Jim is a short and smiley man I met in my doctoral program.
He grew up in a Christian denomination, and helped lead a camp every summer to train up young men in Boyscout-like fashion. Jim and his colleagues taught these youth how to camp, fish, build fires and various other skills for life.
Fast forward 20 years.
In a sobering conversation, Jim shared with me how, out of four key men who spearheaded these camps, he was the only one who hadn’t been exposed for involvement in inappropriate sexual behavior with campers. What he identified as the distinguishing difference surprised me.
“I realized I never said ‘I would never…’” he reflected.
Of all the leaders Jim worked with at the camp, he was the only one who avoided saying “I would NEVER” do this or that.
You see, something about the “I would never” statement seems to implicate immunity to our capacity as leaders towards failure and sin.
When it comes to vulnerability, where do leaders find an appropriate balance? Surely there are secrets that may not be appropriate to share in certain settings. Yet, never admitting failure or weakness simply cannot be the answer.
My parents’ generation largely adopted a “never let ‘em see you sweat” culture of leadership. Pretend you have it all together, so as to avoid looking weak. Now, my generation has perhaps over-compensated, adopting a no-holds-barred “keep it real” mentality.
C.J. Mahaney, in his book Humility: True Greatness (2005) suggests that “on our own, you and I will never develop a competency for recognizing our sin” (p. 133). We must not only invite correction from others, but be careful with the posture of “I would never.”
When we see failure in other leaders, especially moral or ethical failure, we should be slow to point fingers. Rather, we might do well to acknowledge, “That could have been me” and evaluate what checks and balances we have in place to welcome correction.
What vulnerabilities might you need to admit and/or address this week?
Daniel Gluck serves as Assistant Professor of Intercultural Studies at Jessup, and Lead Faculty for the B.A. in Christian Leadership program.