5 Leadership Hacks That You Can’t Afford To Miss

Leadership Hacks

Sometimes leadership can seem so overwhelming. In reality, though, there are some leadership hacks that make it simpler than it first appears.

In many ways, great leaders master some very basic things that other people miss. The advice in this post is so simple you might be thinking “well, my mother used to tell me to do that”.

Maybe that’s the point.

You can have a PhD in leadership and read everything there is on leadership and still not be effective.

And yet there are leaders who have little formal education but who lead powerfully and effectively every day.

Often, these leaders gain influence because they’ve mastered a few basic skills others miss.

And now that your organization is putting more effort into online, these skills are more important than ever.

Here are 5 of my absolute favourite basic leadership skills that are far too easy to overlook.

Own them, and you’ll become a much more effective leader.

1. Make someone else the hero

Few of us have a healthy relationship with ourselves.

The narcissists make it all about them.

Insecure people focus on themselves because they can’t bear to give anyone else air time.

And even people who lack confidence can end up being selfish because their lack of self-esteem means no one else gets attention.

How do you escape the trap of narcissism, insecurity or low self-confidence?

Just make someone else the hero.

If you’re a preacher, like me, make sure you point to God, not to yourself when you speak. Worry more about whether people connect with God than whether they connect with you.

What else does this principle look like?

Well, if you’re a writer, make your reader the hero. The filter through which I try to run every post I write on this blog is what I call a “helpful” filter. I want the post to help you as a reader. I want you to win.

Think about it. You and I love leaders who point beyond themselves to someone else. Why not be that leader?

So when you struggle with narcissism, insecurity or low self-confidence (and we all do…me too), step aside and make someone else the hero.

It works. Every time.

2. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it

If there’s one piece of advice I want my sons to remember, other than everything I taught them about Jesus, it’s this:

Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.

It puts you ahead of about 99% of the planet.

Think back on your last week. Who frustrated you most? Probably the people who didn’t do what they said they were going to do when they said they were going to do it.

Now picture the people you lead. Who are you most likely to promote, reward or even want to hang out with? The people who do what they say they’re going to do when they say they’re going to do it.

The leadership hack of doing what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it is the basis of trust. It’s also the basis for confidence.

Hey…sometimes I’m still the guy who didn’t do what he said he was going to do when he said he was going to do it. But I try so hard not to be that guy.

So what do you do if you struggle in this area? Just stop promising and start delivering.

When your walk catches up to what your talk would have been, reintroduce your talk.

3. Focus on outcomes

Also in the ‘please stop driving me nuts’ category are people who focus on process, not outcomes. Luckily, I’ve found a leadership hack for it though.

I realize it’s axiomatic these days to say the journey is more important than the destination. But not always. Really. Come on. What fun is the journey if you end up nowhere with any meaning?

It’s frustrating when you ask someone if something is done and they tell you

Well I emailed him.

She never got back to me.

I’ve called 5 times.

I think they must have changed their address or something.

And they feel like the project is complete because they tried.

Trying isn’t the same as doing.

Often, I feel like saying “You didn’t hear the question. The questions is Is it done?

A few years ago, I started encouraging the leaders I work with to stop focusing on process, and start focusing on outcomes.

When you focus on outcomes, you eventually stop emailing someone who never returns emails and you text them instead, or call them, or go to their office, or release them and find someone who will help you get the project done.

If you focus on outcomes, you’ll also have a shot at mastering #2. If you don’t, you never will.

And getting things done actually makes the journey more enjoyable, at least in my view.

4. Look people in the eye

Sure, this is an “I don’t need a blog post to remind me of this”. (So is the next point, by the way.)

But do you ever notice how hard it is to actually look someone in the eye—to make them the sole focus on your attention?

I’m pretty sure I’m ADD and it’s so hard for me not to focus on shiny objects, moving parts or anything else in the room. Or my phone for that matter.

But the most effective leaders always look someone in the eye.

Sometimes I’m in a conversation with someone and I’ll create a voice in my head that just keeps repeating “Look them in the eye…look them in the eye.” It helps.

I’ll even position myself in a restaurant or coffee shop so I face a blank wall, not the door or a TV. Otherwise, I just instinctively look at whatever is moving.

Watch for it…the very best leaders look you in the eye and make you the sole focus of their attention.

Practice that this week.

5. Smile

Everyone has a default expression. It’s hard to know what yours is because you never see yourself as others see you.

I learned years ago that my default facial expression is…uptight. If I’m having a good time, I apparently forgot to tell my face.  I’m also a fast walker, so I tend to look uptight and annoyed.

How’s that for a guy who’s leading you?

People have given me very helpful advice like walk slowly across the room and smile. 

