6 Easy Ways to Undermine Your Leadership on Social Media

You probably see it every week—leaders who undercut their influence by something they’ve said or posted.

Sometimes they blow it completely through one or two dumb moves. And sometimes you end up thinking “I’m not really sure I want to follow them anymore” but you’re not exactly sure why.

Loss of influence can be subtle, but it’s real. And it’s so easy to do if you’re not careful.

Because of constant—even daily— exposure, social media makes influence easier to gain…and that much easier to lose.

Almost every ministry leader is on social media today. And so is almost everyone they lead.

So the opportunity to squander your influence is that much higher.

And often we do it without even realizing it.



Leadership Is Influence

Before we jump into how leaders lose influence on social media, a word on why influence matters.

Properly construed, influence is not actually about ego at all.

Gaining and building influence is critical for all of us who lead because, as John Maxwell has famously said, leadership is influence.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

The thing about influence is that it takes years to build but only seconds to lose.

Lose your influence and you’re not leading anyone.

Build influence and you can take people places they wouldn’t ordinarily go, which is the essence of a leader’s job.

Moreover, if you’re a follower of Christ, you believe the influence you’ve been given is a trust.

You’re not leveraging influence for your sake, but for the sake of cause much bigger than yourself.

Which is why it’s so sad when ministry leaders squander trust or undermine influence.

6 Ways Leaders Undercut Their Influence on Social Media

So how do leaders undercut their influence on social media? Here are 6 subtle ways I’ve seen it happen.

1. Portraying a life everyone suspects isn’t real

It’s so tempting to portray a perfectly manicured life.

But everyone knows your marriage isn’t perfect and that your kids aren’t really as magnificently brilliant or wonderfully behaved as you let them on to be.

Bragging has become an online staple for many. Whether it’s kids’ awesome report cards, your house that can almost look like glossy mag/Pinterest/cable TV, or the selfie you and your spouse took on your date night.

But dig a little deeper and you’d discover:

You tweeted the two As, on the report card, but not the Cs.

The house only really looks showcase when you hold the camera at just the right angle just before sunset and as long as the dog doesn’t photobomb the shot or eat the pillow and you keep the peeling paint out of the pic.

The selfie was taken a half hour after the fight ended.

I know, I know. We’ve all been there.

So what’s the key to building authentic influence online?

I think it’s being real.

You probably don’t want to disclose every high or every low, but you do want to share a slice of everyday.

The truth is most of us are pretty average. And average resonates.

People want to know you’re real. Because if you are, they can relate to you. (That’s why we love behind the scene looks at celebrities…just to know they’re real people too.)

Oh, and God has a habit of using ordinary people.

2. Overdisclosing your struggles

So portraying a perfect life underdiscloses your struggles. But does being real mean you should overdisclose them?

Not in the least.

When you overdisclose your struggles (“I’m having a bad day, AGAIN”), you help nobody.

When you talk about your long list of problems or what’s wrong with the world, you can miss the fact that you’re not in a conversation with anyone on those issues.

You’re just pulling a dump and run.

wrote more about how to find an appropriate level of transparency as a leader here.

These 3 rules have helped me figure out when to talk about something publicly and when not to.

Just because you need to tell someone your struggling doesn’t mean you need to tell everyone you’re struggling.

Tell a friend, and keep your phone in your pocket.

3. Posting when you’re emotional…or angry

Nothing good happens when you’re angry. And when you’re emotional, you rarely say things you’re proud of later on.

So please don’t tell us about it.

Sometimes you see emotional status updates like “So disappointed….” or “I can’t believe that just happened…”

I don’t know about you, but it makes me think the person just wants someone to take the bait and ask what happened or, more sadly, that the person doesn’t have anyone to talk to.

If you start throwing some store that didn’t process your return well, some leader or some other victim of your anger under the bus, it makes us wonder what you’re saying about us when we’re not the room.

If you’re angry, process it. Don’t tweet it.

Go to sleep, wake up the next morning and my guess is your anger will be gone. Your status update won’t be though.

Unless of course, you never published it.

