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How to Lead When You’re in Over Your Head

Here’s a leadership secret.

Almost anyone who has ever led anything significant has felt like they’re in over their head at one point or another.

You might be there right now.

I hear from young leaders all the time or leaders who have moved into new roles who tell me they’re overwhelmed by the responsibility of leadership. One young leader put it this way:

I’m basically … new to all of this and feeling completely over my head. Knowing I am called to be here and not knowing how any of this is going to work, [the] leadership issue for me is feeling so very, very insecure on so many levels.

I get that. I’ve felt like I’ve been in over my head many times.

From my teens right through my 30s, I was often the youngest leader around a lot of leadership tables and had to learn how to lead with people much older and often much wiser than me.

I was in law before ministry. First-year law school was overwhelming for a liberal arts major, but I found a way through.

I really never saw myself as a pastor, and had to figure out how to lead a church in real time when I got called into ministry.

I really had no idea how to write a book. I’ve now been able to publish three, including my latest, Lasting Impact: 7 Powerful Conversations That Will Help Your Church Grow.

I had no idea how to launch a book (apparently books don’t launch themselves), but learned on the fly and saw my latest book become a #1 Amazon best-seller in multiple categories.

Whether you’re trying to launch something new, moving into a new and overwhelming role, or just being the young leader around a seasoned table, everyone gets overwhelmed.

So … how do you lead when you’re in over your head?

What follows are five guidelines that have helped me.

1. Stay humble.

Humility is a leader’s best friend.

It’s one thing to be in over your head but pretend you’ve got it all figured out. Your insecurity will drive you to pretend you know something. Don’t.

It’s such a bad strategy; the quickest way to alienate the people around you is to pretend you know what you’re doing when you don’t.

People will lose confidence in you quickly and begin to dismiss you as arrogant.

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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.