3 Battles Every Leader Loses…Every Time

Most days you try to win battles as a leader, don’t you?

Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose.

But there are several battles leaders lose…every time. Even if you desperately try to convince yourself you’re winning.

Fighting any of those?

Your might be. How would you know?

leadership battle

How Did This Happen Again?

If you end up fighting these battles, you will fight them for two reasons:

You’re young and haven’t seen that these are self-defeating characteristics yet. That’s not slamming young leaders…I’m just saying that they really do live in most of us until we weed them out.

You’re simply not self-aware. (If you want to grow in self-awareness, it’s possible. I wrote more about how to become a self-aware leader here.)

Each of these battles arise because of a leader’s insecurity.

Most of us are insecure at some level. And an insecure leader is always a less effective leader.

If you’re not sure whether you’re a secure leader, check out these 5 signs you’re an insecure leader here.

Conversely, the more secure you are as a leader, the more likely you are to win these battles by changing your approach to leadership.

3 Battles Every Leader Loses…Every Time

Here are 3 self-defeating battles every leader loses…every time:

1. Creating An Organization That Exists For Your Benefit. 

It’s very natural to be selfish, and if you lead the way many do, you can fall into the trap of believing that the organization exists for the benefit of the leader.

People work for you. You don’t work for them.

Perks flow up, not down.

You feel like the rules should apply to others, but not you.

You feel entitled to inflict your emotions on the people around you, even if they’re negative or destructive.

Sometimes pastors and church leaders behave like that. Rather than existing to serve, they exist to be served.

The leader who places himself above his team eventually has no team, or at least a team not worth joining—just a bunch of minions doing his or her bidding.

And while you can sometimes get away with that style of leadership—even in the church—it certainly doesn’t reflect the heart of Christ.  You might not even really be the church when you lead like that. I would suggest you are not.

If you’re really selfish, there’s a surprise coming at the end:

A life devoted to self ultimately leaves you alone. 

All the joy you expected to find from having everything revolve around you doesn’t really satisfy nearly as much as you’d hoped.

Try to create an organization that exists for your benefit, and you lose. Worse though, is that everybody else does too.

2. Seeking Affirmation From the People You Lead

Most of us have some people pleasing tendencies in us. I know I have to fight mine. (If it helps, I outlined 5 ways people-pleasing undermines your leadership here.)

I don’t know who I originally heard this principle from, but I’ve never forgotten it. It’s a simple but profound truth:

Never seek affirmation from the people you lead. 

If you seek affirmation from the people you lead, it messes with the very dynamic that will make you effective. And they can smell your insecurity a mile away.

And yet insecure leaders seek affirmation from the people they lead all the time:

Did they like my last series/meeting/memo?

Do they appreciate me?

How come I don’t get more gratitude more often?

Here’s the gut-honest truth: the people you lead directly will always applaud you a little less than those who know you less well.

Let me say it again. The people you lead will always applaud you a little less than those who know you less well.

And that’s okay.

Why?

Two reasons:

First, they see you in a way people who know you from a distance don’t. They see you for who you really are: flaws and all.

Second, your job is to serve and lead them, not to have them nurse your fragile self-esteem.

Because I write a speak publicly, there are days where my inbox will fill up with thank you’s from people I’ve never met who read my blog or listen to my podcast or were at a talk I gave, and at the same time fill up with emails and texts from the staff and team I lead at home outlining the problems I need to help solve.

It can be tempting to think: why don’t the people I lead send me more thank you notes, (even though they do from time time)?

Easy. Because my job isn’t to get people to like or appreciate me.

My job is to lead them. To serve them. To love them. To help them succeed.

So I smile if I get notes from people…I’m actually very thankful. But then I roll up my sleeves and get to work.

So what should you do for affirmation?

The best affirmation to seek is of course, the affirmation of your heavenly father. Your spouse can’t be your perpetual confidence booster. Nor can your team.

Deal with your junk. Go see a counselor. Become more secure. Remember, you are called to serve, not to be served.

Don’t look to your team for gratitude, fish for compliments or wait for your inbox to fill up with sunshine.

Be honest about your mistakes, seek to improve. Be open to feedback. Listen. Change. Grow.

Then you’ll lead well.

3.  Keeping Smarter, Better People Away from You

You need a great deal of security to invite leaders who are better than you into your church or organization.

And the truth is, many leaders won’t.

They won’t allow a better speaker to fill in when they’re not speaking.

They won’t hire a better communicator as an associate, or allow a better communicator to speak to their team via video.

They won’t hire someone who’s more gifted or talented than they are.

The expect volunteers to do tasks, but not think, let alone contribute.

They won’t have elders or board members around a table who will challenge them.

If you lead like this, first of all, you really aren’t a leader.

And secondly, you won’t be surrounded by leaders. They’ll all leave.

The best way I know how to get over this fear that most of us naturally have is to do what Andy Stanley has suggested:

Celebrate what God has given others; leverage what God has given you.

You may not be as smart/fluent/funny/insightful as some other leaders. But that’s okay. You bring a unique contribution in some way. Celebrate what they bring. Leverage what you bring.

Everyone will be far better off.

What Do You Think?

These are three battles every leader loses every time.

Which ones are you fighting?

What battles have you seen leaders lose?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

12 Comments

  1. Steve Nelson on October 31, 2015 at 10:51 am

    This is so right on! Thanks for the challenging read and reminder on what leadership truly is. I have definitely battled #2, and still find it a big challenge. I’m wired for words of affirmation, and this helps me process why the come, or don’t come, from certain places. #3 a little bit too, but entering my 18th year in full time vocational ministry, I’ve definitely gotten over the competitive nature that stymied me in earlier days. Actually, I’ve found having someone who I feel is a better teacher than me on the team inspires me to get better myself! And #1 is much appreciated at this particular season.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 31, 2015 at 11:03 am

      Steve..you’re so right. Words of affirmation people (me too) will always struggle with this one. Thanks!

  2. Ben on February 11, 2015 at 7:35 am

    This is probably the most helpful blog (for me) that you have ever written. Thanks. Also, I hired a young guy once who was much more gifted than me. It turned out that he tried to undermine me and even told numerous lies in an attempt to get me fired so that he could become the pastor. I’ve been hesitant to hire top notch people ever since.

  3. zack verbracken on December 1, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Great leadership wisdom.

  4. Ravon on November 4, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Definitely number 2. I have been Pastoring a church I started for 10 months. This article is a great read.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 4, 2014 at 11:14 am

      #2 really has resonated with a lot of leaders. It’s certainly something I need to watch in me. Thanks!

  5. […] Most days you try to win battles as a leader, don’t you? Sometimes you win. Sometimes you lose. But there are several battles leaders lose…every time. Even if you desperately try to convince yourself you’re winning. Carey Nieuwhof on three battles leaders lose every time. […]

  6. […] 3 Battles every leader lose every time : Carey Nieuwhof […]

  7. Glenn on October 18, 2014 at 6:32 am

    #2 is huge. Thank you!

  8. Peter Mayer on October 17, 2014 at 4:48 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you. #2 will stay with me for quite some time, and I pray that it will transform my ability to lead well.

  9. […] By Carey […]

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