Have you ever been disappointed by people? Has anyone ever let you down? Have you ever delegated responsibility to someone, only to discover that it was ignored or only partially completed? Have you ever thought, “I was sure he could do better. What happened?” Did you ever place trust in someone who did not honor your expectations?

Now to the harder question: Do you as a leader own the blame? In other words, are other people’s mistakes catalysts for you to improve your leadership? Sure, it’s easy to complain about the lack of performance by our team members. What is more difficult is to ask how much of the disappointment was caused by a lack of our own capacity to lead.

Here are some of the ways our leadership (or lack of it) contributes to other people’s failures:

1. Poor communication. Leaders often think that what is clear to them is also clear to those they lead. As leaders we often “wrestle” for a considerable period of time with issues, ideas, and opportunities. Sometimes we share those ideas and issues with close colleagues—and then we announce a direction with no proper communication or consultation process with our teams. Thus, these individuals have had no part in our journey—and yet they are expected to appreciate the proposed course of action.

Lesson: When announcing new strategies, fresh approaches, and significant changes, involve as many as possible and seek their input and opinions. Communicate (which is a two-way process!) clearly, extensively, and consistently.

2. Inadequate resources. It is the leader’s responsibility to make sure team members have the necessary tools to accomplish what is being asked of them. One of the critical leadership roles is to resource for success. If individuals are asked to do something with no tools provided, we are setting them up for failure.

Lesson: As you delegate responsibility, you must ensure that all the resources are in place for successful completion. Alternatively, you must make provision (policy, budget, time, etc.) for such tools to be identified and sourced.

3. Improper accountability. Once projects and plans have been delegated to a team of individuals, it is very tempting to let go. But unless there are regular and adequate accountability measures in place, human nature will eventually produce failure. Many leaders (particularly in church environments) avoid structured and regular accountability. Checking up on people just isn’t part of our organizational culture. It is even more challenging to set up accountability relationships that are seen and perceived as positive, proactive initiatives to help individuals grow and give their best.

Lesson: Avoiding accountability has a very high price tag. Be accountable and hold others accountable in a positive atmosphere of growth and development.

4. Lack of team-building. Ask yourself: Are those I lead a bunch of highly skilled individuals or are they a cohesive team? The leader’s job is to create, build, and develop teams, not just assign tasks to individuals. Team-building is an intentional process that requires time and energy but has high long-term dividends.

Lesson: Build teams, don’t just assign tasks. Don’t just recruit the best-skilled individuals but build and upskill those with potential to grow.

5. Poor matches. The leader’s job is to assign individuals to positions that match their strengths. People excel only in environments where they are positively challenged. Leaders create that optimum space by wisely matching people and tasks.

Lesson: There are no wrong people, just wrong positions. Match individuals to areas of responsibility that are best suited to their talents, gifts, skills, and passions.

6. Inadequate training. Anyone can fail without adequate training. It is tempting to take a shortcut and pursue results without first investing in training and equipping those deployed to various tasks and assignments within the organization. Often places of significant responsibility are filled with individuals who had no training at all (directors, administrators, etc.), yet they are expected to perform at the highest level.

Lesson: Leaders ensure that adequate training is an integral part of the organizational culture.

7. Poor articulation and modeling of values/mission/vision. When core organizational values are not properly understood and practiced and when mission/vision is assumed and strategies are not owned, people will be “busy” but ultimately unproductive. Focus will be on output rather than outcomes.

Lesson: Leaders have the ultimate responsibility for the organization’s values, mission, and vision. Nobody else can be held accountable for lack of understanding of core organizational goals and objectives. Leaders must own this responsibility and put significant resources into ensuring that the vision is clear, the mission is energizing, and the values are practiced and visible.

Reflecting on these seven areas should prevent futile finger-pointing and unproductive complaining. Mature leaders are not afraid to ask tough questions of themselves. When people fail you, chances are you have failed them as their leader. Ask “What can I do to help my people succeed?”

Reflect: In each of the seven areas, rate yourself on a scale of 1 (very poor) to 10 (excellent). Out of a total possible score of 70, where do you realistically find yourself at this point in time? How can you move your leadership to the next level?


Branimir Schubert (henrietteheunis@adventist.org.au) is the Ministerial Secretary of the South Pacific Division.