4 Kinds of Thinking That Can Sabotage Your Leadership

thinking that can ruin your leadership

Chances are a big chunk of what you’re going to do today in leadership is think.

Really, thinking is a big slice of what a leader is paid to do.

You try to solve problems, analyze opportunities, listen, facilitate and chart paths.

How you think will determine how well you lead.

Not surprisingly, there are four kinds of ways leaders commonly think that can actually damage your leadership.

You See It All The Time

Sometimes all we need to do is put language to things we see.

I’ve just been keeping notes on the kinds of thinking to which various leaders default. So this post isn’t scientific, but if you’re like me, as you read through the kind of thinking described below, specific people will come in mind. And maybe so will aspects of your own thinking.

Nobody Intends to Sabotage Themselves

Often, knowing is half the battle.

Few people intend to sabotage their leadership. They don’t plant landmines throughout their day and wait for them to go off. But let’s be honest. Many leaders end up sabotaging themselves every day despite their best intentions.

Intent has little to do with effectiveness.

When you and I can see how certain patterns of thinking trip us (and others) up, progress becomes easier.

Here are 4 kinds of thinking that can sabotage your leadership and have often tripped up mine:

Intent has little to do with effectiveness. Click To Tweet

1. Undigested Thinking

As a leader, I hate to admit I see this all the time in the church. You’ve seen it too.

Someone goes to a conference and comes away with two good ideas. Then they go to another conference and come away with three more. Add a dozen podcasts, blog posts, webinars and books into the mix, and they end up with a 9 raw ideas they’re intrigued with.

And then they make their critical mistake.

They implement the ideas without thinking much further about it.

And here’s the problem.

None of the ideas are compatible with each other.

Some of them directly compete with each other.

No idea is fully integrated into their existing model of ministry (which might actually be scrambled eggs to start with).

They didn’t digest any of it, synthesize any of it or even critically process it.

They leave their followers confused. And their systems dis-integrated (literally).

2. Overthinking

This is a leadership epidemic, especially in the church. I’m guilty of this sometimes.

Leaders often overthink issues.

They think about:

Everything that could go wrong

Who might feel left out

Why it might not work

How much it could cost

And they often wrongly believe they:

Need a bullet-proof plan before they start

Have to have every potential problem worked through before they begin

Should plan for every contingency ‘just in case’

Hey, in a perfect world that would be awesome. But last time I checked, this wasn’t much of a perfect world.

Great leaders often have a bias for action (I wrote about that here). Overthinking kills action.

If you want to be challenged to stop overthinking issues, read this account of how Sir Richard Branson started Virgin Airlines. It might freak you out, but it will show you why he has been so successful.

When it comes to church leadership, I believe we overthink. The pendulum has swung too far. It’s time to start acting.

Great leaders often have a bias for action. Overthinking kills action. Click To Tweet

3. Indecisive Thinking

The indecisive thinker may have some well-digested thoughts, and might even be ready to act.

But they come to a fatal point in the road.

They have usually narrowed the options to two, but they just can’t pull the trigger. And they really have no idea why.

I’ll tell you why I think leaders end up being indecisive.

One word: FEAR.

If you’re an indecisive thinker, drill down on your fear and you’ll find your future.

Don’t rest until you ask yourself “What am I afraid of?” Seriously, answer that. If you can’t, ask others. Go sit with a counsellor. Pray. Fast. Do what you need to do.

Keep asking. Don’t stop until you get a real, honest answer.

Then when you get an answer, take your fear to God in prayer until it no longer owns you.

Great leadership isn’t the absence of fear, it’s the courage to push through it.

Figuring out your fear and pushing through it will kill your indecision for good.

Great leadership isn't the absence of fear, it's the courage to push through it. Click To Tweet

4. Underthinking

I put this last because I think it’s a problem in the church, but because the church is dominated by overthinkers, most would criticize anyone who underthinks.

Sure, sometimes leadership is poor because leaders have underthought an issue – or underprayed it.  But like I said, that doesn’t often happen.

Do you think Paul pre-thought the explosion of the early church through to its conclusion before he started out on his first mission trip? Nope. He just went, and was blown away by what God did.

If you really sit down and talk to successful (and faithful) leaders, they will tell you they are the most surprised at what happened. All they did was start. They knew they didn’t quite know what they were doing, but they acted while everyone else sat in a boat and watched someone else walk on water.

Entrepreneurial business leaders are often more likely to underthink things, but I still applaud their efforts. And a surprising number of times, they go on to succeed anyway.

In the church world, few have underthought their future. Far too many have underacted on it.

If you really sit down and talk to successful (and faithful) leaders, they will tell you they are the most surprised at what happened. All they did was start. Click To Tweet

What’s Your Next Step?

Normally this is where the blogger-type-person says “what about you, what do you think?” and “leave a comment” (which you can certainly do).

But today I want to challenge you to work through this.

Seriously. Which kind of thinker are you?

And then consider taking this to your team or board. Because the truth is as much as you have a bias toward kind of thinking that sabotage your leadership, so does your organization.

There is a ‘group think’ that has developed among your organization that shapes your culture.

Do you generally overthink or underthink?

Are you indecisive?

Does fear rule you?

Are you trigger happy with undigested thoughts?

Work this through, and we’ll all be better off. So will our organization and the people we lead.

That’s what I’m going to do.

(Okay, now you can leave a comment….)


  1. who cares on September 14, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    I like your thinking… I wish others would think

  2. Chuck on March 27, 2015 at 9:11 am

    I have to wonder though if we risk painting with some very broad brushstrokes here, and with good intentions. However, I think that a good dose of context is in order. Context not regarding your statements, but regarding when and how we need to think more or think less…. Proverbs 3:5-6 warns us to trust in God and not to lean on our own understanding. However, just do a search on the word “discern” and its conjugations and you’ll see tons of references where the Lord rewards wisdom (Joselph, Moses, Solomon, and others). This isn’t contradictory…it’s contextual. And it in no way invalidates anything you said, at all…it just calls for an added layer of discernment. (Oops, did I say that?? LOL)

  3. Why churches are not growing? | Cod Africa on August 5, 2014 at 2:55 am

    […] to debate issues.Effective leaders add one more component. They act.Most church leaders I know overthink and underact. If you acted on even a few more of your good ideas, you could possible be twice as effective in a […]

  4. […] church leaders I know overthink and underact. If you acted on even a few more of your good ideas, you could possibly be twice as effective in a […]

    • Chaplain Mike on December 9, 2019 at 10:02 am

      I agree about the overthinking aspect of “Under-leadership”. In today’s uncertain, complex, ambiguous, and sometimes volatile world, the dynamics of our church environment changes almost monthly, if not more frequently than that. Over-thinking strategies and contingencies often brings about decisions a month too late to be effective.

      Many successful organizations are turning to tactical thinking as much as strategic thinking – how we make small in-flight adjustments to arrive at our original destination, and yet compensate for the daily change in wind direction and velocity. Pilots have to steer around weather, wildland firefighters must accommodate for changes in weather, terrain, and fuel types, medical personnel must change course in response to rapid patient changes in condition. These professions successfully keep their mission at the forefront but rarely arrive at their destination with the same strategy and tactics that they formed with their original assessment of the situation.

      The dynamics of our church environment can change rapidly as well. These conditions must allow for rapid and responsive thinking to accommodate the conditions that the people in our churches and the areas that our churches influence, bringing about positive and eternal changes in their lives. The flexible shall not be broken.

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