When Being Right is Wrong

When Being Right is Wrong

There the cursor blinked at me, its steady beat mimicking the pounding of my heart. To send or not to send… That was the question.

Earlier that morning, I’d received a scathing email pointing out a handful of mistakes I’d made on a recent project – nothing major, but embarrassing blunders nonetheless.

But here’s the thing…  they weren’t really MY mistakes.  They were someone else’s.  Someone I managed had dropped the ball, and now I had a choice as a leader. 

How would I respond in the face of criticism that was rightfully theirs?

The plague of being right

Why, oh why is it SO hard to give up being right?

When we are misjudged, falsely accused, slighted, or underappreciated, the impulse to bolster our personal reputation is a powerful temptation. While pursuing truth is certainly noble, the all-consuming desire to be right – to trumpet our side of the story – can quickly become a stumbling block in the pursuit of greater influence.

Always “right” leaders are plagued by:

  • Pettiness. They don’t know how to let the little things go.
  • Undue stress. They fear exposing their weaknesses because there’s no room for error.
  • Collateral damage. They are surrounded by wounded and bitter “wrong” people they’ve thrown under the bus.
  • Loneliness.  Love and trust are difficult to foster when ego gets in the way.

In short, when leaders must always be right, everything about their influence goes terribly wrong.

Noble or selfish?

The apostle Paul offers a general guideline through which we can filter all of our leadership decisions.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

If you’re not sure if your desire to be right is motivated by the altruistic pursuit of truth or selfish ambition, ask yourself three questions.

  1. Is being right on this crucial to achieving my God-given work or mission?
  2. Will being right help me show love to those I influence, encouraging them to grow?
  3. Does this issue have any eternal significance?

If your answer to these questions is “no,” it might be time to take the advice of my kids’ favorite ice queen and Let. It. Go.

A model in humility

With his guideline, Paul also includes a leadership Model to follow: Jesus.

“Rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7-8)

When we follow the model of Jesus, we accept that leadership is not all about us.  It’s not about accomplishing our own agendas, stroking our egos, or always being right. 

In Jesus, we see that:

  1. Confidence isn’t found in peer affirmation.  God alone is the source of true security, self-worth and wisdom.

“And he who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, for I always do the things that are pleasing to him.” (John 8:29)

  1. Our ultimate leadership mission is to help others move from where they are to where God would have them to be.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17)

  1. Truth will ultimately triumph.

“Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11)

In Jesus, we realize that there is far more to life than being right. God wants to do amazing, world-transforming things through us – but we limit that potential when we get caught up in our own vain pursuits.

More than enough

So back to my email dilemma… How did I choose to respond?

On that particular day (and I won’t pretend this is the norm), I chose to swallow my pride. Setting the record straight wouldn’t increase my influence OR show love to my team – and it certainly wouldn’t matter in eternity who made the errors. At the end of the day, they just needed to be fixed.

Convicted by the Holy Spirit, I methodically pounded the backspace button on my keyboard, slowly and deliberately unraveling the thoughtful defense I’d constructed.

“You’re right,” I re-began my email.  “Thank you for catching these mistakes. I will make sure they are corrected, and we’ll do better next time.”

I can’t always be right, but I can always be His.  And that’s more than enough for me.


Prayer: Lord, help me to set my pride and fears aside as I seek to be the leader you’ve called me to be. Let my love for others and my desire to serve you far outweigh any selfish desires that would get in the way. Amen.


Heather Day

Heather Day

Heather Day is an accomplished writer and communicator, who served as Lead Like Jesus’ Director of Communications for two years. She also spent nine years as Director of Marketing Communications for Olivet Nazarene University, three years as the Creative Services Coordinator for Bible League International, and two years as Community Outreach Coordinator for St. Anne Community High School. Heather and her husband, Robert, reside in Bourbonnais, IL with their two young children, Emma and Jackson. She is an active member and volunteer leader at Manteno Church of the Nazarene.

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