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Top 10 Reasons Leaders Stop Leading: And How to Lead Again

how to lead

Just because you have a leadership position doesn’t mean you are leading. That’s a sobering thought. You have to know how to lead but sometimes leaders stop leading.

All of us who carry the responsibility to lead must be honest about the question, “Are you leading?”

It’s so easy to be busy, work hard, even feel exhausted, and not actually be leading. In fact, in many cases the leader is working so hard and is so busy, they don’t realize they are not leading.

Here are 12 quick tests for how to lead: 

(You don’t do every one of these every day, but they are all part of your leadership life.)

If you are leading…

  • You are out in front.
  • You know where you are going.
  • People are following you.
  • You are making progress.
  • You are bringing change.
  • You are experiencing resistance.
  • You are making decisions.
  • You are making mistakes.
  • You are taking risks.
  • Not everyone likes you.
  • You always need more resources.
  • You are not afraid to measure results.

How many did you check indicating “yup that’s me”?

What if you can’t check “yup, that’s me” on too many of these?

What do you do if a leader on your team doesn’t match this profile?

The truth is that not every leader gets up every day and continues to lead. I’ve watched this for decades now. Sometimes, and surprisingly often, a leader stops leading. It’s not usually an abrupt thing and rarely a conscious decision, but slowly their leadership engine revs down to an idle.

They still work hard, remain busy, and perhaps shepherd the people well. But there is no forward movement.

Top 10 reasons leaders stop leading:

1) The cumulative impact of complaints and criticism.
It’s easier to pull back than keep taking the hits.

2) Years of work resulting in a soul-level tired.
We all get tired, but when it settles into the marrow, it’s tough to keep going.

3) Attempting to do too much and do it alone.
Doing rather than leading, and leading in isolation, is unsustainable.

4) Fear of failure.
Playing it safe can make it seem like failure is avoidable.

5) Lost faith in your calling, and God’s plan.
When a leader is unclear about God’s calling, presence and plan, it’s nearly impossible to lead.

6) No longer growing personally.
None of us can lead further than we have personally traveled.

7) Personal struggles.
We all face these from time to time, but continued personal struggles such as marriage, family or health can cause a leader to stop leading.

8) Unwilling to change.
It’s impossible to lead the way and make progress to a preferable future without leading change.

9) Lack of clear and compelling vision.
It’s difficult to move forward when the direction is unknown.

10) Prolonged effort without results.
Leaders are human, and if a man or woman leads long enough without results, it almost begins to make sense to glide into maintenance mode and get basically the same outcomes.

Discouragement is the cumulative result of any number of the 10 reasons added together. I’ve never seen a leader experience every reason on this list, in fact, just two or three can be enough ingredients at the right time to stop leading.

Being aware of the reasons on this list is the first step to beating them before they beat you.

The good news is that any leader can start leading again.

How to Lead Again!

How to Lead #1: Tend to your soul.

You may need rest or wise counsel, and undoubtedly consistent prayer. A soul check for spiritual and emotional restoration is essential. It may be as simple as a day alone with God to get you back on track. It may require wisdom and encouragement from a friend. It might, however, require a deeper and longer investment to get your heart back to where it needs to be. Don’t hesitate to make the investment.

How to Lead #2: Restore your calling.

Don’t make any decision about God’s call in your life until you’re restored in spirit and have gained a healthy perspective on your thinking. Reflect on God’s call. What did He say to you? Did that change? Do you believe there is more He’s calling you to do? It’s highly likely that God didn’t change His mind, and still has meaningful ministry for you. Seeking His will in the matter of your leadership is essential. What does God want? What do you want?

How to Lead #3: Know who’s with you.

It’s normal and natural to want and need several close insiders that you can trust and partner with in ministry. If your church is small, start with one person, but pray and look for who’s next! The group doesn’t need to be large, and in fact, if it is, you are likely gathering friends and buddies rather than leaders.

How to Lead #4: Get out in front with one thing.

To lead you don’t have to be an innovative wizard full of ground-breaking ideas. But you do need to be out in front of the pack in at least one progress-oriented endeavor in your church. It might be launching a new ministry. It might be a complete overhaul of an existing ministry. It might be a new building. It could be a new idea in your worship service, etc. The point is, what are you leading? What are you moving forward?

How to Lead #5: Aim for small wins to start.

Too often leaders don’t consider their efforts worthwhile unless it involves a grand and magnificent undertaking. Most real and solid progress is made one step at a time. Aim for a small win and get lots of them under your belt. The cumulative effect of small wins toward momentum is far better than a single herculean effort. When you lay it all on the line with one gigantic “Hail Mary” pass without solid momentum behind you, that’s not a wise way to start leading again.

If you have stopped leading, or know someone who has, I pray this article is helpful to you.

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Dr. Dan Reiland serves as Executive Pastor at 12Stone Church in Lawrenceville, Georgia. He previously partnered with John Maxwell for 20 years, first as Executive Pastor at Skyline Wesleyan Church in San Diego, then as Vice President of Leadership and Church Development at INJOY. He and Dr. Maxwell still enjoy partnering on a number of church related projects together.