Oh boy, I wish mulligans in life were real. They aren’t, unfortunately. It would sure be nice if that mistake didn’t count. If I could just pretend like it didn’t happen. But I can’t.
Before, I jump in, let’s talk about that word for a second. Mulligan. It’s a golfing term for getting a do-over. There’s some debate over the origin of the word, but they all center around the same guy, David Mulligan. Basically, the general principle behind the story variations is that Mr. Mulligan was an amateur golfer and hotelier that made the term famous in the 1920s. He was a bit of a character and when he’d mess up the first time, he’d say it was time for a do-over, or Mulligan. Now you know the origin (ish) of the word and what the context is for my story.
I’m not talking about some super catastrophic, life-changing, eternity-impacting thing. But it is something I wish I could do over. I made a poor choice. I made a poor leadership choice. And it may have led to other decisions, but I can’t take it back. Maybe I can help you not make the same mistake though.
What was my mistake? Not taking charge and leading with authority in an area I should have. It was an area I needed to step in and take charge. I failed because I was being too nice. I was trying to be sensitive to what others may have perceived as being too dominant. I let things go that I shouldn’t have. And I failed my organization as a leader. I also failed those I was given responsibility to lead.
Let’s dream fade back a bit. I was entrusted with a role. A fairly large one. And I inherited a team of people that were in place before I got there. I didn’t want to be the new guy and step on toes. It hadn’t been a pleasant situation before I arrived. The team felt abandoned and ignored. They didn’t feel empowered or trusted. So, naturally, being the nice guy that I am, I didn’t want to come in and start being large and in charge in everything. I didn’t want to destroy what seemed like a very fragile ego and confidence level of the team when I arrived.
I wanted to let the team have some freedom and ownership. Read any good leadership book that is current and they pretty much all boast this as the best way to lead. Those kinds of books happen to be my favorite reading material. I have bookshelves full if them. I thought I was doing the right thing. There was this sense of pride that I was being that guy they talk about as the apex leadership example. I was empowering the team to go above and beyond! Except for one little detail. There was a bit of a disconnect in what I was letting them have freedoms in and what they were good at.
I was letting them do things they wanted to. Things that they were interested in. I didn’t recognize soon enough that wanting to do something and being interested in doing something didn’t equate to a capability or capacity to do it. I did not set my team up for success. At least not in every area. I know there was opportunity to grow and become better by letting them go for it. But as an organization, and as a team, we really couldn’t afford it. And we paid the price. I paid it by failing to grow and build something that I should have taken a more active leadership role in. And my team failed because I didn’t set an example for them to follow. By the time I realized what was happening, it was too late. An unhealthy desire for ownership of things had grown and I was going to have a fight on my hands to course correct. I failed again by shrinking back from the fight. Again, it was out of fear of destroying the ego and confidence of the team. It was a mistake.
Why do we do that? I know I’m not alone here. I know leaders better than I am that still wander into this minefield. I feel like I see it top often. Why can’t we see that we really aren’t helping anyone by not dealing with things? I can only speculate for others. But I can shed light on some of my mindset about the situation I mentioned.
I had a lot of work to do being the new guy. There was a lot of rebuilding and restructuring to do. I was a little overwhelmed, but not enough to excuse my failure. I was also trying to be too sensitive to emotions of the team. I needed to be sensitive, but it just meant I needed to be sensitive with my approach. Not sensitive via inaction. I wasn’t feeling too confident. New guy after all. Well, that one is just silly. I had been placed in a position of leadership and authority. That means that the person that put me there was confident in my abilities. That also meant I had the responsibility to put my insecurities aside and lead. Which I didn’t.
In hindsight, I see where I made my mistakes. I can also see where not stepping up to the leadership plate caused some issues. It caused a lack of respect. I didn’t command authority in areas that I should have. I didn’t captain the way I should have. And the team didn’t respect me in some of those areas that they should have. I also hurt the team by not helping them see their weaknesses. I didn’t help the organization by leading in some areas that really needed my leadership.
I may not ever get the chance to lead in those areas again. I may get a chance in my current organization or a future one. I know that I won’t make the same mistakes again if given any opportunity. The lesson is universal though. It doesn’t matter if it is in one area or another, leadership is leadership. And it doesn’t have to be professional. It could be leading in a family or friendship situation. What’s really amusing to me is that I’ve never been one that’s been described as concerned about others’ feelings when I lead. In fact, blunt and direct are usually the terms I hear. So it was a complete departure from my norm. And that departure was a huge mistake. I should have trusted myself, my leadership, and my God that I just needed to be me because that’s what was needed.
So, I may not get a mulligan. But I can make a mulligan next time I am in a position or faced with a leadership role that demands me to be the leader rather than trying to coddle my team. Hopefully I am aware enough to recognize it when the time comes. If not, I may be asking for a mulligan again. I’ve seen all too many times that God allows us to face the same types of situations over and over until we learn what we are supposed to and grow beyond making the same mistakes. He uses that as a way to refine us and prepare us for the next thing He has for us to do.