Afraid of Disappointing People? 5 Ways People-Pleasing is Starting to Hurt You in this Crisis

So, you probably want people to like you and your leadership. Who doesn’t?

If we’re honest with each other, most of us in leadership prefer to be be liked (rather than not liked). That’s natural, and it’s not entirely unhealthy.

But, so many leaders would also quietly admit that, deep down, they’re people pleasers.

People pleasers usually evaluate their leadership by how popular their decisions are. That’s not great leadership in the best of times.

Often, the right decision isn’t the popular decision.  Doing what’s best for people isn’t always doing what’s popular with people. Anyone who’s parented for more than ten minutes understands that tension.

Throw a crisis into the mix, particularly a crisis as deep and pervasive as the one we’re in right now, and it makes people-pleasing leadership even less effective than it normally is.

Crisis: The Perfect Storm for People Pleasers

One of the trends I’m tracking very closely as this crisis compounds and lingers is the mental and emotional health of leaders.

Recent polling shows that mental health among leaders has now reached crisis levels.

If your ego is fragile at the best of times, that makes leadership difficult. What you think will make you happy (pleasing people) not only doesn’t, it makes it worse. Crisis makes that dynamic ten times more complicated, difficult and challenging.

The current climate, one of almost unprecedented divisions, polarization, trivialization and misinformation means you’re trying to please people in heavily divisive times.

Getting agreement in normal times is hard enough. In crisis, it’s almost impossible.

As a result, crisis leadership crushes people pleasers.

People-pleasing was always a bad leadership strategy. In a crisis, it’s so much worse.

If there was any time to kick the habit of people-pleasing, it’s now.

Here are five ways your people-pleasing is already hurting you in this crisis.

Once you see where people-pleasing takes you and the people you lead, it becomes that much easier to change.

1. You Put the Mission at Risk

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.

Is that what you want your legacy to be? Didn’t think so.

Here’s why so many leaders end up sacrificing the mission.

The people who disagree with you naturally don’t agree with each other. So you might have three or even five conflicting visions or ideas you’re trying to synthesize. No wonder it’s feels impossible. It is.

It’s a little like trying to agree on what to do for dinner: You want to grab take out, your spouse wants to dine in, your oldest wants you to grill burgers and your youngest wants mac and cheese. Unable to gain consensus or make a decision, you end up skipping dinner.

So many non-decisions or poor decisions happen because of a lack of consensus.

Conversely, very few good, innovative ideas gain consensus before a leader acts.

In fact, most great new ideas worth anything are inherently divisive.

So rather than waiting for consensus across the boards, try these things:

Don’t ask the team for agreement, just get permission. (Chances are you already have it. You’re the leader.)

Listen to people, but make the best decision you’re capable of making.

If you’re wrong, take full responsibility.

If it emerges that you were right, be humble and invite others on the journey.

Great decisions usually only look like great decisions in the rear-view mirror.

2. You Dislike 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.

In the long run, you lose self-respect, and that further undermines your leadership. It’s difficult to respect a leader who doesn’t respect themselves.

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 Gets Way Harder to Hear the Voice of God

When you are trying to please all the voices around you, it becomes far more difficult to hear the voice of God, let alone obey it.

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 to do what you believe to be right.

Do you really want to lose the courage to hear the voice of God? Didn’t think so.

4. The Real Leaders Leave

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.

Guess where that leaves you?

It leaves you with all of your best people gone and a bunch of people who still aren’t happy.

All of which leads us to reason number five to stop people-pleasing.

5. Nobody’s Happy in the End

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. You end up going nowhere.

Guess who’s least happy with that in the end? You.

So remember: The critics don’t even agree with each other, which is why they need leadership.

Leadership takes people to where they wouldn’t normally go except for your leadership.

So take people somewhere. Keep at it, and you’ll eventually end up somewhere good.

What’s Helping You Lead? 

People-pleasing is something most of us struggle with, myself included.

What’s helping you lead well in such a difficult time and lead through the disappointment of disappointing people?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

So you probably want people to like you and your leadership. Who doesn’t? But crisis leadership crushes people pleasers. Here are 5 ways it does that.


  1. jesus on November 3, 2020 at 7:59 pm

    Carey, you have no idea how helpful your teaching is for me as a pastor. I was just complaining to God this week about how disappointed I am with people that after you pour your whole life into them, you see no change in them at the end and they leave you without even sending you a text. Indifference is killing the church today. People are looking for entertainment and what’s in it for them instead of loving Jesus and looking at how to obey Him.

  2. Darnell Cockram on November 2, 2020 at 1:03 pm

    I found that people needed additional education on areas that was being planned or presented. You are not a prophet in your own town. But if people hear from outside experts, they Learn new ideas, etc. from others they have time to digest the information. That helps a lot!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 3, 2020 at 11:05 am

      So much truth in this right here Darnell!

  3. Kimberly on November 2, 2020 at 10:57 am

    My husband was just terminated from our church as Senior Pastor for pushing for the kind of change Carey recommends. They chose their building and their old ways in the face of change. I see the choice was made in fear of losing what has always been comfortable for them. It’s so hard to be on the failing side of pushing for Mission and not people pleasing.

    • Pastor Matt Winslow on November 2, 2020 at 7:17 pm

      I have been through something like this as a pastor before I am praying for you guys God sometimes produces his greatest glory to our difficult circumstances and leads us to different places I pray God will bless you in this as he is blessed me in the past God has never done with somebody who’s fully Wanting to serve him

    • Paul B Andrews on November 2, 2020 at 11:08 pm

      It’s amazing that ‘church organizations’ choose to spend so much time & money on buildings and building-based activities instead of doing what Jesus asked us to do: Make Disciples! He did it without buildings, podiums, PA systems and (gasp!) WORSHIP LEADERS. How? HOUSE TO HOUSE as in Acts 2:42. Who knew! =)
      I changed over to home groups several years ago and FOUND what I had been looking for as a believer for over 30 years:
      [1] REAL FRIENDS (“the 12”),
      [2] my own personal ‘Peter James & John’ (my discipleship/prayer posse) … which soon led me to
      [3] a truly TRANSFORMED LIFE.

      Remember: Jesus said to make DISCIPLES. He did NOT say make ‘converts’ or make ‘attendees’.


      Getting kicked out of a building-centric organization COULD be the biggest blessing you’ve ever had!
      Start a home group and watch people’s lives get TRANSFORMED! =)
      (Besides, do you REALLY want to have to prepare a sermon every week that 90% of people won’t remember for more than a few hours – if even that?!)

      BIG LOVE & Shalom on you as you follow HIM instead of the traditions of men (which sidetracked ‘the church’ away from MAKING DISCIPLES and into ‘boxes’ [buildings] for the last 1700 years).

    • Carey Nieuwhof on November 3, 2020 at 11:04 am

      Kimberly, I am so sorry to hear this! Man, that’s hard. Praying for you and your husband today.

  4. Mark on November 2, 2020 at 9:27 am

    People pleasing is merely pleasing the noisiest people which may be a small minority of people. Their noise makes them seem larger than they really are. Many leaders will cave to the loudest complainers just to get them quiet. That said, most decisions are not explained to the masses. Rarely does a leader say how (s)he came to the decision. It is just announced and is not to be questioned. Some of us are/were criticized for asking questions under the accusation that we were “murmuring,” which gets a sermon the next Sunday and a condemnation to hell. This questioning did not nearly reaching the level of complaining yet was forcefully condemned.

  5. Greg B on November 2, 2020 at 9:06 am

    I lean into changes that I believe will increase our sensitivity to and engagement with our community from a centered place as followers of Jesus Christ.

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