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in Faith, Fodder

what to do with a leadership #fail

  • July 3, 2014
  • By Happy

I wish I could tell you this will never happen to you… but leaders, there are going to be times when you completely and utterly biff it.  I’m not talking about those really awkward moments when you forget someone’s name or when somebody on the tech team turns off the lights before you’re offstage and you have to crawl your way to the stairs to avoid falling down them. (Why, yes, that has actually happened to me – how did you know?)  I’m talking about those moments when “#fail” is the only thing that can describe what happened just there – a fail so big it deserves a hashtag.

Sooner or later, it’s going to happen.  You – yes, you. You’re going to #fail.

Because you’re human.  And we do.

Earlier this spring, I had one such #fail moment with someone I lead.  I accused her – in an email – of doing something she hadn’t done.


Let’s break it down a bit and isolate everything that went wrong right there:

  1. I accused her – instead of waiting to hear her side of the story.
  2. I sent an email – instead of having a conversation in person.
  3. I jumped into a moment of conflict with a lot of emotion – instead of taking a calm look at the facts.

Good grief.  I know better than that.  But it didn’t stop me from being a jerk.  And let me tell you – I felt terrible once I realized what I’d done.

First, some object lessons:

  1. Always seek to understand.  This is one of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – and one I turn to often in conflict situations.  There is always another side to the story – and while it’s true that some people do behave awfully for a lot of reasons – those reasons are still there.  Try to find out what they are.
  2. Never send an email when you’re angry.  Sometimes we need to write those emails to get all that anger out, but word to the wise: don’t put the person’s name in the To: field (A.E.A. – accidental email angst – usually comes with a lot of recovery difficulties).  Also, don’t send it.  Ever.  Email lacks two very important elements in conflict: tone of voice and facial expression.  Even in an emotionally charged situation, if the person on the other side of the conflict can hear your voice and see your face, you’ll be more likely to succeed at communicating what you intend to.  Email is far less personal – and while we’re on the subject: the only less appropriate venue for conflict management than email is text messaging.  It’s pretty much guaranteed to take a #fail and make it a #FAIL.
  3. Calm down.  Now make sure you hear me on this: your emotions are valid.  You are allowed to have them, and you are allowed to express them.  It is perfectly okay to tell someone that you are really angry when you are.  But what you do with that emotion matters.  You can let it rule you – or you can rule it.  If you need some time to cool off – take it.  Conflict will always go better if you can remain calm – and again, seek to understand – not only the facts about the situation and the other side of the story, but why you’re reacting the way you are.

The heart of my leadership #fail was that I let wounded pride from a perceived slight drive my emotions and I reacted unwisely.  It was one of the most uncaring things I’ve done as a leader, and I am really grateful that the person on the receiving end of my temper that day was as grace-full in responding to it as she was.  We did the hard work of talking it through, with a lot of tears on both sides, and our commitment to working through it until we both understood what had happened and why has actually strengthened our relationship.  Neither one of us would have chosen that as a path forward into a better friendship or working relationship – but it got us there.

And that brings us to the point of the story: what do you do with a leadership #fail?

  1. Intellectually – you learn from it.  Whatever you did – there’s an object lesson in there somewhere.  Find it.  Write it down.  And then try not to learn that lesson the hard way again.
  2. Emotionally – you let go of it.  The worst thing you can do after a leadership #fail is beat yourself up about it.  If you’ve hurt someone, do what you can to make it up to them – but don’t be unnecessarily hard on yourself.  You cannot let your failure define you – you aren’t a failure; you failed.  There’s a difference.  Don’t let your emotions tell you otherwise.
  3. Spiritually – you continue to grow from it.  Ephesians 4:15-16 (NRSV) says But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”  Taking an honest look at our #fail moments and telling the truth about them will help us grow up.  I love the way Peterson puts it in The Message paraphrase of these verses: “God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love – like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.”

Let Christ lead you thru your #fail moments – and you will be an even better leader on the other side of them, because He can use those moments to make you even more like Him.


photo credit: ©

By Happy, July 3, 2014
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Simple Felicity is, at its heart, a blog based on the unshakeable belief that happiness really isn't all that complicated. Sometimes finding it can be - but happiness itself is pretty simple, and it's often found in the simplest of things: good food, good books, and good company. So those are the things I write about, along with a few other things that really matter to me, including faith and feminism.

A bit about me: My name is Happy. I have an amazing talent for misplacing my keys, a deep appreciation for whomever looked at the coffee bean and thought, "Hey, I wonder what would happen if I roasted this?", and road trips to Michigan are pretty much my favorite.

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