When Patrick Lencioni, who has written some of the best books on leadership, says that this book should be “required reading” for leaders, then you read it. I’m referring to Dave Kraft’s recent book, Mistakes Leaders Make. In the forward, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle advises the reader to process the book—take it slow. There is a lot of wisdom to ponder.
When I was a pastor in The Netherlands, I worked with a number of professionals, including an HR person with Eastman. Whenever we interviewed someone for a position, he made it a point to say to a candidate—tell me about a recent mistake you made and how you dealt with it, and what you learned from it.
Most of us who have had a leadership role do not need much time to process this one. Pastoral leadership is fraught with landmines, especially leading a multicultural church. I have inevitably offended someone almost every week. I have made mistakes in both hiring and firing. I have put up with sin in some members far too long, and been too short with others. I have made the mistake of emphasizing information over transformation in my preaching. All too often, I have made the mistake of not praying enough. I have let criticism have too much space in my heart. I have spoken when I should have listened, been quiet when I should have talked; been too available on some occasions, and not accessible enough in others; micromanaged when I should have entrusted and empowered, delegated when I should have taken more ownership.
Kraft has his list. Unfortunately, I can find myself in each one. He covers ten critical mistakes (the “big deal” kind) that leaders make, the first one being the greatest mistake—
1-Allowing ministry to replace Jesus
2-Allowing comparing to replace contentment
3-Allowing pride to replace humility
4-Allowing pleasing people to replace pleasing God
5-Allowing busyness to replace visioning
6-Allowing frugality to replace faith
7-Allowing artificial harmony to replace difficult conflict
8-Allowing perennially hurting people to replace potential hungry leaders
9-Allowing information to replace transformation
10-Allowing control to replace trust
In each chapter, Kraft offers wise counsel. He counters the above “big deals” with these—
1-Make Jesus your life, pure and simple
2-Be yourself. Everyone else is taken
3-Get a true handle on who you are (Rom 12:2)
4-Live for the audience of One
5-Operate with the microscope of things up close and the telescope of things far off
6-Remember-people give to vision more than programs
7-Have the courage and conviction to collide and confront
8-Keep this as your focus when building a team: Getting the right people on the bus is based on character and chemistry; getting the right people in the right seats is based on competency and capacity
9-When you impart truth, tell yourself–It’s not enough to have thinking heads—we need responding hearts
10-Remember-holding people responsible for reasonable results and controlling them is not the same
Two nights ago, in a tight tennis match, too many of my balls sailed wide. Afterwards, one of the players mentioned that as long as we think of tennis as baseball, than getting three out of ten is not too bad. As he put it, “this is my general approach to life.” But three out of ten is not so good in tennis, nor is it in leadership. Batting .300 when it comes to making mistakes, making 7 mistakes for every 10 decisions, will probably not work in most environments. For one, it’s hard to recover from mistakes. With preaching, there’s always next weekend. But relational mistakes can take much longer.
But whatever mistakes, blunders, gaffes, miscalculations, or errors—Kraft’s closing words help us step up and step out into tomorrow: “The triune God is bigger than our mistakes and will work His plan and purpose in spite of them.”