Leadership In a Word: Redemption

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[No] matter what a waste one has made of one’s life, it is ever possible to find some path to redemption, however partial. – Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain

A word about redemption

The life of a leader is a life of many imperfections, failures, and flaws. Then add to that all of the false accusations, whispers, and rumors. Hang around in leadership long enough and you will come to know what I mean.

Thankfully though, perfection is not a prerequisite for leadership. But neither is this truth a license for bad behavior. On the leadership journey, we all need some grace and redemption.

I am reminded of a story involving a young boy working in the lab with Thomas Edison. It comes from a book by James Newton in which shared this story.

Edison was working on a crazy contraption called a “light bulb” and it took a whole team of men 24 straight hours to put just one together. The story goes that when Edison was finished with one light bulb, he gave it to a young boy helper, who nervously carried it up the stairs. Step by step he cautiously watched his hands, obviously frightened of dropping such a priceless piece of work. You’ve probably guessed what happened by now; the poor young fellow dropped the bulb at the top of the stairs.

It took the entire team of men twenty-four more hours to make another bulb. Finally, tired and ready for a break, Edison was ready to have his bulb carried up the stairs. He gave it to the same young boy who dropped the first one. That’s true forgiveness.

How many times as a leader have you been like the boy who dropped the bulb? How many times in our learning curves have we come up short, missed the mark, didn’t come through, or failed to deliver? We’ve all been there.

On our leadership journey, we all need some grace and redemption. Let’s briefly examine a few key concepts.

The redemption I need

This framework has already been established so I won’t dwell here long. Suffice to say, as leaders we are all flawed in some way. When you see yourself as one who leads from a position of needing redemption and grace as much as the people you lead, it will cause you to walk humbly. The Scripture says, “to whom much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48), and this is especially true for leaders today.

The redemption I give

I can only imagine the reaction of that young boy’s face when the next day Edison handed a new light bulb back to him to walk up the stairs. But that was a testament to the redemptive heart of Edison.

What about you? As a leader, and by your actions, you have opportunities to be an agent of redemption and forgiveness. Your one redemptive act of kindness toward a colleague or team member may be all it takes to turn things around for that person.

I am not talking about abandoning expectations or lowering the bar as it relates to standards and performance, but I am speaking to a specific leadership skill not found in the manual but in your heart. The human equation. Perhaps if we listen more, talk less, forgive more, condemn less, love more and hate less, then we can reflect a standard of leadership worth emulating.

Redemption quotes

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination”. – Nelson Mandela

“Leadership is about making others better as a result of your presence, making sure that impact lasts in your absence”. – Sheryl Sandberg

“To handle yourself, use your head; to handle others, use your heart”. – Eleanor Roosevelt

“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you”. – Ephesians 4:32

“Civility doesn’t weaken a message, it helps others hear it”. – Kate Nasser

A final word

We live in a world of hurting people. And here’s a truth I learned many years ago – hurting people hurt others. As a leader, in your sphere of influence however large or small- you’ve been given an opportunity to be a small light in the darkness. Your one redemptive act of kindness or forgiveness may be all it takes to set the course right and change someone else’s life. Let redemption be a defining quality of your leadership.

©2018 Doug Dickerson

*Note: Leadership In A Word is my writing theme for 2018. Each week the focus will be on a word that impacts you as a leader. My style is new but my message and commitment to delivering fresh leadership insight to you are the same. It’s my sincere desire to help you grow as a leader and to partner with you in reaching your full potential.


About dougdickerson

I am Certified Leadership Trainer, author, columnist, and speaker. Husband to Alicia, father to Katelyn and Kara, and "Pop" to terrific grandsons Tyson and Gideon. I am an avid photographer, love the outdoors, and like to travel. I'm passionate about sharing my leadership insights and helping people reach their full potential.
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