Much smarter.

4. Playing politics

This is a personal opinion, but I think when ministry leaders jump into partisan politics, they lose influence.

I’m a Canadian, so I realize I’m likely suspect on all fronts here, but God isn’t a democrat or a republican, or a liberal or a conservative, or labour or coalition. He’s God.

And as a ministry leader, I’m called to lead all people. Even the people I disagree with.

I think when you play politics online, you squander your influence. So I don’t.

And we have people who vote in every direction at our church, which I think means we’re being the church.

5. Saying something publicly because you don’t have the guts to say it privately

You’ve seen those status updates.

“Some people are impossible to deal with!”

“I wish people would just….”

It’s easier to say it publicly than it is privately, isn’t it? Absolutely. For all of us.

But great leadership demands that difficult conversations happen privately, not publicly.

Talk to the person you’re upset with, not about them.

Go direct.

6. Talking only about yourself

Who’s your social media about?

Is it all about you?

Are you talking with others?

Showcasing something bigger than yourself?

Celebrating others?

We are all narcissists in one form or another, but social media has given us a platform to take self-indulgence and self-absorption to a whole new level.

We are in the middle of the rise of the selfie-generation. And with it comes a curse: a life devoted to self ultimately leaves us alone.

If you want to leverage influence well, spotlight others, even the people you lead.

A lot of us admire Donald Miller, but one of the things that makes his work so great is that although as a writer he tells his own story, he so often showcases others and has redesigned his blog to feature many writers. I love that.

Don’t make it all about you. Your influence will grow.

Those are 6 things I see that undercut influence online.

In my next post, I’ll write about keys to growing your leadership and influence online.

But the meantime, how about you? What do you see that undercuts influence?

Leave a comment!

6 Easy Ways to Undermine Your Leadership on Social Media


  1. Susan G on July 17, 2018 at 1:40 pm

    Ahh, so here’s the struggle these days for me. I would never, and never have, preached politics from the pulpit. But in everyday life I am very absorbed in what I see as very serious injustice going on. There were times in life where one could say the political parties were so close as to have it not really matter in which way one voted, but I am having a hard time seeing how those who follow Jesus can float along without taking some very serious stands these days – and it IS political. I don’t know how to be authentic without talking about these things. I don’t think I’m alone in that.

  2. […] Reposted with permission. The original article can be found here. […]

  3. Leadership Roundup | Worship Links on December 17, 2015 at 4:02 pm

    […] Carey Nieuwhof teaches you six ways you can use social media to wreck your leadership: […]

  4. Mark Triplett on December 13, 2015 at 12:39 am

    I’ll add 3 personal rules I use for all electronic communication.
    1. Don’t feed the trolls. (Already mentioned, but still good)
    2. Political arguments are never won by a tweet or Facebook post.
    3. If it makes you feel better, don’t click “send”.

  5. […] Carey Nieuwhof: 6 Easy Ways to Undermine Your Leadership on Social Media […]

  6. Vanessa Pujic on December 11, 2015 at 10:42 am

    I agree with all of these, and I would also add one more: arguing with trolls, or just arguing on social media in general. I have seen several leaders misuse social media posting walls of text in response to a rude or inflammatory comment only to get drawn in further to an argument they can’t win. Besides just being an inappropriate forum in which to have a long discussion/argument, no matter how right the leader is in their response to the instigator, they still end up looking a bit silly. There’s that wise quote: “Never wrestle with a pig. You just get dirty and the pig likes it,” (George Bernard Shaw).

  7. Al Di Salvatore on December 11, 2015 at 10:10 am

    Do you view posting an opinion about social issues or topics as being political ?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 12, 2015 at 6:39 am

      It can be. For sure. When I speak on social issues I try to find a third way that brings people together and moves them forward. Many people just try to convince others of their views, which rarely goes well.

      • Laura Bunch on December 14, 2015 at 12:44 pm

        Excellent! I am so tired of the divisiveness of social media. Thank you.

  8. Michael S Carlton on December 11, 2015 at 9:20 am

    This is such great reminders!

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