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Sep-21-2010 10:01printcomments

Are You a Redemptive Leader?

Life’s greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.
* Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

West End Theater :es Miserables

(CHARLESTON, S.C.) - During my last visit to London a few years back, I had the wonderful opportunity to take my wife to West End to see the musical Les Misérables based on the novel by Victor Hugo. It was a magnificent performance and one of the highlights of the trip.

Les Miserables is one of the classics that never fails to inspire and reminds us of the power of redemption. Jean Valjean is the main character who spent years in prison for stealing bread for his sister and her family. After his release from prison he is required to carry a special passport that identifies him as an ex-convict. Forced to sleep on the streets, Valjean grows increasingly despondent.

Valjean is taken in by the charitable Bishop Myriel. During the night, Valjean steals the Bishop’s silverware and flees. Soon Valjean is caught but instead of identifying Valjean as the thief, Bishop Myriel claims that the silverware was actually a gift. Bishop Myriel gives him the candlesticks and ridicules him in front of the police for leaving behind the most expensive pieces. Bishop Myriel reminds Valjean of the promise he made to use the silver to make an honest man of himself.

John Wooden said, “If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” And this is the essence and practice of leadership. Along the way, you will make mistakes and so will your team. And if we are certain that mistakes are going to be made then we must take into account acts of redemption. Here are three questions to ask when dealing with mistakes and how to effectively harness your redemptive leadership skills.

What can we learn? When mistakes are made; be it from poor communication, poor judgment, or another break down in the system, it is important to understand why. Our initial reaction typically is to assign blame, but that is secondary. Redemptive leadership is exhibited when discovering what went wrong is understood and everyone in the company learns from the experience.

As an act of redemptive leadership, an insight by Norman Vincent Peale is a gem for all leaders. Peale said, “We’ve all heard that we have to learn from our mistakes, but I think it’s more important to learn from our successes. If you learn only from your mistakes, you are inclined to learn only errors.” Leadership is a learning process. Successes and mistakes are included in the mix. At the end of the day it is not so much about who made the mistake but what was learned.

What can we teach? Jim Rohn said, “A good objective of leadership is to help those who are doing poorly to do well and to help those who are doing well to do even better.” In failure or success, a redemptive leader seizes upon teachable moments to elevate his team to a new level. Leaders do not always choose the lessons they teach. In a perfect world everyone communicates well, mistakes are seldom made, customers are always happy, and the bottom line is always strong. Elbert Hubbard said, “The teacher is the one who gets the most out of the lessons, and the true teacher is the learner.” Your capacity to teach others is found in your ability to learn and to apply lessons from the totality of your experiences.

What can we change? This is one of the great challenges of leadership. The ability to adapt and change will determine the future of your company. C.S. Lewis wittingly surmised the situation for leaders when he said, “It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” In practicality, we must not only identify what needs to change but have the courage to act.

And this is the challenge of redemptive leadership. If you do not learn from your mistakes, if teachable moments go unheeded, change will not occur. You and your company will perpetuate a climate of what could have been in place of what could be.

Successful leaders and productive companies understand the power of redemptive leadership and the importance of what can be learned, what can be taught, and what needs to change. Are you a redemptive leader?

Doug Dickerson is the former editor of the Berkeley Independent newspaper in South Carolina and is currently the director of university relations at Charleston Southern University. Doug’s writing has been recognized by the South Carolina Press Association, having won awards for enterprise reporting, series of articles, and for humor column writing. Doug’s passion for communicating leadership principles and personal development is crystallized through his Management Moment column and leadership columns he writes. Read more of Doug’s columns on his blog at

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