Go ugly early. ~Doug West
Let me tell you about Doug West. I first met Doug when I was…about a year old. He was the youth pastor of Gold Beach First Baptist Church. My parents moved to Gold Beach so my dad could work with his father in the family business of Knottingham Appliance Service and Repair (or some name similar, I was only a year old after all). Through some connection my parents rented the parsonage right above the church and we were part of that congregation until we moved 3 years later.
Then we connected with Doug again when he was the Director of Camp Tadmore, somehow my father was in touch and would help out repairing fridges and things for Doug as service (if I got this wrong I’m sure my parents will correct this statement, so it may change). But I didn’t know Doug well, though I’m told we would hang out with his family from time to time.
When I ended up attending college at Western Baptist College in Salem, Oregon I was surprised to be stopped in the hall by a teacher. Turns out it was the same Doug West, he brought me up to speed on our past and sent along greetings to my parents. Small worlds get smaller sometimes.
Doug was an interesting fellow. His life was spent in service to believers all around the world. He had a heart for missions, but more than being in the field his dedication was in training and mentoring mission minded Christ Followers. That work got him to Western Baptist (now Corban University) and into a job where he organized and taught students about youth camp counseling and then sent us on the road for the summer as Western Baptist Camp Teams. Being on a Camp Team was awesome. For 8 weeks you and 3 other team mates drove a rented mini-van all over the place going to camps and serving in any capacity needed and you were rewarded with: 1. 8 weeks of hard work and rewarding fun and 2: A tax free scholarship for school the next year. Better money than you could earn in that time working at home and almost all the expenses were covered, it was a win-win.
You also had to take a leadership class the Spring Semester where you would all focus on leadership and youth counseling while working on a lesson or two that you could teach and then spend time with your assigned teams. Doug was pretty amazing at team building; he would take most of the semester getting to know us and then, unbeknownst to the new kids, put us in teams according to our strengths and weaknesses. Made for some awesome memories and team building throughout the summer.
Now on to those three little words. Doug had some great quick hitting sayings. One of them that I cherish is “Go ugly early.” Think about it in the context of leadership. Going ugly is not a nice and pretty inspirational statement that makes you want to work harder or lead better. But that statement has saved me from some pretty embarrassing consequences, though it didn’t save me from some immediate shame or remorse, but in sticking to that code of leadership I was able to lead through failure. (Side Note: I know this isn’t Doug’s original saying, I know that it sometimes has other meanings, but to me the importance pertains to leadership).
To “Go ugly early” is to own your error, or the errors of your team, before anyone else can catch you or use them against you. It means not hiding, or trying to explain it away with excuses, but instead it is to bring it to light and own the issue fully. In Simon Sinek’s most recent book, “Leaders Eat Last,” he gives an example akin to this philosophy about 2 marines in officer school. Both marines fell asleep during a watch session but one would not admit to his error until he was given irrefutable proof while the other admitted error immediately and owned his actions. Both marines faced punishment, but the first marine was facing being kicked out of officer school while the other pulled extra duty and received the trust of his classmates and instructors. One tried to avoid punishment and hide and one went Ugly Early…who would you trust more?
And that is the key to Going Ugly Early. None of us are without fault or error. We will all screw up sometime and to different degrees. And with increased responsibility in leadership over organizations and teams the errors can be very ugly and costly indeed. But to own the issue for the team, or for self, that is a testing point of leadership. Readily admitting failure and working toward correcting that failure will show in action, to all who are watching (and people are ALWAYS watching), that you are a leader who is above reproach.
Doug passed away all too early in his life. Frankly some of my best teachers in this world have passed away too early in life. But they did not go before God used them in very lasting ways in my training. Doug died while on a mission trip in London, supporting and encouraging missionaries in the field there. He gave other tidbits of wisdom which I’m sure I will share later on, but for now please take this as your own: Next time you screw up, or something happens that you think would be embarrassing if it got out, just Go Ugly Early. Own it, fix it, and lead through it. It won’t be easy, but it will conclude faster and earn you respect especially when compared to the opposite actions that just bring delayed justice, guilt, and degradation of trust.