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The Associated Press recently ran a story about a glitch within the ranks of Ohio’s Department of Public Safety. It appears that the artist it commissioned to design its new license plate made a slight mistake. Then the senior members of the government failed to catch the mistake before approving it. Then they ordered the new design to be stamped and printed. 35,000 copies of the new design were manufactured before someone in the organization spotted the problem and halted production.

The new design featured an Ohio sunrise, with a city skyline on the left, recreational parks on the right, and wheat fields in the foreground. Then, at its top, was the silhouette of the original Wright brothers’ plane, towing a banner that read, “Birthplace of Aviation.”

But there was a problem. The artist mistook the front of the plane for its tail, making the banner precede rather than follow the plane.  Because of this mistake and the failure of the department’s executives to identify it, the 35,000 defective plates will have to be recycled. Delivery of the new plate will be delayed until December 29, 2021.

What’s the lesson to be learned here? It’s that human beings – at all levels – make mistakes. And this not only applies to the private sector, but also to the government. So don’t place too much faith in any human institution – not even the government.

And if you are a member of a human institution, then it would be a good idea to allow some room for failure among your subordinates. For, time and time again, a climate of “zero-tolerance for mistakes” creeps into organizations. This is particularly true in the military, especially within commands where leaders who are overly concerned about looking good in the eyes of their superiors.

In the military, leaders are held responsible for everything their subordinates do or fail to do. Therefore, any mistakes subordinates make will reflect poorly on their leaders. If leaders only care about impressing their superiors, then they’ll tend to be vindictive and ruthless toward subordinates who fail in their performance. This will create a toxic command climate in which teamwork, initiative, and selfless service are squelched.

Zero tolerance for mistakes is not only oppressive. It’s completely unrealistic. Perfection does not exist in the human race. Near perfection might be witnessed among Olympic Gold medalists. Near perfection might exist in the masterpieces of artists, painters, sculptors, composers, poets, and musicians. But no business or military in the world pays its people enough money to demand or expect perfection from them.

So, let’s be a little more forgiving of other people’s mistakes. People are, pretty much, guaranteed to fail. They must work extra hard to prevent it.

And let’s not forget that personal failure is essential to both character and leader development. Failure tends to make us more forgiving, more humble, and more tolerant of others. Failure is intended by God to be our teacher, not our undertaker. Sure, we should chew out a subordinate for doing something stupid. But leave it at that and allow the subordinate to learn from his or her mistakes.

If this seems too much to ask, then maybe we need to examine our own lives and performance. Maybe we excel in the workplace, but what kind of a parent, spouse, or friend have we proved to be? And if we are merciless toward others who fail, then we shouldn’t expect to find mercy from God. “For judgment will be merciless for the one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13). Our Master in heaven clearly warned us that the standard we apply to others (Perfection? Zero-tolerance for mistakes?), will be applied to us on Judgment Day (Matthew 7:1-5). But He also told us, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Matthew 5:7).


PRAYER:  Dear Father in heaven, though the pressure is great to please my supervisors and superiors, please help me not lose sight of Jesus, my Lord and Master in heaven. Remind me, daily, that I will stand face to face before Him and give an account of how faithfully I’ve performed my duties. As I hope for mercy on that day, help me to show mercy. Give me wisdom and discernment, O God, to know when to be gracious and when to administer discipline. I ask this in the name of Your holy Son, Jesus Christ, Amen.


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