5 Significant Signs You’ve Stopped Growing as a Leader

You’ve seen leaders who have stopped growing. It’s not a pretty sight.

If you’ve stopped growing as a leader, you’ve stopped leading well.

But often, the leaders who have stopped growing don’t realize it’s happened. After all, the people who lack self-awareness are never aware they lack it.

So…how do you know you’ve stopped growing as a leader? How would you know that’s you?

That’s where curiosity can save us. If you’re curious enough to wonder whether you might be stagnating in your growth as a leader, there’s hope. Those who ask the question and actually want to know the answer will grow.

The stakes are high because if you continue to stagnate long enough, you’ll soon peak as a leader and head into decline. Leaders who have peaked face their own unique set of challenges. I outline 7 signs you’ve peaked as a leader here.

Sadly, too many leaders stop growing long before they stop leading.  When that happens, they become leaders in title only.

So, in the hopes of staying fresh, alive and vibrant as leaders, here are 5 significant signs ls you’ve stopped growing.  The good news is if you jump on them quickly enough, reversal can be quick and effective.

stopped growing

1. You’re more interested in answers than questions

Hey, every leader needs answers. I get that.

But I also know that in seasons where my growth as a person and leader have slowed, one sure sign is that I only want answers; questions start to annoy me or bore me. And that’s a terrible dynamic.


Because breakthroughs are always preceded by questions, not answers.

Questions that threaten that status quo. Questions that probe for things overlooked by others. Questions that imagine what no one thought possible.

The excellence of your leadership is shaped less by the answers you give and more by the questions you ask.

2. You sift through new evidence only to back up your existing opinion

Too many leaders, and even organizations, suffer from confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias involves searching through new evidence mainly to find further evidence for your already-formed opinion. For sure, we all do this from time to time. Guilty as charged.

But for growing leaders, regularly sifting through the evidence should lead to new conclusions, insights and perspectives.

If your insights are wrong, correct them. If there are better perspectives, adopt them.

The implications for your team are deep on this one.

If your eyes aren’t truly open as a leader, you’ll never see the future or seize it.

3. You spend almost all of your time doing what you like

I’m all for finding and working in your sweet spot as a leader. Every leader should discover what they’re best at and spend a good chunk of their time in it. I couldn’t agree more.

But you should spend all of your time in your sweet spot? As in 100%?

Maybe, maybe not.

Here’s why. You can grow in your sweet spot, getting better and better at what you do best, which is great.

But being in your sweet spot every day doesn’t always stretch you. In fact, it can start to feel comfortable…too comfortable.

Take that to it’s logical conclusion and you might discover this: spending all your time in your sweet spot can turn your sweet spot into a dead spot.

To keep growing, you need to tackle difficult projects, working out new leadership muscles and pushing you to think and grow beyond your current level.

Often tackling something new (even for a few hours a week) can do that.

What’s taking you out of your comfort zone? Chances are that’s where the growth is.

4. Your expertise has started working against you

Most leaders have a quiet desire to become an expert at something. Stick with it long enough and you’ve got a good shot at it.

Expertise, after all, is more than just training. More often than not, it involves a lot of reps.

But being an expert can make you cautious. It can also make you proud. And it can make you conservative.

Having worked so hard to achieve what you’ve achieved, you’re not as open to new ideas as you once were. You simply want to conserve what you’ve built.

Conserving what you’ve built and building nothing new as a result is a short cut to irrelevance.

Great leaders who master a field over a life time are always interested in new ideas, new theories and new insights because they know it make them and their discipline better.

If you want to build an expertise that lasts into the next generation, remember this: the more open you are to fresh perspectives, the more deeply your hard-earned expertise will resonate into the next generation.

5. You’ve surrounded yourself with people just like you

Most of us in leadership work hard to build a team we love. And that’s great. Great leaders build great teams.

But if you’re not careful, over time your team might start to look and sound a lot like you. That’s a warning sign. Don’t get me wrong, having a team that’s committed to the vision and owns the vision is a good thing.

But every leader also needs a team that can challenge the process, challenge the strategy and even challenge you.

Don’t get me wrong. I think aligned teams are a key reason leaders succeed…and you absolutely need an aligned team (I outline what I’ve learned about alignment here).

