How Following Leaders You Admire Is Messing You Up

ann Voskamp

You and I live a strange time.

It’s never been easier to closely follow and admire people you don’t know, and never will know.

When you were a kid, you maybe had a poster of some celebrity in your room, or you read about them in a magazine or saw them on TV. Occasionally (and I do mean occasionally) you got a glimpse into their personal life.

Today, thanks to the internet and social media, you can now follow any leader’s every move and almost know more details about their life than they do.

Which has created this weird issue that plagues most of us: we imagine everyone else’s life to be easier and better than ours.

After all, we tend to post our best stuff online, which creates the strange phenomenon Steven Furtick summarized when he said that we compare our behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.

As a result, we think:

Well I’m sure Andy Stanley never deals with that. 

Or Craig Groeschel never has moments where he doubts. He’s just always at the gym crushing it.

Or I’ll bet Patrick Lencioni never struggles leading his company. (On that note, stay tuned for my interview with him this fall. It’s so refreshing.)

Of course, when you think that, it’s pretty clear you’ve never read the first section of Deep and Wide (Andy’s story of his relationship with his dad), or Sam Chand’s Leadership Pain where Craig Groeschel writes about an excruciating season in his life.

You know what’s probably more true, though? You have read those stories…and you’ve either forgotten them or dismissed them.

Here’s why: Someone else’s success makes you discount their struggles. And your struggles makes you discount your success.

So why does this matter?

Because way more is at stake than you think. It may run as deeply as life and death. And I’m trying not to overstate things here.

Recently I wrote pretty openly about one of the most difficult periods in my leadership, during which I struggled with suicidal thoughts during a dark season.

I wrote the post in response to the suicide of a young pastor who lost his battle to anxiety and depression. I included the picture of him and his family in that post. Again…looking at their picture you’d think “I’m sure they don’t have any issues.”

Since that post on leadership and suicide a few days ago, I’ve literally heard from hundreds of leaders who are letting me know that they’re struggling with far more than they’ve admitted publicly.

How wrong we can be to think that everyone else has it together and we don’t.

Here are three insights about how following leaders you admire is messing you up, and what to do about it.

1. Understand…There Are No Exceptions

So those top leaders you admire who you think have no struggles? They have them.

After getting a degree history, living for five decades, leading for almost 25 years, and after interviewing over two hundred top leaders for my leadership podcast, I can pretty much guarantee you that there’s not a single leader who hasn’t had to overcome personal struggles.

Often the best leaders have had to overcome many.

When I was starting out in leadership, I used to think that some people were successful because they simply didn’t have any struggles. I now realize that’s not true at all. The reason most leaders are successful is that they learned how to overcome their struggles.

They had the same challenges you and I do. They just figured out how to move through them.

Which makes their leadership even more noteworthy.

As Winston Churchill (who had to overcome an enormous amount of adversity) famously said, success is moving from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Knowing that there are no exceptions to the struggle helps me continue to persevere. I hope it helps you too.

2. Humble Your Talk

There’s a constant temptation in leadership to project an image that’s not accurate.

Don’t give in to that temptation.

And while you shouldn’t air all your dirty laundry in public (there are counsellors and an inner circle for that), there needs to be a congruency between your public talk and your private walk.

Don’t let your public talk lie about your private walk.

So what happens when you are relentlessly committed to making sure your talk matches your walk?  I’ll tell you what happens: you change your walk.

Every time I line up my public talk to match my private walk, it makes my private walk better. Words have that kind of power if they’re honest. The shame and humiliation of admitting who you really are to people you respect and admire will motivate a big shift in behavior.

If you simply make your talk match your walk, the gap between who you are and who you want to be becomes smaller almost instantly.

When it’s just too embarrassing to tell the truth, you make the truth better.

After all, of all the lies we tell, the lies we tell ourselves are the deadliest.

One of the best things you can do to overcome the gap between you are and who you pretend to be is to humble your talk and accelerate your walk.

3. Post the Highs, The (Appropriate) Lows and The Awkward

We’re not only suffering from the problem of imagining everyone else’s life to be better than ours; we’re contributing to it.

Any time you only post images of and updates about  yourself on the internet that makes things seem like they’re always awesome…you’re making the problem worse.

So how do you fix that?

Well, just let people see the real story. I’m not talking about becoming a toxic poster who blathers on about deep-seated issues that really belong in a counsellor’s office or for in-depth conversation with a friend. Nor am I saying you should post a rant about your spouse because you’re oh so angry right now.

