By Carey Nieuwhof
So how relevant are you as a leader?
Any idea how you’d answer that accurately?
You can debate how important relevance is all day long (and many do), but the truth is irrelevant leaders eventually make less impact on the team around them, and eventually almost no impact on the next generation, except for perhaps an example of what not to be like.
Why is that?
Relevance matters for one simple reason: relevance gives you permission to speak into the culture around you. Relevance determines whether people pay attention to you or whether they ignore you.
Irrelevant people eventually lose the ability to communicate meaningfully with the people they care about and to contribute to the causes they’re passionate about.
Before you push back, just because the Gospel is always relevant doesn’t mean you are.
Even growing organizations can lose relevance. Your past success doesn’t guarantee your future success.
In fact, as we’ve discussed here more than a few times, the great enemy of your future success is your current success because your success makes you conservative.
When you had nothing to lose, change was easy. Now that you have something to lose, change is that much harder.
So whether your organization or cause has a bit of momentum left or whether it’s losing steam, here are 6 ways to tell your influence as a leader is waning.
1. YOU’VE BECOME A CRITIC OF ANYTHING THAT’S GROWING
Irrelevant leaders are always looking for ways to dismiss other peoples’ success.
Maybe there was a day when you were the young startup when your launch was the one everyone was looking at.
Now, everyone’s looking at what’s emerging and saying how awesome it is, but all you can see are the flaws. You convince yourself they’ve sold out, or it won’t last, or that they’re just trend-jacking, or that “of course it’s working because that’s what the next generation wants, but it’s not right.” You’ve invented 1000 justifications about why you’re right and all the things that are more ‘successful’ than you are wrong.
Irrelevance, after all, has it all figured out, and even though it may not be working particularly well, you’ve convinced yourself (and are trying to convince others) that your way is the best way.
Here’s the bottom line: critics rarely contribute, and contributors rarely criticize.
If you’ve landed in the camp of the constant critic, the odds of you actually contributing much to the present or future are very low. As a result, you’ve already become irrelevant.
2. YOU INCREASINGLY THINK MOST NEW IDEAS ARE BAD IDEAS
Hey, it’s easy to resist new ideas. But if you think back, there was a time when you were likely far more open to new ideas.
Now you’re older and wiser, and you’ve got a way of doing things.
The human mind is great at preserving the status quo. You can think of 10 reasons why a new idea won’t work, and you and your team never hesitate to list them.
The leadership graveyard is filled with the bodies of leaders who say “We haven’t done it that way before,” and while you understand that intellectually, you’ve barely realized you’re becoming one of those people because, well, new ways seem increasingly bad to you.
Sure…not every new idea is a great idea, but embracing no new ideas is a terrible idea.
When was the last time you embraced a radical new idea? If you can’t answer that question, you’re already in trouble.
3. THE COPYRIGHT DATES ON YOUR GO-TO RESOURCES ARE AGING
Copyright dates tell you a lot about how you lead. You’ll find them in the books you read, the music you listen to, the movies you watch and if you’re a church leader, the songs your church sings.
Many leaders will embrace change to an extent, and then they stop.
I’m all for reading classics and for sure, my library and resources have copyright dates going back decades and even centuries.
That’s not the problem. The problem is when your resource library consists contains virtually no copyright dates from the last few years.
The major trap most irrelevant leaders fall into is that their go-to resources are all 5-20 years old. They’re still living in the 90s or in 2009. Everyone else has moved on.
The danger here is that they think they’re being relevant, but they really aren’t. To your fifty-year-old friends, you may sound knowledgeable as they nod in agreement. But to an 18-year-old, you appear to be a museum.
And in the meantime, the gap between you and culture is growing wider every day.
The point is not to avoid any older works (a great life is always built on the contributions of previous generations), but to also understand how to translate that into what’s happening today.
4. YOUR SENIOR TEAM HAS GROWN OLDER WITH YOU
This isn’t so much a problem if you’re twenty-two and just starting out. To have a young leadership team of idealistic people is an awesome thing.
Sure, some wisdom wouldn’t hurt, but still, the world often gets changed by young leaders on a mission.
But what happens is that twenty-year-olds eventually turn 30. Fast forward a bit, and one day everyone on your senior leadership team is in their mid-fifties.
That’s a big issue.
Left uncorrected, teams tend to age with their leader.
As a leader in my fifties, I’ve had to be incredibly intentional about surrounding myself with leaders in their 20s and 30s, something that really energizes me.
You may not have the chemistry or familiarity with younger leaders that you do with your peers who have been through life with you, but renewing the leadership table with younger leaders is critical.
It’s easy for older leaders to think that younger leaders are too young to lead.
You were too, once. And someone took a chance on you anyway. And you did some of your best work then too, didn’t you?
5. THE VERY THOUGHT OF CHANGE MAKES YOU TIRED
The gap between how quickly you change and how quickly thingschange is called irrelevance. The bigger the gap, the more irrelevant you become.
Change is difficult at the best of times, but if even the sound of change makes you tired, it’s a sign that you’re becoming irrelevant.
It’s normal to default to the status quo. We all do.
A few years ago, my dentist told me I needed at least five crowns. The thought of that made me feel tired and broke all at once.
I got a bit of the work done but then took a break.
One afternoon I was eating some cereal and I noticed something that didn’t feel like cereal in my mouth. It was half a molar.
Guess where I went the next day?
Too often, that’s exactly how we approach change in the church. We wait until something breaks, and then we’ll try to fix it.
That may work with a tooth, but it’s a terrible strategy for leadership (okay, and for dentistry).
In our rapidly changing culture, waiting until something breaks to fix is one of the fastest ways to ensure you become irrelevant.
If change makes you tired, I promise you, the slow death of your organization will make you even more tired.
6. YOU LIKE THE WORLD LESS EVERY YEAR
If social media is any gauge of how many Christian leaders feel about our culture, the church is in trouble.
And even if you’re not posting on your social media is ALL CAPS, telling the world how bad it is, your attitude still matters.
Constantly criticizing a culture is no way to reach it.
I am constantly reminded that Jesus loved the world. He saw the mess, the brokenness, the godlessness and embraced us anyway.
Jesus loved the world enough to die for it.
You should care enough about the world to do the same.
DON’T LET UNIMPLEMENTED CHANGE BECOME REGRET
To read the article on the original website, click here: Six Characteristics of an Irrelevant Leader
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