With the recent passing of the great preacher and evangelist Billy Graham, many are celebrating his finishing well. He remained faithful to God’s call on his life, fought the good fight, and finished the race. He avoided scandal and accusations against his integrity and was above reproach as he faithfully served the Lord throughout his life and ministry. We should be thankful for the example. And Billy Graham’s example stands in stark contrast to what, at times, seems to be epidemic among leaders—tragic, self-inflicted disqualification.
Leaders seem to be disqualifying themselves at alarming rates, and if you disqualify yourself from leading, one of these three failures will be true:
1. Moral Failure
Coaches, politicians, teachers, pastors, and other leaders are routinely disqualified because of moral failure—failing to live up to the moral standard of the office they hold. Often those who own their sin and turn from it later confess a slow and consistent weakening of their character before their moral failure was fully born. The moral failure is the outer manifestation of a heart that has wandered from a deep commitment to leading oneself. Billy Graham’s commitment to his own personal integrity was applauded by some and mocked by others, but the fruit cannot be denied. The practice of avoiding being alone with someone from the opposite sex other than your spouse has been called “The Billy Graham Rule” because of his commitment to do all he could to avoid even a hint of questioning his character or his commitment to his wife. Because our hearts are prone to wander and none of us are above falling, we must daily turn from trusting ourselves and turn to trusting the Lord to keep us pure.
2. Ethical Failure
Leaders often disqualify themselves for ethical lapses. It is common to read of a leader who has been released from his or her duties for violating policies, for lying about one’s educational or professional accomplishments, for using the role for personal advancement, or for abusing the power of the office. Those who ask the leader to step down know that when a leader loses trust, the leader loses the ability to lead effectively. And seemingly small ethical lapses will likely degenerate into larger ones. Perhaps the best counsel I have received came in terms of ethical decisions in a leadership role from a Christian CFO of a large company. It is a cliché but true: “If it is gray, stay away.” In other words, don’t risk your leadership for something that is unclear.
3. Relational Failure
In recent years more and more leaders have disqualified themselves for leading with anger, for manipulating, and for creating relational strife and disunity among those they lead. In leadership, healthy relationships matter. Without them, trust quickly erodes. If you sense yourself waning in patience with those you serve alongside, get out of the office and take a break. If you sense your heart growing cold, don’t ignore it. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Forgive and seek forgiveness.