But I am saying don’t just post the highlights.

In this space, I try to write as openly and honestly about life and leadership as I know how. Ditto with my podcast…I try to bring the behind-the-scenes conversations forward so we see we’re really all the same.

I hope you’ll find that my new book, Didn’t See it Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences, to be a gut-level-honest account of how issues cynicism, disconnection, pride and compromise get rooted in people’s lives (and how to overcome them).

Even on social, I try to post some of the highs, some of the disappointments, and some of the awkward because we’re all kind of awkward, aren’t we?

My current favourite social channel is Instagram Stories. My now grown kids tell me “Dad, people see who you really are on that, and often it’s goofy and kind of awkward.” Mission accomplished.

Here’s what’s true: people admire your strengths, but they resonate with your weaknesses. So show your weaknesses from time to time.

A Behind-The-Scenes Look At Life and Leadership

I’m really excited about my newes book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.

It’s all about the subtle and hidden things that both limit and sink so many leaders.

Way too often you see capable leaders fall or at least never reach their potential because they’ve grown cynical, they’ve compromised their character, or they’ve grown proud or disconnected or even after tremendous success, just feel a profound emptiness that leads them to behaviour they wish they hadn’t embraced…or despair.

I tackle all those  issues in my new book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.

Wise leaders see it coming and deal with it long before they fall to the issues that take out so many others.

Here’s what top leaders are saying about Didn’t See It Coming:

“Seriously, this may be the most important book you read this year.” Jud Wilhite, Lead Pastor, Central Church

“Powerful, personal, and highly readable. ” Brian Houston, Global Senior Pastor, Hillsong

“Whatever challenge you’re facing, whatever obstacle you’re hoping to overcome, whatever future you dream or imagine, there is something powerful for you here.” Andy Stanley, Founder, North Point Ministries

“Uncommonly perceptive and generous…You have to read this book.” Ann Voskamp, NYT bestselling author

“Masterful.” Reggie Joiner, CEO Orange

“Deep biblical insight, straightforward truth, and practical wisdom to help you grow.” Craig Groeschel, Pastor and NYT bestselling author

“This book is sure to help you.” Daniel H. Pink, NYT bestselling author

Over the years, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a public speaker is having opportunities to hang out with Carey…It’s not a matter of if you’ll run into these challenges; it’s a matter of when. Be prepared by spending a little time with a leader who has already been there.” Jon Acuff, NYT best-selling author

“Nieuwhof’s book provides expert guidance…with an accuracy that pierces the heart.” Nancy Duarte, CEO Duarte Inc.

“A refreshingly transparent guide for all leaders in a wide variety of industries.” Bryan Miles, Co-Founder and CEO, BELAY

You can learn more and get your copy of Didn’t See It Coming here.

What Are You Learning?

What are you learning in an age where we’re more closely connected than ever before, and an age where so many feel like they just don’t measure up?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

How Following Leaders You Admire Is Messing You Up


  1. hd wallpapers download on September 9, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    Thanx for that. Nice Article

  2. Olufemi Davids on September 5, 2018 at 6:45 pm

    Thanks Carey for keeping it real.

  3. Josh on September 4, 2018 at 9:12 am

    I needed this post today. I tend to be one who focuses on my struggles instead of successes. I have been serving in pastoral ministry for 16 years, the successes are many but I dangerously focus on the failures. I don’t care who you are, anyone (no matter how successful) who works at anything for 16 years or more is going to have a pile of mistakes. I needed your reminder to not compare to others who look like they have it all together and to not try and live in my mistakes forgetting all the good that has happened as well. As a pastor of a small church I am wrestling hard with the loss of key family that has decided to leave the church. I am trying to navigate these tumultuous waters to best love them and bless them in their last few weeks in our church before they depart. These are the moments of ministry that hurt deeply and I have to fight fixating on what went wrong instead of learning from what is happening and loving this family and congregation in a way that brings growth.

    Thank you for this post, it has helped.

  4. Michael Misfeldt on September 3, 2018 at 10:19 am

    When leading a class I find it helps to interject some of the attitudes I have had to change and the results that followed. If you project yourself as someone who always gets it right they have a hard time of relating to you as a person and more than likely will start to tune out.

    • Revd Victor Olufemi Williams on September 5, 2018 at 5:11 am

      Am always blessed with your writings, l will make sure l order for your latest Book, “Didn’t See It Coming”
      Or by the Grace Of God, l will be in US, by January 2019, l will make sure l call on you.

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