Home Pastors Four Opportunity Killing Mistakes Young (and Old) Leaders Make

Four Opportunity Killing Mistakes Young (and Old) Leaders Make


I love investing in younger leaders, and as I get older almost every leader I meet with is a younger leader. Younger leaders are the ones who change the culture, change the trajectory and change the world. They are less afraid to fail and more likely to try things that seem impossible. Younger leaders don’t know that “we already tried that and it didn’t work”. Younger leaders have passion and energy, what they need is opportunity and experience.

It is that lack of experience, however, that often trips up young leaders. I see them making the same mistakes, easily correctible mistakes, over and over again. My fear is that these mistakes may cause young leaders to lose confidence in their own ability, or become jaded about the organizations where they have leadership roles. My goal is not to poke fun at a young leaders’ naiveté, but to shine a light on the obstacles and lend a helping hand. Its not that I am a better or wiser leader, its just that I’ve been down the path before and I know where the bumps are.

So here are four mistakes I often see younger leaders make:

Mistaking Passion for Opportunity

A few years ago a young man asked for my opinion, “Do you think churches are looking for full time youth counselors?” He had just graduated from seminary with a counseling degree and he was looking for a job. I was honest but overly blunt with my response, “No.”

“You mean churches don’t care about the mental health of teenagers?”, he asked.

“You didn’t ask me if they care, you asked me if they would pay someone a full-time salary to counsel young people. Based on what I know about the priorities, budgets and needs of most churches I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

I don’t think he ever found the job he was looking for. He made the mistake that many young leaders make, that passion equals employability. The reality is that early on in our careers almost all of us worked in jobs we weren’t particularly passionate about, and to this day I’ve never had a job that was made up entirely of things I love doing.

Its important to understand what you’re passionate about, but the question is; will anyone pay you for your passion? You may have to work in an area that you aren’t that fired up about as you build your skills, your network and your bank account. Your opportunity may come, but it will likely be later. Don’t give up on your dreams, but work with all your heart at what you have in front of you today.

Mistaking Accountability for Mistrust

Some young leaders bristle at the adage, “Don’t expect what you don’t inspect,” They label oversight as micromanagement, and feel accountability is a sign of mistrust. “Just tell me what you want accomplished and then leave me alone” is the sentiment.

We have all worked for a manager who leads out of a need for control, but that isn’t the case every time a leader asks for a progress report. Growth in leadership skills comes through input and correction, so accountability is the vehicle for that growth. Even an overly controlling manager presents an opportunity to learn. Rather than avoid measurement and reporting, young leaders can embrace accountability as a stepping stone to increased responsibility.

Mistaking Ideas for Execution

While debriefing a leadership conference we attended a resident from the local seminary said he was appalled by Andy Stanley’s statement, “Recruit doers, not thinkers. It’s much easier to educate a doer than it is to motivate a thinker…rent a thinker, higher a doer.” He was highly offended that Andy didn’t value thinkers like him. Unfortunately I don’t know how things turned out for the thinker because we had to let him go a few months later. It turns out he didn’t do anything.

An executive pastor said it like this, “Good ideas are everywhere; everyone has a good idea. I’m not impressed by good ideas, I’m impressed by great execution.” The world is seldom changed by leaders with great ideas, it is transformed by leaders with good ideas who can execute a strategy.