I was sitting around a table of some pretty influential folks (at least in my world) about 7 years ago. Leading up to this meeting, the group had made one of the largest decisions the church had seen in many years and guess what? It was a bad decision. Really bad. We displaced hundreds and hundreds of worshipers in our church. Carnage.
As this meeting began, the head of our team said something that I believe was the most powerful move I have seen in leadership. He said “I’m sorry.” He did not follow this statement with a “but” or read a letter that someone encouraged him to say. He owned the decision. He ate the frog while it was tiny, knowing it would someday grow into a massive bullfrog that would be harder to digest.
When leaders admit to handling something poorly, they earn trust. The opposite is true as well.
So why am I writing about this? Glad you asked.
I can count the number of times I have heard a leader own a mistake on two hands.
Here are some thoughts on the subject that people in leadership have shared with me over the last year and most of them do not sit well with me.
A. “If young leaders say I’m sorry, people will think they are ill equipped.”
B. “Women in leadership cannot say I’m sorry. It shows weakness.”
C. “Admit to a mistake, lose trust.”
Maybe these are true out there in the real world. I sure hope not. I hope this is just a crappy corporate belief and not the truth. Unfortunately, the higher you go in a corporation and the church, you will find leaders are afraid to say “I was wrong.” If a presidential candidate, a mayor or any politician were to admit to being wrong in full humility, they would have my vote. They have shown strength and wisdom.
I am no connoisseur of millennial culture, but I do have an observation or two. There are many people who sit in the pews each Sunday who want to believe their pastor is never wrong. And if she/he is, then for God sake don’t talk about it from the pulpit or in any crowd. Conversely, the younger generations want to not only know their leader, they want to know what mistakes they have made and owned up to. Again, eating crow builds trust for so many.
I want to grow in this form of humility and I want to serve under leaders who do as well. I think it is possible. Regardless of what the world says, I think it is possible.
“It takes a great deal of character strength to apologize quickly out of one’s heart rather than out of pity. A person must possess himself and have a deep sense of security in fundamental principles and values in order to genuinely apologize.”
“Apology is only egotism wrong side out.”
-Oliver Wendell Holmes