There are a lot of hard situations we face as leaders. How we respond and communicate in these situations plays a significant role in the outcome, both for us and for others. We cannot control how the other person or people respond, but the way we approach and lead the conversation can make a huge difference.
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In this episode of the Communication Series, we’re talking about the idea of dealing with hard situations and some principles we can follow. Specifically, we will use one example of a hard conversation we may need to have as a leader: when we have messed up.
When you mess up as a leader, it can be embarrassing. But, more importantly, it can have a negative impact on your team or the organization. While our focus in this episode will be on what to do when you’ve made a mistake as a leader, the principles can apply to many hard situations or conversations you might face.
8 Steps to Take When You Face a Hard Situation as a Christian Leader:
The steps we talk through in this episode were originally written by Holly and published on her blog. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 over on her site, but you can also listen or read below for a summary as well.
Before we dive into the steps to take, we note that it’s important to learn from our mistakes as leaders. That’s why we want to spend time on this issue; if we simply push past our mistakes and shortcomings, we often miss what God might be wanting to do inside of us.
Secondly, Holly notes that there are 2 aspects to dealing with the mistakes you’ve made as a leader: internal work and external work. The first 4 steps we will discuss will be focused on the internal work, while the last 4 are more geared to how you deal with the situation externally.
Step 1: Process what happened
Before reacting or responding when you’ve made a mistake, take time to process exactly what happened.
- Review the facts
- Use journaling or reflection if needed
- Ask yourself some of the following questions:
- What is the scope of this situation in size and severity?
- How many people were involved?
- How many people know?
- How severe was the situation?
- Was it an egregious offense or was it a simple misunderstanding?
“Processing is all about right-sizing the situation so you can right-size the response.” – Holly Cain
Step 2: Seek an outside perspective
Next, look to a mentor or other trusted person who can help you assess what took place. Ideally, this person will be able to:
- Help you see the situation more clearly
- Give you a chance to express your feelings and thoughts openly
- Provide an objective view
Step 3: Accept the fault that belongs to you
Once you have a clear view of what happened, you should accept the blame for your role in the situation. If you willfully sinned, recognize and accept this. If you inadvertently hurt someone, realize that we are all humans who make mistakes.
If there were other parties involved in the situation, you do not have to take on the blame for what they did. Honestly accept fault for your part, but not more.
Step 4: Repent of your sin
Now that you are honestly aware of your fault in the situation, take time to confess you sin to God and repent. God’s forgiveness is waiting for you, but we should not skip over this important step of confession and repentance.
Step 5: Apologize & Forgive
Now the external work begins. It’s time to go to the person or people you hurt and ask for their forgiveness. This will not be easy, but it’s an essential step in being able to move forward and rebuild the trust of your team.
A few tips for this process:
- Apologize for your role only (remember, don’t take on blame for someone else)
- Ask for forgiveness (but don’t demand or expect it)
- Keep it brief but heartfelt
- Don’t share more details than are needed
- Allow them time to respond
- Encourage them to talk with someone if they need to
It’s possible that you may also need to forgive another person or people involved in the situation. If you haven’t been able to do so yet, don’t tell them that you have. Recognize this process can take time.
Step 6: Be open about what happened
You will need discernment for this step, so be sure to be asking God for this. If you need to share with a larger group of people, use wisdom in how much you share.
- Don’t rehash every detail of what happened
- Be clear about the work you did (or are doing) to restore the relationship
- Protect others who were involved (don’t share more than they feel comfortable with)
Noelle Rhodes mentioned this issue of transparency in episode 65 when we talked about dealing with crisis situations as leaders. She recommended that we accurately communicate about what happened rather than trying to conceal the matter.
Step 7: Allow for questions
Invite those in your organization or team to ask questions if they have them. This helps to proactively stop gossip in its tracks.
Allowing for questions also helps to instill trust in those who might have thrown your integrity into question. They know if they truly have a concern, they can bring it to you, which helps to rebuild trust.
Step 8: Rebuild trust
All of the steps above will help to rebuild trust. But based on the situation and the people involved, you may need to take additional intentional steps to help rebuild trust.
Rebuilding trust takes time and intentionality.
A caveat to our conversation is that we are primarily talking about mistakes that are not legal or significant moral failures. These may require a more intensive process to resolve, and in some cases, it may mean a loss of your leadership role, at least for a period of time.
“We are all human, we all do mistakes, but there are some mistakes that have a higher cost.” – Esther Littlefield
Bonus Step: Bathe the process in prayer
Throughout this entire process of dealing with a hard situation, it is important to be praying and asking God for discernment. Ask him to help restore the relationships, rebuild broken trust, and create unity within your team.
When you have made a mistake as a leader, hope is not lost. But God is still working in you and can still use you for His glory.
For another perspective on what to do when you have messed up, check out Carey Nieuwhof’s post on this topic.
Dealing with other hard situations and conversations
Now you have a process you can follow when you’ve messed up or made a mistake as a leader. And these principles can help you in other hard situations as well.
You may have times when you need to lead difficult conversations as a leader. Some of these might be:
- Talking with an employee or team member about a performance issue
- Talking with a friend about an uncomfortable situation
- Talking with your spouse about a conflict you’re having
- Talking with your boss or leader about a concern you have
Those are just a few examples of times that you will need to put some of these principles into place.
As a leader and as a female, how you handle these conversations is important. Too often, we ignore the hard things and try to just push past them. But actually taking the time to communicate about them and deal with them often makes for a much healthier team, organization, and relationship.
Learn How to Hard Conversations with Confidence
If you’d like to learn how to initiate and lead hard conversations as Christian woman–even if you struggle with confrontation, aren’t sure what to say, and want to avoid hurting people in the process–then you’ll want to get on the waitlist for a resource I’m creating.
This will help you know how to approach hard conversations as a female leader AND give you a starting point of what to say during those hard conversations.
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