If you’re young and in leadership, you might be asking:

  • Why don’t I have more followers on social?
  • How do I get noticed for the work I’m doing?
  • Why isn’t my platform growing faster?
  • When is someone going to finally acknowledge me and put me in the spotlight?

It’s amazing how many times that conversation comes up when talking to young leaders. It happens sometimes with young business leaders, but way more often with church leaders (which is kind of weird, really).

Often I’ll have a young leader pull me aside and ask Carey, you have some influence. Should I start a podcast, start taking YouTube or TikTok more seriously? What do I need to do? What were you doing when you were in your twenties or thirties to grow your platform?

You know what the truth about platform was for me when I was 30?

I didn’t even know what the word meant.

I tell them that despite occasionally wondering if a major conference I was attending would ever ask me to speak, I wasn’t even thinking about it. Instead, I was busy leading, making mistakes and trying to get a group of people rallied around a common mission.

If you’re a young leader worried about how to grow your platform, I have a single word I’d love for you to hear: Relax.

You don’t need a platform.

You need to lead.

Here are three things to consider if you’re a young leader who hasn’t become ‘famous’ (or even internet famous) in your world.

1. Your Platform Can Outgrow Your Character

The good news about being young and not famous is that you have time to develop your character.

Size and influence get weird fast and bring with them an intense set of pressures (Shawn Mendez and Justin Bieber explain the pressures well.)

Nothing gets you ready for millions showing up.

It’s way too easy for your platform to outgrow your character. And that’s where all the danger lies.

If you have fame without faithfulness, things implode quickly. If you have faithfulness without fame, nothing’s lost and so much is gained.

Fame as a pursuit is a terrible goal. Faithfulness is better.

Further, you and I are not naturally designed to lead thousands or millions.

It doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you’ll have to grow your character faster. Much faster.

As I outlined in Didn’t See It Coming, that has come in the form of hundreds of hours of counseling for me, some dead honest conversations, and a lot of painful personal growth. And in my case, I’m so thankful that groundwork was laid before things became bigger.

It doesn’t mean I’m off the hook. It just means God beat some things out of me that had to go before the stakes were any higher. And he continues to do that. Daily.

What can you do in the meantime? Work ten times as hard on your character as you do on your platform.

That way if you ever have one, you’ll be much better prepared to handle it.

2. Influence Is Best When It Springs From a Great Story

We live in a culture where people are famous for being famous, which is actually a fairly recent thing. (If you can spare 90 minutes, Fake Famous is a great documentary about the weirdness of influencer lifestyle.)

Throughout most of history, you gained influence because you accomplished something exceptional, had an innate talent, or made a meaningful contribution. Conversely, if you contributed something bad or evil, you became infamous or notorious.

Pursuing influence for influence’s sake is a kind of junk food fame…it seems good at the time but leaves you feeling empty and kind of sick.

I still think the best use of your twenties and thirties is to do meaningful work. To create a story worth telling.

Sometimes that gets you recognized early, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Either way, just do good work.

Take Brett Hagler for example, who is committed to 3D printing homes for the world’s poor, or Nona Jones who is helping churches and nonprofits figure out social media and leading a national dialogue on faith and prejudice.

Both have influence now as young leaders, but the work they’re doing day in and day out changing the world and their world will create the foundation for a deeply meaningful life for decades to come.

I spent my twenties in university (history, law, and theology is a circuitous route to ministry and leadership), and my thirties leading three small churches into a new future.

That provided the foundation for what has become a much wider ministry in my forties and fifties. And it’s amazing how often I draw from things I learned in those early years of leadership for my books, blog and podcast to help leaders today.

Influence is best when it springs from a story. So write a good story.

3. Your Wisdom Years Are Right Around the Corner

Maybe your story is different, but it’s rare to find someone with great wisdom in their twenties or thirties.

It happens, but it’s rare.

Intelligence? Yes. There are a ton of hyper-smart young leaders out there.

But wisdom for me, if I have any at all, didn’t really begin to form until my early forties.

By then, I’d made enough mistakes and seen enough of life to begin to connect the dots.

I started recognizing patterns. The fog I constantly felt in leadership started to lift, and I was able to name and identify trends, factors and patterns far more clearly.

That made, of course, for a better life and for better leadership. And I felt like maybe, just maybe, a few of those insights might be helpful for others.

People often say life is short.

In my experience, it’s long. You have time (God willing).

I wrote my first book when I was 45. I didn’t start writing this blog regularly until I was 49, launched my podcast when I was 49 and started leading this company full-time in my fifties.

So relax. Just do some good work. There are a lot of good things ahead.

