10 Signs of a Desperate Leader

Published January 17, 2018

Leadership can be a rocky road. Like everything else on this side of eternity, it is filled with seasons and their accompanying highs and lows.

There are times when a leader will face pressures that others may never fully understand, but you can be confident that God will go before you every single step of the way. Nothing reveals the “true you” like the challenges of life itself.

Here are 10 signs of a desperate leader:

1) Desperate Leaders Hold Too Many Meetings

As a church leader, meetings are an important part of my life, and I think that would be true for most leaders. Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we should “…not forsake the gathering of ourselves together” and goes on to explain that one of the major purposes of meeting together is for encouragement.

But while some meetings are crucial, many are not. If momentum has slowed or pressure is mounting, it’s easy to think that the quick fix is to hold another meeting. You can fall into the trap of meeting with your key leaders, who then have meetings with their leaders, who in turn meet with their top people, to prepare for the meeting that you were all meeting about in the first place!

I think about all the meetings that happen within our church through age groups, departments and all the layers of church life, and it’s scary! The answer to everything is not to hold another meeting. I believe too many meetings EXHAUST good churches, DE-MOTIVATE faithful people and CONSUME vital time.

Here’s the real issue: I have never seen a church grow by holding more meetings. (Obviously, I’m not speaking about weekend services, but rather the myriad of meetings that can mount up within the layers of any organisation). Keep in mind that if your teams are in constant meetings, no one is out on the coalface doing the real work. (Ed. Note: Coalface is the real working conditions.)

Remember that, generally speaking, nobody cares as much about your meetings as you do! If you are struggling, trying to kick-start momentum or feel like you must do something to move forward, pressuring people with more meetings is usually not the answer.

Ask yourself this question: Are all the meetings you oversee productive or counterproductive?

2) Desperate Leaders Preside Over a Tense and Stressful Atmosphere

Confusion amongst people can easily arise when something is not quite right. People can tell SOMETHING is wrong, but nobody seems to know quite WHAT is wrong. A heavy cloud may descend over the atmosphere, while generosity diminishes and joy disappears.

A desperate leader can sense that the ship is unsteady and the natural reaction may be to press harder, try harder and push people harder; when perhaps the best thing you could do is consciously relax the atmosphere. Bring rest into the situation, take some pressure off, strive a little less and it is amazing how the ship may right itself.

Desperate leaders strive, while comfortable leaders thrive.

3) Desperate Leaders Create Too Many Crises

I sometimes joke that in some churches, instead of having an Annual General Meeting, they have Annual General Crisis. It’s as if when there is no crisis, a desperate leader feels like they must create one. They make mountains out of molehills and start jumping at shadows, while dramatically enflaming a fire that could have easily been snuffed out.

I have learned in the big picture of life that, “If it’s not a crisis to me, it is not a crisis to people.” A perfect example of this is during persecution or opposition. A struggling leader becomes defensive, constantly talks about the unfairness, camps around the issues and lets it take all the oxygen out of the atmosphere. You can create a crisis or extinguish a crisis by your own demeanor.

Speak Life – Speak Vision – Keep Smiling – Lift Your Eyes – Trust God – and watch what He can do.

4) Desperate Leaders Oversee Too Much Confrontation

Constant confrontation is a telltale sign that a leader is struggling and feeling like they are losing control. Some leaders find confrontation easy. But keep in mind that just because it’s easy for you, doesn’t mean you are good at it. What about the collateral damage? There is no excuse for team members to have angry arguments and especially not in front of other people. (As I have witnessed more than once).

Desperate leaders often oversee a culture of misunderstandings, infighting and fallouts—tensions that they themselves have created through their own penchant for confrontation.

5) Desperate Leaders Have Too Many Sleepless Nights

“Anxiety in the heart of a man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” Proverbs 12:25 (NKJV)

I’ve had sleepless nights—tossing and turning while focusing on issues that somehow seemed bigger during the midnight hours. That is not a healthy way to live and it is yet another sign that a leader is struggling. The psalmist put it this way in Psalm 16:7: “My heart instructs me in the night seasons.” Our heart instructs us in dark times too, so what instruction is your heart giving you? Panic? Worry? Fear?

David continues: “I have set the Lord always before me.”

 If Christ is our focus then our sleep can be sweet, and sweet sleep is a scriptural promise (Psalm 127:2). Stressed and overanxious leaders may not be living in that promise.

