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The Fear of Making a Mistake



I love parameters. Seriously.

As someone with an artist’s temperament, that sounds contrary, but I actually love when resources or boundaries appear to inhibit creativity and innovation. Matter-of-fact, I think it forces imaginative thinking. Consider a painter: though it may seem they have an endless palette of color to play with, they all come from only a handful of primary colors. Plus, they have the boundaries of the size of the canvas. They may even have been commissioned and have a limitation on time and money.

It may be that a lack of resources spurs more innovative thinking. Or a need. As the proverb goes, “Necessity is the mother of invention.”

In the book Elemental Leaders, I observed that “The power of imagination is too often overlooked in management and leadership circles and is typically the least active in churches and teams.” This should be shocking to us who serve an outrageously creative God who spoke out the universe in a burst of energy and light, and then steps onto the planet in the form of a servant, whispering shocking stories about human nature, God’s nature, and how thin the space was between them. Of all organizations, the Church should be the source of the most creative endeavors!

So what keeps churches and non-profits from tapping into imagination?

In the book I mention six barriers, but I just want to touch on a big one: The fear of making a mistake.

True innovation absolutely demands failures and false starts because it’s simply one part of the learning process. Often it’s in the failures that our true direction and purpose is discovered. Entrepreneurs know that the company they founded may look and produce things very differently than what they started; for them, it’s the initiating and forward-movement aspects that stimulate them.

Wise spiritual leaders have learned that followership is not given because of how perfectly a leader leads, but rather how quickly they own their mistakes and failures. A leader’s credibility with their followers is exponentially devalued when he or she shifts blame to others when they’re ultimately at fault.

A simple question helps me assess any innovative idea: what’s the worst that can happen? Not asking the question is silly. Calculating risk is a part of the creative process, but no idea comes without some risk because invariably, resources will have to shift and priorities reevaluated.

The fear of making a mistake becomes less incapacitating for leaders when they release themselves from thinking they have to be the smartest person at the table. Elemental leaders know that if they’ve been truly effective at their job, they’ve brought on people who are sharper than themselves, particularly in specialized areas.

But they do have to learn how to be wise. If knowledge is power, wisdom is the ability to apply knowledge and manage power. In a recent study, it was found that leaders who were “generalists” as opposed to “specialists” were more effective in the areas of innovation and creativity. In the corporate world, their firms developed more original patents and invested more in research-and-development. The study showed it wasn’t simply that more budget was poured into R&D, but rather generalists improved the productivity and quality in R&D.

Even more interesting was the fact that generalists tend to be less afraid of making mistakes. And because they tended to have worked in a variety of firms and positions, it caused them to think outside the box of a narrow, specialized field.

How well does your church or organization initiate new ideas and methodologies?

And personally, as a leader, how do you handle the fear of making a mistake?


Dave Workman | Elemental Churches


Want to know more about our book, Elemental Leaders: Four Essentials Every Leader Needs...And Every Church Must Have? Click here for more info about these critical elements.




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