Blog Post: Why Leadership Is So Hard Right Now

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Leadership is hard because the world has changed. The world is always changing, but every thousand years or so, the world makes a hard turn that negates everything we thought we knew about how to progress and makes everything feel unexplored.

A year ago, we were complaining about how poorly schools were preparing our kids for the world, yet today, we are saying if we could simply get them back into a physical classroom, everything would return to normal. In only six months, we’ve forgotten that “normal classroom education” was broken.

Twenty years ago, we saw our factories moving overseas because developing countries could provide labor at 10% of the cost. There was no way to compete — even with the hardest and most innovative workers. Now we want those jobs back because we can’t see any better options.

A year ago, we envied churches who had converted old Wal-Mart buildings into churches to house their large congregations, who came to enjoy the high-tech worship and powerful communication abilities of the celebrity preacher. Today, many of these churches are begging people to come back into the building, perhaps because their mega-facilities have mega-debt. They have too much money invested to change course. They feel stuck.

However, many companies are changing course with the long term in mind. A year ago, companies were building bigger and bigger headquarters for employees to all work together. Today, many employees are working at home, and companies are realizing how much they can save on facility cost. They don’t really want their employees to come back into the office. It was an experiment they were afraid to try, but now that they’ve tried it, they don’t want to go back.

The World Is Changing

  • Banks no longer need lobbies. But they must have a good app for your phone.
  • Stores no longer need bricks and mortar. But they must have fast shipping.
  • Schools no longer need classrooms. But they must have teachers who can master online learning. And more than ever, teachers need students who want to learn.
  • Soon semis won’t need drivers.
  • Soon stores won’t need checkout lines.
  • Soon white-collar workers won’t need to leave their homes to go to work. (Oops, that already happened). The other two will happen sooner than you think.

A Brief History of the World

It isn’t the end of the world. It is an entrance into a new world with new rules. We are now entering a fourth distinct age of communication. The world grandly changed with each of these innovations, and in each age, people were forced to change the way they experienced the world. (Listen to the CAM Podcast #199 The New Normal Ain’t Normal with Reggie McNeal.)

  • The Invention of Writing (Invented in Egypt and Mesopotamia circa 3500BC)
  • The Invention of the Book (Invented in the first century around the time of Jesus)
  • The Invention of the Printing Press (Invented around 1440 by Johannes Gutenberg)
  • The Invention of the Internet (Invented by the United States Department of Defense at the end of the twentieth century)

The churches, banks, governments, and schools that didn’t adapt to the epochal changes in each of these past communication ages QUICKLY ceased to exist. The rules for this new epoch (the digital age) are different than before, and we are living in the transition. Our rules don’t work anymore, and we don’t know/understand the new rules. And quite honestly, we (over age 50) will never fully understand them.

That’s why leadership is hard.

  • Older people are anchored in the previous age.
  • Young people feel like they are on their own – and they’re right.
  • Not all people have equal access to the digital world.
  • People are more anxious because of the uncertainty of the times.
  • People are moving toward polarized views to create more security for themselves.

What will make leadership easier in the Digital Age?

  • Take risks. There is no “right way” to proceed. Get in the habit of creating experiments. What works in one place won’t likely work anywhere else. You can’t copy other people’s innovations. Regularly review these experiments to see what you’ve learned.
  • Listen to diverse people, especially people under 30. People under 30 are natives to the digital world. They intuitively understand how the system works. Let them be your guides. Put them into leadership positions before it’s too late.
  • Teach people to learn. We can no longer tell people exactly what to do or what to believe. It won’t work. We need to think more in the realm of coaching models that help people navigate and make decisions. Check out Building a Discipleship Culture as an example of models that help with discipleship.
  • Let go of time and location. The adage used to be location, location, location. That is no longer true. People will participate from wherever they are, whenever they want. You will still set some dates and times, but much fewer than before. Learn to create engagement outside of one central location. It is possible.


As a coach, you may need to bring this global shift to your client’s attention. They sense it, but they may not be able to name it. Once they understand this distinction, it might help them to begin to move forward again. No more feeling stuck. No more wanting to go backwards. Perhaps they will begin to get a sense of how to move forward, which is what coaching is all about.

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