Emerging Leaders, and Second Chances
By Ed Delph
November 1, 2021
Here is an unusual story that happened some years ago. An executive secretary to the president of a large corporation made a costly mistake. It cost the company $50,000. She was devastated and brought her letter of resignation to the president, explaining, "I realize what a dumb thing I did. I am very sorry. I know that the mistake cost the company $50,000. So here is my letter of resignation."
“Are you crazy?” he thundered. “I have been teaching and mentoring you every week. Now, you have made a big mistake. I have just invested $50,000 in your education, and you're going to leave? No, ma'am. You are not going to leave. You have cost me too much to lose my investment in you." So she stayed and became an extraordinary executive secretary and Personal Assistant. One might say that is the cheapest $50,000 the president ever spent.
I love this woman’s response. She chose to be teachable, not defensive. She took responsibility for what she did. She grew through the problem and didn’t repeat it. She humbled herself and then got promoted, just like the Bible says in many places. Her humility and willingness to take responsibility took her to the top. She expected the worst but received the best. Why? She was honest and hubris-free.
But it takes two parties to make this work. Notice the president in this article. He wasn’t condescending, petty, or critical. The president realized that people occasionally stumble and make mistakes, sometimes huge mistakes. He knew there was no such thing as perfect people or a perfect business. Everyone is in the process of growing and learning. The mentor allowed his executive secretary to learn, and that allowed her to grow. It takes a big picture leader demonstrating authentic leadership to do that.
The president even accepted the responsibility for her mistake. He understood with privilege comes responsibility. As a result, he could foster a defining moment in a new executive secretary’s life. He knew the secretary would grow from this incident, not just go through this incident. I wish every mentor and their students worked together this way. Teamwork makes the dream work.
Jesus accepted responsibility for the 12 disciples under Him too. When Peter denied the Lord, Jesus prayed for him that he would not lose his faith. Later, when Peter foolishly cut off a soldier's ear with a sword, Jesus supernaturally healed the soldier’s ear. Jesus, in effect, was saying to Peter, “Peter, I will repair your mistake because you are going to learn from this experience and grow.” After this incident, Peter grew and changed the world.
I realize that some mistakes can be deadly, but honestly, most aren’t. I also recognize that if the secretary repeatedly made the same mistake, the president would have needed to take another course of action. But couldn’t we be a bit more like the president? Forgiveness makes the future possible. Great leaders know there is a cost for developing other great leaders and employees. Jesus is our supreme example of this. His heart of compassion acted on behalf of another. The investment was high, but the returns were and continue to be higher than the investment.
To those aspiring leaders, allow me to share a bit of advice. First, be teachable, not offended. Most people learn by their failures, not their successes. Second, strive for excellence, not perfection; your growth on the inside fuels your growth on the outside. Finally, those who try and fail at something are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed.
Aspiring leaders, if you want to make everyone happy but react negatively to constructive criticism, please don't be a leader. Sell ice cream. The only perfect leaders are the ones you don’t know very well. Those leaders went through the same learning curve as you are now. And remember, nothing in the world can keep a person with first-class thinking down, and nothing in the world can keep a person with fourth class thinking up. If you have failed in some way, remember this. Though no one can go back and make a brand-new beginning, everyone can start from now and make a brand-new ending. Your past refines you, not defines you.
For those currently in leadership or mentoring positions, please allow me to give you some advice from sage leaders out there in ‘leadership land.’ First, remember, criticize the act, not the person. If handled correctly, failure is a teacher, not an undertaker, for most people. Second, before you try and change others, remember how hard it is to change yourself.
And leaders, remember a leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the situation, and yells, “Wrong jungle.” Sometimes you have to say what you mean, but that doesn’t give you the right to be mean when you say it. Coach Tom Landry described how to win the Super Bowl. "My job is to get men to do what they don't want to do to achieve something they have always wanted to achieve."
Here's an acrostic called L.E.A.D.E.R. that I think will be helpful to you about leadership. L – Love is what you do; E – Excel in competency; A – Act with integrity; D – Demonstrate accountability; E – Empower others; R – Respond humbly.
There’s no such thing as a winner or a loser. In God's world, there are only winners and learners.
Story from One Minute Businessman’s Devotional by Mike Murdock. Quote, “forgiveness makes the future possible” from the same book and author. Pg. 164
Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
Visit Ed Delph's website at www.nationstrategy.com