Leadership can be hard; very hard at times. Leadership can be challenging; very challenging at times. It can be like herding cats. There can come a point where you as a leader find your heart growing hard and indifferent. Cary Nieuwhof shares some early warning signs that this is starting to happen to YOU!

Originally published by Carey Nieuwhof

If you’re like me, the longer you serve in leadership, the more intentional you have to become at keeping your heart open and fully alive.

Hardness of heart is a condition that people on the wrong side of God and people develop. Biblically, Pharaoh suffered from it. Israel did on occasion. And the Pharisees specialized in it.

Chances are, the boss you couldn’t stand suffered from it as well.

Not exactly great company if you ask me.

So it’s a little bit vulnerable to admit you struggle with it. But I do. I’m on constant guard about keeping my heart open and alive.

One of the greatest casualties in leadership is the human heart. So many leaders see their hearts grow hard over time. How does it happen?

Well, like a physician, police officer, or paramedic who sees difficult things every day, you develop a way of dealing with the pain. And some of that’s healthy.

But if you don’t monitor your emotional resiliency carefully, you can move into full seasons where you don’t feel much of anything at all. Your heart can grow hard.

How do you know you’re there or heading there?

Here are 7 early warning signs:

1. You Don’t Really Celebrate…And You Don’t Really Cry

A hard heart is a flat heart. Not much gets in.

Joy doesn’t. Sadness doesn’t.

And while you don’t want to be unstable or imbalanced, it’s actually normal and healthy to feel the ups and downs of life and leadership.

You’re supposed to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. But when you’re heart gets hard, you don’t.

2. You Fake Your Emotions

Truthfully, we’ve all done this in seasons. And sometimes you need to.

When you’re the leader, you ‘have’ to lead in the public eye, and sometimes that means smiling when you’re not happy and showing empathy when you don’t feel it. As far as I’m concerned, that’s not a lie nor is it inauthentic if it only happens once in a while. When that happens occasionally, you’re simply being a leader, not a liar.

But when faking your emotions become a pattern, it’s a sign something is deeply wrong. And that kind of faking can’t last if you want to lead and live well.

Fake your emotions enough times and your leadership will stop resonating with the people you lead. Why? Because you’ve stopped becoming an authentic leader.

And not only is authenticity a non-negotiable leadership quality in our culture, it’s something God deeply values too. God tends to work best through genuine people.The Pastoral Succession Toolkit [Free]

3. You Say “I Don’t Care” A Lot

Maybe this is more personal than universal, but a sure sign my heart is in trouble is when I hear myself saying “I don’t care” repeatedly.

Naturally, there are things you don’t care about and more than a few you shouldn’t care about.

But there’s a line I can easily cross where I stop caring about things I should care about, and that’s a warning sign.

When does not caring become an issue? Well, for me it becomes a problem when:

  • Someone’s upset, and I say I don’t care.
  • I get disappointed by someone or something, and I say I don’t care.
  • If something doesn’t work out the way I hoped, I say I don’t care.
  • When my actions hurt someone, and I say I don’t care.

To me, this is a huge warning sign that there’s a problem because I should care. Even if I can’t change the outcome, I should care.

If you really don’t care about the people around you, eventually they’ll stop caring about you.

4. So Much of What’s Supposed To Be Meaningful Feels Mechanical

Another sure sign of a hard heart is that you feel like a robot.

What’s supposed to be meaningful has become mechanical. You’re doing your job. You’re getting things done, but it’s just mechanical.

From your personal friendships to your family to work, the feeling’s gone.

We all have seasons like that, but be careful when that season starts to feel normal.

Life isn’t supposed to feel mechanical, it’s supposed to have real highs, real lows, meaning, depth, nuance and beauty. None of that is mechanical.

5. Passion is Hard to Come By

Remember when you used to be passionate?

Sure. It’s the ‘used to be’ part that’s the problem.

When your heart is growing hard, you lose passion.

For anything. For everything.

It’s pretty normal to lose passion for things that used to matter to you, like say a hobby or activity or even something in your job you used to love but don’t anymore.

It’s a totally different thing when you lose passion for everything.

Your heart and your passion level are deeply connected. Sometimes you’ll try to rekindle your passion when what you really need to do is go deeper and fix your heart.

6. You No Longer Believe The Best About People

You know you’re in danger when you meet someone for the first time and you’re thinking about what’s going to go wrong, not what’s going to go right.

A hard heart is a cynical heart. And cynicism projects past failures onto new situations, a sure-fire way of sabotaging all future joy and possibility.

The stakes are high when you stop believing the best and assuming the worst.


Because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Leaders who stop believing the best about people stop receiving the best from people.

7. You’re Growing Cynical

Speaking of cynicism, hard-heartedness and cynicism go hand in hand.

There’s little room in a healthy heart for cynicism. And cynicism creeps in slowly over time.

If you find yourself growing cynical, how do you battle back?

Bottom line? Hope again, believe again and trust again. That’s what hopeful people do.