3 Essential Ingredients for Every Leader’s Inner Circle

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If you’re going to make it in leadership over the long haul, you need a strong inner circle.

And that’s exactly what many leaders don’t have.

Too many leaders I talk to are isolated, a bit lonely and as a result, are frustrated.

When leaders don’t have a cultivated inner circle, their frustration comes out in unhealthy ways:

  • They suffer through unnecessary discouragement.
  • They quit too soon.
  • Their complaining places undue stress on their family (your spouse was not designed to hear every frustration every time).
  • They end up carrying a load that’s far heavier than it needs to be.

Left unchecked, the lack of a healthy inner circle can lead to things like substance abuse or even an emotional or physical affair.

Cultivating a great inner circle of key people who love you, support you and tell you the truth is key to overcoming all of that.

But the question is, how do you develop one?

It’s taken me a few years to figure out the inner circle I need, and while all of us will have slightly different needs, I think a lot of the principles transfer.

I love the people I consider to be in my inner circle. They are a gift from God. And without naming names, here are the categories those people fall into.

Three Essential Ingredients For Your Inner Circle:

1.  An inner circle of people who are aligned around the mission, vision and strategy of your organization and who possess ample character, competence and personal chemistry

Yep. That’s seven characteristics in one sentence. I know. But each one is essential. When I have had leaders around me who miss one of those characteristics, the team feels it and so do I.

Aligned with the mission, vision and strategy simply means that people around you need to be the most aligned and passionate people in the organization about what you’re trying to accomplish. If they are not passionate about your collective mission vision and strategy, they shouldn’t be in your organization (there are lots of other churches with different strategies). Now—don’t miss this—because there is alignment around what matters most, you are free to disagree.

This is not a yes culture, this is a healthy leadership culture. And you will discover that you enjoy hanging out together, even when you disagree.

If those aligned people also display deep character, competency and chemistry, you have a winning combination. They’re smart, have exemplary character and they you like being around each other (that’s what chemistry is), you have a recipe for a fantastic inner circle.  We have enjoyed all seven ingredients with our elders, staff, leadership team and many of our key volunteers. That is a winning team.

The upside? You’ll be able to discuss church issues and disagree without being disagreeable. You’ll have people you love to work with and can talk to about 90% of the issues in your life. And work/ministry will be fun and deeply rewarding most days. A disunited team can never lead a united mission.

A disunited team can never lead a united mission. Click To Tweet
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2. A few friends who accept you for the person you are, not the position you hold

You just need friends who see you as you, not your title. I have a few of these. We go biking, we hang out, we laugh. And often we don’t talk about church life, which is perfect. I have a few friends in this category I just call on bad days to talk things through. It’s necessary and so refreshing.

You just need friends who see you as you, not your title. Click To Tweet

3. Peers who are managing the same leadership and life issues you are

This one’s vital. Miss it and you miss the 10% that makes all the difference. You can’t go to your board or staff with every issue you’re facing. It’s not always appropriate or even fair to them.  That’s why I always have people who are managing a similar leadership load and life that I am. This is where I can air my deepest frustrations and they can air theirs. And we usually end up laughing about it in the end. And somehow just talking about it feels better.

Senior leaders, you can't go to your board or staff with every issue you're facing. It's not always appropriate or even fair to them. You need...friends. Click To Tweet

So that’s how I’ve put together my inner circles. As long as I have a few from each group in my life, my leadership is healthier (and so is the church). If I’m missing some for a season, it leaves a significant hole.

The one thing I didn’t mention, of course, is a good Christian counselor. He or she can help you so much. But you still need a great inner circle to keep you going day to day and week to week.

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Carey Nieuwhof
Carey Nieuwhof

Carey Nieuwhof is a best-selling leadership author, speaker, podcaster, former attorney, and church planter. He hosts one of today’s most influential leadership podcasts, and his online content is accessed by leaders over 1.5 million times a month. He speaks to leaders around the world about leadership, change, and personal growth.