7 Kinds of People You Can’t Afford to Keep In Leadership

lose people

There’s a secret fear most leaders have: losing people.

It can seem so hard to reach people and keep them that losing a customer, a client, a staff member, a person in your church, or even a subscriber to your email list can be heart-wrenching for many leaders.

I get that.

I have wrung my hands and lost sleep over people walking away more than a few times in my time in leadership.

There are times you should be really concerned with a great person leaves your team, or a fantastic leader exits your mission. That should definitely make you think twice.

And as someone (or several people exit), the discussion at the leadership table will end up with someone saying:

Look, we can’t afford to lose people. 

Trust me, there’s always someone at the leadership table who thinks we can’t afford to lose anyone.

That’s simply not true.

There are a few kinds of people you can’t afford to keep.

In fact, sometimes the people you are most afraid of losing are the people you can’t afford to keep.

Here’s the strange paradox of leadership: some of the people you think you can’t afford to lose are the very people you can’t afford to keep.

So how do you know the difference?

Well, here are 7 kinds of people you can’t afford to keep if you want to move your mission forward.

1. Perpetual critics

This takes a lot of maturity, but a wise leader always gleans whatever he or she can from critics.

There’s always something to learn, and even if you have to discard most of it, there’s usually a kernel of truth that can help you grow and flourish in the future. (Here are some tips on how to handle criticism like a pro.)

Some people are just perpetual critics though.  They rarely have anything to say.

So what should you watch for when you think you have a perpetual critic? Watch for what they contribute. 

I mean everything from positive ideas, to heart, to effort, to yes…dollars. Look for skin in the game.

Critical thinkers who make positive contributions to the mission are often your friends, not your enemies.

But beware of perpetual critics. Perpetual critics are easy to spot—they contribute nothing and criticize everything.

That kind of critic…you can’t afford to keep. They’re sucking your soul and everyone’s soul dry.

2. People who are opposed to everything

This group is a slight variation on the perpetual critic.

They may not have a steady stream of contrary ideas. In fact, they might say nothing. Until it comes time to change, that is.

Then, quietly or loudly, they’ll let you know they’re opposed.  Now rattled, they block change, or at least try to.

Being opposed to some things is normal. Being opposed to everything is dysfunctional and destructive.

You can’t build a lasting future on what you’re against. You can only build a lasting future on what you’re for.

3. Toxic People

We’re all a little unhealthy. I am. You are. And so is everyone we work with.

But there’s a key difference between a little unhealthy and toxic.

Unhealthy people want to get well. Toxic people have no desire to get well, usually have a super low self-awareness and sometimes actually want to inflict harm.

It’s not that you can’t afford to lose toxic people. The truth is, you can’t afford to keep them.

Here are some insights into creating a healthy culture and letting toxic people go.

4. Chronically Underperforming People

We all have bad days. We’re all late sometimes.

But face it, you have people in your organization who only have bad days. Who are always late. Who invent a new excuse every 12 minutes.

You know who I’m talking about.

You can’t afford to keep them.

But wait, you argue, shouldn’t we help them?

Let me guess. The person that popped into your mind when reading this is someone you’ve been trying to help for the last year…or two…or five, and they haven’t changed a bit. So what exactly are you accomplishing?


Even if they have a solvable problem, they either don’t want to solve it or you’re not the one who’s going to help them. Move on, friend.

Go invest that time with your best people or someone in the middle who wants to grow…and watch them soar.

5. People with Hidden Agendas

In every organization, there’s only really one agenda: the mission.

Competing agendas is a problem…but if the competing agendas are out in the open, you can at least discuss them and reconcile them. Eventually, if someone won’t align with the unifying mission, they may have to go.

Hidden agendas are a whole different thing.

When someone won’t be honest about what they’re trying to accomplish, or won’t discuss it, it corrodes the team and mission like few other things do.

Hidden agendas make trust impossible.

6. People who only have a vision of what the future shouldn’t be

As a leader, you have a vision of what the future should be.

Some people only have a vision of what the future shouldn’t be.

That’s a problem.

You can’t build a positive mission on a negative view of the future. If someone can only tell you what the future shouldn’t be, you’ll never get to a better future.

7. People who are married to their personal preferences

We all like things a certain way. Me too.

But there are people who prefer their personal preferences over your organization’s progress.

The music’s too loud. Too soft…too new…too old. Too…whatever.

Great team members will often sacrifice their personal preferences for the sake of missional progress. Other’s won’t.

If you have someone who continually lets their personal preferences stand in the way of organizational progress, you can’t afford to keep them.

