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How Following Leaders You Admire Is Messing You Up

How Following Leaders You Admire Is Messing You Up

You and I live in a strange time.

It’s never been easier to closely follow and admire people you don’t know, and never will know.

When you were a kid, you maybe had a poster of some celebrity in your room, or you read about them in a magazine or saw them on TV. Occasionally (and I do mean occasionally) you got a glimpse into their personal life.

Today, thanks to the Internet and social media, you can now follow any leader’s every move and almost know more details about their life than they do.

Which has created this weird issue that plagues most of us: We imagine everyone else’s life to be easier and better than ours.

After all, we tend to post our best stuff online, which creates the strange phenomenon Steven Furtick summarized when he said that we compare our behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel.

As a result, we think:

Well I’m sure Andy Stanley never deals with that. 

Or Craig Groeschel never has moments where he doubts. He’s just always at the gym crushing it.

Or I’ll bet Patrick Lencioni never struggles leading his company. (On that note, stay tuned for my interview with him this fall. It’s so refreshing.)

Of course, when you think that, it’s pretty clear you’ve never read the first section of Deep and Wide (Andy’s story of his relationship with his dad), or Sam Chand’s Leadership Pain where Craig Groeschel writes about an excruciating season in his life.

You know what’s probably more true, though? You have read those stories…and you’ve either forgotten them or dismissed them.

Here’s why: Someone else’s success makes you discount their struggles. And your struggles makes you discount your success.

So why does this matter?

Because way more is at stake than you think. It may run as deeply as life and death. And I’m trying not to overstate things here.

Recently I wrote pretty openly about one of the most difficult periods in my leadership, during which I struggled with suicidal thoughts during a dark season.

I wrote the post in response to the suicide of a young pastor who lost his battle to anxiety and depression. I included the picture of him and his family in that post. Again…looking at their picture you’d think “I’m sure they don’t have any issues.”

Since that post on leadership and suicide a few days ago, I’ve literally heard from hundreds of leaders who are letting me know that they’re struggling with far more than they’ve admitted publicly.

How wrong we can be to think that everyone else has it together and we don’t.

Here are three insights about how following leaders you admire is messing you up, and what to do about it.


So those top leaders you admire who you think have no struggles? They have them.

After getting a degree in history, living for five decades, leading for almost 25 years, and after interviewing over 200 top leaders for my leadership podcast, I can pretty much guarantee you that there’s not a single leader who hasn’t had to overcome personal struggles.

Often the best leaders have had to overcome many.

When I was starting out in leadership, I used to think that some people were successful because they simply didn’t have any struggles. I now realize that’s not true at all. The reason most leaders are successful is that they learned how to overcome their struggles.

They had the same challenges you and I do. They just figured out how to move through them.

Which makes their leadership even more noteworthy.

As Winston Churchill (who had to overcome an enormous amount of adversity) famously said, success is moving from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.

Knowing that there are no exceptions to the struggle helps me continue to persevere. I hope it helps you too.


There’s a constant temptation in leadership to project an image that’s not accurate.

Don’t give in to that temptation.

And while you shouldn’t air all your dirty laundry in public (there are counselors and an inner circle for that), there needs to be a congruency between your public talk and your private walk.

Don’t let your public talk lie about your private walk.

So what happens when you are relentlessly committed to making sure your talk matches your walk? I’ll tell you what happens: You change your walk.

Every time I line up my public talk to match my private walk, it makes my private walk better. Words have that kind of power if they’re honest. The shame and humiliation of admitting who you really are to people you respect and admire will motivate a big shift in behavior.

If you simply make your talk match your walk, the gap between who you are and who you want to be becomes smaller almost instantly.

When it’s just too embarrassing to tell the truth, you make the truth better.

After all, of all the lies we tell, the lies we tell ourselves are the deadliest.

One of the best things you can do to overcome the gap between who you are and who you pretend to be is to humble your talk and accelerate your walk.