CNLP 422: Gordon MacDonald on the Damage Driven Leaders Create, Hitting the Wall in Leadership, and Getting Healthy

One of the most listened to guests in the history of this podcast, Gordon MacDonald, returns to discuss the damage that driven leaders do, how he hit walls in his own leadership and how he got healthier.

In Gordon’s words, “Driven people produce shallow followers,” and he explains how to move from a place of drivenness to a much healthier called-ness.

Welcome to Episode 422 of the podcastListen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

Plus, in this episode’s What I’m Thinking About segment, Carey talks about seven phrases that driven leaders use (that drive your team crazy).

Guest Links

Episode Links

Barna and Gloo for Barna Cities

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The Art of Better Reaching

As a church leader, you’re working harder than ever and seeing fewer results. It seems more difficult to reach people than ever, and increasingly it feels like culture is just tuning you out.

You know that new, excited, engaged and contributing people is how churches grow, but what used to work even a few years ago doesn’t seem to be working anymore.

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Conversation Links

Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald

Rebuilding Your Broken World by Gordon MacDonald

A Resilient Life by Gordon MacDonald

Building Below the Waterline by Gordon MacDonald

A Burning in My Bones by Winn Collier

CNLP 297: Gordon MacDonald Shares 8 Decades of  Wisdom and Life Lessons, Father Wounds, the Dangers of Driveness, Counselling a US President, and What Leaders Struggle with Between Ages 32-42 and at Age 48 and Age 62

CNLP 366: Gordon MacDonald on The View from 80, 15 Life and Leadership Lessons After Eight Decades on the Planet

7 Phrases Driven Leaders Use (That Really Frustrate Their Team) by Carey Nieuwhof

The Art of Better Reaching

Get Carey’s Content Straight to Your Inbox

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Insights From Gordon

1. If you ignore your private life, you’ll eventually “hit the wall”

When Gordon was a young leader leading a thriving, growing church, he went through a very stressful season, and it ended with him “hitting a wall.” That wall left him weeping in his living room. Throughout that day, he sat down and actually listened for God’s voice (something he hadn’t been doing enough of).

He heard God say, “Now you know what it’s like to live out of an empty soul.” For those first years of ministry, Gordon ran on his own natural gifting, but natural gifting only gets you so far, and his soul had run empty. As a leader, if you neglect your internal life, you’ll eventually fall. Invest in your internal life and soul.

2. Driven people are often addicted to what success brings

After observing countless leaders (including himself) spend decades of their lives being what he calls “driven” leaders, Gordon realized that many “driven” leaders are addicted to what success gives them. Whether it’s a platform, financial success or authority, they get hooked on it, and it drives them.

Gordon encourages you to shift from being a “driven” leader to becoming a “called” leader. Called leaders aren’t addicted to their work but truly realize that their work is a stewardship, and it’s temporary.

3. The way we reach people is going to look different tomorrow

Gordon predicts that the largest shift to hit the church in 300 years is going to happen in the next 15-20 years. The way we share the gospel is going to have to change dramatically from how we’ve been sharing it, and when the church makes this shift, he thinks we’re going to see massive growth and renewal.

Quotes from Episode 422

Driven people produce shallow people. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet Your life in your 60s and 70s are likely to be the very best years of your life. Plan on it. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet There's something we need to teach every young woman and every young man who's going into leadership—this is not your work. It's God's work through you. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet We have to remember every day who we are and who we're not. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet We're going to have to reform how we present the gospel to the new generations. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet A called person puts a huge premium on personal growth. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet A called person is very passionate about developing the people around them. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet Called people are very humble in the sense that they're very willing to speak to their own brokenness. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet Drivenness is not all bad. It needs to be redeemed. Click To Tweet The driven person is often addicted to certain kinds of needs that may grow up even from childhood. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet Driven people can be angry people. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet Driven people sometimes short cheat their integrity. They cut corners to get people to do what they want to do. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet A lot of driven people have poor people skills. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet A congregation, in the long run, rises no higher than the persons who are in charge of their spiritual journey up front. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet A driven person is going to leave a lot of shallow people behind him when he goes out the door. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet A called person, which would be the opposite of driven, would be a person who always leaves the congregation better than when they found it. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet Success is a trap. Once you've been successful, it's really hard not to want more of that. Click To Tweet I can't help but believe in the next 10 to 15 years, we're going to see a change in the Christian movement that we could never imagine in a lifetime. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet What you discover when you leave a church is how much people have been watching you in the private side of your life. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet I look for the megachurch organization to maybe shrink a little bit and for there to be a whole new emphasis upon how you train men and women to pastor people in groups of 20 or 25. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet There's a lot of men and women in leadership who spend a lot of years coasting along on natural gifts. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet Natural gifting gets you far, but it only gets you so far. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet Most people hit the wall about every seven to 10 years. - Gordon MacDonald Click To Tweet When you underestimate how difficult something is, that can demoralize your team. Click To Tweet Minimizing the workload your team is facing maximizes their frustration with you. Click To Tweet The leader who tries to steal someone else's thunder ends up creating a whole new set of storms. Click To Tweet A rested team is a better team. Click To Tweet

Read or Download the Transcript for Episode 422

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Next Episode: Greg McKeown

Greg McKeown returns to the podcast to talk about his latest New York Times bestselling book, Effortless…sort of.

Greg and Carey also talk about podcasting, Greg’s next book idea on why listening can 10x your influence, what he learned from Stephen Covey and, yes, also Essentialism and Effortless.

Subscribe for free now so you won’t miss Episode 423.

CNLP 422: Gordon MacDonald on the Damage Driven Leaders Create, Hitting the Wall in Leadership, and Getting Healthy


  1. cbd gummies uk on September 15, 2021 at 10:04 am

    Leadership is all about navigating the ship when the waves come crashing in and making people believe in your vision and direction, but it’s all about holding onto that wheel. Now how you choose to steer is up to you. You can’t expect people to be motivated for you…that’s their responsibility not yours. Good leaders recognize the motivation comes from them, and the people will follow. Because if “they” aren’t motivated, 99% of the time it’s because they don’t believe in you or what you’re doing. But belief in yourself will nearly always carry you through.

  2. Kenny Embry on June 29, 2021 at 11:14 am

    Wow, just wow. The John the Baptist example is so so appropriate. Being at peace with obscurity, and the idea talent has limitations. Wow.

    Thanks for doing this!

  3. Andrey on June 10, 2021 at 4:29 pm

    Great analogy of John the Baptist and how our leadership can replicate him.

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