#120: How to Recover When You Slip and Fall as a Leader

I loved the results one young sales manager was achieving. He was delivering on every new product launch. He was above quota, and below budget. I didn’t dig too deep into how he was achieving these results because I trusted him.

Leader slips falls


It turns out he was using allowances from the next product launch to pay for the promises made for the previous launch. In reality, he was not under budget. He was actually way over budget. When his deception was uncovered he “left” the company, and left his mess behind for others to clean up.

Needless to say my boss, and his boss was not happy with me. I had failed to manage an employee properly. It cost the company a chunk of money, and more important, it cost us credibility with our customers.

Most leaders I know, when pressed, will admit that they have failed as a leader at some point in their career. The question is, “what do you do to recover?”

How do you recover when you slip and fall as a leader?

By and large King David was an excellent leader whose heart was fully devoted to God. Even so, David made a couple of huge mistakes as a leader, and he provides an excellent example of what to do when we fail.

God was with David and gave him much success over a period of years. With this success, David became prideful and began to trust in his own power rather than in God. So he commanded a census to be taken of all the fighting men in Israel (1 Chronicles 21). This was a direct violation of God’s law. David’s military commander pleaded with David not to order the census, but David stubbornly refused to listen to his advisor. God was displeased (to say the least) and He struck Israel.

David admitted his sin

When David realized he had angered God, the first thing he did was confess his sin to God, admit he had acted foolishly, and ask God to take away his iniquity (1 Chronicles 21:7-8).

Lesson for Us. Mistakes don’t go away because we ignore them. Get out in front of your mistake by admitting your failure and asking for forgiveness. It is never good if the boss finds out you’ve got an issue that you tried to hide.

David submitted to God’s judgment

God offered David a choice of three punishments: three years of famine, three years of devastation by your enemies, or three days of an angel of the Lord destroying throughout Israel (1 Chronicles 21:11-13). David chose to be punished by the angel of the Lord rather than fall into the hands of man.

Lesson for Us. David didn’t try to avoid God’s judgment. He didn’t try to blame someone else or excuse his behavior. He simply accepted God’s judgment, praying for God’s mercy.

David repented of his sin

When David saw the angel of the Lord with his hand stretched out over Jerusalem, David clothed in sackcloth (a sign of mourning) fell on his face, and begged the Lord not punish the people for his mistake (1 Chronicles 21:16-17). David then built an altar and offered sacrifices to the Lord, and the Lord accepted David’s sacrifices.

Lesson for Us. Saying you’re sorry is a good first step, but being repentant is far more important. Repentance means “to turn away” from your sin. When you repent of your mistakes it shows the strength of your character.

There is a price to pay

Regardless of what led to your leadership “slip and fall” there is a price to pay. In David’s case, even though he took responsibility, his mistake brought judgment on the people. In addition, to restore his relationship with God there was a material personal price that had to be paid.

Lesson for Us. As leaders, we must recognize that any mistake we make is likely to have consequences that reach far beyond ourselves. In my own example, the consequences were far reaching. I had to deal with an employee who defrauded the company. Relationships with customers had to be rebuilt because trust had been breached. And of course, this whole episode didn’t exactly help the advancement of my fledgling career.

None of us is a perfect leader

Sooner or later mistakes will be made. The big question is, “What will you do, and how will you respond?” Consider David’s example a great case study. He admitted his wrong, he submitted to judgment without excuse, and he repented of his error. Good lessons for us today!

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. Have you experienced a “slip and fall” during your career? If so, what did you do to recover?


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Category: Skills | Accountability

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