Skip to content

5 Ways People Pleasing Undermines Your Leadership

Are you a people pleaser?

If you think you have no people pleasing tendencies, just remember how you felt the last time someone criticized you.

Not fun is it?

Even those of us who don’t think we’re people pleasers feel the pressure to want to please people some of the time.

That said, many leaders—particularly ministry leaders—are well aware of their people pleasing tendencies.

But people pleasing can undermine your leadership in significant ways. In fact, people pleasers rarely reach their leadership potential.

People Pleasing MInistry

It Starts Innocently Enough

Most leaders don’t set out to be people pleasers; instead we fall into it. Innocently.

Let’s say you propose an overhaul in how you do your weekend services. You want to make Sundays more open to outsiders, so the music, mood, approach and tone get slated for some dramatic changes.

Almost immediately you start to get pushback.

What about those people who have been here for a long time?

Do you really think those new people will pay the bills like we do?

Don’t you need to honour tradition?

If you make those changes, me and X other people might leave.

It’s difficult not to feel pressure in a situation like that.


Trying to Find Easy Street

Many leaders instinctively begin to look for a compromise.

Maybe we won’t go all the way with the planned changes.

Perhaps we could do two services, one for people who like it the old way and one the way we want to do it.

Maybe we introduce a mid-week or Sunday night option.

Okay, we do one service but we meet in the middle, with elements for everyone crammed into that single hour.

You get the idea.

And this pattern impacts leaders all the time in so many ways. Whether its how you approach your services, dealing with personnel issues (to fire or not fire a staff member or handling difficult volunteers).

It also impacts how you handle coworkers, bosses and even family.


5 Ways People Pleasing Undermines Your Leadership

If you’re on the impossible quest to please everyone, there are at least five ways people pleasing will hurt you:

1. Ultimately you lose the mission.

A key goal of leadership is to lead a diverse group on a common mission. That’s why leadership isn’t for the faint of heart. When you try to please all kinds of people, you usually end up sacrificing the mission. You’ve suddenly got a lot of people (or diminishing number of people, actually) going nowhere in particular. Is that what you want your legacy to be? Didn’t think so.

2. You end up not liking who you’ve become.

People pleasers feel like they’re winning in the short term, but long term they are rarely if ever satisfied with the results. After compromising again and again, people pleasers end up very unhappy with who they’ve become. In an attempt to please others, they’ve sold out. When you’re tempted to people please, think about who you’d like to be a decade or two from now. Then act accordingly.

3. It becomes harder to hear the voice of God.

When you are trying to please all the voices around you, it becomes more difficult to hear the voice of God. Scripture gets interpreted through the filter of the critics. You can begin to avoid what you know to be right because it’s just…so…hard. Do you really want to lose the ability to hear the voice of God? Didn’t think so.

4. Real leaders end up leaving.

Great leaders have a sixth sense that picks up people pleasing. When you give into multiple voices and the mission is in decline, your best leaders will make a beeline for the door. They won’t make a lot of noise. They’ll just quietly disappear. And you will be left without great people around you and a bunch of people who still aren’t quite happy yet. Which leads us to number 5.

5. Nobody’s actually that happy.

You and I have heard it a thousand times: when you try to please everybody, you end up pleasing nobody. Here’s why that’s true. When you try to please a multiplicity of voices, you can’t follow a course that is clear or hone in on a singular purpose. Compromise means the traditionalists didn’t get quite what they were looking for; neither did the progressives. Most people end up mildly discontent and you end up going nowhere good.

Well that defines the problem, but what about the solution? Here’s a post I did about how to find a better strategy when introducing change, and why most leaders get it backwards. (I hope it helps.)

What are you learning about any people pleasing tendencies you have?

How have you overcome them? Leave a comment!


  1. Stephen Luna on August 3, 2017 at 11:42 pm

    I’ve recently realized that the people-pleasing bug is hard to identify because so often it masquerades under the guise of love. We tell ourselves, “as pastors/leaders if we truly care about this individual or group, then we will delay certain decisions, (etc.,).” When in all reality, our inability to lead well stems from deep-rooted insecurities and a lack of understanding in who God has called us to be.

    I’m on a mission to daily discover more and more of Christ’s character and trying to humble myself in his presence.

  2. […] pastors I know are people-pleasers by nature (if that’s you…read this). Wanting to not disappoint people fuels conflict within leaders: people want you to care for them, […]

  3. Grace Dallong Opadotun on November 7, 2014 at 6:15 am

    Thankyou for this inspiring post.I have been struggling with the people that I am leading. Now I know that I will do better.

  4. […] These attempts at making people happy virtually never work (I wrote about the problems people-pleasing leaders face here). […]

  5. Daniel K. Eng on December 16, 2013 at 11:54 pm

    Thanks for posting this! I have worked with people-pleasers and I realize I fall into this category often as well. It’s maddening. I appreciate the frankness of this article!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 20, 2013 at 6:13 pm

      Thanks Daniel. Honesty is so helpful. Thanks for reminding us of that.

  6. Brent Dumler on December 1, 2013 at 11:13 am

    This is so accurate, Carey. I’d even suggest that leaders who people-please (and I’ve also done this) eventually lose credibility with their church attenders. Most everyone i know view ‘yes men/women’ as pushovers with little backbone. Lord, may I not become that leader.

  7. […] Are you a people pleaser? If you think you have no people pleasing tendencies, just remember how you felt the last time someone criticized you. Not fun is.  […]

  8. 5 Ways People Pleasing Undermines Your Leadersh... on November 29, 2013 at 6:41 pm

    […] “Are you a people pleaser? If you think you have no people pleasing tendencies, just remember how you felt the last time someone criticized you. Not fun is it? Even those of us who don't think we're…”  […]

Leave a Comment

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