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12 Secrets Most Leaders Won’t Tell You


by Carey Nieuwhof: Leadership is a journey…a journey that’s probably different than you thought it would be before you stepped into leadership.

When I was young, I always thought top leaders had it all figured out. That the uncertainty would one day disappear once I had more life and leadership under my belt.

But as you eventually learn, it doesn’t really work that way.

In fact, I think most leaders struggle more than they let on. I know personally, at one point or another, I’ve struggled in each of the areas listed below. But, at the time, because I didn’t want to tell anyone how I really felt, I kept mostly quiet.

Looking back, I realize for too long I kept far too much of it to myself.

You know what keeping it to yourself does, right?

It leaves you isolated. And the silence gives fear power—power it should never have.

Just to let you know you’re not alone, and to break the power of darkness by cracking some daylight, here are 12 secrets most leaders won’t tell you.

Silence gives fear power. Power it should never have.Click To Tweet

1. I’m less secure than I appear

For most leaders, the together exterior doesn’t always match the fragile interior.

Security is a journey for sure…a tough one. Most people don’t like insecure leaders. But insecurity is a trap…the more insecure you are, the more you resist telling anyone you’re insecure. And the more they dislike you.

If it helps, I outline 5 signs you’re an insecure leader in this post, and 5 ways to become a more secure leader here.

I think the best way to start dealing with your insecurity is to admit it, and deal with it.

A counsellors’ offices and a safe friend are great places to start with that by the way. So is prayer.

For most leaders, the together exterior doesn’t always match the fragile interior.Click To Tweet

2. I secretly worry I’m failing

Leadership is complex and involves going through seasons of unpopularity.

It also involves making tough calls that can make you feel like you’re failing. Add to that challenges at home and unresolved issues from the past, and it can get crushing at times.

The negative voices in you head can get loud, and while people online debate who’s the G.O.A.T, you secretly feel like you’re simply the goat.

3. I’m lonelier than I let on

Isolation is a problem throughout our culture these days.

Strangely, technology has made us more connected than we’ve ever been before, yet we’ve never felt more alone.

But leadership adds a new dimension. Because leaders deal with challenges others don’t naturally understand, it gets even more lonely.

Add to that the fact that most of us who are driven type leaders don’t do relationships easily, and sometimes it’s lonelier than it needs to be.

Strangely, technology has made us more connected than we’ve ever been before, yet we’ve never felt more alone. Click To Tweet

4. It’s hard at home sometimes

Instagram lies. It’s not always easy at home.

It’s gotten better over the years, but there have been seasons in my leadership where my family got too much of my unfiltered stress. Not fair. Not fair at all. But true.

Home is hard. Work is hard. Put the two together in an ill-thought through combination and it can be lethal.

I really believe that, in the long run, everything rides on how you lead at home.

Instagram lies. It’s not always easy at home.Click To Tweet

5. The criticism hurts

We pretend the criticism doesn’t hurt, but it does, whether we admit it or not.

We put our poker faces on, but deep down it stings.

There are ways to handle criticism like a pro, not a toddler. Acknowledging it hurts is a great first step.

6. I’m afraid to ask for what I really want

I’ve usually been pretty forward in my leadership and I’m grateful for an incredibly honest dialogue I have with my team where I serve.

But there are seasons where I’ve been afraid to ask for what I really want. And even as I type those words I think “That sounds so selfish.”

But sometimes you just need a vacation. Or, especially when your family is young and you’re just starting out, you need a raise. Or you need more staff.

Or you need someone to have your back. Or you need a friend. Or you need a decision to go your way.

You’re just afraid to ask.

You know what I’ve found? Almost every time I’ve asked, someone said “Why didn’t you ask sooner? We’d love to help.”

See what secrets and silence do?

Solitude is a gift from God. Isolation is a tool of the enemy.

Solitude is a gift from God. Isolation is a tool of the enemy.Click To Tweet

7. I’ve thought about leaving even though I’m staying

You’ve thought about leaving, even though you’re staying…true? Of course it’s true, unless you just started last Tuesday, and even then…

Everyone goes through seasons of doubt and questions about the future.

