8 reasons leaders lose their drive

Oct. 12, 2012 | by Thom Rainer

I love listening to leaders. Most of them offer great insights and practical advice. Over the past year, our organization has been asking leaders a series of open-end questions. Though my methodology is more anecdotal than scientifically-based, the responses we obtained have provided invaluable insights to me as a leader. They may be helpful to you as well.

One of the questions we have posed lately is: "Have you ever lost your leadership drive? If so, what were the reasons for it?"

Almost all of the leaders responded in the affirmative—indeed at some point in life, they had lost their drive. While the majority identified a single reason for this diminished capacity, a number identified multiple reasons.

In this blog, I identify the top eight responses, listed in order of frequency. Some of the responses may not be mutually exclusive, but I still separate them into distinct categories.

The 8 reasons

The leader had no greater goal or vision than the job itself. The moment a leader is in a job for a paycheck alone, he or she has already lost the drive necessary to be a leader. Whether the fault is with the leader, the organization or both, the loss of greater vision kills leadership.

The leader was not valued in the organization. One leader told me that the very moment he recognized that other leaders in the organization did not value his work and area of responsibility, he began preparing his exit plan. In the meantime, he lost all of his drive for the position.

The leader was a bad fit for the position. I’m not saying he or she is a bad leader; an individual might not have the skill set or passion for a particular position. Or, the leader may have been a victim of "The Peter Principle," and found himself in a position too far over his head. You can’t have drive if you don’t have the ability to get your job done well.

The leader was bored. While some leads can get in over their heads, over times the job proves so routine and mundane the leader has no drive to carry it out.

The leader had a work ethic problem. I was surprised at the number of leaders who admitted to me that they had started coasting in their jobs. This manifested itself in various ways: They planned long vacations more than they planned strategy. They came in later and left earlier. They spent more time surfing the Internet or playing golf than seeking to improve the organization. And most of the leaders admit it was their own fault. Though it surfaced incrementally, it turned into a pattern. Laziness kills leadership drive.

The leader grew weary of criticism. Many leaders told us they lost their drive because they faced repeated criticism for new ideas or "out-of-the-box" thinking. The criticism originated both within and outside of the organization.

The leader had physical problems. Some leaders lose their drive if they get physically out of shape. Others told of us of specific physical maladies that drained their energy and motivation.

The leader adopted an entitlement mentality. He or she is more focused on what was due him or her than what can be done to make a difference. Such leaders whine and complain about the organization because what they see as unreasonable expectations.

A mixture of causes

Of course, I heard other reasons from leaders who said that had lost their leadership drive. These eight, however, were the predominant reasons shared with me. Some of the reasons can be blamed on the organization. Others are the fault of the leader. The good news is that I heard numerous stories how leaders overcame these obstacles to regain their drive. Those will be the subject of my next blog.


Thomas Rainer is the president and CEO LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a church and denominational consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of nearly two dozen books.


Topics: Leadership , Ministry , Research , Teaching Resources , Vision

Thom Rainer / Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of 24 books, including his most recent release, “I Will: Nine Traits of the Outwardly Focused Christian.” His 2013 book, “I Am a Church Member,” recently passed the one million mark in sales.

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