Leadership Quicksand: Ten Hazards for Leaders of the Heart

by Andy Wood on September 29, 2014

in Five LV Laws, Gamblers, Leadership, Life Currency, LV Alter-egos, LV Cycle, Pleasers, Principle of Legacy, Protecting Your Investment


Ever have a conversation like this?

Whatever happened to ________? I really thought he was going places.

Not sure.  Ever since [insert a distracting or demoralizing event] he never was quite the same.

I’ve witnessed countless scenarios like that one. I even lived out a few of them.

The idea of leadership is that you’re influencing people, formally or informally, to move together toward a certain goal.  If it were easy, anybody could do it.  But because you’re dealing with people, and because leadership often involves matters of the heart, it’s easy to find yourself sucked into leadership quicksand.

At best, it’s a distraction and you lose focus.

At worst, it can paralyze and ultimately destroy your influence.

Here are 10 sloughs to avoid (or get out of today) to allow your leadership to see another day:

1.  Rewriting Your Constitution

Every organization has its core principles or essential document.  On a national scale, Americans swear every oath to support, protect, and defend a document – the Constitution of the United States of America.  If you’re an Evangelical Christian, your core document is the Bible.

Regardless of our oaths or intentions, sooner or later you will be tempted to ignore parts of that document or add parts that just aren’t in there. (Do that long enough in the Federal system and somebody will want to appoint you to the Supreme Court.  But I digress…)

Sometimes people “rewrite their Bibles” in the name of political correctness.  Sometimes they do it to avoid looking foolish in the world’s eyes.  And what’s tricky is that at first you may seem rather cool or cavalier.  But it’s quicksand, friend, and it hardly sits still.  Once you go there, it’s hard to come back.

2.  Reacting Too Soon to Your Critics

Leadership invites criticism. Deal with that, or go find a cubicle somewhere. But avoid the danger of reacting too soon.  Many leaders have been sucked into the soup by a compulsive desire to defend themselves rather than press toward the vision.

One of the best ways to deal with critics is by simply remaining silent and hearing someone out – especially if they have the guts to bring it to your face.

Mister Blister came to my office one day. He was angry and it was all my fault.  He huffed and puffed about something I knew he was wrong about. But for once rather than getting defensive, I said nothing until he was completely done. Within two hours after he left, I braced for impact when he called on the phone.  Here comes Round 2. Strangely enough, he was Mister Encouragement.  He was on my team. He was for me. He believed in me.  Had I done anything differently? No. Other than just sit there and take it.  Sometimes in a conflict situation that’s all it takes.

3. Confusing Passion with Leadership Ability

Passionate people can be very inspiring, and often get noticed quickly.  Someone who’s caught up in “the cause” or who shows profound commitment can suddenly be given responsibilities that exceed their abilities.

Just because somebody’s passionate, or even mature, doesn’t mean they’re gifted or skilled at leading. Leadership skill can be developed, but enthusiasm alone won’t deliver it. In fact, one of the best things you can do for some passionate people is leave them alone to continue serving and supporting with all that passion, rather than “promote” them to a place of incompetence.

4.  Confusing Intentions with Action

You know how everybody pokes at New Year’s resolutions because they’re soon forgotten?  Turns out January 1 isn’t the only time this happens.  In fact it’s a fairly common human challenge – we see a need for change and we decide to do something about it.  “I’m going to be more _______.”  Or, “I’m going to reduce my ________.”

Good start.  But until you have actually done something in that direction – something measurable, actionable, and probably irritating to the mediocre majority – all you’ve done is pave the road to hell.  Intentions are only good when they lead to actually doing something.

5.  Storing Without Pouring – or Pouring Without Storing

Leadership has an ecosystem.  Picture the leader as a reservoir-type lake.  Creeks or springs fill the reservoir by flowing in, and on the other side of the dam is a place for the lake to pour out.

Ever hear the phrase, “The Dead Sea is dead because it doesn’t have an outlet”?  That’s true of some leaders also.  They absorb all this knowledge, training, and development, but don’t pour it out to someone else.  Or, like many pastors, they pour out everything they know without taking in fresh truth, understanding, or encouragement.

Leaders need intake and outflow to be effective. Otherwise you land in the quicksand of spiritual or organizational dryness.

quicksand 2

6.  Vanity

Whenever your focus turns from the vision or even the team or organization and instead focuses on yourself, the progress of the team begins to falter.  And the word for that is vanity.

Want to see how close you may be to leadership oblivion? Check out those letters Jesus wrote to the seven churches in Revelation.  Each one begins with the phrase, “And to the ‘angel’ or ‘messenger’ (translation: leader)…” Nearly all these leaders had gotten caught up in some form of vanity – attention to their reputation, hard-but-heartless labor, materialism or compromise.  They were still going through the motions and even enjoying outward success, but were one step away from oblivion.

