3 Ways Great Leaders Handle Tough Circumstances Differently



You face them every day, you are always reacting to them–positively or negatively.

Think about it. What situations in your life do you wish would change right now?

A different work environment that doesn’t suck the life out of you

Better health

A happier marriage

A closer connection with God

A more understanding boss

Less pressure

I mean, I get that. Few of us look over our life and pronounce things perfect.

I can let circumstances get into my head way too easily. It doesn’t even have to be anything serious to upset me. I can let the weather bother me, loud talkers in public places get under my skin or simply the fact that I feel like my to-do list is too long. Good luck to me if God ever wanted to truly test my character.

So far this year, both in my reading (I reread the classic 7 Habits of Highly Effective Leaders this year) and on numerous podcast interviews, I keep running into a recurring theme: that effective leaders handle circumstances differently than ineffective leaders do.

What’s the difference?

There are at least three deeply significant differences. If you want to imitate the great leaders when you face challenging situations, do these three things.

1.Refuse to Let Your Circumstances Define You

Far too often, we look to our circumstances to determine what’s going to happen next.

Today (and every day), you will be tempted to let your circumstances define you.

It shows up innocently enough:

Well, I can’t because…

That’s awesome for them but you need to understand my situation…

I’d love a chance at that, and yet…

I was going to do it but…

Well sure I would have more success if X wouldn’t be true…

I used to believe that was possible…

So what’s the critical mistake you and I will make over and over again unless we see it and address it?

You’ll let your circumstances define you. And….

If you let your circumstances define you, they’ll defeat you.

They will defeat you. I promise.

In fact, your circumstances will generate an excuse factory in your mind which will produce a thousand reasons why you can’t make the progress you were hoping to make.

They will convince you that you can’t change, that you can’t solve the problems you’re facing, that you need to surrender to an inevitable fatalism.

Let that happen, and you will lead more poorly. You will live more poorly.

If you let your circumstances define you, they will defeat you.

2. Stop Blaming God for the Obstacle. See The Opportunity.

The story of God’s people is always a story of God’s hope prevailing amidst tough situations.

The only time circumstances were close to ideal was in the Garden of Eden, and somehow we managed to mess that up.

Otherwise, God has chosen to use:

Dysfunctional families (have you read the story of Joseph??)

Enslaved peoples

A stammering prophet (Moses) who had to go up against the world’s most powerful king

Lion’s dens

Burning furnaces

Whales who love to eat humans

Death on a cross

Prisons and persecution

I always think if I was in one of those circumstances, I would wave a white flag and conclude God had abandoned me.

Which is exactly why you should never let your situation define you.

In each of these cases, God was writing a story that was bigger than any and all of it.

And leaders who realize that truth manage to transcend their circumstances to move into a better tomorrow.

Try to think of a great leader in biblical history or history as a whole whose legacy was a product of their situation.

That’s right. You can’t.

Because none of the great leaders we admire were made by their circumstances.  They refused to let their situation define them. Instead, they overcame them.

They stopped blaming God for the obstacle. Instead, they trusted God for the opportunity. That’s what makes for greatness.

3. Don’t Let Success Seduce You

Of course, you know circumstances don’t always work against you.

Sometimes everything’s going your way. Some of you are in that situation right now. You can’t imagine things lining up better in your favour.

Which is exactly why you should still never let your circumstances define you. Because they will still defeat you.

Here’s how.

You will stop working hard. You’ll stop dreaming about the future. You will even be tempted to let your present momentum carry for forward indefinitely.

And it will carry you, for a season. And then things will grind to a halt.

Just ask any company that has to reinvent itself after a decade on top. Ask any happily married couple that hit cruise control only to discover they started drifting toward the ditch.

When you stop working on it and let circumstances define you, those same circumstances will eventually defeat you.

In fact, you will realize what every leader sliding down the far side of a success curve realizes:

The greatest enemy of your future success is your current success. 

If you don’t constantly fight against your circumstances and seek to transcend them, they will defeat you. Even the good circumstances.

What do you do if all your dreams come true? Ask God for bigger dreams.

So What Circumstances Do You Need to Fight Against Today?

Well–the short answer is, all of them. At least at some level.

That’s why leaders are never content with the status quo. Progress requires we kick hard against the status quo, trusting all the while that if we follow hard after God and his truth, we will find a better tomorrow.

So how would you characterize your circumstances?

What do you hate (or love) right now that you can surrender into the arms of a loving and all-powerful God?

You will lead better.

You will live better.

And your circumstances will no longer define you or defeat you.

What are you learning about circumstances?

Leave a comment!

3 Ways Great Leaders Handle Tough Circumstances Differently


  1. Fate Hagood III on July 8, 2017 at 8:19 am

    Thanks so much Carey! I needed this shot in the arm! I’m not a delusional, make up stuff guy. So, most of my challenges actually are. But what I’ve done is allow them to define me and destroy my momentum. Thanks man… you don’t know how much you blessed me.

  2. Jeremy Roberts on July 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm

    “Don’t let success seduce you.” Man, you just hit me between the eyes. God has really been working on me in the area of pride. Thanks for this post, Carey. Excellent, as always.

  3. Danny Murphy on July 4, 2017 at 6:06 pm

    “In fact, your circumstances will generate an excuse factory in your mind which will produce a thousand reasons why you can’t make the progress you were hoping to make.” Oh, the humanity! This was another inspiring word. Thank you.

  4. Gene Bulmer on July 3, 2017 at 9:13 pm

    “Look for a victory in every defeat and, to keep you humble, a defeat in every victory”
    (i.e. How can you become even better?)

  5. Keith Haney on July 3, 2017 at 7:20 pm

    That was a very timely post for me. I am in the midst of a transition in my life and career. And it is not a bad development just a transition. While going through this all the things you listed above very tempting traps to fall into. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Jon Perrin on July 3, 2017 at 3:21 pm

    Another outstanding article, Carey! Our attitude and our work ethic (how hard we’re willing to work to change our current reality) are huge in determining our future reality.

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