4 Types Of Thinking That Will Sabotage Your Leadership

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

Add a crisis or instability into the mix, and your thinking can easily get tripped up into some well worn but dangerous directions.

After all, thinking is a big slice of what any leader is paid to do.

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

How you think determines how well you lead.

I’ve just been keeping notes on the kinds of thinking to which various leaders default. So this post isn’t scientifically about anyone, but if you’re like me, as you read through this list, specific people will come to mind.

I’d encourage you to focus on your own thinking, rather than theirs.

Nobody Intends to Sabotage Themselves

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:

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 jump into a webinar and come away with three more. Add a dozen podcasts, blog posts, 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).

When you don’t digest, reconcile or synthesize competing ideas as a leader, chaos ensues.

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 most leaders 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.

Thinking is a big slice of what any leader is paid to do. Here are four ways the way you think can sabotage your leadership.


  1. paul njenga on February 26, 2021 at 6:10 am


  2. Bob Wiseman on February 22, 2021 at 10:11 am

    Where do you draw the line between “overthinking” and “strategic planning”?

    Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s a lot of “over-thinking” that takes place, but I think the lack of over-thinking can also lead to under-thinking and impulsivity. And a lot of headaches can be avoided if one properly thinks through and addresses possible variables.

    For example, in my church, I ask three questions:
    1. Is it beneficial to my ministry? In other words, things like vision, mission, goals… but even stewardship of my resources.

    2. Is it good for the culture of the church? I can’t tell you how many awesome ideas I think up on my drive to the office that fizzle out when I think of the headache that will come from the people who vehemently dislike what I would do. Things like games for youth group, or fundraisers. If you’re unnecessarily pissing people off, then you’re not going to be in ministry for very long.

    3. Is it Biblical? Does the Bible directly speak about change, ideas, or things I am wanting to accomplish?

    Perhaps you can call “over-thinking” by another word: diplomacy. Good leaders are diplomatic. They understand the various relationships with people inside their organizational structure and how to manage emotions, expectations, and opinions.

    And if you’re not considering how people will react, how your budget plays into a decision, what range of outcomes you might have, etc. then, frankly, you’re a terrible leader and you should go bag groceries.

    The Church needs less impulsive thinkers. We need people who think relationally, vocationally, and Biblically.

  3. run 3 on February 20, 2021 at 3:12 am

    thanks for sharing the information, it was helpful to me.

  4. Mandie Chapman on February 18, 2021 at 9:26 am

    Hi Carey! I am creating a website that will be a bridge between the Church and the unchurched. The main idea is to connect the personality of a person to the culture of a church. I will advertise in secular places to help people find hope and joy. I would LOVE the opportunity to chat with you for a few minutes to see if you have any tips or advice. Here is a brochure. Blessings to you! ~Mandie

  5. games mod apk on February 6, 2021 at 11:42 am

    that’s interesting

  6. ANDAZA HEZEKIAH on February 5, 2021 at 12:11 pm

    This hit me “take your fear to God in prayer until it no longer owns you.” Somewhere earlier you wrote about praying, fasting, and or taking time to seek counsel, doing whatever it takes to ensure fear is dealt with. Is there a remote possibility though that fear may have become so enmeshed in a leader’s personality that they may not even know that it is what has plagued a cycle of halted decisions? I cringe at the thought that fear may be disguised under a myriad of high-sounding reasons resulting in a cycle that leaves the individual loathing themselves later on for nonaccomplishment. This may be my story in some respects.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 7, 2021 at 7:50 am

      Andaza…this is really worth unpacking. I think fear is a much bigger companion for most of us than we realize. I would encourage you to explore it. And yes, fear disguises itself under high-sounding reasons. Bang on.

  7. gary whittaker on February 5, 2021 at 9:20 am

    I am an undigested thinker. I am blessed with so much input. But I tend to move on before putting it into well-considered action steps. I see this pattern in two groups I lead. I need to commit to fully integrating what the Lord has said,and prayerfully and in faith move forward with measurable actions. Thank you. My first step is to admit this to my co-leader, and pray.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 7, 2021 at 7:51 am

      Gary…that’s great self-awareness. I find having blank space on the calendar to think, sift, jot notes, reconcile and really plan helps too.

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