Book Review: Mistakes Leaders Make by Dave Kraft

mistakes leaders make

Look at the bookshelf of nearly anyone in leadership and you’re bound to see a number of familiar names. Patrick Lencioni, Jim Collins, and John Maxwell, among others, are staple authors in the field, offering challenging and usually helpful advice to the current and prospective leader.

Dave Kraft is one who ought to be a staple for church and ministry leaders. His first book, Leaders Who Last, continues to be one of the most helpful books I’ve read, and one I’m always quick to recommend to any leader who wants to know what it takes to survive the challenges of leadership. His new book, Mistakes Leaders Make, builds on this foundation, looking at common errors in leadership based on his own experiences over his 35+ year career.

Kraft identifies and examines 10 common mistakes leaders make:

  • allowing ministry to replace Jesus;
  • allowing comparing to replace contentment;
  • allowing pride to replace humility;
  • allowing busyness to replace visioning;
  • allowing financial frugality to replace fearless faith;
  • allowing artificial harmony to replace difficult conflict;
  • allowing perennially hurting people to replace potential hungry leaders;
  • allowing information to replace transformation; and
  • allowing control to replace trust.

While certainly not exhaustive, these 10 mistakes represent the most common and serious errors that threaten our ministries and those we serve. Kraft approaches each with a welcome sobriety, choosing to confront leaders with the most fundamental error we face early on: idolatry. Kraft writes:

Allowing ministry to replace Jesus opened the Pandora’s box that contained many other mistakes that over time infected the entire leadership team—with severe implications. The first stone had been cast into the water, and the ripples had begun. . . . Ministry idolatry is becoming increasingly widespread in evangelical Christianity in America, reaching epidemic proportions. . . . “Idolatry creep” sneaks up on you because you can easily and quickly justify it by saying that everything you do is for the Lord, believing your motives are pure. We recognize this in businessmen who work obscene hours while insisting they do it all to benefit the family, when in reality it’s all about them. (Kindle location 300, 305, 308)

We see this all the time, don’t we? Leaders who begin using their ministry as an indicator of their standing before God. Their character may be reprehensible, they may be terrible spouses, or they may nurture secret sin, but they’ve got a large following. So obviously God must be pleased… right?

Similar problems lie at the heart of all the other issues. We compare ourselves with others because we’re deeply insecure in our standing with Christ. We avoid taking calculated risks because of fear. We refuse to trust those we lead to do the right thing because we love the feeling that comes from being in control.

It’s important to note that these kinds of errors are rarely isolated incidents. They’re habitual. “Leadership mistakes are often not a single event but an attitude, habit, or mind-set that has been forming for years” (Kindle location 451). They’re ultimately the fruit of an unhealthy relationship with God and attitude toward leading others.

Perhaps the most challenging mistake Kraft addresses is that of being satisfied with artificial harmony rather than facing difficult conflict head-on. Failure to face difficult conflict is a morale and trust killer. It’s easier to just avoid conflict and have the appearance that everything’s going well. But it comes with a cost: your ministry and your credibility.

Not knowing how and/or being unwilling to deal with conflict is a major issue that is undermining organizations today. I run into this problem everywhere I go… I cannot imagine anything more devastating to effective leadership than the refusal or inability to resolve conflict. To be frank, I meet very few leaders who honestly, gracefully, and promptly deal with conflict. I don’t mean this to be unkind, but many leaders are “relational cowards.” (Kindle location 1192)

It takes great courage to make tough decisions. It takes courage to deal with conflict and do the right thing—especially when it may result in someone leaving your team. But it’s so necessary for leaders to get this; if we don’t, we only injure those we serve.

Regular readers of the leadership genre will note  that Kraft liberally borrows from a number of modern leadership gurus—particularly Patrick Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team—as he examines each leadership mistake. Depending on your perspective, this might be a bad thing, but I quite appreciated it. While he does borrow, he sufficiently differentiates, especially in his leadership parables surrounding Covenant Community Church, the representative ministry facing each of these 10 mistakes.

Kraft wears a pastoral heart on his sleeve in Mistakes Leaders Make. He clearly wants to see Christian leaders get better and to avoid the mistakes he’s seen—and made—far too often. Mistakes happen. They’re inevitable; but they’re not irreversible. This book is a great starting point to identifying the mistakes that have crept into your ministry and how you can recover to the glory of God. I trust it will be blessing to you.


Title: Mistakes Leaders Make
Author: Dave Kraft
Publisher: Crossway/Re:Lit (2012)

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