10 Signs a Leader May Need a New Challenge

One of my favorite writers is Liz Wiseman. She has spoken at the Willow Creek Summit a couple of times. She has authored these two great books that I love… Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter and Rookie Smarts: Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work. In one chapter of Rookie Smarts she lists 10 signs that might indicate you need a new challenge. As you read these, ask yourself if they reflect your current world.

goldfish jumping out of the water

10 Signs a Leader Needs a New Challenge*

As you read each one, mentally check the ones true of you.

  1. Things are running smoothly.
  2. You are consistently getting positive feedback.
  3. Your brain doesn’t have to work hard to be successful.
  4. You don’t prepare for meetings because you already know the answers.
  5. You’ve stopped learning something new every day.
  6. You are busy but bored.
  7. You’re taking longer showers in the morning and you take your time getting to work.
  8. It makes you tired to think you could be doing the same job a year from now.
  9. You’ve become increasingly negative and can’t identify why.
  10. You’re spending a lot of time trying to fix other people’s problems.

So how many did you check?

Liz says that two or more of these experiences indicate you need to, ‘renew your rookie smarts,’ (approach your ministry with a beginner’s mindset to become a better learner). And if three or more are true of you, you need a new challenge.

When I read this list, it made me think deeply about how I approach my role as a lead pastor.

  • I don’t want to get stuck on cruise control because things may go well.
  • I don’t want to look back one day and realize I squandered God-given opportunities because I was taking the path of least resistance.
  • I don’t want to get too comfortable by using what worked well before.
  • I don’t want to become so drained by other people’s problems that I have little energy to think into the future.
  • I do want to approach each day from a possibility mindset, how God can use me to make an eternal Kingdom impact.

As you lead, guard against becoming complacent and comfortable.

Relish your wins.

Enjoy the successes God gives you.

Take joy in God’s pleasure in you.

And ponder and heed these words of Joshua.

Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do. (Josh. 1.8, NLT)

What would you add to this list that might indicate a leader needs a new challenge?

*list from Wiseman, Liz. Rookie Smarts (Enhanced Edition): Why Learning Beats Knowing in the New Game of Work (p. 165). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

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Rejection: How if Affects Leaders

Disapproval and rejection can sting and wound. We’ve all felt it. What do we do when important people in our lives (or even those that we don’t deem important) reject us? How do we respond as did Jesus when he was rejected and scorned? In this post I unpack this painful thing called rejection.

One depressed person stands lonely, apart from the group

Years ago I experienced deep disapproval and rejection from some key church leaders in the church I was in. Essentially they told me that I wasn’t a good leader nor could I inspire people when I preached God’s Word. I was devastated and the effects lingered for months. At the time I didn’t process this rejection well. In retrospect, however, I now understand why this hurt so much and what to do about it.

God created our bodies and our mental command and control center, our brains, with two overall systems that profoundly impact how we think and feel. Our refleXive system (think X-system) is the one that acts without thinking. When it controls, our emotions often take over. The other system, our refleCtive system (think C-system) is the one that helps us think clearly and biblically when our emotions want us to do otherwise. When our X-system controls, we become highly emotional and reactive which dampens our C-system’s ability to think clearly and objectively. However, when we submit our C-system to the Holy Spirit, we are able to think more in line with the Apostle Paul’s command in Philippeans 4.8.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

Because I failed to appropriately filter their disapproval with the mind of Christ (His thoughts and perspective), my response prompted my brain to release neurochemicals, called catecholamines, that revved up my X-system. This in turn further diminished my ability to think and lead effectively in these three ways.

  • Mental exhaustion: My brain’s check engine light was always on. One part of our brain (the anterior cingulate cortex) senses inconsistencies we detect in verbal or non-verbal messages we get from others. Because those leaders often gave me mixed messages about my performance (you are a great guy… you don’t inspire people), that part of my brain was constantly ‘on.’ I become mentally exhausted which bred even more anxiety about the situation.
  • Easily defensive: My brain’s impulse control brake pads wore thin. I’m usually able to control my emotions and avoid defensiveness. However, because the stress had tired my brain and body, the part of my brain that helps control impulses and emotions (the ventral lateral pre-frontal cortex) had little ‘brake pad’ left. As a result, I was not able to carry on objective conversations about their perspective, which would have helped. Instead, I became defensive, didn’t listen well to their viewpoints, and reacted to small irritations at home.
  • Inability to concentrate: My brain’s mental etch-a-sketch could not hold a creative thought long without losing it. An important part of the brain (the dorsal lateral pre-frontal cortex) gives us the ability to plan, hold items in memory, and think abstractly. However, I could barely concentrate which impacted my ability to think creatively when preparing a sermon or when planning a new initiative. My brain felt like an etch-a-sketch constantly being shaken causing the picture on it to quickly dissolve. I often defaulted to mindless activities such as looking at Facebook several times daily rather than focusing on the more important mind-taxing tasks ministry demanded.

When leaders feel rejected, these internal processes will occur unless with the Spirit’s power we proactively take action to counter them. In my next post I discuss how we can counter these tendencies when we feel rejected.