I know that’s so basic, but remember, you’re programming against your default here, so it’s not easy.

I have to remind myself to smile when I teach, to smile when I greet people and to smile in conversations.

It makes a huge difference.

Apparently Michael Hyatt has a similar issue and in this post outlined 5 positive impacts of smiling more as a leader.

So smile. 🙂

Any Leadership Hacks I’m Missing?

So that’s my short list of ultra simple leadership hacks. What are some you’d add to the list?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Leadership Hacks That You Can’t Afford To Miss


  1. ANYE on October 19, 2020 at 7:00 pm

    Shared this in my social media because I believe in every details of your advices. Godbless you more wisdom to share. Looking forward to your future topics.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 20, 2020 at 2:11 pm

      Glad to help!

  2. Barry Drinkel on October 15, 2020 at 11:30 am

    Thanks, Carey! I really appreciate the simplicity of this post and yet I know as I work on each area it will yield some good fruit!

  3. Port Wilburn on October 15, 2020 at 2:34 am

    Hey Carey,

    I got push back on #4 from a group of Pastors in the multi diverse Bay Area.
    Mainly ethnic pastors believe it culturally disrespectful to look someone in the eye. On the streets its seen as a show of intimidation and dominance.

    • Philip Odhiambo on October 15, 2020 at 10:17 am

      It is culturally disrespectful, but now where can we look during our presentation time? Do we look at the roofs or floor, or do we maintain our focus on legs and arms of the Christians and ignore their eyes?

      So I support we maintain eye contact in spiritual and respectful Way to each member and not taking long eye contact on one individual or a section of the congregation but in a rotation manner to show a general concern.

  4. Nate on October 14, 2020 at 4:52 pm

    Great stuff as always. I needed to be reminded of the “Focus on Outcomes” wisdom because I often focus on the inputs and process. I think both are important, but process without outcomes doesn’t cut it. Leaders have to find a way to get it done! Thank you!

  5. Paul Thurston on October 14, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    #5 reminded me of something I heard John Maxwell say when I first started in ministry 30 years ago, in a church of less than 100 in rural Kansas: Walk slowly through the crowd. Whether you pastor 50 people or 50,000, slowing down, and taking time to connect with people is so important — especially to you. And, being able to smile — especially when people feel the need to say something negative, or give their critique– is helpful. Good blog, Carey! Appreciate your words in my email, and podcasts on my phone!

  6. Karla Oliver on October 14, 2020 at 12:03 pm

    Here’s one I try to use: seek input from the ones affected before making a decision. This is very helpful on church teams or when deciding something for the church. What may feel like a small decision can be troublesome if others who are affected are not considered.

  7. Desmond Perry on October 14, 2020 at 8:39 am

    Great reminders. Now that I know, I will be doing.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 14, 2020 at 3:50 pm

      That’s great to hear!

  8. Jaco JvRensburg on October 14, 2020 at 7:53 am

    thanks for this! I will just add, when talking to someone, put your phone away! So many people today are always ready to answer their phone, doesn’t matter who they are talking to or whatever they are busy with…

  9. Chad Doerr on September 24, 2018 at 4:17 pm

    Live the simplicity of this list. I would add – remember names. Somewhat tied to number 1, it’s makes people feel important. Nothing opens the door to connection like remembering someone’s name.

  10. Erin on August 6, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    Thanks Carey, this is great! I laughed out loud at the last one… Smile. “If I’m having a good time, I apparently forgot to tell my face.” Love it!!! This is so me sometimes!!! 😀 Great insights as usual!

  11. Zachary Verbracken on May 19, 2015 at 8:54 pm

    Wow, so good. Simple, but definitely not easy.

    I particularly struggle with 4-5 myself. There are definitely some areas I have room for growth here!

  12. Chris Dearth on May 15, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    Be loyal to the absent! Respect all the team don’t let the one who is not present be disrespected or get assigned tasks without giving them the courtesy of hearing it from you.

  13. Aaron Stimpson on May 14, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    I would add Be Decisive, especially when it comes to hiring, firing, or stopping a ministry that doesn’t produce results.

  14. David Yarbrough on May 10, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    I really had to share this screenshot of what happened when I tried to tweet your comment about trying not being the same as doing. (Which I felt was a really good reminder!) Does anybody else see the humor in this?

  15. […] 5 Ultra Simple Leadership Hacks That Can Help Anyone, by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  16. […] 5 Ultra Simple Leadership Hacks That Can Help Anyone – by Carey Nieuwhof […]

  17. Leadership Roundup | Worship Links on April 30, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    […] Carey Nieuwhof lists five easy ways to be a more effective leader: […]

  18. Brenda Cheah on April 29, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    All very good points. I relate to #5, very true of me as well. Something I need to remember for sure! Thank you!