Be So Good They Can’t Ignore You

My guess is if you’re feeling one thing right now it may be the fear of missing out.

I get it.

Recently, however, I sat down with two global thought leaders who don’t have a platform because of social media, YouTube, TikTok, Clubhouse or any other of the usual suspects.

Seth Godin isn’t active on social and hasn’t read his Amazon reviews in years. His focus? Produce work so meaningful that friends tell friends.

That’s worked fairly well for Seth, considering that when you type the word “Seth” in Google you find him. And no, he didn’t work SEO to his favor for that. So many millions of people just stampede to his work that Google lands you there when you search Seth.

Cal Newport has a similar approach. He’s written several New York Times bestselling books, including Deep Work and Digital Minimalism, and when I asked him how to get noticed when you’re completely inactive on social (any account in his name is fake), he quoted his 2012 book title: just be so good they can’t ignore you.

There’s truth to that.

Spend the time you’d spend building your platform on doing great work and perhaps you won’t have to worry about building a platform.

You can listen to my conversations with Seth and Cal on my Leadership Podcast.

Thoughts?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments. What are you learning about influence and fame?

Does this take some of the pressure off?

If you're young and in leadership, you might be wondering why you're not more influential than you are. Here are 3 serious advantages of NOT being famous.

21 Comments

  1. word finder on April 2, 2021 at 1:41 am

    The information is good, i need more, i’m still learning about it.

  2. Juan Carrasco on March 17, 2021 at 11:56 am

    Hello Carey;
    What am I learning about influence and fame..
    Well Carey the 1st thing that comes to mind is priority. But not because I’m an expert on it by any means but because the creator of the heavens and the earth is.. that by the power of His word on salvation by grace alone through faith alone I am able to comprehend that the flesh profits me nothing.

    To attend to your second question as to your insights assisting me in the pressure realm.. yes!! and thank you. I’m super glad the lord has place so many like minded men and women in your life. I know for a fact that if I can sincerely be happy for you; I believe that our heavenly Father is certainly pleased with you and your team of influence.

    You had mention that our life story should do the telling.. well I can relate. I dropped out of the 9th grade and led a Godless life till I was 43. Needless to say I was held captive by every thought against the things of this world. All I can say is God decided to allow the prayers and finished work of His beautiful boy Christ to come into being in and on my life.
    And it is because He is a man of His word that I am actually able to man of His.

    It truly is very humbling to be a slave of His righteousness. For example even when I take a careful glance at the fruit that He has allowed be to acquire? It leaves me in fear and trembling.. to say the least. How is it that I am no longer a slave to sin ignorance and darkness? That instead I’m able to listen in and read topics and insights that sound so technical and or complex; yet at the same time see Gods hand? It is fascinating to say the least.

    I hope this is not to much information.. for fear that I might be interfering with your line of concentration or format on a topic.. if so I’m sorry. But one thing I’m confident in is that our Lord’s yoke is easy and He does state that rest can! be acquired. And He is performing a good work in you brother and your circle of influence.

    Your brother and servant in Christ
    Juan

  3. Mzwandile Magagula on March 16, 2021 at 12:27 pm

    Found this post so grounding thank you so much Carey, as a young leader passionate about serving God’s purpose in my generation, I’m more challenged to focus on building my character, serving and collecting my private victories and God being true to His word if i remain faithful, He will make me ruler of much!

  4. Robyn Elliott on March 15, 2021 at 10:43 am

    While some of the points are great I think the starting point is way off. Alarm bells should be going off everywhere if that’s someone’s concern in ministry. Anyone asking the question of “how to become known/famous” is starting from the wrong place and not the way of Jesus, to Murray Lahn’s point. Totally with you there, brother. What the church desperately needs is not more celebrity leaders but more servant leaders, those seeking anonymity, the small thing, the cruciform way. The chapter on Ambition in Renovation of the Church by Mike Leuken and Kent Carlson exposed this cancer in the church today.

  5. Don on March 15, 2021 at 10:24 am

    I think there is within each of us a deep desire to make a difference. Unfortunately, within each of us there is also a deep desire to be noticed and exalted. I remember, back in my 20’s, (WAY before computers, the internet and social media existed) sitting in a Christian conference, listening to a speaker and thinking to myself…”I could present this in a way more interesting way and much better than he is doing.” To which that little inner voice responded…”And that’s exactly why you aren’t up there. You lack the humility of Jesus.” I pondered that one for a while.

