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7 Signs You May Have Peaked As A Leader

No leader wants to peak.

And even fewer leaders wants to peak early. I suppose at some point we all peak. But, personally, I’m shooting for that to happen at age 85…or 90.

Yet, peaking happens regularly in leadership; leaders who were great stop being great, even years (or decades) before they retire.

How does that happen?

And–even more significantly–how would you know if that’s you?

Peaking as a leader rarely happens overnight. It happens over a season or a few years.

But there are signs. Ironically, the leaders who peak are often the last to know it.

Here are 7 signs you may have peaked as a leader.

peaked as a leader

1. You’ve stopped learning and want to be the teacher

Being a great leader is really about being a great learner. Great leaders learn daily.

You learn about yourself, about others, about trends. You stretch. You grow.

There’s something inside most of us that asks “When will I be done?”

The answer: never.

Leaders who peak stop learning, and instead, want to become the teacher.

There’s actually nothing wrong with teaching others.

It’s just that the teaching of truly great leaders resonates because they’re still learning. Daily.

2. You feel entitled

When you start out in leadership, you realize you’re entitled to pretty much nothing. Everything has be to earned.

But success brings its privileges.

You might get an office, a parking space, a good salary (finally!), opportunities, perks and even the respect and admiration of your peers.

The best leaders never feel entitled to any of that.

In fact, they consistently use the perks of leadership in service of a mission greater than themselves.

And they do one more thing: they hold it all loosely, realizing that the privileges of leadership came and will one day go.

How do you know whether you’re starting to feel entitled?

Easy…check your gratitude.

Leaders who feel entitled to everything are grateful for nothing.

When perks become an expectation, you’ve peaked.

3. Your stories are about what you did, not what you’re doing or are going to do

Are all your best stories from 5 years ago…or 20 years ago?

It may be a sign you’ve peaked as a leader.

Sure…great things may have happened in the past, but the point is we’re all moving into the future. That’s where leaders take people.

Leaders who have a future are more excited about the future than they are about the past.

Learn from the past. Just don’t live in it.

4. Your heroes and cultural references are from the past

Someone once told me that a person’s favourite music tends to be from when they were 23.

If you’re over 40, you may not like what you hear on the radio these days. But the real danger happens when you don’t know what’s going on in culture anymore, or if you can’t even identify 5 of the artists on today’s Top 40 charts.

When a 23 year old talks about X Ambassadors and you’re wondering what country they’re referencing, or they talk about the Weeknd and you correct their spelling and start listing off what you’re doing on Saturday, they’re less likely to take what you have to say about anything seriously.

I’m not into 50 year olds wearing skinny jeans and pretending they’re 20 (nobody thinks you’re 20 anyway, by the way), but growing older doesn’t mean you have to grow irrelevant.

Staying aware of today’s culture makes you better at leading people in today’s culture.

5. You’ve got instant reasons why new ideas won’t work

Once you’ve done a decade or two in leadership, you’ve made a few decisions.

You might even have a track record of success.

The challenge with success is that it’s easy to become protective of it. It’s easy to fall for the lie that what got you here will get you there.

Almost certainly, at some point, it won’t.

If you’re peaking as a leader, you will end up holding onto your ‘successful’ ideas and ignoring others.

New ideas almost always contain the key to the future. Old ideas usually contain a key to the past.

This doesn’t mean old ideas aren’t worth hanging onto. It just means they won’t get you as far as they once did.

6. You’ve lost your hustle

You know what’s wonderful about the best leaders? They hustle.

Doesn’t matter how successful they are, how old they are or how long they’ve been at it. They hustle.

If you’ve lost your hustle, you’ve lost more than you think.

7. You’ve stopped asking questions

The best leaders ask the best questions.

Leaders who’ve peaked swap out asking for answering.

They love to be the expert. They think they’ve got it figured out.

When you stop asking questions, you’ve stopped learning. Inevitably, you’ll stop leading.

Two Antidotes Against Peaking

So now you see the signs, but what are the antidotes?

I see two: humility and curiosity.

Humility will keep you from feeling entitled or resting on your laurels. It will keep you open and ready to learn from others.

And curiosity will keep you fresh. It will keep you asking questions, keep you learning and keep you listening.

Together, humility and curiosity will keep you leading.

Grow Yourself

Of all the mysteries we try to crack as leaders, the mystery of leading ourselves is one of the greatest. It’s the key to avoiding stagnation.

That’s why I’m so excited about my new book, Didn’t See It Coming. It’s all about overcoming the 7 greatest challenges everyone experiences, and no one expects.

One of those challenges is irrelevance. So many leaders stop learning, stop growing, and lose touch. I cover how that happens and what to do about it in the book.

Jud Wilhite, Lead Pastor of Central Church, Las Vegas, calls Didn’t See It Coming “the most important book you’ll read all year.”

