All leaders are people, therefore not perfect. Only God is perfect. Depending on where a leader is in their personal journey will affect how they deal with and respond to situations. But the question for today is what to do when YOU think your leader(s) are wrong.
I’m sure many of us have had a similar experience at some point where a leader has come in, quickly shared what’s going to happen next and then added at the end – “ok? Let’s do it.” The group are taken aback with the leader’s quick instructions, which might not be apparent or contradict what some thought would be shared. As well as the speed to start without time to respond.
Sometimes being quick and decisive in a time-sensitive situation is required – you need a leader who is reliable and ready to act. Other times, that’s the last thing the group needs, especially if it seems those actions are wrong.
An assumption is when you make a decision of what’s true based only on your knowledge, experience and perspective. It may only be on a subconscious level as your brain tries to reason or fill in the missing pieces. But it’s actually just a guess. As people, we are very good at making assumptions all the time. Some of us are closer to being nearly correct more often than not, others don’t share or test those assumptions, so don’t find out if they’re right or not.
Assumptions can be dangerous to make, especially when we make them about other’s motivations or wisdom in judgements.
It is always better to get as much information as you can before making a decision/ judgement. You may prefer to go with your gut/ emotion. Still, it doesn’t mean that what you’re sensing emotionally (or spiritually) is actually to do with the situation or words you’re attaching it to.
It’s best to ask for clarification. To verbally ask, e.g. “can I assume ‘x’ will happen now that ‘y’ is cancelled?” Or “does this mean you want me to…?” Most people, when they hear someone else ask these types of questions, can quickly respond with whether that’s what they actually meant to say. Or see how decision A affects B, and that’s what is their actual intention or not.
The hard part comes if you have a leader who takes these clarification questions in the wrong way. Assumes you’re judging, not trusting, rebelling, challenging for leadership, not listening or even being stupid. These assumptions on the leader’s side are growth areas, particularly if the leader regularly responds to questions in these types of ways. (And may suggest that they are not that secure in themselves or their leadership ability)
Personally process first
Depending on the situation, you could have two minutes to do this process below, or you can have a couple of weeks. (This process can also be quick or need time depending on your personality and amount of emotion or size of the situation involved).
Ask the Holy Spirit for His wisdom and perspective:
Is it something He’s bringing up with you personally that you need to deal with? (I.e. nothing to do with the leader who unknowingly ‘pushed a button’ in you.
Is it something that’s going on in the leader’s life thus isn’t to do with you or the actual situation? Therefore you can pray for them or ask them how they are doing because of how they spoke to you was a little harder than usual.
Is it something that’s hurt you/ brought confusion/ is wrong and needs fixed/ changed?
Ask the Holy Spirit to help you deal with your emotion about the situation. We can’t make good decisions or see different perspectives well when emotion is clouding the way. We need to acknowledge that we’re more sensitive when we’re hurt. So ask for His peace, healing and be honest with yourself if you’ve been hurt. If you have been wounded – then ask God to help you start to forgive them (depending on how much you’ve been hurt/ wronged). The decision to want to forgive allows God to move rather than putting up walls which stop the process.
Different isn’t always wrong, it’s just different
Our personalities, values, cultures and past experiences all help shape who we are. How we share and respond, how much weight of importance we place on how things are done are all determined by who we are. Some of us are more sensitive, a more direct way of stating something hits hard can cause us pain if we’re not used to people sharing in that way.
Others have only seen one way of doing something and subconsciously assume that this is the best way to do it. Thus when someone else comes along and does it differently, our first reaction can be “they’re doing it wrong!” When in reality, it’s just a different way of getting to the same place. It might be better or less efficient, but if it produces the same kind of results – you can’t say it’s wrong, it’s just different.
My sister and I are quite different in personality (even though we look the same). While growing up, we had many sibling fights or miss understandings because we saw things from different perspectives. As we’ve matured, learned about different personalities and heard others share their initial responses to situations we’ve understood each another more. We may still prefer our own way of doing things, but we love and honour one another to give space, learn a different method or just be thankful for their help. We at times, do say, as a reminder, “different isn’t wrong – it’s just different.”
When we see someone unusually doing a familiar task before we assume it’s wrong. Stop, observe and ask – “hey, can you help me understand why you’re doing ‘x’ this way?” “I’ve not seen that before, and I’d like to learn.” The other person may be surprised that their way isn’t how you would have done it and want to see how you do it too, or happy to show you as it’s normal for them. In the end, you might both learn alternative ways of doing the same thing, or find out the other way is actually better, more efficient or not. Or both keep on doing it the way you prefer going forward anyway. The good news is that you’ve been open to try a different way.
It’s your attitude going into the situation, to start the conversation is what’s important – to show humility and open to learning. These two attitudes open up opportunities to grow instead of bringing hurt and offence.
Prepare for conversation
At this point you know it’s not just your own stuff that’s caused you to feel hurt/ confused or perspective. Neither is it just a different way of doing something…
Keep in mind that a leader should have the bigger picture, of how this particular situation fit’s into the bigger whole. Or they might have been given specific instructions that they also don’t agree with but have to honour from their leaders. It’s how they have responded /communicated that is lacking).
We need to be open, to give them the benefit of doubt, to provide them with honour and respect as our leader who carries the weight of responsibility. But it doesn’t mean they are always right or need help to become a better leader and communicator. (Which I understand is harder for some cultures to work through)
Put yourself in their shoes. Imagine yourself as the leader with all the other things going on in their life and situation. Are they stressed about home/ work, are they sick or tired, do they have loads going on and little time to stop and think? How about their personality and strengths – are they opposite to yours. Not that this gives them excuses, but it gives you a deeper understanding of their situation and thus does this change how you see why they did what they did? This greater understanding will help in working out possible solutions to the circumstance.