    20 years later, I remember looking out from a back room off the platform of a church I was pastoring as it filled up with waiting parishioners. Seeking to sound humble, I turned to one of my elders and remarked, “I can’t believe all these people would actually show up to listen to me preach week after week.” (Do you see the humility there?). To which he responded, “Oh, we don’t come to hear YOU pastor. We come to meet Jesus. The question is, will you show Him to us THIS week?” Which took care of my overly inflated opinion of myself.

    John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must increase and I must decrease.” That’s my goal as I’m still leading in my 60’s. Thanks for the good words Carey. Keep leading.

  6. Jason on March 15, 2021 at 9:26 am

    I have found C.S. Lewis’s address titled “The Inner Ring” very powerful. It would be a great follow up read to your post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Felix on March 15, 2021 at 8:52 am

    Thank you.

  8. Pam Cray on March 15, 2021 at 8:47 am

    It was refreshing to read today’s blog. I am an older leader who has opted out of many conferences, blogs and webinars recently because it seems it’s more about the speaker/writer trying to make a name for themselves than it is about genuinely serving God. Too often they come off as “inch deep experts.” Thanks for challenging young leaders to serve faithfully and patiently as they grow in wisdom and character.

  9. Caren P. Coker-Jones on March 15, 2021 at 8:46 am

    I really liked this theme. We worry a lot about platforms in churches now because of the pandemic and other churches doing it well. But I like this focus of just do good work and the rest could follow.

  10. Murray Lahn on March 15, 2021 at 8:31 am

    I thought you’d mistyped your first point. I thought it should be “Your platform CAN’T outgrown your character”. Of course your points were bang on, but I think the converse is also true. If your character is “I want to be famous! I want to be important! I want to be heard! I want to be an influencer!” then maybe that’s not the kind of character God wants to use. Maybe God’s looking for humility, servanthood and a desire to lead people to worship Him, not you. I don’t think Martin Luther set out to be famous, but he sure became just that, as I’m sure is the case with a lot of great leaders in both the business and church worlds.

    • Bob Wiseman on April 15, 2021 at 8:48 am

      In the words of the late Rich Mullins, “God spoke to Balaam through his ass, and he’s been speaking through asses ever since. So if God is speaking to you, you ought not think too highly of yourself.”

      I remind myself of this almost every day in my ministry. If you think you’re special, just remember, he can praised through the crying out of rocks and his word spoken through donkeys. Be obedient, but be humble. He doesn’t need you as much as you think.

  11. Jamie ploe on March 15, 2021 at 8:30 am

    I really loved “Spend the time you’d spend building your platform on doing great work and perhaps you won’t have to worry about building a platform.” Because I think I spend to much time doing things that don’t help me or my mental health.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 15, 2021 at 1:57 pm

      So glad to help!

  12. Dave Hess on March 15, 2021 at 8:10 am

    Great insights, Carey! As a young-ish leader myself, who leads a ministry with college students and young adults, this perspective is so helpful. You’ve put words to some things that I’ve felt, but have articulated them more clearly than I could have. Blessings to you!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 15, 2021 at 1:58 pm

      Love it!

  13. Mark on March 15, 2021 at 7:49 am

    Don’t try to be famous. You might become famous but not for the right reasons. I know of one Episcopal priest who has a large online following. He did not try to get it. He just preached the Gospel without partisan politics, and people told their friends about him.

    • John Atkinson on March 15, 2021 at 7:56 am

      I love this, wish every young leader would read it and take it to heart! I only differ a little in that, I think some older leaders need to read it too!

  14. fiona on March 15, 2021 at 7:45 am

    Some great wisdom in here.

  15. David on March 15, 2021 at 4:20 am

    as always enjoy your stimulating posts..
    on this one though I am imagining Jesus shaking his head and repeating the dialogue of Mark 10:35-45
    to the 4 questions you raise…
    Jesus, Why don’t I have more followers on social?
    Jesus, How do I get noticed for the work I’m doing?
    Jesus, Why isn’t my platform growing faster?
    Jesus, When is someone going to finally acknowledge me and put me in the spotlight?

    thoughts?

    appreciate the stimulating theme!

    David R

    • Tony Mosti on March 15, 2021 at 8:37 am

      That’s the point of this post. Carey is saying, Do. The. Work. And if you are noticed for something that you are contributing, then it’s Jesus giving it to you.
      Obedient disciples make much better role models. 🤷🏻‍♂️

      • Bob Wiseman on April 15, 2021 at 8:41 am

        “And if you are noticed for something that you are contributing, then it’s Jesus giving it to you.”

        This is the most unbiblical, ridiculous, and heretical statement I’ve seen in a good while. I seriously hope you are not preaching this kind of message from any pulpit in any church, and if you are, you’ve disqualified yourself, Tony.

        Repent.

Leave a Comment





This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.