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There will be a day that feels like a normal day, but there is a devastating hurricane about to hit your team.  It is the hurricane of a moral failure by one of your team members. But if you have prepared, it won’t be a “freak out” moment, it will be a “let’s execute our hurricane plan” moment.

Immediately after the hurricane has passed, the first step of action is to do a thorough assessment.  

As a general rule, when the hurricane hits and you discover a team member has fallen, I think it is wise to put the person on a leave of absence for at least a few days.  If they are an employee, I suggest a paid leave of absence.  In the midst of these very painful situations, look for opportunities to be gracious.  Putting someone on a paid leave of absence is gracious and demonstrates care for the person involved.  By putting them on a leave of absence, you effective release the pressure valve and it gives you the time to figure out how you need to handle the situation.

These types of situations can feel extremely urgent, but a little breathing room and a little patience can be a great help.

One reason this is true is the fact that you never have the whole story from the beginning.  There are always layers to the story that you only uncover as you begin to dig into the situation.  And my 35+ years of leading teams has taught me that these situations are always worse than I thought it was when it first came to light.  Never once have I started to dig into the situation and been pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as bad as I originally thought.

While it is helpful to have enough time to discover the truth about the entire situation, you don’t want to let situations like these linger very long.  When you are dealing with a hurricane, it is not business as usual.  You put other demands on hold so that you can give adequate time and focus to the crisis.

And, just like when a hurricane hits, there is no way to anticipate everything.  No matter how thorough your plan is, you will discover intricacies and nuances that you couldn’t have anticipated.  So, just know going in that there will be things you didn’t plan for.  There is no easy button or simple formula for handling a moral failure on your team.

I think it is helpful to acknowledge your desire to handle the situation prayerfully, carefully, gracefully, and clearly… but you won’t handle it perfectly.  The one thing that you can count on is that the situation will be messy.  And it will require courage for you to lead well through the crisis.

Having a plan and pre-deciding (as much as you can) ahead of time will help you handle these situations more objectively rather than emotionally.  I would also encourage you to be very clear about what you believe the Bible teaches about handling a moral crisis in the life of a leader.  When you are being scrutinized and criticized, the one thing that serves as an anchor is your conviction that you are doing what is right and biblical.  In these moments you must care more what God thinks than what others think.

So, when the situation comes to light, don’t overreact and don’t make a quick, impulsive decision.  Give yourself adequate time to fully discover the truth of the situation.  Have candid, but grace-filled conversations with those involved.  Seek counsel only from a handful of advisors that are mature, wise, experienced, and can hold the situation in confidence.  

Then, once you have had conversations with those involved, and once you have prayed and sought good counsel, make a clear and definitive decision as to what you will do in this situation.

Communicate frequently and clearly with the people involved.  Don’t leave them to wonder.  Minutes will feel like hours and hours will feel like days to them.  And most of all, don’t let them hear updates or new information second and third hand.

Decide now that when the hurricane hits, you will handle the situation with a broken heart, not anger.  You must find a way to wear both your pastoral hat and organizational leader hat.  Paul is very clear in Galatians 6 regarding the heart and spirit of how we engage the hurricane.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. (Galatians 6:1 NIV)

So, we need to approach the situation with a broken heart and a spirit of gentleness.  As you and I handle the hurricanes that hit our team, may we always be redemptive, not punitive.

Lance is the founder of Replenish ministries and is often referred to as a Pastor’s Pastor.  He is also the author of the book Replenish, which is dedicated to helping leaders live and lead from a healthy soul.  Before launching Replenish, Lance served 20 years as a senior pastor and 6 years as an Executive/Teaching pastor at Saddleback Church. 

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