5 Shifts Every Leader Needs to Figure Out To Lead into the Future

What got you here won’t get you there.

As much as you know that’s true, especially as you think about the new reality ahead, there’s probably something inside you that resists that.

I promise you there’s something inside me that resists the axiom.

Here’s what goes on in my head as I think about what got me here not getting me there…

  • But I’ve done well in the past…can’t that approach just work again?
  • I don’t know whether I have the energy to rethink everything again.
  • If I can get incremental results doing what I’m doing now, isn’t that good enough?

Can you relate?

Of course, as soon as I hear myself think those thoughts I realize that’s a terrible way to lead. In light of the massive distortion we’ve all been through, what helped you make progress in the past as a leader probably won’t work as effectively in the future.

But the resistance to change is real.

Coming out of the pandemic, the years ahead will be years of big change for almost everyone: church leaders and business leaders included.

So what shifts do you need to make to ensure you’re up to the challenge?

Here are five things every leader has to figure out to lead well moving forward. Master these, and the future and the change it demands will be much easier to navigate.

1. Openness

When things don’t go the way you planned in leadership, it’s easy to grow more closed, rather than more open.

On the one hand, openness to new ideas, new approaches, different perspectives, and fresh thinking would logically seem like the obvious thing to do.

But emotionally, staying open can be the hardest thing to do as a leader.

There are two reasons why you’ll close yourself off to new strategies unless you stop yourself.

First, you’re already overwhelmed, discouraged, and defeated. And when that happens, it’s easy to circle back to what you know, or to what worked. This isn’t entirely bad, but it’s not sufficient. Sure, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but simply repeating what’s bringing you diminishing returns is a bad idea.

The second reason you’ll resist staying open to new ideas is that you’re already confused. Trying new things can seem too risky, even more confusing, and complex.

For those reasons and more, a lot of leaders do the opposite of what they should do when facing uncertainty—they become more closed, not more open.

It’s not that they’ll never open up. They will. But often only after everything is collapsing.

That’s what happens whenever people hit rock bottom: you suddenly become open.

And by that time, so much damage has been done it’s often too late.

Staying open in the midst of change, stagnation, and decline and changing along the way is a much better approach.

2. Resilience

One of my favorite definitions of success is getting up one more time than you were knocked down.

That’s a decent working metaphor for resilience as well. Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from difficulties. Lately, there have been so many difficulties.

What makes you resilient?

The factors vary, but some staples for resilience include:

  • An optimistic outlook. As ‘pie in the sky’ as that may sound, it’s hard to lead from pessimism.
  • Proper rest. It’s amazing how a good night’s sleep changes so much.
  • Friends. Leadership is often lonely, but it doesn’t have to be.
  • A life outside of work. Working all the time ironically decreases your productivity.
  • Faith and Belief. Meaning and purpose make a big difference.

The good news is all of these are in your control.

The easiest place to start is to get some rest. Why not begin there tonight?

3. Agility

The best kind of leadership style in uncertainty is agile leadership.

Agile leadership is flexible leadership, the ability to pivot and change not just once, but as often as changing conditions warrant.

When the future is unpredictable, agility is ability. Flexibility is a superpower.

The reason agility is so important is that a crisis means there are no clear answers and no immediate end in sight. Which is exactly why it’s called a crisis, not a problem.

Problems can be solved. Crises have to be managed. Daily.

As we move into the year ahead, it looks like crisis management will be a skill set required of every leader as we head into an unpredictable future.

4. Emotional Health

As a leader (or as a human), you are only as healthy as you are emotionally healthy.

Church leaders who claim to be spiritually healthy but are emotionally unhealthy, aren’t healthy.  Ditto with business leaders who claim to be great at what they do—a lack of emotional health causes a lot of collateral damage and ultimately can lead to collapse.

My journey to becoming more emotionally healthy took years and involved a lot of prayer, counseling, coaching, and feedback.

Pete Scazzero’s work on emotional health for leaders has been game-changing for so many leaders, including me. If you want an introduction to Pete’s work, here’s my latest conversation with him.

5. The Stockdale Paradox

Let’s finish up by going back to what Jim Collins calls Stockdale Paradox, one of the principles that a lot of leaders talked about early on in the crisis.

As you may remember, Jim Stockdale was an American Vise Admiral captured and imprisoned during the Vietnam War. He was held and tortured for seven years.

Stockdale said the first people to die in captivity were the optimists, who kept thinking things would get better quickly and they’d be released. “They died of a broken heart,” Stockdale said.

Instead, Stockdale argued, the key to survival was to combine realism and hope.  In Stockdale’s words:

“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end–-which you can never afford to lose–-with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

That, essentially, is your job in crisis leadership. The greatest leaders confront the brutal facts but never lose hope.

What does it look like to lead well in the 21st century?

Few things are more important in leadership than us taking moments to pause and reflect.

That is why World Vision has partnered up with Krish Kandiah to create this interactive tool to ask yourself the critical questions and take stock of where you are as a leader and how you are doing.

