5 Signs You’re Becoming an Irrelevant Leader

So how relevant are you as a leader?

Any idea how you’d answer that accurately?

You can debate how important relevance is all day long (and many do), but the truth is irrelevant leaders make almost no impact on the people or causes around them.

Why is that?

Well, it’s not about being current or cool. Relevance matters for one reason: it’s permission to speak into the culture. Our culture has a habit of not listening to people it deems irrelevant.

Relevance simply gains you a hearing. It determines whether or not people pay attention to you or whether they ignore you.

Relevance matters for one reason: it's permission to speak into the culture. Our culture has a habit of not listening to people it deems irrelevant. Click To Tweet

Relevance isn’t necessarily an age thing. You can be relevant at 65 and irrelevant at 25. It’s more a mindset than it is anything else.

One often ignored factor that can push you toward irrelevance is, paradoxically, success.

Leaders who are part of growing or large organizations are especially prone to irrelevance unless they guard against it.

In fact, as we’ve discussed here more than a few times, the great enemy of your future success is your current success because your success makes you conservative.

When you had nothing to lose, change was easy. Now that you have something to lose, change is that much harder.

Your past success doesn’t guarantee your future success.

So whether your organization has momentum or whether it’s losing steam, here are 5 signs you’re becoming an irrelevant leader.

Your past success doesn't guarantee your future success. The greatest enemy of your future success is your current success because success makes you conservative. Click To Tweet

1. You increasingly think most new ideas are bad ideas

Hey, it’s easy to resist new ideas. But if you think back, there was a time when you were likely really open to new ideas.

But as you get older and wiser, and you’ve got a way of doing things.

The human mind is great at preserving the status quo. You can think of 10 reasons why a new idea won’t work, and you and your team never hesitate to list them.

The leadership graveyard is filled with the bodies of leaders who say “We haven’t done it that way before.”

Not every new idea is a great idea, but embracing no new ideas is a terrible idea.

When was the last time you embraced a radical new idea? If you can’t answer that question, you’re already in trouble.

Not every new idea is a great idea, but embracing no new ideas is a terrible idea. Click To Tweet

2. The copyright dates on your resources are from another era

Have you checked the copyright date on what you’re currently reading/watching/listening to lately?

There’s nothing wrong the classics. Whether that’s books, movies or music. Wise leaders always learn from the past.

It’s one thing to learn from the past. It’s another to freeze in it.

Without thinking much about it, irrelevant leaders freeze in a certain year. You’ve walked into some offices and thought “Wow, it’s 1998 in here.”

You’ve seen some strategies at work and said to yourself, “This feels like 2005”.

If you hope to speak into the culture of today, you need to understand what’s happening today. So even if you prefer the past, study the present.

It's one thing to learn from the past. It's another to freeze in it. Even if you prefer the past, study the present. Click To Tweet

3. Everyone on your team is your age

This isn’t so much a problem if you’re twenty-two and just starting out. To have a young leadership team of idealistic people is an awesome thing.

Sure, some wisdom wouldn’t hurt, but still, the world often gets changed by young leaders on a mission.

But what happens is that twenty-year-olds eventually turn 30. Fast forward a bit, and everyone on your senior leadership team is in their mid-fifties.

That’s a big issue.

Left uncorrected, organizations tend to age with their leader.

As a leader in my fifties, I’ve had to be incredibly intentional about surrounding myself with leaders in their 20s and 30s, something that really energizes me.

You may not have the chemistry or familiarity with younger leaders that you do with your peers who have been through life with you, but renewing the leadership table with younger leaders is critical.

It’s easy for older leaders to think that younger leaders are too young to lead.

You were too, once. And someone took a chance on you anyway. And you did some of your best work then too, didn’t you?

Left uncorrected, churches tend to age with their senior leader. Click To Tweet

4. Change makes you tired

Change is difficult at the best of times, but if even the sound of change makes you tired, it’s a sign that you’re becoming irrelevant.

It’s normal to default to the status quo. We all do.

A few years ago, my dentist told me I needed at least five crowns. The thought of that made me feel tired and broke all at once.

I got a bit of the work done but then took a break.

One afternoon I was eating some cereal and I noticed something that didn’t feel like cereal in my mouth. It was half a molar.

Guess where I went the next day?

Too often, that’s exactly how we approach change in the church. We wait until something breaks, and then we’ll try to fix it.

That may work with a tooth, but it’s a terrible strategy for leaders (okay, and for dentistry).

In our rapidly changing culture, waiting until something breaks to fix is one of the fastest ways to ensure you become irrelevant.

If change makes you tired, I promise you, the slow death of your organization will make you even more tired.

If change makes you tired, I promise you, the slow death of your organization will make you even more tired. Click To Tweet

5. Your dominant emotions toward to culture are negative

This is a loaded point…but it’s important.

If social media is any gauge of how many leaders feel about our culture, we’re in trouble.

And even if you’re not posting on your social media is ALL CAPS, telling the world how bad it is, your attitude still matters.

Negativity leaks.

Constantly criticizing people is no way to reach them.

As a Christian leader, I am constantly reminded that Jesus loved the world. He saw the mess, the brokenness, the godlessness and embraced us anyway.