As Christians, we need to go back to the bible and do what God is asking us as believers to model in these situations.
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Matthew 18:15-17
One on one in private.
Arrange a time when you can speak to your leader in private. If you’re not comfortable or feel safe in doing it in a very private place, e.g. an office with the door closed. Then either keep the door open or meet in a public area that’s big enough to have privacy ( where others can’t hear a reasonable level of conversation).
If you’re nervous about facing them and thus will forget what you want to say or just blurt it out. Then write down what you want to say.
Be clear in what the situation is about, own your feelings by saying “when you said …., I felt …” Because they didn’t make you feel.
Share what you think they meant but ask for clarification. e.g. “I don’t want to assume you meant …. so can you help me understand this from your perspective?” With this, you are opening up the conversation, showing you want to learn and understand and even are open to being wrong.
If they listen and respond with understanding, open to suggestions of how to change and if needed ask forgiveness… great. Some leaders welcome these conversations because they want to learn and grow in how to communicate or see alternatives when making difficult decisions. Some leaders even wonder if they came across a little harsh, but no-one else seemed to mind so put it aside. They aren’t mind readers, so need others to come and share their thoughts. (Although they could also ask for feedback more too, so you know they’re open to others opinions).
If not and you don’t feel you’ve been heard or willing to change their mind and it’s clear they are in the wrong. Then you need to go to stage 2.
Bring 1 or 2 trusted people with you
At this point, you’re not going above them to their leader. But find one or two trusted, mature friends – either who witnessed the situation or you feel comfortable with and can help add to your next meeting with this leader.
Hopefully, the leader is willing to sit down again and talk about this issue.
Having one or maximum two others at this stage shows that it’s not something little which can be forgiven/ forgotten quickly. But it is important enough to have others help you and the leader hear each other’s perspective. While still honouring one another.
Some leaders find it hard to hear if they’ve potentially done something wrong because they are working hard to do the best they can. Disappointment with themselves can seem to convey frustration at others. But it’s actually an outward expression to themselves not towards others. (I am guilty of doing this). Others need help in being able to confront a leader because they’ve never done it before and so need help to be clear or bring resolution.
Having an outside perspective is helpful for both sides. To make sure both sides listen equally to one another. Other leaders will see that you are trying to do what’s right in a good way and so give you and the situation more attention to mend what’s wrong.
If however, they take this step wrong perhaps become more offended that you’ve shared your concerns with others and are now disloyal or trying to gang up on them. Then you need to pause, then share that because of their response to your efforts, you now need to go to their leader to ask for help in working this out.
Sometimes even the thought of taking it to their leader will help the person see your maturity and seriousness of the situation and thus stop and take the time to really listen to you.
Others – it’s clear that is the next step you take.
Going above your leader
Asking your leader’s boss for time to talk about your leader is hard to do. I get nervous when I have to do this because it does make it more real, public and brings the potential for more consequences. We are all accountable to others. Having brought this situation to your leader twice and not finding resolution means that this is the correct next step to take. Most leaders who oversee other leaders are mature and want to do the best for everyone under them, including you. They might not be close to all that goes on and rely on others sharing with them things that they need to get involved in.
Don’t see it as ‘telling tales’ on your leader. But as a person who considers this situation to be significant enough and you’re mature enough to go about making this situation right.
Try to give as much information and perspective as possible. Own up to the parts you may have done wrong. Share what processing you’ve done and try to provide as accurate as possible an account of the events and conversations you’ve had with your leader.
You may feel like you’re the only one who sees it and afraid you’re wrong or isolated. But if it’s a big enough situation, you speaking up is needed. It might help others speak up, or others may have, and it’s not new for your leaders boss to hear. Still, they needed others to come before they had enough evidence or specific situations to finally be able to act accordingly.
Keeping your honesty, humility and openness to being wrong but with enough conviction that something needs to change is a great attitude to have.
At times I’ve been the one in the wrong because I didn’t understand the bigger picture or it hit a nerve in me that God wanted to heal in me. Other times I’ve felt bad that the consequences for my leader have resulted in them being taken off a team or a specific responsibility been given to someone else. Other time’s it’s brought me closer to the leader because they appreciate my honesty and willingness to call them on their stuff. It’s helped them develop into a better leader.
I have learned a lot by watching others make mistakes and learning how to work through them to bring growth, blessing, reconciliation and greater depth of relationship.
Usually, a leader isn’t just leading one person. What we do as a leader has an effect on so much more than just us personally. It’s also on the others in the team, it affects the fruitfulness of the ministry and projects we’re involved with. And it can change the spiritual atmosphere and how much God can move.
Sometimes we leaders forget that our words or actions have more weight and consequences than just the person we are. We need reminding that even when we’re trying our best, we need to give ourselves grace and ask for help. Our actions have bigger consequences because we have a greater responsibility. But we serve God first and want Him to have the glory. So it’s not about me, but Him. I must decrease so He can increase. We do all things for Him, for His approval. We can be proud of those we lead and honoured for the role we get to take in seeing His kingdom come.
One day you will be the leader – who makes a mistake – how would you like others to handle your mistakes? – Then do likewise – with compassion and grace. But we love one another too much to let us stay as we are either.