Let this guide prepare you for the season ahead so you can be the leader your community needs.

Download your Leadershift Guide TODAY!

What Qualities Are Getting You Through?

What qualities are getting you through these tough times? Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Shifts Every Leader Needs to Figure Out To Lead into the Future


  1. Jeff Spring on November 23, 2021 at 9:55 am

    Thank you! Your insights are very helpful in changing times. We must be able to adapt to seasons. Can’t open new doors with old keys. Growth of any kind requires change.

  2. Ruth C. James on November 23, 2021 at 9:01 am

    This article certainly addresses the changes that impacted my life as a leader. Not being technically savvy, people were placed in my life to take up the slack, but still allowed me to be a participant. The willingness to be a team player and adaptable to change are two of my most strongest traits. Therefore, striving to be an effective leader propels me to be a listen to others on my team and have the willingness to buy in when it propels us to improve and meet our goals in a positive manner! As I close, the tool I must often employ is to make sure the moral of those I lead is kept in tact. I learned in college,”if the moral of those you lead are high, their productivity is high! Thanks for sharing!

  3. D’Arcy Miller on November 22, 2021 at 5:18 pm

    All of us have experienced the pandemic the past two years and many have been overwhelmed with the changes that have taken place in the world and in their lives. Many changes have taken place and somethings will never be the same again , therefore, an effective leader must be able to adapt to openness and change for planning and growth. An effective leader must be willing to accept the change by exhibiting new ideas, strategies, perspectives and develop new and different ways of thinking and handling situations. The renewing of the mind is a necessary part of Openness.

  4. Hosea Nelson Kyasooka on November 22, 2021 at 12:48 pm

    I attended ARC conferences in USA at Rick Warren’s church and heard him say:You must be willing to change and they had changed worship in their services so many times!!!
    I am the senior Pastor of Grace Fellowship Kampala and having attended ARC conferences and heard testimonies of other pastors on church growth saying:To grow your church you need leaders and if a leader cannot lead at least two people or influence them,they are not leaders.
    I started Sunday school leaders as Moses’s father in law advised Moses:Exodus 18:14-27.Most of my leaders have failed this leadership advice because they do not want to change and there is no way that a church can grow without strong leaders.
    It is true that you cannot put new wine in an old wine skin or patches which are old in a new cloth:Luke 5:36-39.
    That is why as leaders,we need the Holy Spirit to guide us and inspire us.
    Thank you very much for this article and the comments.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 22, 2021 at 3:56 pm

      Thank you Hosea. You’re right…leadership is about influence.

    • Betty Wilson on November 22, 2021 at 11:09 pm

      Since COVID-19 things have definitely changed. Some changes are good and some changes were not so good. In order to lead you must be open to new ideas and change. A leader must be honest, trustworthy, be of good character, be responsible, and be passionate in her service to others. What helps me to move forward in my service to others in my leadership, is the “Serenity Prayer”.

  5. Noah on November 22, 2021 at 11:41 am

    Jesus’ comment to the Pharisees in Luke 5:36-39 comes to mind. In response to their criticism about the disciples not fasting like they did, Jesus talked about patches for clothes, and skins for wine. Essentially, old practices do not fit new seasons, inside or out, even though people prefer to stay in the tried and true, familiar approaches to life. There’s a lot more to the context there, but lately that concept has been coming up a lot.

    How are my old habits keeping me from fully enjoying the new things that God is doing in me and my leadership? Even though the changes are inconvenient and challenge my thinking, isn’t better to walk with God into new seasons with new shoes, and to do so joyfully? This article helped me a lot, and the Jim Stockdale quote really stuck out to me.

    I’m praying to joyfully walk with God through difficult changes. May the Lord refresh our souls as we walk with Him “on the right paths,” wherever they take us.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 22, 2021 at 3:56 pm

      Noah, I love the desire for joy in the midst of it. Great goal!

  6. Bruce Hockersmith on November 22, 2021 at 11:20 am

    I’m reminded of the child who received a gift of pony excrement who remained ever the optimist. When asked why he was so happy, his reply was, “I’m sure there’s a pony here somewhere. Never give up hope.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 22, 2021 at 3:57 pm

      Ha ha ha. 🙂

  7. Rebecca Watkins on November 22, 2021 at 10:42 am

    Resilience most resonates for me. God has given us the full assurance that his “Word” is true. His truth gives me the determination to stand firm in my faith that when I’m knocked down I can get back up again.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 22, 2021 at 3:57 pm

      Truth right there Rebecca.

  8. JOHN on November 22, 2021 at 10:00 am

    Negative thoughts infiltrating the mind will cause an Abrupt change to most anything we put to Elevate Forward Progress

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 22, 2021 at 3:58 pm

      Changing your mind can change your life.

  9. Kathy Ives on November 22, 2021 at 9:12 am

    I am learning new things everyday. I am either reading a book that was written post covid or finding a new app or tool to increase my productivity. It keeps me feeling inspired

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 22, 2021 at 3:58 pm

      Learning is such a key to growth!

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