Jesus loved the world enough to die for it.

You should care enough about the world to do the same.

Negativity leaks. Constantly criticizing people is no way to reach them. Click To Tweet

Want To Pivot Your Team Back To Relevance?


Yes, there’s a ton of change happening right now.

Some organizations will survive, some will thrive, and others won’t make it.

I’d love for you to be one of the thrivers.

Who will thrive in the new normal? The future belongs to the pivoters.

How well positioned are you for future pivots?

My brand new online training, the 30-Day Pivot, will show you how to develop your agility as a leader and as an organization to position yourself for growth.

The 30-Day Pivot is a simple 3-step process you and your team can utilize every as often as every 30 days to respond to the change around you and capitalize on it.

In the 30-Day Pivot, you’ll learn:
  • A simple 3-step process your team can use to arrive at your next pivot in 90 minutes or less.
  • An approach that fosters team-generated innovation.
  • An implementation and evaluation framework that will help your team move quickly and accurately.
I’ve led teams through multiple pivots, and in the 30 Day Pivot, I show you the strategy and framework you need to make quick, accurate and responsive moves that can position your organization for growth, even in the midst of deep uncertainty and change.

Some organizations and churches will thrive in the new normal.

Others won’t.

While the future is uncertain, yours doesn’t have to be.

You can learn more and gain instant access to the 30 Day Pivot here.

What Do You Think?

What do you see as signs of relevance or irrelevance?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Signs You’re Becoming an Irrelevant Leader


  1. Joseph O. Oyaka on May 23, 2020 at 1:56 pm

    Thanks alot for the post. Embracing new good ideas will make leaders relevant.

  2. Justin Klatt on May 23, 2020 at 9:18 am

    Love this post!!! Thank you Carey

  3. Steve C Colvin on May 23, 2020 at 9:09 am

    I don’t understand what the new normal is? If it means we are social distaning and wearing face masks until Jesus comes back then I don’t think I will survive. I hear religious and politacl leaders telling me to embrace the new normal but what is it? I am all for doing new forms of outreach. The things Paul was talking about when he said they were giving to the poor is a good idea, the delivery method may change but the mission to do good works doesn’t change. Having church online is great and can reach alot of people but does that mean we shut down all the churches in favor of online service. Then we will have a few mega churches where you have to buy a ticket to get in and everyone else will watch from home. Is it just because the culture says that we need to embrace the new normal that we are striving to embrace it? What if the culture tells us to embrace something different tomorrow? If wearing face masks is the new normal then I will have to get hearing aids because I miss a lot of what people are saying because of muffled voices. I love new things like new worship songs and casual dress at church and having as many different types and times for bible study groups and community groups as possible but I don’t want to embrace a place where everyone is afraid to give someone a handshake or let alone a hug.

    • Brian Kleinhammer on May 24, 2020 at 9:38 pm

      So many feel like you do. You are not at all alone in those things.

      Consider this perspective: None of the things that you mentioned are as bad as needing a ventilator to breathe. None of the things you have mentioned are as bad as watching your children survive on half their caloric intake and struggle with hunger pains because your unemployment has been delayed and you rely on food kitchens to keep yourself and them alive. And none are as bad as hearing the hospital say your loved one has perished, surrounded by strangers because their loved ones are not allowed in the hospital.

      So when you say that you don’t think you can survive wearing a mask until Jesus comes back, then consider the people who are surviving much, much worse.

  4. Dave on June 28, 2019 at 9:38 pm

    Negativity Leaks!

    • Lokeny on May 23, 2020 at 8:34 am

      Negativity surps energy drains!

  5. Eric on June 24, 2019 at 7:03 am

    A proofreader would help with relevance. Multiple typos/grammatical errors take away from the effectiveness you desire to achieve.

  6. Richard Dawson on June 13, 2019 at 6:34 pm

    Great post Carey. Number 5 needs an edit I think.
    Thanks for all your hard work on behalf of the Gospel!

    Richard Dawson

  7. Viking48 on June 13, 2019 at 8:56 am

    I agree that staying relevant is important. Buy the question is, “How do you stay relevant without compromising the truth of the Word?”.

    It seems that to stay relevant in these post-modern times, the church must sacrifice or modify essential doctrine to be attractional. How do we keep the doors open for the next generation but still be holy, set apart, and bearing godly fruit?


    • Mark on June 14, 2019 at 7:03 am

      Too many people have forgotten that Christianity started out as an illegal religion in cities where there were temples to the gods on every block. There were also a lot of martyrs, but they aren’t mentioned anymore save All Saints day in a liturgical church. The focus needs to be on acting like Jesus, not power, politics, or hate mongering

  8. Jay Hostetler on June 13, 2019 at 8:22 am

    Carey, totally agree. I coach church ministry leaders every day toward innovation, change management and cultural relevancy. It’s easy to become static and complacent, never rocking the boat of security. Tomorrow’s church depends on relevant leaders challenging themselves and the church they lead. Thanks!

  9. Robert Bess on June 13, 2019 at 7:29 am

    Thanks Carey, your stuff always makes me think.

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