5 Truths to Remember When Your Leader Falls

This is a guest post by Lisa Whittle. She is a speaker and the author of {w}hole. You can watch the trailer for the book and download a free chapter here. You can also read Lisa’s blog and follow her on Twitter. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

The platform of a leader is often visible, broad and elevated. So when a leader falls from this place, it can be a hard fall, indeed.

Businessman Falling Down the Stairs - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/viki2win, Image #16002596

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/viki2win

I know of this experience, firsthand, as my pastor-father fell hard and fast from his visible place of mega-church leadership in the early 1990s. While the eyes of the world watched pastor scandals of famed leaders on TV, I watched one of my own unfold, inside our family home.

It was difficult and painful, on every level. But with it came some rich lessons of understanding, grace, and the value of people. It brought about insight into what every tribe member should remember when the one they follow falls. 

  1. Your belief in him or her was not necessarily wrong. Often, when a leader falls from their position, those who followed him or her feel duped, setup or foolish. But while we are wise to be discerning in whom we let speak into our lives, we are always to believe the best about people. This includes leaders. Even the most godly, respected leaders can fall from their position, should they allow power, wealth or influence to corrupt them.
  2. You are not expected to (nor should you) take personal responsibility for them. When we choose to follow a leader, we choose to invest in their leadership. As a result, we may begin to feel like we are responsible to defend, excuse or speak for them, taking on their fall to the point where it effects us, personally. Though we can offer our support through love and grace, it is not healthy to, in any way, own their actions.
  3. Your response will determine your future. Because the position of a leader elicits respect, we are influenced by their actions. For a time, this may mean that we become stagnant or discouraged, doubting our ability to make wise choices or follow trustworthy leaders. But our ability to thrive depends on what we choose next. No matter who we follow that has fallen, we have the ability to move forward, choosing well for ourselves in the future.
  4. Your realistic expectation will be important. It is vital to know several things about your fallen leader, going forward. You must know that after a time of sabbatical, the leader you have followed will likely want to lead again. You must know that he or she will feel hurt and will likely attempt to self-protect. You must remember that he or she is human and expect them to respond as such, no matter the size of their platform or far their fall.
  5. Your attitude toward him or her may produce change. When leaders fall, they learn to expect judgment from the watchful eyes of the world.  But they long for gracious people to believe in them again. When a leader is offered grace, it provides a measure of necessary healing to their soul, which, in turn buoys their self-esteem. A tribe member who understands this can offer his or her leader a type of leadership back by leading out in a campaign of understanding and love. 

Like any other human who suffers the loss of a valued role, when a leader falls from his or her platform, they struggle to find their place. While he or she is responsible to maintain their own integrity, it is the support members of their tribe that can help them learn to stand, again, from a very public leadership fall.

Question: What have you learned in following a fallen leader? You can leave a comment by clicking here.
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  • http://www.distractedbyprayer.blogspot.com Shannon

    What a helpful post!  Over the course of my lifetime involvement in faith communities, I have seen the fall of leaders handled (mostly) poorly and (occasionally) very graciously.  When the later is modelled, there is truly no clearer picture of the love and grace of Christ.

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  • Elaine

    They only care about themselves.

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  • Heygeno

    TRIBE ?

  • Cedar Rapids Church Pastor

    So true – i am glad somebody said it.

  • Suelewis697

    We’re not to follow leaders.  They should only be faciliators to help you along life’s journey to heaven.  We should only be following Christ.  That’s why so many leaders fail.  They were never meant to be put on a pedestal and be given special privileges and perks.  Christ said we’re brothers and sisters – not leaders and laymen.  That’s why He said He hated the “Doctrine of the Nicolatians”. 
        Leaders will always fail until they become humble servants and truly lay down their lives for their sheep.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Actually, the Apostle Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). God has given leaders to the church. But we are to follow them AS (or to the extent) that they follow Christ.

  • D Bene

    When a leader falls because of a sin or sins, it causes their public trust to be broken; a broken trust is something that is practically unrecoverable. 

    Because of my personal experience with my re-trust also being broken, I have reasonably come to be hyper-skeptical of leaders who have fallen and who desire to return to the pinnacle of trust they have previously trashed. Tough, I can see how being a close relative of a formerly trusted leader would tend to push one to be more open to restoring one’s trust. 

    I think that the writers of Proverbs would tell us to not be foolish. So, I have a maxim or two, a few  mottoes…proverbs if you will allow it: 
    A sterling character is a prime necessity for leaders. And: 
    A sterling character once tarnished is not soon restored. 
    Choosing to trust? An excellent ethical and honorable character is everything.

    The leader who sins, and thereby breaks their public trust,  is in dire straits, for, how does one prove a sterling character the second time? How does one unbreak an egg. –But in Jesus, all such healings are possible.

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  • waterlylies84

    I’ve been under the leadership of many who have failed in one way or another. I’ve watched as the various churches were rocked, two of them to their very core. I’ve seen men and women of God step forward to catch the others who were falling because of the leaders fall.

    Two things I have learned, 1) my mother taught early and often that people of God have feet of clay (yes she knew and I know that the story has nothing to do with religious leadership but the analogy holds). Over the years there were people of God whose feet of clay ran all the way up to their shoulders.
     2). There is power in secrets. All of us need accountability partners who are going to call us out when they see us stepping into areas we don’t need to be. This is true of both leaders and non-leaders.

    While Jesus is our ultimate leader, the New Testament has made it clear that the Lord puts people over us. It is also clear that we must use sense, common and spiritual, when sitting under those in leadership positions. “Guard your heart for everything you do flows from it.”

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