10 Signs of a Desperate Leader Through the Eyes of a Pastor

Leadership can be a rocky road. Like everything else on this side of eternity, it is filled with seasons and their accompanying highs and lows. There are times when a leader will face pressures that others might never fully understand, but you can be confident that God will go before you every single step of the way. Nothing reveals the true you like the challenges of life itself.

Related: 5 Negative Traits of Insecure Leaders

Here are 10 signs of a desperate leader:

1. Desperate leaders hold too many meetings.

(This point is my longest… don’t get weary.)

As a church leader, meetings are an important part of my life, and I think that would be true for most leaders. Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we should “not forsake the gathering of ourselves together,” and goes on to explain that one of the major purposes of meeting together is for encouragement. But although some meetings are crucial, many are not.

If momentum has slowed or pressure is mounting, it’s easy to think that the quick fix is to hold another meeting. You can fall into the trap of meeting with your key leaders, who then have meetings with their leaders, who in turn meet with their top people, to prepare for the meeting that you were all meeting about in the first place. I think about all of the meetings that happen within our church through age groups, departments and all the layers of church life, and it’s scary. The answer to everything is not to hold another meeting. I believe too many meetings exhaust good churches, demotivate faithful people and consume vital time.

Here’s the real issue: I have never seen a church grow by holding more meetings. (Obviously, I’m not speaking about weekend services but rather, the myriad of meetings that can mount up within the layers of any organization). Keep in mind that if your teams are in constant meetings, no one is out on the coalface doing the real work. Of course, there’s the issue of the length of our meetings, but that’s another story. Remember that, generally speaking, nobody cares as much about your meetings as you do. If you are struggling, trying to kick-start momentum or feel like you must do something to move forward, pressuring people with more meetings is usually not the answer.

Ask yourself this question: Are all the meetings I oversee productive or counterproductive?

2. Desperate leaders preside over a tense and stressful atmosphere.

Confusion among people can arise easily when something is not quite right. People can tell something is wrong, but nobody seems to know what is wrong. A heavy cloud might descend over the atmosphere, while generosity diminishes and joy disappears. A desperate leader can sense that the ship is unsteady and the natural reaction might be to press harder, try harder and push people harder, when perhaps the best thing you could do is consciously relax the atmosphere. Bring rest into the situation, take some pressure off, strive a little less and it is amazing how the ship will right itself.

Desperate leaders strive, while comfortable leaders thrive.

3. Desperate leaders create too many crises.

I sometimes joke that in some churches, instead of having an annual general meeting (AGM), they have an AGC: Annual General Crisis. It’s as if when there is no crisis, a desperate leader feels like they must create one. They make mountains out of molehills and start jumping at shadows, while dramatically feeding a fire that could have easily been snuffed out.

I have learned in the big picture of life that if it’s not a crisis to me, it is not a crisis to people. A perfect example of this is during persecution or opposition. A struggling leader becomes defensive, constantly talks about the unfairness, camps around the issues and let’s it take all the oxygen out of the atmosphere. You can create a crisis or extinguish a crisis by your own demeanor.

Speak life. Speak vision. Keep smiling. Lift your eyes. Trust God. Watch what He can do.

4. Desperate leaders oversee too much confrontation.

Constant confrontation is a telltale sign that a leader is struggling and feeling as if they are losing control. Some leaders find confrontation easy. Keep in mind that just because it’s easy for you doesn’t mean you are good at it. What about the collateral damage? There is no excuse for team members to have angry arguments and especially not in front of other people (as I have witnessed more than once). Desperate leaders often oversee a culture of misunderstandings, infighting and fallouts; tensions that they themselves have created through their own penchant for confrontation.

5. Desperate leaders have too many sleepless nights.


“Anxiety in the heart of a man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” —Proverbs 12:25 (NKJV)


I’ve had sleepless nights—tossing and turning while focusing on issues that somehow seemed bigger during the midnight hours. That is not a healthy way to live and it is yet another sign that a leader is struggling. The psalmist put it this way in Psalm 16:7: “My heart instructs me in the night seasons.” Our heart instructs us in dark times, too, so what instruction is your heart giving you? Panic? Worry? Fear? David continues: “I have set the Lord always before me.” If Christ is our focus, then our sleep can be sweet, and sweet sleep is a scriptural promise (Psalm 127.2). Stressed and overly anxious leaders might not be living in that promise.

6. Desperate leaders make too many changes to the program.

Many years ago, my favorite football team had an amazing player they dubbed “The Zip Zip Man.” He could change direction on a coin—without slowing down—and even his own teammates never quite knew what he was going to do. This ability served him well as a great player within a great team. But constant changes of direction in a business or church will generally just make all your passengers motion sick as you continue to steer the bus around blind corner after blind corner.

