A leader’s history of successes and failures makes or breaks that person’s credibility. It’s a little like earning and spending pocket change. Each time you make a good leadership decision, it puts change into your pocket. Each time you make a poor one, you have to pay out some of your change. Every leader has a certain amount of change in their pocket when they start in a new leadership position. From then on, they either build up change or pay it out.
To build trust, a leader must exemplify three qualities: competence, connection and character. People will forgive occasional mistakes based on ability, especially if they can see that you’re still growing as a leader. But they won’t trust someone who slips in character. In that area, even occasional lapses are lethal. No leader can break trust with their people and expect to keep inﬂuencing them. Trust makes leadership possible.
By all accounts, Samson could have become one of Israel’s greatest leaders, yet he turned out to be one of the worst. How could someone with such a strong start ﬁnish so poorly?
Samson learned the hard way that trust provides the foundation for all genuine leadership. This impetuous, volatile, lustful, moody, emotional, and unpredictable man provides a very good example of a very bad leader. Since no one could trust him, none followed his leadership.
Signs of Leaders in Trouble
Leaders who erode the solid ground of trustworthy leadership usually exhibit one or more of the following signs. Leaders in trouble . . .
1. Fail to address glaring character weaknesses.
Samson struggled with sexual impurity. He asked for a pagan wife, slept with prostitutes, and ultimately Delilah destroyed him. Any time a leader neglects to repair their character ﬂaws, they worsen.
2. Count on deception to safeguard themselves.
People who ﬂirt with disobedience often deceive others to protect themselves. Samson liked using riddles to outwit others. He didn’t tell the whole truth, which later led to distrust and betrayal.
3. Act impulsively.
Time after time, Samson displayed his impetuosity. He chose his wife rashly. He made wagers without thinking. And more than once his impulsive spirit led him into a bloody battle. A leader who cannot control their temper endangers both themselves and others.
4. Are overcome by an area of weakness.
Sin eventually consumes anyone who gives it free rein. Samson met his match in Delilah. The deceiver was deceived; the seducer, seduced. He lost a dangerous game and it cost him everything.
5. Misuse their God-given gifts.
Samson possessed immense strength and godly anointing, but he took both for granted. Many times Samson exploited his God-given gift, intended for the deliverance of his people, for personal revenge. When a leader misuses God’s gifts, serious consequences inevitably follow.
When Leaders Lose Their Teachability
Samson’s self-centered, undisciplined, and arrogant nature made him unteachable. What happens when leaders lose their teachability?
1. They lean on their own strength and understanding.
Unteachable leaders lose touch with God and his people. They lean on their own strength and do not seek guidance from God or others. Samson repeatedly used brute force and violence to cope with difficulties. When embarrassed at his wedding feast, he killed 30 men. When the men of Judah turned him over to Philistia, he bludgeoned to death 1,000 men. When caught with a prostitute, he ripped apart the city gates of Gaza. Samson didn’t take the advice of his parents, never took advice from his people, and didn’t look to God for guidance. Worse still, Samson never acknowledged God as the source of his strength. He went from a man of anointing to a man of arrogance.
2. They fail to learn from their mistakes.
A person’s life runs uphill or downhill, depending on whether they fail forward or backward. It’s a mistake only if you don’t learn from it. Samson’s life reveals no record of improvement, only a downward spiral. For leaders to learn from their mistakes, they must be . . .
• Big enough to admit mistakes. Samson blamed everyone else for his problems. He never once admitted his sin or humbled himself before God.
• Smart enough to proﬁt from them. It’s one thing to know you’re wrong; it’s another to ﬁgure out why you erred.
• Strong enough to correct them. If you can’t implement necessary changes, you can’t improve yourself or your situation.
3. They react rather than lead.
While good leaders are proactive, unteachable people almost exclusively react. When Samson saw the daughter of Timnah, he immediately asked for her in marriage. When his wife married his best man, he burned down the Philistines’ ﬁelds. Samson reacted right up to his death—and left his people groaning under Philistine oppression.
4.They are easily defeated.
Unteachable people always lose. Even great talent (like Samson’s) can take a person only so far. Samson’s character ﬂaw, left unrepaired because of an unteachable spirit, led to moral erosion and unchecked sin—and that led to his destruction.
Who knows what might have happened had Samson ever humbly connected with God or sought the guidance and accountability of his people?
All of us are leaders with spheres of influence. How teachable are you? Is there a mistake you need to admit? Admit it and seek to learn from it.
Read About the Life of Samson
The story of Samson is found in the Bible in Judges 13:24-16:31.
This article was drawn from the NIV Maxwell Leadership Bible
Every believer is a person of influence. In the NIV Maxwell Leadership Bible, leadership expert John C. Maxwell shows you the principles of leadership taught in God’s Word and how to use them. Learn More