6) Desperate Leaders Make Too Many Changes to the Program

Many years ago, my favourite football team had an amazing player they dubbed: “The Zip Zip Man.”  He could change direction on a coin—without even slowing down—and even his own teammates never quite knew what he was going to do. This ability served him well as a great player on a great team, but constant changes of direction in a business or church will generally just make all your passengers motion sick as you continue to steer the bus around blind corner after blind corner.

It is a sign of a desperate leader to change constantly the vision and change the program or to change the emphasis, and follow every new trend that comes along. People are in trepidation every time their leader goes to a conference, wondering what direction they will be heading in next. This is no way to lead.

The most resilient churches have a consistency about them, where people know they can believe in the vision and trust the direction that their leader is taking them in.

7) Too Many Positional Switches

When I was small, my parents were pastors in a denomination where every two years they’d be moved to a different church, in a different part of New Zealand. My father would recall that every time he was getting some traction, he would be moved on and would have to begin again.

If a leader is constantly shuffling people around within an organization, it can work against progress and cause momentum to stall.

Desperate leaders tend to be constantly making positional switches amongst their team, forgetting that it affects everyone under the person they are moving, and often causing unnecessary unrest amongst the troops.

8) Desperate Leaders Are Far Too Involved in Every Minute Detail

Micro-management. Is it strength or a weakness? It depends. There are clearly seasons when forensic leadership is needed to identify issues that might need to be addressed. However, desperate leaders get their eyes off the road ahead by focussing on the pothole right in front of them—losing their vision of the vast, wide-open spaces available to them.

I oversee a church with a global footprint and I’m blessed to be able to trust my team to carry so much of the day-to-day load, enabling me to be a forward-thinking and vision-focused leader. This doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on. Every Friday, I receive comprehensive reports from every key department of our church, allowing me not to stress over things that others are well equipped to handle. Keep in mind: it’s been a 33-year journey of investing into people to get to this point.

Desperate leaders struggle to let go and focus on the road ahead.

9) Desperate Leaders Suffer Decision-Freeze

There is an actual psychological condition which causes people to freeze—fearful of moving, lest they make the wrong decision. In this condition, you are afraid to move, idle and frozen in an almost comatose state.

After the Rwandan genocide there was a condition they called idle, where a person would stand still in a field for hours on end because they had nowhere to go. Their home, their family and everything else they held dear was gone, so they just stood still. A desperate leader can get to that point. I knew one old pastor who would discuss agenda items at length in a church board meeting without ever concluding anything. No decisions were made. This was a sign of his old age, but for some, it’s a sign of fear-induced procrastination and indecisiveness.

There are times when ANY decision is better than NO decision.

10) Desperate Leaders Put Their Head in the Sand

Are there times you’d just rather not know that something may be wrong, or may desperately need your attention? Would you prefer to be cocooned from the reality that, under your leadership, something is going backwards? It’s far nicer to arrive at the conference blissfully unaware and telling your peers how wonderfully things are going. And, it’s so much easier emotionally, to shut certain realities out and not know that there’s disquiet in the camp, that the finances desperately need your focus or something else desperately needs your attention.

I already mentioned that, as leaders, we don’t need to know everything. But living in a bubble of self-imposed ignorance does not make anything go away. Don’t let your team “protect” you from things you NEED to know, so that you can make the right changes or choices. Take your place as a leader and refuse to live afraid of bad news.

A ship’s captain needs to know that the boat is leaking—no matter how big or small the hole. “I don’t want to know numbers,” says one leader, while another claims “Everybody is telling me that all is well.” Is it possible that people are afraid to tell you the truth because of the reaction that may await them?

Personally, I don’t want to lead like an ostrich with my head buried firmly in the sand. I want my team to arm me consistently to stay ahead of the bell curve by giving me the necessary information. Nothing gets better by ignoring it.

So, what about you? Do any of these thoughts resonate?

Don’t live in condemnation, but do all that you can to lead the people entrusted to you with wisdom, boldness, courage and conviction. If you are struggling, speak to trusted people and seek the Lord for His guidance on what to change and how to move forward.

Lead from a place of quiet confidence and live in the favour of our Almighty God.

About the Author(s)
Brian Houston

Brian Houston

Founder and Global Senior Pastor

Hillsong Church

Brian Houston is senior pastor of Australia-based Hillsong Church, a global family of congregations comprising more than 100,000 weekly attendees. Regarded for his boldness, innovation and vision, he is passionate about the local church and empowering the next generation of leaders with fresh Biblical teaching, relevant worship and accessible community. He is also the President of Hillsong Bible College and the Executive Producer of more than 30 gold and platinum albums that have come from the Hillsong Worship team.

Years at GLS 2015