5 Reasons Leaders Lose Their Nerve When They Need It Most

Every leader battles their nerves.

By nature, leadership is going to require you to do things that push you past your comfort zone pretty much every day.

And in seasons leadership will push you further than you’ve ever gone. You’re a leader, so you have to make decisions few others ever have to make.

And-frankly—sometimes leaders lose their nerve.

You know you’ve lost your nerve as a leader when you just can’t find the courage to do what you know needs to be done. Your head tells you one thing, but your emotions disable your ability to do it.

Why does this happen to so many leaders? Why aren’t we more carefree, more risk-ready and more willing to try something? And what can we do about it?

Here are 5 reasons I’ve seen leaders lose their nerve. I also realize these are the factors at work in me when I’m tempted to pull back from doing what I know needs to be done.

fear; loss of nerve

1. Over-focusing on the possibility of failure

We all fear failure, but leaders who lose their nerve develop tunnel vision: they only see fear.

Leaders who successfully keep their nerve see the potential for failure (only fools don’t). But they go further. They pray. They strategize around it (and good strategy is immensely helpful in ensuring success).

But then they do one more thing: they muster up the courage to push through that fear. If fear’s a big thing for you, here’s a recent post that outlines 5 signs fear is getting the best of you as a leader.

Leadership – and especially ministry – attracts its share of people pleasers. The problem with leading change is that you end up disappointing people.

If you are unwilling to be unpopular – even for a season – you will lose your nerve and fail to lead change effectively.

2. A belief they don’t have what it takes

This is a hard one. Somewhere along the line you develop a belief about yourself. And fundamentally, you believe you have what it takes, or you don’t.

Believing you have what it takes is not a cocky arrogance or the naive belief that everything you touch turns to gold, but a (hopefully) quiet confidence that you can do this with God’s help.

Many leaders struggle with insecurity (I blogged about that here and again in this post.)

The truth is, if you can push past your fear, and you lead with some deep faith and some wisdom around how to lead people, you do have what it takes.

If you can get past your insecurity, you’ll be surprised at how much courage, wisdom and ability God will provide you.

I love the way Henry Ford put it: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

3. An obsession with disappointing people 

Nobody likes to disappoint people, but a surprising number of leaders, especially church leaders, struggle with wanting to be liked.

I won’t say a lot more about it here because I wrote about the problems with likability and leadership in this post, but people-pleasing leaders will rarely lead with the courage the situation requires.

If you can make one shift in this area, make this one: instead of worrying about disappointing people, worry about disappointing God.

I realize, theologically, that God is not disappointed with you. But if you struggle with disappointment, directing your disappointment somewhere healthy is a good thing.

So what’s the best way to ensure you stay faithful to your calling and avoid disappointing God? Stay on target with your mission; do what it takes to accomplish it.

4. A forced comfort with the status quo

Another way leaders lose their nerve is to convince themselves that the status quo isn’t that bad.

We’re doing better than some other churches, you tell yourself. I can live with this, you think.

Ever heard yourself say these things? Ask yourself if you really believe them. You probably don’t.

Saying I can live with this over and over again may be a sign you’re dying as a leader.

So don’t lose your nerve. Navigate the change you are called to bring about.

5. The inability to get past the pain of past failures

Once bitten, twice shy. Everyone’s got their scars from past battles. But failure once doesn’t mean failure forever.

Maybe your idea wasn’t bad at all. Maybe your strategy just needs rethinking.

Or maybe you did colossally fail.

So what? Get over it. Get on with it.

So many leaders lose their nerve because they remember how much failure cost them in the past.

Keep thinking like this and you are one step away from becoming that person who says We tried that once…doesn’t work around here.

Talk to a friend, see a counselor, pray through it. Get past the pain and on with the future.

Which of the five reasons leaders lose their nerve resonate most with you?

What other reasons do you see? I’d love to hear from you!

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5 Reasons Leaders Lose Their Nerve When They Need It Most

13 Comments

  1. Rod on November 4, 2016 at 5:53 am

    Thanks for this. I needed it. Officiating a very hard funeral today. Great opportunity to share God’s love with many.

  2. Wes Parker on November 3, 2016 at 11:10 am

    Thankful God chiseled off much of my people-pleaser edges before I became a lead pastor. Often feel that pull back to it though so this is a helpful reminder of how hamstringing it can be to leadership.

  3. […] “Every leader battles their nerves. By nature, leadership is going to require you to do things that push you past your comfort zone pretty much every day.” Leaders often lose their cool when they need to keep it—good stuff from Carey. […]

  4. Tom Blair on March 14, 2015 at 10:10 am

    a good word for this time…

  5. Denn Guptill on March 9, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    Good word Carey, I needed this right now.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on March 10, 2015 at 5:54 am

      Thanks Denn!

      • Denn Guptill on March 10, 2015 at 6:36 am

        Looking forward to seeing you in Moncton on the 20th

        • Carey Nieuwhof on March 11, 2015 at 6:13 am

          Donna be great!

          • Denn Guptill on March 11, 2015 at 6:28 am

            My name’s not Donna, but thanks for the vote of confidence.



          • Carey Nieuwhof on March 11, 2015 at 6:31 am

            Auto-correct. Denn! Thank you. So sorry! My name gets misspelled all the time and it drives me nuts. 🙂



          • Denn Guptill on March 11, 2015 at 6:45 am

            figured you were going for Gonna.



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