When others have rejected you, what negative consequences have you seen in your leadership?

Related post:

The 7 C’s of Great Ministry Leaders

I recently read a great article by Brad Powell on the 7 C’s of great ministry leaders. I’ve heard of the three C’s before, but his 7 captured the essence of great leaders. Here are his 7 C’s.

Leadership concept
  1. Calling: we must have a sense of God’s call where we currently serve
  2. Character: perhaps the most important, there is no substitute for integrity and a pure heart
  3. Competence: we need the right gifts and abilities to match the needs in our ministry
  4. Confidence: our confidence in the Lord gives us what we need to lead without hesitation
  5. Courage: we must be willing to take unpopular stands sometimes and remind ourselves that we play to an audience of One
  6. Commitment: if we are going to last for the long haul we must be ‘all in’
  7. Continuous growth: a good leader must constantly be learning and growing

What C’s for great leaders would you add (or any other qualities that don’t begin with C)?

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Not Motivated? Try a Simple Pleasure.

Every day we need something called motivation to accomplish what we need to do that day. Some tasks come with built-in motivation. I don’t need much motivation to eat thin-crust Canadian bacon pizza or watch Hawaii Five-O (I admit I’m hooked). But many tasks feel daunting and don’t look enticing, like doing your taxes, answering a bazillion emails after vacation, or fixing the toilet leak (I hate handyman chores). Yet those tasks need to be done. I’ve found it’s easy to get distracted and waste time when I’m faced with one of those tasks. So, how can we get motivated?


Simple: get your brain working for you. Deep in our brain lie some structures called the basal ganglia. Within those structures is our pleasure center, the nucleus accumbens. When we do something that feels pleasurable, our brain gives a shot of a feel good neurotransmitter called dopamine. So whether you eat a candy bar or check off an important ‘to-do’ for the day, this brain chemical gives you a pleasant feeling. When that happens, we become a bit more motivated for the next task.

So the next time you find yourself unmotivated and procrastinating to avoid an unpleasant task, take 5 minutes to do something that brings you pleasure such as one of these.

  • Listen to some good music.
  • Eat a candy bar (or better yet, eat a handful of blueberries).
  • Read a few jokes and laugh.
  • Take a brisk walk.
  • Call a friend.
  • Read an uplifting Psalm form Scripture.

What are some ideas you have about getting motivated?

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Is this Leadership’s Missing Ingredient? (neuroleadership)

Whether we lead a church ministry, a para-church organization, or run a business, Christian leaders want to lead at our best. Books, leadership seminars, coaching, and mentoring can all help us grow our skills. I’ve used all three to develop mine. Recently, though, I’ve realized an emerging and rapidly growing field is filling a gap in spiritual leadership. It’s called neuroleadership. I explain it in this post.


So what is neuroleadership? Essentially, neuroleadership takes what neuroscience is discovering about the brain and applies it to the art of spiritually leading. You can see a cool animation here by clicking on “What is neuroleadership?” David Rock, author of a great book, Your Brain at Work, coined the term.

Interestingly, the bible affirms neuroleadership principles. The word ‘mind’ appears over 140 times in scripture. Solomon writes in Proverbs that as we think so we are. The Gospel writers tell us to love God with all of our hearts and souls and minds and strength. And the Apostle Paul reminds us that we experience true transformation when we renew our minds. Curt Thompson who wrote Anatomy of the Soul writes that neuroscience is much like a magnifying glass to help us see things we may not otherwise have seen. But a magnifying glass is only as good as the light that illuminates the object we are looking at. That light, for a Christian, is God’s Word.

When pastors and Christian leaders learn and apply neuroleadership principles, they will develop into competent leaders who . . .

  • stay cool under pressure.
  • improve relationships with others.
  • consistently make wise ministry decisions.
  • strategize and navigate change well.
  • learn to inspire others through their teaching.

To maximize our minds and brains, consider these three essentials.

  1. Learn how the brain works. Without trying to become an anatomy expert, take a few minutes to Google “brain” and read a few articles about how the brain works and its anatomy. You’ll also find several good YouTube videos as well. This four-minute video summarizes the techniques scientists are now using to learn more about the brain. This 55-minutes video by David Rock explains how understanding the brain can make a big difference in your leadership.
  2. Practice good brain care habits. Adequate sleep, healthy food, and regular exercise all help keep your brain sharp and functioning well. Scientists have also discovered that managing stress also protects the brain.
  3. Learn the art of self-awareness. Often our brain focuses on negative thoughts that take up precious brain space we need to think and lead well. When we “think about what we are thinking about” we have begun to win the battle against negative thinking. The Apostle Paul speaks to this issue in Phil. 4.8 when he writes,Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.

So, as you grow in your leadership, consider how to use your brain to maximize your life and leadership.

In your education and experience, how have your insights into how the brain works helped your leadership?

I unpack this concept in detail in my latest book, The Brain-Savvy Leader: the Science of Significant Ministry.

Related posts:

  1. When Pastors Lead from their Lizard Brains
  2. 9 Signs Your Hormones May be Hijacking Your Leadership