In almost four decades of leadership, I’ve made more than my share of errors. The error I’ve regretted the least is this one—Effective leaders give others the benefit of the doubt. This was one of my top ten leadership learnings I shared with young Arise worship interns several months ago.
I’m grateful that I had mentors in my life who gave me the benefit of the doubt. The best leaders gather all the facts before drawing conclusions. They postpone reaction and help team members learn from their blunders. Effective leaders extend patience and grace. They are slow to make a judgment about another’s motives. They choose to take others at their word and allow them to prove their authenticity and follow-through. Great leaders are known for looking for the best in another person or in a situation.
One of my strengths is discernment. Yet, people have proved my first impressions to be wrong. When I refused to act (or react) on my initial assessment of a situation or circumstance, I’ve watched immaturity and inexperience turn into exceptional leadership over the long haul.
Allow me to share four reasons why I believe effective leaders must try hard to give people the benefit of the doubt:
- I have a tendency to overestimate internal vs. external factors. – When someone makes a mistake or does something that disappoints us, I have a tendency to believe this is caused by their individual personality, and not their situation. We must learn to ask ourselves these types of questions: If I were in this person’s shoes, with their knowledge and experiences, would I act any different? What environmental factors may have influenced this person’s actions, which I may not be aware of? Our own self-awareness and other-awareness can help improve our ability to understand why people act the way they do. We may need to learn their story.
- My beliefs about people can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. – The results we get in life are often connected to our beliefs and expectations. When we expect a certain behavior or attitude from another person, we often experience that reality—both positive and negative. Giving the benefit of the doubt is an effective way to reverse self=perpetuating cycles of cynicism.
- It teaches me how to forgive myself for my own mistakes. – Making it a habit to give others the benefit of the doubt allows me to give me the benefit of the doubt.
- God asks me to give to others what He has given me. – We have these instructions in the Bible: “Don’t get bitter or angry or use harsh words that hurt each other. Don’t yell at one another or curse or ever be rude. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ” (Ephesians 4:31-32). The “normal” behavior all around me, (especially on social media) is filled with all of the “do nots” above—bitterness, anger, harsh words, rudeness, etc. It’s never been more evident than in the recent presidential election. However, I serve a God of the second chance. I want to be like Him.
Today, what will you do with those whom you have some doubts about? Whether a new employee, a client, a friend of your daughters, or a new President of the United States—will you give the benefit of the doubt? It just could be the best error you ever make.
QUESTION: What’s the natural go-to tendency for you? Judgment or benefit of the doubt? Any insight you care to share with other readers on why that is your propensity?