Brian Houston and Andy Stanley call it ‘powerful.’

Check it out for yourself and learn more here.

What Do You Think?

Want more?

In this piece, I wrote about 12 often overlooked practices great leaders develop that poor leaders don’t.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you.

What are some other signs that you’ve peaked as a leader? Scroll down and leave a comment.

26 Comments

  1. Helmut on October 9, 2018 at 8:44 pm

    Excellent overview. However, your perception on teachers stop learning and therefore are disqualified as leader is not true in all cases. I am a retired teacher but still want to learn, that is why I have subscribed to your email. Helmut

  2. Timothy on October 7, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    Thanks Carey for the wonderful insights for effective leadership in the kingdom of God.

    • Steve Miller on October 7, 2018 at 5:07 pm

      Very good insights
      I may have pitched a tent for a day or two on one or two of them, but I won’t build a house on any of them.

      • Joylet on October 10, 2018 at 12:09 pm

        This is very helpful to me.Keeping learning .
        His bless you.

  3. […] outline 7 signs you’ve peaked as a leader here, and 7 signs it’s time to move on in this […]

  4. […] outline 7 signs you’ve peaked as a leader here, and 7 signs it’s time to move on in this […]

  5. Stanley Scism on August 17, 2017 at 11:01 am

    I want to credit you. How do ypu pronounce yoir last name?

  6. Carmen Aguila-Rendon on May 11, 2017 at 4:51 am

    Excellent….wouldn’t add or change anything you said. Passing the knowledge along to leaders I work with.

  7. Joe McFadden on July 16, 2016 at 3:39 pm

    Hi Carey! Nice post. I agree with most of this. I wonder about the 2 antidotes. While I agree with them there is one I would add. Healthy relationships. Books such as The Relational Soul, The Power of The Other and many more reinforce the need for healthy relationships and show how our potential is capped quickly without others. This could be a sign (not being in one) as well as an antidote. Although my view may be skilled as a Groups Pastor that sees “Community” as the answer to almost everything.

  8. Ralph Mayhew on January 15, 2016 at 6:25 pm

    Great stuff. Thanks Carey! Curiosity is such a key element in leadership don’t you think. It’s a combination between eagerness and teachability. I think another sign is needing to control everything/everyone. What do you think?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 16, 2016 at 6:26 am

      Thanks Ralph. I agree that needing to control everyone/everything is a sign of bad leadership for sure. I’m not sure it’s a sign you’ve peaked, as I know leaders who have tried to control things throughout their leadership. But for sure it’s a bad sign!

  9. […] 7 Signs You May Have Peaked As A Leader by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  10. Donald Webster on January 15, 2016 at 7:07 am

    Thank you Carey for the insight. I agree with everything, especially the “hustle”. To me hustle is how I measure passion for something. When I look up at that Cross and realize there is no greater gift than when a man gives his life for a friend it is almost overwhelming. It makes me want to follow Him.

  11. Andrew Babel on January 14, 2016 at 9:21 pm

    “Humility will keep you from feeling entitled, or from learning from others, or resting on your laurels.” …humility will keep you from learning from others? Please explain.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 15, 2016 at 7:21 am

      Sure. Humility to me, is the key to so much. Ego says you deserve it, you know better, and you’re arrived. Humility says you’re fortunate, you have much to learn, and there is much left to do. Make sense?

      • Andrew Babel on January 15, 2016 at 10:15 am

        So it seems humility would HELP you learn from others.

  12. Leadership Roundup | Worship Links on January 14, 2016 at 4:02 pm

    […] Carey Nieuwhof lists seven signs that your best leadership days might be behind you: […]

  13. RWilliams on January 14, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    I think these are absolutely spot on! We are dealing with a situation with a staff member at our church right now who has, as this article calls it, “peaked” for sure. The key to being a disciple of Jesus is found in the definition… A disciple is a learner for life. Thanks Carey!

  14. joeyclyde on January 14, 2016 at 11:22 am

    Expanding on #6 “hustling” – I have found that when a leader loses touch with your customer-base – there quickly follows a slippery slope. The only way to know what your customers want and need is to pick up the phone and call. Many seasoned leaders forget this as part of their routine. And the longer you avoid it – the more difficult it is to engage. Hustling is that drive that keeps you connected and hungry. I’ve learned this fact the hard way but starting over has allowed me a new clarity in the fast moving changes that pass us by if we are not engaged daily.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 14, 2016 at 2:55 pm

      So glad you’re hungry. Great tip Joey. Thank you!

  15. Ed on January 14, 2016 at 8:15 am

    #8 these articles tick you off

    #9 a recurring and unfamiliar self doubt

    #10 to much pride to admit #9

  16. Jason Fitch on January 14, 2016 at 8:00 am

    Another fantastic read Carey! I know you run all your content through the “helpful filter” and I want you to know that your writing (and podcast) are truly helpful to me! Thank you.

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