  19. Dave S on April 28, 2015 at 9:50 pm

    Another good trait of a leader. I remember an old saying “Honestly is the best policy”. Something many of today’s leaders lack -honesty and truth. We see what can happen when people do not trust those in charge. Overtime there is rebellion, turmoil and destruction.
    Just be honest!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 29, 2015 at 6:36 am

      For sure Dave!

    • Aaron Stimpson on May 14, 2015 at 9:30 pm

      I would say that this is great but it also gets you fired. Haha

  20. Kelly Czech on April 28, 2015 at 5:29 pm

    # 2 is the toughest for me and #3 is the most annoying! Thanks for keeping us on the narrow path, Carey. your podcasts and blogs are VERY helpful!

  21. Tom Antis on April 28, 2015 at 1:22 pm

    Five great points. I might add good listening skills to keys of effective leadership. I think the most important line in this article is “Own them, and you’ll become a much more effective leader.” The best leaders are genuine, which means any of these points that comes across ‘surfacey’ won’t do much to win friends and influence people. You have to own it.

  22. Ben Fike on April 28, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    Thanks for this and everything you do. As a young minister looking to grow into my first senior ministry role, I’m eating up your leadership podcast and blog. It is a gift. Thanks so much for sharing!

    I do, however, take a little issue with point number 3 you make here. I’ve been influenced by the work of Edwin Friedman, Peter Steinke, and others who view church leadership through the lens of Family Systems theory. The best lens for viewing the church, they contend, is as a complex emotional system (just as a body is a complex biological system – the body of Christ is a complex emotional system). One of the key tasks of spiritual leadership becomes keeping the system healthy. And one of the principles for this leadership is focus more on process than content (or “outcomes”).

    If I understand what you are saying here, I think I’m inclined to agree – don’t just try to do things, actually do things. Don’t just throw up your hands and say “I did all I could!” unless you’ve actually done all you can. Don’t get bogged down by incommunicative people or others who are holding up the growth process. I’m with you there.

    However, I think a focus on outcomes over process as a general rule of leadership can potentially get us in trouble. For instance, if church is needing to make a significant staffing move or another major shift – engaging in an intentional discernment process to seek God’s will is far more significant to me than arriving at a specific outcome. In fact, in many areas of our life together, HOW we do life together seems much more significant than arriving at specific outcomes. I’m thinking about the writings of Paul here, who seems to focus almost wholly on how the communities he is addresses should behave with one another and their world. To me that’s more process than outcome – more becoming than arrived. Paul’s major outcome seems to be spiritual maturity, and you can’t shortcut the process of spiritual growth.

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding your meaning, but that’s my two cents. Thanks again for all you do! It’s a help for me and I know many others.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 28, 2015 at 6:38 pm

      Ben…thanks for your encouragement. And you know what, overall, I agree. But sometimes people are all process, no outcome. That’s what I was railing against. 🙂

      • Ben Fike on April 28, 2015 at 8:51 pm

        Fair enough. Thanks for responding!

  23. Daniel Collins on April 28, 2015 at 9:47 am

    Yep yep yep, especially to #1 and #4. As Jim Collins said, humility and will make level 5 leaders. I define humility as making the team’s success more important than my own, will as my own best-excellence is necessary for the team’s success. And then #4, don’t know if I have ADD but I do have NTCENNN (need to check email now now now) syndrome. So I have to put my phone on airplane mode, looking at the person I’m with, and I’m finding that silently praying for someone while I’m listening helps me focus and builds my compassion for what I’m hearing. Thanks for sharing!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on April 28, 2015 at 6:38 pm

      So true. Level 5 is where it’s at. Love the NTCENNN. So true!

  24. Micki Mensio on April 28, 2015 at 9:34 am

    Similar to #1 – Make yourself the “responsible party” when big projects fail. The key is to communicate to team members specific details that would have changed the outcome you can attribute to your actions. Owning your team’s attempts that fall short emboldens team members to tackle the next challenge.

  25. Andy Scott on April 28, 2015 at 8:04 am


    Are there any resources you might recommend that might help one get a handle on #3 both application and teaching?

  26. Dennis Tinsley on April 27, 2015 at 11:14 am

    Same as Lawrence Wilson below, but I’ll affirm #2. It’s the thing we are driving home with our leadership team for our collegiate ministry. If there is anything that can separate a millenial, in particular,from the pack, it’s putting that value into play.

  27. Lawrence W. Wilson on April 27, 2015 at 7:57 am

    Nothing to add, Carey, but I’ll affirm No. 5. Been a revolution in my dealing with people.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.