There is a force that I’ve seen destroy a huge number of leaders. I want to help you avoid it. The force I’m talking about is the cancer of offense.

Leaders are frontline and visible. They usually have strong personalities and a fiery sense of themselves. As a result, they can rub people the wrong way. They can generate resentment in others. They can make themselves targets of payback and wounding opposition.

Add to this the fact that leaders are often charged with being in command during bruising battles and you can see that a leader’s life is often lived in a perfect storm for offense.

Here’s the truth. We all suffer offense. We all endure biting comments and lacerating criticism and torturous betrayals of a kind that can leave us exhausted and bleeding, perhaps misshapen by the blows.

There is no avoiding offense. Even the Bible tells us “offenses will come.” Life brings hurt and the life of a leader brings opportunity for much hurt. This is simply the truth of it. The art of leading involves not letting offense permanently deform us.

More than a few leaders I’ve worked with are “defined by offense.” They are so used to hating people who they think have wronged them and letting their past wounds guide them in their decisions that they live in constant reaction to their negative experiences.

This means they aren’t leading, they are bouncing off negative experiences and memories like balls in a pinball machine.

A quick example. I’m trying to help a friend find a job. I secured an interview with a leading company for him, but he is bitter about something he heard the CEO say long ago and now won’t even consider taking the interview. He also wouldn’t take another interview I arranged because an executive in that company once wronged him, he believes. He wouldn’t talk with the executive director of a third firm because that firm turned him down for a job he applied for years ago.

You can see that this friend of mine is almost completely defined by offense. He’s not living in the present. He’s letting his anger and bitterness over past events cause him to bounce off of the realities of the present. The cancer in his offended soul is making him a small and bitter man, is impoverishing his family, and is keeping him from the good he might do in the world.

A leader cannot make decisions based on past hurt and offense. In fact, a leader is in danger if he allows hurt and offense to constantly cycle in his soul. Offense dims vision, deepens anger as a defining force, prompts unwise decisions, and becomes a repelling stench to others. It also robs the joy of life, on which a leader should thrive.

As yourself this question, “Am I defined by offense?” Then ask, “Where am I making decisions based purely on hurt and bitterness?” Don’t trust yourself to answer these questions accurately. We lie to ourselves when it comes to offense. Ask those who know you best. Charge them to be brutally honest. Then, declare war on your own bitterness of soul. And if you can’t get completely free of the bitterness you feel over past events, then at least involve others in your major decision-making so you don’t make stupid, offense-fueled major decisions.

Lead well. Lead clean. Lead pure-hearted. Lead wisely. Lead free of bitterness and offense.

That’s it. Hang in with Notre Dame. And have a good weekend.