What Do You See?

Getting your organization healthy can be a significant step to getting it growing.

So next time you face critics who are threatening to walk out the door, don’t ask yourself if you can afford to lose them.

Ask if you can afford to keep them.

It might completely change your approach…and your decisions.

Any other kind of person you can’t afford to keep? Scroll down and leave a comment!

7 Kinds of People You Can’t Afford to Keep In Leadership


  1. EOS on July 7, 2021 at 11:41 pm

    what more can be said?

  2. Sian on June 18, 2021 at 9:11 am

    What if church leaders do some of the things you say to avoid ?

  3. Mark on June 18, 2021 at 8:29 am

    It might be time to let go of someone not willing to be teachable, who will grow and learn.

  4. John Phipps on February 17, 2021 at 6:50 am

    Very much spot on with regard to the types. I was able to identify people in past churches in various aspects of the 7, but would add one more…or at least note its existence. I can think of a couple of people I have encountered who are a blended type. They fit in at least two of the categories maybe three. Primarily the 7th one mentioned – people who ae married to their own personal preferences may be the dominant factor but they utilize some of the other types/styles to attempt to derail and redirect.

  5. Francis on August 12, 2020 at 9:45 pm

    This article was right on time. I will be sharing this not only with clergy members, & church officers but with other entities as well. Very relevant. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Melissa on August 11, 2020 at 11:22 am

    Sigh….you’re right. Darnit!

  7. Wayne Kurzen on August 4, 2020 at 9:28 am

    Great article! As a business coach for 18 years, I would say the number one issue for many organizations is “They keep people too long!” Usually about 12-18 months of “tolerating” them, and finally getting so fed-up — then fire them! And nearly always say, “I should have done this ____ months ago!” There are all kinds of excuses for keeping wrong people: it’s going to take time to replace them, we may end up with the new person being even worse, I can’t afford the time to recruit, interview, on-board, train etc. I fully believe, “WHAT WE TOLERATE, WE ENDORSE!”

    • Carey Nieuwhof on August 5, 2020 at 3:49 pm

      So true!

  8. Mark on August 2, 2020 at 8:09 pm

    Most churches will keep these kinds of people in leadership because they are protected. Either they are in the powerful family, or they donate enough that It will be tolerated. Too often leadership is closed to decent, genuinely good people but open to these types.

    • Lanny Heinlen on June 18, 2021 at 7:39 am

      I attended an extremely large church in Albuquerque, while there I saw people who the church leadership should have been investing in being pasted over and the big money people being put into places of leadership. It was so sad to see this. They equated money with godliness. Yes, sometimes those who have a lot of money who either own or run companies are godly but sometimes not.

  9. Stevie on August 2, 2020 at 6:07 pm

    Spot-on. It can be quite easy for side-line critics and those with high self-confidence to undermine and attempt to impose their power over the pastor/church-leaders, particularly if good safeguards are not in place.

    On the other hand, abuse of power can occur by a pastor/leader who shuts down perceived-criticism and/or any expression of concern from a fellow-leader or congregant. Some pastors are known. for the trail of leaders and followers who have been shown the door. This may have more to do with a desire for control & power than anything else.

    Pastors and church leaders need support and shouldn’t be undermined BUT they should be open to challenge and must understand that not everyone needs to agree with everything they say and do. The mark of greatness is being able to prayerfully handle this tension.

  10. Michael J Kaas on May 26, 2019 at 7:05 pm

    Excuse what may at first appear to be a negative response but why do we say God is in charge but then have to get into corporate psychology to get a ministry team together. That would make it seem like God is only in charge when we don’t want to be. I don’t recall Jesus unloading the disciple he knew would deny him or even the one he knew would betray him. It would seem more appropriate to be giving suggestions about how to get these seven kinds of people on board rather than out of the way. If churches or ministries act like corporations, will they be people centered or self centered. I don’t know how Christ felt about the importance of carrying out the mission efficiently. Our old pastor would often say that he found the real ministry was in the interruptions to his planned day, not the plans.

    • Steve on June 18, 2021 at 10:18 am

      I agree Jesus left very few behind. In fact he taught the duckies to go after the one. But he also shake the dust off his feet and moved on when needed.

  11. Earl Jones on May 15, 2019 at 1:10 pm

    Outstanding comments people. Being truthful and up-front is critical in growing and building capacity in your team/people. Courageous Conversations are needed, and must be prepared for and delivered the right way, BUT you cannot avoid having them. Once the individuals know and understand that issues and concerns will be dealt with, not as many may surface
    or even matter.

