slowly imploding

There are few better friends for a leader than self-awareness.

You’ve seen leaders who think they’re doing great when, in fact, everyone around them begs to differ.

How do you not become that leader?

One of the best things you can do is monitor the signs of any pending crisis. And among all the things to watch, one of the best things you can monitor is your character.

After all, in leadership, your competency will take you only as far as your character can sustain you. Character, not competency, determines your capacity.

So how do you know the state of your character?

Here are five signs I’ve watched in my own life and seen in the lives of other leaders that help me determine if my character is in check or if it’s slowly imploding.

Your competency will take you only as far as your character can sustain you. Click To Tweet

1. There’s a growing gap between what you say publicly and how you live privately

Character rarely implodes suddenly. Instead, there’s almost always a slow erosion until eventually your character implodes.

Consequently, wise leaders keep an eye on any gaps between what they say publicly and how they live privately.

Quite obviously, this extends to hidden vices like drinking too much, porn use and the like.

But it goes deeper than that. There are socially acceptable ways Christian leaders self-medicate that should grab our attention (I wrote about them here).

Character rarely implodes suddenly. Instead, it's almost always a slow erosion. Click To Tweet

It also extends into any gap you see between your words and your deeds.

When you preach grace but snap at your wife, kids and staff, that’s a problem.

When you teach financial responsibility but your personal finances are a mess, that’s a problem.

When you say you care about people but you make zero time for anyone in need in your personal life, that’s an issue.

What’s the solution?

Never say publicly what you’re unwilling to live privately.

This is why people have had problems with preachers for years. Most people suspect preachers don’t live up to their talk. Often they’re wrong (I’m amazed by the integrity of many Christian leaders I meet), but sometimes they’re right, not because there are hidden vices, but because the talk is out of proportion to the walk.

So speak honestly from the front. Make sure your talk matches your walk. Be honest about any flaws you have, and speak from your weakness as much as your strength. If you want guidelines on how, I wrote about how to be appropriately transparent in this post.

And if you have a growing gap that needs to be addressed, address it. Get help. Tell a friend. Go see a counsellor. Get on your knees.

And in leadership, try to make sure that what you say publicly is how you live privately.

Any growing gap shows your character is slowly imploding.

Never say publicly what you're unwilling to live privately. Click To Tweet

2. Your emotions are inappropriate to the situation

A sure sign of something being wrong with your character is emotional responses that are disporportionate to a given situation.

You fly off the handle over small things.

You feel nothing when people tell you something sad or upsetting.

You can’t celebrate someone else’s success.

Those could be signs of burnout, or they could flag something deeper—a character issue.

Your character is at its best when Christ takes over the deepest parts of who you are–your heart, mind, soul and strength. And when he has control of these things, your reactions become much healthier.

You rejoice when people rejoice.

You mourn when they mourn.

You can celebrate someone’s success and not be jealous.

You feel compassion for someone when they’re down and don’t gloat or think they deserve it.

The only way my character stays at this level is if I submit my heart and life fully to Christ on a daily basis.

But when your emotions are disproportionate to the situation, it’s a sign of danger ahead.

3. You have less and less grace to give

When my character has been at its weakest, a sure sign is that grace is in short supply.

There’s nothing wrong with having high standards as a leader. There’s a tremendous amount wrong when those high standards cause you treat people like dirt.

Frankly, on a spiritual level, grace runs out in your life when God runs out in your life.

If you need more grace, you need more God.

If you have less and less grace to give, it’s a deep sign your character needs some serious work.

Grace runs out in your life when God runs out in your life. Click To Tweet

4. Your leadership has become about you

Great leaders serve people. They don’t believe people exist to serve them.

When your character begins to implode, you will forget that.

Usually at the heart of a character implosion is unresolved pain. And pain, by its nature, is selfish.

Think about it. If you hit your elbow in the next ten seconds, you will completely forget about this blog post and anything else going on in your life and focus only on the pain.

Why? Because pain is selfish.

If you’re a selfish leader, it’s because there’s unresolved pain in your life.

So get on your knees, see a counselor, get help.

When you resolve the pain, you’ll lead well again.

After all, when your leadership becomes all about you, you’ve stopped leading.

When your leadership becomes all about you, you've stopped leading. Click To Tweet

5. You keep justifying your bad actions and decisions

There’s a certain point in the journey where you realize there’s a problem but refuse to deal with it.

How do you know you’ve hit that point?

When you start justifying your bad behaviour and decisions.

You start saying and believing things like:

If you had this much pressure in your life, you’d do it too.

Nobody understand how lonely I am.

It’s impossible for me not to be this way given everything I’m carrying.

Well, believe that if you want to…but also believe that your complete implosion or erosion of authority is much closer than you think.

Leaders who justify their bad behaviour lose their authority to lead.

Conversely, leaders who recognize it and seek help almost always get better.

Leaders who justify their bad behaviour lose their authority to lead. Click To Tweet

Close the Gap Between Who You Are And Who You Want to Be

I have a short video series where I share five habits that have helped me work on my character, covering everything from my morning routine to how to avoid moral compromise on the road when you’re away from your family and the people you care about.

These 5 habits are designed to help you build a better character that will help shape your legacy.

The 5 habits are:

  1. An Intentional Morning/Evening Routine
  2. Scheduled Rest
  3. Password Sharing
  4. Monitoring Your Public Talk
  5. Rules for the Road

I would love to send you these 5 videos (for free).

You can sign up to receive them here!

What Are You Learning?

In the meantime, what are you learning about the collapse of character in leaders?

Any other signs you’d add to the list?

Scroll down and leave a comment.

