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5 Ways to Survive the Mental Game of Leadership

One of the problems I struggled with for years in leadership was taking every leadership triumph or set back so personally.

I let the dynamics of leadership go to my head and heart too often. My spirits soared when things were good in ministry. They sunk when they weren’t. I took too much of the weight home. Well, not just home. It followed me everywhere I went.

Over time, I’ve learned that there’s a world of difference between taking leadership seriously and taking it personally.

Leaders should always take leadership seriously. It demands our best, and we should give it. Every day.

But to take it too personally creates a roller coaster that ripples out all over the place.

When you take leadership seriously, everyone wins.

When you take it personally, almost everyone loses.

Here are 5 reasons you should stop taking leadership so personally.

There's a world of difference between taking leadership seriously and taking leadership personally. Click To Tweet

1. You’re messing up your head and your heart

If you take things too personally, you create an emotional roller coasting no one wants to ride.

As Tim Keller has pointed out, if you let success go to your head, failure will go to your heart. And that’s exactly what happens when you over-personalize your leadership.

If you let success go to your head, failure will go to your heart. @timkellernyc Click To Tweet

Your head is never quite right when things are going well because you take credit for things that perhaps rightly belong to God or to the contribution of others. Or you begin to believe it’s all you.

Conversely, when you fail, you become completely deflated, convinced God can do nothing with you or through you. You fall into despair.

The reality is that you’re not nearly as good as your best day or nearly as bad as your worst.

Healthy leaders know how to separate what they do from who they are, which leads us to the second reason you should stop taking your leadership so personally.

You’re not nearly as good as your best day or nearly as bad as your worst. Click To Tweet

2. You’re confusing who you are with what you do

Far too many leaders confuse who they are with what they do.

Big mistake.

We all know we’re not supposed to confuse our identity with our work, but almost all of us do it.

You are not what you do.

Hear this:

You’re loved.

You’re forgiven.

You’re cherished.

None of this has anything to do with what you’ve done and everything to do with what Christ has done for you. That’s the Gospel.

The error in confusing who you are with what you do arises from the fact that you think you’re loved, forgiven and celebrated because you did your best.

Those who understand Christianity know that the opposite is actually true:

You do your best BECAUSE you’re loved, forgiven and cherished.

Do you see the flip?

You don’t do your best to earn God’s favour. You do your best because you have God’s favour.

Spend a day thinking and praying about that. Seriously, do a personal retreat on that one thought.

It will profoundly change how you lead.

You don't do your best to EARN God's favour. You do your best because you HAVE God's favour. Click To Tweet

3. You’re overemphasizing how important you are

At the heart of over-personalizing leadership is this problem: you’ve unwittingly made it all about you.

Of all the scripture verses that stop me in my tracks, this verse from Galatians 6 is one of the best:

If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Galatians 6:3 NLT

You’re just not that important.

As C.S. Lewis said, humility is not thinking less of yourself. It’s simply thinking of yourself less often.

When you and I are gone, the world will keep spinning. The Kingdom of God will keep advancing.

Somehow it’s not about me. It never was. It never will be.

I just get to play a part.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself. It's thinking of yourself less often. Click To Tweet

4. You’re letting your personal feelings dictate the future of your organization

As goes the leader, so goes the team.

If your personal fortune goes up and down with your church or organization, eventually it doesn’t only impact you; it impacts your organization.


Because when you go down, so, eventually, does your church.

When you suffer, your organization then experiences the impact of your dysfunctions.

A bad moment can become a bad season, because your reaction to what happens triggers the next happening.

Let’s say last month was a bad month in your organization for a variety of reasons. If you personalize those failures, last month’s results will make this month a bad month for you. And if you have a bad month this month, it’s somewhat likely that next month will be a bad month for your organization because you simply haven’t effectively led your team out of the slump (because you’re still in it).

What could have been a blip on the radar (one bad month) can easily become a slide down into a bad quarter or even a bad year.

And who needs that?

5. You’re ruining the rest of your life

I know that leadership brings a weight that only leaders understand. And to be candid, I still have a hard time not thinking about what I do. I love what I get to do. And I think about it a lot.

But it was far worse when I took my ups and downs in leadership personally.

Why? Because bad days would come home with me. Always.

When your success goes to your head and your failure goes to your heart, you always carry your struggles home.

When your success goes to your head and your failure goes to your heart, you always carry your struggles home. Click To Tweet

The people who love you will pay a price for this.

You will be arrogant or sullen…confused as to why you’re not the hero at home you are at work, or, on your bad days, resentful that your family and friends don’t want to join your miserable pity party.

The people in your life who truly love you don’t love you because of what you did at work. They just love you.

So stop ruining their lives. And yours.

People who truly love you don't love you because of what you did at work. They just love you. Click To Tweet

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Got Another Reason?

What have you learned about taking things too personally in leadership?

Scroll down and leave a comment.



  1. Dan Miller on February 20, 2019 at 3:40 am

    When you take things personally is a kind of believing that you are the center of everyone else’s world. And you believe that others do or don’t do is directly related to you. This will surely not help your business or career.

  2. Phil on February 6, 2019 at 11:12 am

    Interesting… I’m loving a few of these… #2: me big time and my mantra this month (identity attachment) …but a few I couldn’t disagree more with… #4: I’m all about leading from your gut. While that can only work when you are getting emotionally and mentally healthy, its the only way I know how to lead and lead people.

  3. Chet Bergeron on February 4, 2019 at 11:21 am

    Great blog as usual Carey! Really appreciate the opportunity to soak in the wisdom you learned through the years. And look forward to your podcasts as well each week. God Bless Brother!

  4. Lloyd McCullar on February 4, 2019 at 10:25 am

    I had a wonderful mentor/leader a few years back help me with a similar subject. His words have been etched in my mind and heart. Here is what he communicated. “If you ever take the blame for everything that went wrong or is going wrong, then you will be tempted to take the credit for everything that goes right or succeeds. Your’e not that bad, and you’re not that great!”

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