It is a sign of a desperate leader to constantly change the vision, program or emphasis—and follow every new trend that comes along. People are in trepidation every time their leader goes to a conference, wondering what direction they will be heading in next. This is no way to lead. The most resilient churches have a consistency about them, where people know they can believe in the vision and trust the direction that their leader is taking.

Related: 15 Traits of a Terrible Leader

7. Desperate leaders make too many positional switches.

When I was small, my parents were pastors in a denomination where every two years they’d be moved to a different church, in a different part of New Zealand. My father would recall that every time he was getting some traction, he would be moved on and would have to begin again. If a leader is constantly shuffling people around within an organization, it can work against progress and cause momentum to stall. Desperate leaders tend to make positional switches constantly among their team, forgetting that it affects everyone under the person they are moving, and often causing unnecessary unrest among the troops.

8. Desperate leaders are far too involved in every minute detail.

Micromanagement. Is it strength or a weakness? It depends. There are clearly seasons when forensic leadership is needed to identify issues that might need to be addressed. However, desperate leaders take their eyes off the road by focusing on the pothole right in front of them, and losing their vision of the vast, wide-open spaces available to them.

I oversee a church with a global footprint and I’m blessed to be able to trust my team to carry so much of the day-to-day load, enabling me to be a forward-thinking and vision-focused leader. This doesn’t mean I don’t know what’s going on. Every Friday, I receive comprehensive reports from every key department of our church, allowing me not to stress over things that others are well equipped to handle. Keep in mind: It’s been a 33-year journey of investing in people to get to this point.

Desperate leaders struggle to let go and focus on the road ahead.

9. Desperate leaders suffer from decision-freeze.

There is an actual psychological condition which causes people to freeze—fearful of moving, lest they make the wrong decision. In this condition, you are idle and frozen in a near-comatose state. After the Rwandan genocide, there was a condition called “idle,” where a person would stand still in a field for hours on end because they had nowhere to go. Their home, their family and everything else they held dear was gone, so they just stood still. A desperate leader can get to that point.

I knew one old pastor who would discuss agenda items at length in a church board meeting without ever concluding anything—no decisions were made. This was a sign of his old age, but for some, it’s a sign of fear-induced procrastination and indecisiveness.

There are times when any decision is better than no decision.

10. Desperate leaders put their heads in the sand.

Are there times you’d just rather not know that something is wrong or desperately needs your attention? Would you prefer to be cocooned from the reality that, under your leadership, something is going backward? It’s far nicer to arrive at the conference blissfully unaware and telling your peers how wonderfully things are going. It’s so much easier to emotionally shut out certain realities and not know that there’s disquiet in the camp, that the finances desperately need your focus, etc.

I already mentioned that as leaders, we don’t need to know everything, but living in a bubble of self-imposed ignorance does not make anything go away. Don’t let your team “protect” you from things you need to know in order to make the right changes or choices. Take your place as a leader and refuse to live afraid of bad news. A ship’s captain needs to know that the boat is leaking—no matter how big or small the hole.

“I don’t want to know numbers,” says one leader, while another claims, “Everybody is telling me that all is well.” Is it possible that people are afraid to tell you the truth because of the reaction that might await them? Personally, I don’t want to lead like an ostrich with my head buried firmly in the sand. I want my team to arm me to stay ahead of the bell curve by giving me the necessary information. Nothing gets better by ignoring it.


So what about you? Do any of these thoughts resonate? Don’t live in condemnation, but do all that you can to lead the people entrusted to you with wisdom, boldness, courage and conviction. If you are struggling, speak to trusted people and seek the Lord for His guidance on what to change, and how to move forward. Lead from a place of quiet confidence and live in the favor of our Almighty God.

Be blessed, my leader friend.

Related: 7 Personality Traits of a Great Leader​


This post originally appeared on BrianCHouston.com.  


Brian Houston is the Global Senior Pastor and founder of Hillsong Church. Since founding a single church in 1983 in Sydney, he has launched churches located in some of the world’s most influential cities, three record labels, a film and television platform, multiple worldwide conferences, and an international college. Each week, Hillsong’s music is sung by an estimated 50 million people in 60 languages, and Houston’s sermons are broadcast around the globe. In June 2016, Hillsong launched a global, 24-hour channel in partnership with Trinity Broadcasting Network, providing access to the worship and ministry to millions of viewers around the world. Through Hillsong’s college, conferences, podcasts, broadcasting and publishing, Houston trains and equips tens of thousands of Christian leaders and encourages countless others in their daily faith.

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