5 Signs Your Character is Slowly Imploding

24 Comments

  1. online psychologist on April 10, 2021 at 6:07 am

    Thank you for the interesting article.
    I think it says everything right about these 5 signs. As a licensed psychologist, I can tell you, you should always get your thoughts in order. In this day you should not be afraid to go to a professional psychologist with your problems. Especially online psychology platforms with quite pleasant prices have gained popularity, which means that treatment has become even more affordable.

  2. Matt Waitley on February 20, 2021 at 1:15 am

    Thanks Carey, this was helpful. I have seen some of these signs in myself. It’s crazy how Satan plays on our emotions as Pastors and we begin focusing on our pain. I’m thankful for my wife. She has called me out at times on some of these things and has built me up. This is very important because our she knows me better than anyone and detects these flaws quickly as knows she can call me out. I’m thankful for a wife that loves me enough to tell me the truth about myself.

  3. Mark Canno on February 19, 2021 at 10:10 pm

    Great article! Very practical! You asked if we would add anything. I would humbly submit this thought. We call it, “Mailing it in.” I know a leader is in trouble when every sermon or lesson is a rehash of last year’s sermons. I’m all for revisiting great truth, but I know if I find myself thumbing through old notes just to find “something for tomorrow,” then I’m in trouble, and I need to step back and take and long look at what’s going on.

  4. Stephanie on February 19, 2021 at 9:59 am

    Hi Carey!

    Thank you so much for your timely message. As I seek a new church to serve, I have been reflecting on why I am leaving and whose ministry is it? Point four really hit a nerve and gives me focus for closure and new beginnings!

    I gain so much wisdom from your blog. Thank you.

  5. Richard on February 19, 2021 at 9:59 am

    So appreciate the call to have an authentic look at self with some practical steps on what to do afterwards. Thanks Carey. I missed this one the first time around – so glad you are still posting, podcasting, writing and leading.

  6. Lisa Carriere on February 19, 2021 at 9:14 am

    I suffered under toxic leadership in a ministry that could be exactly defined by all five characteristics in your post, Carey. I spoke up at times, but when no one listened, I began enabling the wrong behavior. I say that with a lot of regret. I now know the signs of internal character collapse. The hardest thing about it is that someone in free fall will not look inward. They will keep on making excuses and manipulating others to make themselves look good.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on February 19, 2021 at 9:50 am

      I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope this helps some leaders in free fall today.

  7. Mark Anderton on November 5, 2019 at 4:21 am

    Thank you. Recognizing the are symptoms helps us realize there is something wrong at the root. This article has helped me identify some of my own issues and grateful for the time to stop reflect and come back to the authority of God’s word.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 5, 2019 at 9:31 pm

      Glad to know it helped!

  8. John on November 2, 2019 at 8:09 am

    Hey Carey!

    I just want to thank you for the truth and great check list to do a check up. I’ve watched first hand, these things tank someone’s ability to continue to lead well. This is a check list that needs to be used at least quarterly by anyone who is serious about living people the right way. Thanks for doing such a great job!

  9. Mercedes on November 2, 2019 at 5:46 am

    Wonderful article!
    Not only for leader in churches, but rather for all true believers.
    Thank you, God bless you

  10. Cathy on September 23, 2018 at 8:30 pm

    Self awareness…. at 51 I have only just really be able to articulate or even understand this…. I had so many nods and yes moments in this article. I agree sometimes getting to self awareness is a LONG and arduous process as a first generation Christian. My medicine was (and I am sure still will be) lots of personal analysis and renewing of the mind, prayer and Bible. God help my kids be self aware at 25 not 50!

  11. Pam on September 23, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    Almost scrolled right past… Do I have time to read this today?…. so glad I did. Thank you Pastor Carey!

  12. Eric on September 22, 2018 at 11:56 am

    I disagree with number 4 (or perhaps it’s semantics.) for the following reason:
    Pain is a natural (and for the body, a physical) response to things that hurt you. Leprosy (when the nerves die) is what happens when your body doesn’t know it’s hurt and atrophying away….
    Bitterness, on the other hand, would be a better word instead of pain.

  13. Irene Allen on November 26, 2015 at 11:47 am

    A friend of mine who is worship Pastor JUST, and I mean just, stepped away from their ministry -altogether- because of the above named challenges in their life (With the exception of one. Number three.)

    I am suggesting this article be read by them a.s.a.p.

  14. Pastorjf on November 8, 2015 at 3:30 pm

    Excellent and challenging article!

  15. […] your leadership becomes all about you, you’ve stopped leading. careynieuwhof.com/2015/10/5-sign… via […]

  16. Prudence Musa Mabasa on October 29, 2015 at 6:11 am

    Thank You it was a real eye opener… What if you have no one around with time to get help from?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 29, 2015 at 6:33 am

      A best friend is a good start. As is confession and prayer with God. And it’s worth the travel to another town to see a counsellor. Best wishes!

      • Prudence Musa Mabasa on October 29, 2015 at 6:40 am

        I guess God it is thanks….

  17. Bart Wagner on October 26, 2015 at 9:51 pm

    Been there (I’m not saying I still don’t struggle or fail at times). But you are absolutely right – leaders who have been broken this way and then get healthy become better leaders. It was hard to hear I was slipping into these categories, but it was exactly what I needed to hear. It’s amazing how much more aware I am now. Humility is key. Excellent post!

  18. Derek Gillette on October 26, 2015 at 9:19 am

    I unfortunately found myself relating to nearly every point on this list. This is exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you Carey for being willing to bring the hard truths. It’s why I appreciate your blog so much.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 26, 2015 at 9:43 am

      Derek….thanks for your honesty. So many of us have been there. Recognizing it is the first step. Praying and cheering for you.

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