do is swill down a bunch of beer and then plop your hands on their head and tell the guys they have the “spirit of david” and the women were mostly “Hannahs” and they had to all have a revelation of the APOSTLE TO THE KINGDOM, pray away the Nephilims all the time. What I had a failure in, was a failure of my choice of church. I had no business being in a role of leadership, I was not qualified, and they didn’t really want anyone to be qualified. All you had to do was kiss up to the Apostle and he was highly pleased, if you didn’t agree, don’t say anything, one disagreement with the Apostle and you were out anyway.

    I guess some of you know what “church” I am talking about.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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