Since I have been writing weekly blog posts for nearly seven years it is likely that most leadership topics of any substance have been addressed at one time or another. My writing inspiration comes from many different sources. This week it was the depth of confession and repentance exhibited by the biblical character, Daniel, that caught my attention. Daniel was born into a Jewish noble family but spent nearly all his adult life as a captive in the foreign land of Babylon, where he rose to various leadership positions because of his intellect and integrity.
Why should we care about an ancient leader’s vulnerability? What can we learn from someone who confesses the sins of his people even when he wasn’t personally culpable? A number of years ago I wrote about the role of confession for modern leaders and this post is a revised version of those thoughts.
We are in the middle of the Lenten season for Christians, a forty day countdown to Easter Sunday. Lent is a personal invitation to review one’s life and consider where behaviors may have fallen short. Leaders are certainly guilty of behaving badly as evidenced by public examples that now routinely end up on YouTube and television. Unfortunately many of them simply blame their circumstances on someone or something else. It’s those nasty Republicans, that mean boss, or bad parenting. We all know denial or finger pointing won’t help fallen leaders become more effective or respected.
Why do leaders fail to recognize the value of confession as a powerful tool for emotional release and restoration? I know from personal experience that my actions in the workplace aren’t always acceptable. When I deny the problem my moral compass causes me to feel guilty. If I never apologize to the person I have hurt, or make amends to a customer that was treated poorly, the guilt I am feeling may eventually subside or even disappear. But the person I have wronged may never understand or forgive my actions. That relationship could be damaged beyond repair and the consequences could cost me dearly.
It seems simpler and healthier to confess and repair the damage when our actions or inactions cause someone else pain. If the benefits are so obvious why don’t we behave this way? There is certainly cultural pressure to blame others and for some leaders this peer pressure may be difficult to overcome. Unfortunately, truth-telling has become secondary to profits, political correctness, and protecting one’s interests or image. Our nation has also lost much of the religious and moral fabric that once permeated the way we conducted business and behaved personally and professionally.
Perhaps it is time to admit there are consequences to carrying the weight of our transgressions throughout the day. Guilt saps our physical energy, drains us emotionally, and deadens our spirit. Leaders would do well to simply own and name their misdeeds and, like Daniel, acknowledge the times when our nation or organization falls short. That act of confession could become a powerful instrument for healing. Relationships could be restored and new models for organizational behaviors established. We need leaders with the courage to authentically repent, someone like Daniel who offers no excuses.