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5 Signs You’re a Slave to Leadership Chaos

5 Signs You're a Slave To Leadership Chaos

Like anyone who has led for more than a few years, you’ve probably sensed that things feel a little more chaotic today than they did a few years ago.

You may wonder why, but think about the change you’ve witnessed in the last decade.

Your parents had one inbox. It was paper, and the letter carrier came once a day.

Mom and dad also had one phone at work and one at home. It rang from time to time, and when they weren’t around, there was voicemail.

So…think about it. How many inboxes do you have?

I counted. I have 11 inboxes. Eleven. (And I’m sure I’ve missed some…)

For the record, that includes text messages, a public and private email inbox, two Facebook inboxes, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Skype (yeah…I use it for podcasting), Asana and even my bank has a private secure message inbox (horribly clunky, but still, if they want to talk to me…).

This doesn’t account for hundreds of ‘message requests’ that come in from people I don’t follow or friend on Insta or Facebook.

And we haven’t even talked about people knocking on your door, swinging by your house, or sending you good old fashioned snail mail or stuff via courier.

Every time you look at your phone or watch there are eleventy billion people who want a slice of you.

Ever wonder why anxiety is on the rise?

Welcome to 2019.

And you know what this leads to? Chaos.


In an interview I did with my friend Frank Bealer on how to boost your productivity in high demand seasons, Frank so rightly pointed out if you’re not a slave to your calendar (scheduling your priorities), then you’re a slave to chaos.


I understand what it’s like to be a slave to chaos. As a leader in my 30s, as our church grew and the demands at home rose with two growing kids, I didn’t know how to respond or even weigh the growing number of demands on my leadership.

My terrible formula was that more demands equal more hours, and it was a recipe for failure. It eventually led me to burnout.

On the other side of burnout, I took some time to rethink everything and adopted some new patterns and strategies.

To my surprise, my productivity didn’t just improve, it soared.

As our church kept growing, I organized my life around a fixed calendar and started managing my time energy and priorities in new ways. Those changes led me to not only get ahead on growth, but to go on to write four books, launch a weekly podcast, spend more time speaking at conferences and events, and have more time at home with my family. It even helped me move exercise into my regular rhythm.

I teach you the system I’ve adopted (and that now thousands of leaders have adopted) in The High Impact Leader Course.

Today’s (Thursday, January 31) is the final day to get the High Impact Leader at current pricing before the price goes up at midnight and five new bonuses go away.

If you want to get your life and leadership back in 2019, you can learn more about the High Impact Leader here.

You don’t have to fall victim to the constant demands on you, but so many leaders do.

So how do you know you’re a slave to leadership chaos?

5 Signs You’re a Slave to Leadership Chaos


Probably the greatest source of anxiety for leaders is the sense that they have no control.

Because you’re so bombarded by information, opportunities, obligations and requests, there’s a constant sense that life is happening to you, and you don’t really have much choice.

You try to respond by becoming busier and busier, but it doesn’t help.

For every extra hour or every ounce of extra effort you put in, you get further behind.

What’s worse is that busy has a price. It’s not just a price you pay. It’s a price everybody pays: your family, your team, your church.

If being busy is your strategy to stay in control, you need a new strategy.


Ever go to the fair and play Whac-a-mole?

That’s the game where they give you a boxing glove and gophers pop up out of holes…and you have to whack them back in.

If you have 11 inboxes, lead a staff, and have a bunch of people you’re responsible for, that’s what leadership can feel like.

You answer one message, and four more come in. You solve one problem, and three more pop up. (Here’s a 20-second Whac-a-Mole video that can be a bit therapeutic…)

While successfully whacking all the moles in a given day can make you feel like you’ve won, you haven’t.

Because that’s not really leadership.

The best leadership doesn’t just respond to what’s happening, it anticipates and shapes what’s going to happen. And you never have time for that if all you do is respond to constant bombardment around you.


So you have a long list of things you need to do. You know they matter. They’re important.

Question: Why do they never seem to get done?

Well, when your leadership is out of control, other peoples’ priorities hijack yours.

Here’s an example.

For me, one of the most important things I can do is write.

Whether that’s my next sermon series, next message, next book, next blog post or questions for my next podcast, writing is hands down one of the most important things I do.

Yet every text, every phone call, every email, every knock on the door is someone asking you to get their priority done, not yours.

But nobody ever cancels their meeting with me and tells me, “Hey Carey, I just wanted to make sure you had enough time to prepare for Sunday and edit your next book.”

Instead, I get dozens (or often, hundreds) of emails every day asking me for something someone else wants.

The principle: No one will ever ask you to complete your top priority. They will only ask you to complete theirs.


Many leaders, including most pastors, don’t like saying no. And I admit, it’s hard.

I still want to say yes to everything that comes my way (well, almost everything).

So why are we so bad at saying no?

It’s because we want to be liked. Which moves us leaders into a serious problem: Leadership requires you to take people to destinations they would not go without your leadership.

Stop for a moment and, if you would, re-read that sentence.

Do you see the challenge?

Leadership is inherently difficult because it requires a leader to take people where they don’t naturally want to go.

So you have a choice as a leader.

You can focus on leading people, or focus on being liked.

When you focus on being liked, you will instinctively try to please the people you’re leading. And when you do, you will become confused.

Pleasing people is inherently confusing because people don’t agree. One person wants it one way. Another wants it another way.

And soon, you’re bending over backward to make everyone happy, which of course means that in the end, you will end up making no one happy, including yourself. It’s actually a recipe for misery for everyone.

It’s also a recipe for inertia.

If you focus on being liked, you won’t lead. You will never have the courage to do what needs to be done.

I teach you how to say no nicely in the High Impact Leader course. That skill alone has radically changed my life and made my leadership soar.


You already know this, but you have core priorities that are important but never urgent.

You know you should spend more time with:

Your family

Working on your marriage

Taking better care of yourself

Doing long term planninga

Working harder on your content


Etc. etc. etc.

And the reason you don’t do this…is the urgent demands on your time always win out.

You cheat your family, yourself and even the most important aspects of your job.

After all, the number one thing you say to your family should never be sorry. 


This article originally appeared here.

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Speaker and podcaster Carey Nieuwhof is a former lawyer and founding pastor of Connexus Church, one of the largest and most influential churches in Canada. With over 6 million downloads, The Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast features today's top leaders and cultural influencers. His most recent book is “Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the 7 Greatest Challenges That No One Expects and Everyone Experiences.” Carey and his wife, Toni, reside near Barrie, Ontario and have two children.