What to Do When You Mess Up

What-to-Do-When-You-Mess-Up

I hate messing up. In fact, as a recovering perfectionist, I can honestly tell you I used to be terrified of it. But, as I’ve grown as a leader, I’ve realized that the scariest thing isn’t making a mistake, it’s NOT making one.

Because if I’m not failing, then I’m not taking enough risks. I’m not being as productive or effective as I could be as a leader. If my main goal is just to avoid any error in my ventures, conversations, and leadership decisions, then I’m playing it way too safe. Messing up actually isn’t a plague to be avoided; it’s a regular part of being a growing leader.

If you examine the biography of any great spiritual leader, there will be plenty of mistakes in it: premature commitments, short-sighted calls, and immature mindsets – yet they were still inspiring and influencing their people for God’s Kingdom.

When you look into these stories even closer you’ll find that HOW THEY RESPOND to these mistakes and mishaps is the factor that makes the difference. Winston Churchill says, “Success is jumping from failure to failure without any loss of enthusiasm.” And Rick Warren reminds us, “Failure isn’t a character quality. It’s just an event. How you respond to failure is your character.”

So, what’s your strategy for failing forward? How will you use the moments you discover you’ve let yourself down to ultimately build yourself up? Here are three tips to ensure that you make the most of your mistakes, and let them help shape you into an incredible leader.

1. Admit it 

Leaders that can admit when they’ve been wrong about something inspire a culture of honesty and true humility. Often, the people you’re leading know it anyway, so cease the opportunity to acknowledge it and show them a good example of purposefully and publicly altering your course now that you have more data about what works – and what doesn’t.

What would happen if you just came out and said it in your next team meeting? My guess is, it may feel more liberating and respectable than you may have guessed, and you’ll be providing people with a chance to show you grace, to relate, and to see you as a “flawed protagonist” as they say in screenwriting. They’re more like-able than the perfect ones.

If there’s anything you can apologize for, do it. Even saying, “I apologize for my part in this” or “my ignorance of the situation” goes a long way! It’s a mature and respectable approach.

Side-note: This blog is more about mishaps and “green” decisions in ministry than big moral failures or secret sins. If you have a continual major struggle or have failed in a big way on the moral front, some more fitting advice for your situation can be found by seeking wise Christian counsel from a trusted leader or friend and with their help, beginning a more intensive healing journey than the scope of this article covers. Whatever you do – don’t keep covering it up.

2.  Make the necessary adjustments and try again

Take serious note of what you’ve learned from this event. There is helpful data for the future in this experience! Journal it, discuss it, read up on it, and remember it. Then, apply your learning to your next attempt! You have way higher chances of succeeding now.

If you took the wrong approach in a conversation, take that information to heart and plan your improved approach for next time.

If you started a worship night with your ministry team, and no one came after the third one, dig in and figure out why! Adjust the time, frequency, location, people involved, people leading, format, duration, and anything else that could help, and then re-launch.

That’s what the best leaders do when they mess up.

3. Learn to love the process

There is much to thank God for in the aftermath of mistakes. Process and growth are beautiful things, found all over creation, and it’s time we learn as leaders to enjoy the ride.

Don’t be embarrassed that you didn’t walk in to your leadership role already knowing everything. Let the people around you in on your story – use their feedback to fuel your development as a leader and influencer.

I love this little saying in James 4: “But He gives us more grace.” We do dumb stuff sometimes, but God’s power is available to us. That’s the reason we can persevere, learn, grow, and even thrive after messing something up.

Don’t be discouraged by a silly decision, hiccup, or mishap. Be encouraged that you’re now that much closer to your goal.

Andrea Hamilton Binley
Worship Director at Inland Hills Church and Songwriter at HopefulPop.com

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