    • Virginia Moore on May 22, 2019 at 6:22 am

      My pastor just died a week ago he was awesome he was there for everybody especially the ones who used him. He let a family live in the churches empty house next door whom has a key to the church that would always steal food from the church along with her freeloading sister that’s also a member I would catch them taking cooler full of meat while the pastor turned his back. Another thing the pastor let a homeless lady named Robin live at the church a year ago running the bills up eating the food all up contributing nothing it saddens me nobody gave anything myself only working part-time would double my tithes.

  12. Sheila Beers on May 13, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    I have seen the mistake of hanging onto toxic people made by two different churches, and the churches almost closed. The individuals were not only toxic, they very possibly were unbelievers who just wanted to run an organization and get some sort of recognition and power for themselves. Both churches that made this mistake dwindled in attendance and almost closed. Finally, the one toxic family left the first church, and after another two-decades struggle, the church re-organized and was healed and strengthened through the ministry of an interim pastor. After the interim pastor’s unexpected death a few years ago, the church then called a new, younger pastor and has started growing again. In the second instance, the church affiliation and ownership changed, with a new pastor leading the congregation in a new direction as a community church. The toxic individual in this case, who had gained total control and wanted to turn the church into a “profitable” bar and boating resort, was stricken with dementia and had to be institutionalized – thank God! Yes, there are ways to have victory over toxic people, and one never should discount divine intervention.

  13. Tommy Niblack on May 13, 2019 at 10:38 am

    Great post! I see the flip side to this coin….don’t hold on to people you need to let go of.
    Ministries and organizations often impede the progress of those who helped them succeed by not realizing it may be time for that person to graduate to the next phase in their growth.
    Churches do this more than they should. And they do it in the name of loyalty. Loyalty is great, but not at the expense of the growth of a brother/sister in Christ.
    “The very people you can’t afford to lose are often the ones you can’t afford to keep,” yes, let them go, and let them grow. Don’t stifle their growth because you, as a leader have mismanaged your time, as well as theirs, and haven’t developed a culture where when graduation happens, you’re left without someone to fill that space.
    Many ministries have shot themselves in the foot because they won’t let go and allow people to grow.
    Again, great post!

  14. Frank on May 13, 2019 at 10:32 am

    A question? If you need an employee to get training that will benefit my business and they don’t want to due to travel and inconvenience. I believe that Would that fall under personal preference category? I’d like feedback on whether I’m correct or in error of my asessment of the situtation!?

  15. Keri on May 13, 2019 at 10:01 am

    Yes your comments were very helpful. It seems so simple yet I didn’t see it! I have been very direct with the leader/visionary (I’m the integrator) but to no avail. I CAN create a small team environment that would actually encourage and support all of us so that will be my next step. Mostly I appreciate even the few words of encouragement from you and pointing me back to Jesus. Was feeling pretty thirsty out here in the desert but He is good and faithful.

    • Gary Whittaker on May 13, 2019 at 11:06 am

      Yes, He is! You can even tell your leader that this is what you are doing. Not a guilt trip on him/her, just keeping him in the loop so he won’t feel like people are forming groups around him or against him.
      I’ve been reading John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership. Great stuff!

  16. Rob on May 13, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Can I add one more? Leaders that fail to communicate and keep you in the loop of what they’re working on. Maybe it’s a personal pet peeve, but I think it’s important that leaders keep their superiors informed.

    • Keri on May 13, 2019 at 9:34 am

      Thank goodness you said that! I work in a ministry where the leader considers texting the best form of communication. We rarely speak personally. It’s only the vision of and love for the ministry that keeps me involved. Pretty lonely.
      Would love to hear thoughts about how to thrive in that environment.

      • Gary Whittaker on May 13, 2019 at 9:53 am

        I’m not Carey and I don’t have his track record of growth, but I’ve been where you are at. I had to create a small team of mutual encouragers and accountability partners to keep me uplifted, and to help my attitude not stink. Your leader hasn’t caught on to what face-to-face communication means to you, so you may have to tell them. The message you are getting seems to be ,”I’m too busy for you.” That’s demoralizing, and not how Jesus did it. But if that’s what you have, and you love what you do in spite of it, don’t let one person take you up or down. Build a team. Not subversively, and that will be tricky. Choose wisely. But I will bet there are others who need what you need, and you should NOT be too proud to seek them out. It’s not “needy,” its recognizing who you are, how God made you, and what helps you best function in the body of Christ.
        Hope this helps!

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