I am a systems thinker. As soon as I enter a new. . .whatever. . .I start seeing the systems in place (or that need to be in place). My head starts designing the inputs and outflows, the structures of what is happening or should be happening, the way it works.
I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve had this conversation as a parent with my children. Sometimes it has been about examples that are in front of my children as teachers or leaders. . .sometimes it’s about me. I tell them as we’re reflecting on the situation and can find very little positive that happened: “I’m sorry but you’re going to have to learn from the negative on this one. You’re going to have to see what not to do and learn to do the right thing.”
I’m sure we’ve all had to do that in our lives. We see a bad example of something and run the other way. . .or at least decide to do something different. (If you’re struggling for some negative examples, talk to me…I’ll share some of mine.) We never want to be the negative example for those around us (ahem, our children…or students or team members). Yet, given our fallen nature, it does happen. As we grow in wisdom, hopefully, we have fewer of those times where we are the negative example.
However, as leaders, we must recognize and embrace those opportunities to teach and develop even in the negative. For faculty, they need to train students to learn from the negative. They will likely have leaders “in the real world” that don’t have a positive message or lesson at times. Yet, they still need to move forward in their own development despite those negatives. The same is true for team members. We would not want our team to fail just because we mess up. We want them to learn and grow even when we miss it.
Learning from the negative requires several things on the part of learner:
- Humility. Recognition that we are fallen and make mistakes is vital.
- Grace. Fortunately, we have forgiveness through Christ for this. However, it’s Christ’s work of forgiveness in our lives that must be remembered when viewing these failures in others. We, too, are fallen, been forgiven (and will need forgiveness again in the future very likely), and need to extend the Grace that Christ extends to us.
- Reflection. While it may be easy to get upset at the negative example in front of us, we must logically reflect on that example to really learn from it. See the situation from the perspective of the person providing the negative example. What made them act the way they did? What would have been the better way to act? What will keep you from acting the same way in other situations?
There are certainly times where the body of negative work in an individual requires us to pull away from an individual. However, recognizing that they are in need of growth, just like you, is equally important.
You may be the one to help them learn from their own negative example by gracefully helping them see their example.