But when you sit in silence with this one for too long, you end up waffling. Not staying, but not leaving either. You end up putting in half an effort, and you’re half the leader you could be.

Not sure if you should go? Here are 7 signs it’s time to leave.

8. I have a secret job

One of the reasons leadership is hard is because you deal with so many intangibles. It’s brain work. People management. Conflict management. Getting people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

On bad days, many leaders I know dream of doing something entirely different. For a season, my escape job was to stack boxes in a warehouse. Because at least if you moved a box, it stayed moved.

9. Sometimes I dream of escaping

In my unhealthy seasons in leadership, I’d dream of escaping. Not only would I stack boxes in a warehouse for a living, I’d do just about anything except what I’m doing.

If that thought lingers for more than a season, you either need to get healthier and stay in the job you’re doing, or if you are healthy, it may simply be a sign it’s time to find a new job.

10. I feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing

Eventually you reach a level of leadership, either because you’ve been at it long enough or because whatever you’re leading got big enough, that you realize there are no clear answers. There just aren’t.

You surrounded yourself with the smartest people you could and you realize that even the smart people don’t know what to do.

That’s where real leadership begins—when you feel like you don’t really know what you’re doing, but you keep doing anyway.

That’s how history gets changed. You were just the last person standing, even though inside it felt like sheer confusion.

You know you’re leading at a high level when even the smart people don’t know what to do.Click To Tweet

11. People seem to believe in me more than I believe in myself some days

When you’ve been through #9 enough times, you will be ready to give up believing in yourself. But you look around and realize other people keep believing in you.

That’s exactly what you need. You’re likely leading very well if enough of the good people keep believing in you.

So when you stop believing in you, keep believing in the people who believe in you.

So when you stop believing in you, keep believing in the people who believe in you.Click To Tweet

12. I thought we would have made more progress by now

You don’t want to say it out loud, but you really do think you would have made more progress by now.

You look at all the overnight successes and think “How come that wasn’t me?” This only works, of course, until you look more closely at the overnight successes only to realize almost all of them were 5-15 years in the making.

The fact that your vision is bigger than your reality is paradoxically a sign that you’re a good leader.

So keep being mildly disappointed, because it will always spur you on to more.

I was talking recently to someone who became an ‘overnight’ TV star. When I really drilled down on his story, it went back to VHS tapes in the early nineties. No one knows that part of the story, but again, a lot of the time when people think someone just emerged overnight, it’s only because that leader has been working harder for years, sometimes decade.

The part about overnight success no one really understands is that it’s usually a very long night.

So keep working.

And one day when it’s over you’ll look back and be amazed at how much you actually accomplished.

The part about overnight success no one really understands is that it’s usually a very long night.Click To Tweet

How To Stay In It For the Long Haul

All of the things I share above got me into an unhealthy place years ago in leadership. They led me to burnout.

It’s been over a decade since I burned out, and since then, I’ve learned how to live in a much healthier way. And while we all have bad days (I do too), the changes I’ve experienced in organizing my time, energy and priorities differently is monumental.

I’d love to help you get into a much better place in life and leadership.

That’s what my High Impact Leader Course is all about.

The High Impact Leader course, is an online, on-demand course designed to help you get time, energy and priorities working in your favour.

Here are what some alumni are saying about The High Impact Leader Course”

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for providing the course again. It has absolutely made an impact in my life and family already that I can’t even describe.” – First Priority, Clayton County, North Carolina

“A lot of books and programs make big promises and cannot deliver but this is not one of them. I have read so many books and watched videos on productivity but the way you approach it and teach is helpful and has changed my work week in ministry in amazing ways.” Chris Sloan, Tanglewood Church, Kingston, North Carolina

“Just wow.  Thank you, thank you.” Dave Campbell, Invitation Church, Sioux Falls South Dakota

Curious? Want to beat overwhelm, discouragement and frustration in leadership and have the time to reinvent yourself?

Click here to learn more or get instant access.

What Are Your Secrets?

What thoughts do you have that you have a hard time admitting to anyone else?

I’d love to hear them.

And what’s yours experience with these 11?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

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