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7 Signs You May Have Peaked as a Leader

7 Signs You May Have Peaked as a Leader
  • Name
    Carey Nieuwhof
No leader wants to peak. And even fewer leaders wants to peak early. I suppose at some point we all peak. But, personally, I’m shooting for that to happen at age 85 … or 90. Yet, peaking happens regularly in leadership; leaders who were great stop being great, even years (or decades) before they retire. How does that happen? And—even more significantly—how would you know if that’s you? Peaking as a leader rarely happens overnight. It happens over a season or a few years. But there are signs. Ironically, the leaders who peak are often the last to know it. Here are seven signs you may have peaked as a leader.

1. You’ve stopped learning and want to be the teacher.

Being a great leader is really about being a great learner. Great leaders learn daily. You learn about yourself, about others, about trends. You stretch. You grow. There’s something inside most of us that asks, “When will I be done?” The answer: never. Leaders who peak stop learning, and instead, want to become the teacher. There’s actually nothing wrong with teaching others. It’s just that the teaching of truly great leaders resonates because they’re still learning. Daily.

2. You feel entitled.

When you start out in leadership, you realize you’re entitled to pretty much nothing. Everything has be to earned. But success brings its privileges. You might get an office, a parking space, a good salary (finally!), opportunities, perks, and even the respect and admiration of your peers. The best leaders never feel entitled to any of that. In fact, they consistently use the perks of leadership in service of a mission greater than themselves. And they do one more thing: They hold it all loosely, realizing that the privileges of leadership came and will one day go. How do you know whether you’re starting to feel entitled? Easy … check your gratitude. Leaders who feel entitled to everything are grateful for nothing. When perks become an expectation, you’ve peaked.

3. Your stories are about what you did, not what you’re doing or are going to do.

Are all your best stories from five years ago … or 20 years ago? It may be a sign you’ve peaked as a leader. Sure … great things may have happened in the past, but the point is, we’re all moving into the future. That’s where leaders take people. Leaders who have a future are more excited about the future than they are about the past. Learn from the past. Just don’t live in it.

4. Your heroes and cultural references are from the past.

Someone once told me that a person’s favorite music tends to be from when they were 23. If you’re over 40, you may not like what you hear on the radio these days. But the real danger happens when you don’t know what’s going on in culture anymore, or if you can’t even identify five of the artists on today’s Top 40 charts. When a 23-year-old talks about X Ambassadors and you’re wondering what country they’re referencing, or they talk about the Weeknd and you correct their spelling and start listing off what you’re doing on Saturday, they’re less likely to take what you have to say about anything seriously. I’m not into 50-year-olds wearing skinny jeans and pretending they’re 20 (nobody thinks you’re 20 anyway, by the way), but growing older doesn’t mean you have to grow irrelevant. Staying aware of today’s culture makes you better at leading people in today’s culture.

5. You’ve got instant reasons why new ideas won’t work.

Once you’ve done a decade or two in leadership, you’ve made a few decisions. You might even have a track record of success. The challenge with success is that it’s easy to become protective of it. It’s easy to fall for the lie that what got you here will get you there. Almost certainly, at some point, it won’t. If you’re peaking as a leader, you will end up holding onto your ‘successful’ ideas and ignoring others. New ideas almost always contain the key to the future. Old ideas usually contain a key to the past. This doesn’t mean old ideas aren’t worth hanging onto. It just means they won’t get you as far as they once did.

6. You’ve lost your hustle.

You know what’s wonderful about the best leaders? They hustle. Doesn’t matter how successful they are, how old they are or how long they’ve been at it. They hustle. If you’ve lost your hustle, you’ve lost more than you think.

7. You’ve stopped asking questions.

The best leaders ask the best questions. Leaders who’ve peaked swap out asking for answering. They love to be the expert. They think they’ve got it figured out. When you stop asking questions, you’ve stopped learning. Inevitably, you’ll stop leading.

Two Antidotes Against Peaking

So now you see the signs, but what are the antidotes? I see two: humility and curiosity. Humility will keep you from feeling entitled or resting on your laurels. It will keep you open and ready to learn from others. And curiosity will keep you fresh. It will keep you asking questions, keep you learning and keep you listening. Together, humility and curiosity will keep you leading.

What Do You Think?

Want more? In this piece, I wrote about 12 often overlooked practices great leaders develop that poor leaders don’t. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. What are some other signs that you’ve peaked as a leader?