But if your team looks like you, sounds like you and acts like you all the time, your vision will never get sharper, your strategy may never become more effective, and you will miss opportunities.

Bottom line: if your team looks just like you, it’s time to change up the team.

So what should you do?

Try to keep people around you who are committed to the same mission and vision but who are younger than you, a different gender than you, and who have a different background than yours.  People with different backgrounds who are committed to the same vision always accomplish it with greater fervour and effectiveness.

Start Growing Again

The best investment you can make as a leader is to invest in yourself.

That’s why I wrote my latest book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences. 

In Didn’t See It Coming, I talk about how to keep growing as a leader and as a person. I outline how issues like cynicism, moral compromise, pride and other challenges show up in your life. And I show you how to combat them and beat them.

You can pick up your copy of Didn’t See It Coming here (hardcover, AudioBook or Kindle) and once again (or for the first time) close the gap between who you are and who you want to be.


What do you think?

What do you think?

What’s a significant sign or two for you that a leader has stopped growing?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Significant Signs You’ve Stopped Growing as a Leader


  1. Salauddin Ahmed on August 19, 2020 at 2:56 am

    From the portion start growing again is the nicest part from me. How could you able to be a positive writer? I really want to be positivist writer like you. I’m going to buy the book “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences” as soon as possible.

    Overall, I love the entire blog. I tried to write on it also: You may take a glance.


  2. ANYAORAH EMMANUEL on September 21, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    Thanks for the leadership info.
    In my view adding to all you have revealed, one sign of knowing a stagnated leader is when he has no new message to pass across to his followers. In other words he keep rehearsing the same old message, without any new development.
    Life is never static.
    We must never be static in whatever God has placed in us or given to us!

  3. theartist on September 21, 2018 at 8:48 am

    Thanks Carey. In leadership, alignment is good-but when it morphs into a lot of “mini-mes” and “cookie cutter” reporoductions of it’s leader-monotonomy increases, fresh perspectives dies, and the ability o move forward stagnates. The “Paul and Timothy” illustrated is perhaps one of the BEST perspectives on avoiding such a tragedy that you speak of-because it is indeed happening where I worship

  4. Beau on September 19, 2018 at 9:06 pm

    Thank you for this! It was helpful. Curious about #5 with regard to surrounding yourself with people younger. Totally agree, but wondering if the omission of people older was intentional or just that it was not an exhaustive list.

    Best regards!

  5. Beau on September 19, 2018 at 9:05 pm

    Thank you for this! It was helpful. Curious about #5 with regard to surrounding yourself with people younger. Totally agree, but wondering if the omission of people older was intentional or just that it’s was not an exhaustive list.

    Best regards!

  6. Bob’s Links – Oct 10-16, 2016 | Bob's Links on October 17, 2016 at 8:59 am

    […] 5 Significant Signs You’ve Stopped Growing as a Leader (Carey Nieuwhof) “You’ve seen leaders who have stopped growing. It’s not a pretty site. If you’ve stopped growing as a leader, you’ve stopped leading well.” […]

  7. Hugh Plappert on October 10, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    Is there a personal review guide worksheet that we could give to team members to evaluate their own leadership growth?

  8. Chuck on October 10, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    Awesome piece overall. I’d ask though, is it time to sharpen your pencil a bit? Maybe trim your brush? Your strokes are getting a tad wide. Point #5 has my attention… While I totally get where you’re coming from, I wonder if it should be fine tuned just a tad. I am prone to pointing out Philippians 2:2 and I Peter 3:8 (to say the least) and saying that like-mindedness is a very good thing.

    While I see that perhaps dwelling on that like-mindedness or deliberately seeking it out to avoid things like accountability, conflict, or an alternative viewpoint may not be health, I’d be a little hesitant to broadly say that surrounding yourself with like-minded folks is necessarily a bad thing.

    Again, I see what you’re saying…and you do make the point that alignment is good…still…..

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 10, 2016 at 8:49 pm

      Thanks Chuck. Good point for sure. Like minded as far as alignment goes for sure. Different as far as trying to get fresh perspectives on the problem…but aligned for sure.

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