7.  Isolation

Isolation is for idiots.  Yet most leaders do it to some extent, and here’s why:  they look inside their organization for community or accountability. And because they do, they tend to share only parts  of themselves because, after all, they have to keep their leadership position safe.  This is most true of people in Christian ministry and it’s destroying you where you stand.

Let me jump to the solution or I’ll be ranting about this all day.  Every leader needs to forge connections that don’t involve a leadership role.  Just connect with a few people who can relate to you as a person.  Find a way to de-role and not be “the pastor,” “the president,” or “the boss.”  Just be a fellow traveler with somebody.  Otherwise that sucking sound you hear is your own leadership sinking in the mud.

8.  Frenzy

Remember when Grandma taught you that “idle time is the devil’s playground?”  Well, so is frenzy, and that describes the lives of many leaders.  Some people feel guilty for not cramming two-plus to-do’s into every waking moment.  Some feel insecure – afraid if they don’t look constantly busy, people will think they’re lazy. So they fill their days with non-stop motion, like a hamster on his wheel.

I’m no advocate for laziness.  But in my “constitutional document” (the Bible), every significant movement forward started with periods of rest or stillness.  The evening (rest) and morning (action) were the first days of Creation.  Jesus waited 30 years before ministering for three.  The apostles tarried in Jerusalem for 10 days before their appointment with Pentecost.

In all your planning, you’d better calendar in some rest. There’s a reason God created the Sabbath.

9.  Risk Avoidance

Leaders function in a tension between aggression and passivity.  It’s one thing to charge headlong into a pit of vipers.  It’s another thing to be so passive that you never move forward because you’re waiting on the perfect opportunity or, as Christians like to call it, an “open door.”  Sometimes the only way to know the door is open is to give it a little push. And that involves risk.

Risk is a constant companion of any meaningful leadership endeavor.  In fact, all matters of the heart are risky, and nobody ever moved forward toward their dreams or in advance of a cause without it.  If you can’t risk rejection or failure and face your fears with courage, then you’re not ready for that level of leadership in the first place.

10.  Liquid Thinking

This is the opposite of critical thinking, or asking the tough questions.  Again, this addresses people who lead in the arena of the heart.  When you start arousing people’s vision, touching their pain, appealing to their hopes or passionate concerns, especially by extending your own heart in the process, it’s a lot like pouring a liquid from a bottle.  When different “liquids” get mixed together, it can get messy because it’s difficult to distinguish one passion from another.

Translation:  Appealing to or leading with emotions alone can make you stupid.  Sure, appealing to logic alone can make you brittle. But somewhere in between is something healthy.  Ask the tough questions and get good answers.  Otherwise you may find yourself sinking into something you can’t get out of.


There are other traps, I’m sure. But these are the ones that have been on my radar lately. And the one thing they all have in common:  They’re completely, 100% avoidable – if you just know how to look for them.

Regina Perry April 29, 2015 at 1:04 am

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Regina Perry´s last blog post ..When Storms are Raging (Second Edition)

Joyce Gerald April 30, 2015 at 9:04 pm

I think that this is a simply splendid article. I tend to become still when faced with decisions, especially if I am not hearing a clear direction from the Lord. That has made some folks livid, but I also know that over reacting to conflict, or people who believe that “business” is a demonstration of “superior” leadership skills is not advisable. I remember my grandmother telling me that once words leave your mouth there is no way to take them back. On the internet, once you press comment or send, it is too late to rethink what has been typed. That is a lesson that some folks just have to learn the hard way. You can teach it until you are blue in the face, but when they decide that they are not going to learn you just have to wait for time to be the teacher. God has an amazing sense of humor. He always teaches when we least expect it.

The being silent, when people are ranting and raving, is an amazing skill to use during heated conflict. My grandmother used to say that people look like idiots when they realize that they are just talking to themselves. I used that strategy with a superintendent once. She had determined that she was going to speak to all administrators one-on-one and tell them exactly what she thought of them. She began with all district-level directors. I saw people leaving the office unhinged. I had already determined it would not matter what she said I was not going to answer her. “Answer a fool in his folly; don’t answer a fool etc.,” It unnerved her and my immediate supervisor so much that he asked me if I was ok. I told him I was just fine. They are used to me supporting my responses to them with irrefutable facts. I determined that day that I was not going to play their head games anymore. I contacted 2 principals whom I knew they were “gunning” for and made them promise me that no matter what they would not lose their composure. I advised them to remain silent when they were given the 3rd degree. Can you tell that this was a dysfunctional administration? The principals called me after their inquisition and told me that they were glad that I pre-warned them. They were silent in during their meeting and it unnerved the superintendent too. People who are egotistical and enjoy hurting others should not be given that much power over another person’s emotions. Sorry about the dissertation 🙁
Joyce Gerald´s last blog post ..Integrity check

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