By Carey Nieuwhof
As I’ve looked at my own leadership over the years, I’ve been surprised by a few things. The things I would have predicted would determine my success and effectiveness as a leader in my 20s, are not the things that actually harm the success of most leaders. I thought skill, talent, and ability are what determined the capacity of a leader. But in every field, whether that’s ministry, business, politics, or sports, they are especially gifted people who are not in leadership anymore, because they aren’t great people. That’s a success killer no one sees coming.
Cynicism Comes With Knowledge
Very few people get fired for being cynical. Cynicism starts out innocently, but can cap your leadership if you aren’t careful. How would you define yourself? Would you say you are a cynic, optimist, or realist? I consider myself an optimist, but that optimism was challenged in my first decade of leadership very seriously. A couple joined our church and we could tell that life had been hard for them. They had faced many challenges. So our small church stepped in to help them as we could. We made house visits, we bought them groceries, we helped pay a light bill. About four years later, the church had grown to a couple hundred people and we were all having a meal together. This couple stood up in front of everyone and told the church that they were leaving because no one cared about them. And that’s where it ended. There was no happy ending. The next time another couple started attending our church, and they reminded me of the first couple, I thought I know how this ends. That’s how cynicism starts – you start projecting past failures on future situations. Cynicism creeps up on the best of us. Age and cynicism are frequent companions. Cynicism roots itself in knowledge. As a kid, you were happy because you didn’t know anything. Now your experiences color your optimism for the future. Cynicism is mean. Cynicism can be a deadly killer. It doesn’t start because you don’t care, it starts because you do.
The Great Antidote to Cynicism
As I’ve wrestled through this in my own leadership, I’ve reclaimed my optimism. I felt like God was telling me to chisel through my hardened heart to believe again, hope again, and trust again. You preach the gospel, but you have to live it. I believe the great antidote to cynicism is the gospel itself. Jesus sees death and says let Me show you resurrection. He sees hopelessness and says let Me show you hope. If you are struggling with cynicism, reclaim that belief in the foundation of the gospel. Believe again, hope again, trust again. Stay open, stay curious, stay hopeful. I believe you can reclaim your optimism, but if you don’t it’s a success killer.