How To Lead When Life Seems Out Of Control

More and more leaders quietly express a sense of life being out of control.

I think at some level, we all understand what that means; it’s what we do with that thought or feeling that matters.

  • We naturally desire the sense that everything is under control. We like the peace that brings.
  • We dislike the sense of everything being out of control. We don’t like the panic that it produces.

But let’s focus in on reality.

Neither statement is actually true.

  • We never have everything fully under control, though we love it when we think we do.
  • It’s never true that “everything” is completely out of control, even though there are times when it feels this way.

Let’s take this further.

There are consequences on both sides:

  • When you think you have everything nicely under control, that produces a false sense of peace that leads to complacency.
  • When you think everything is out of control, that produces a sense of anxiety that leads to fear.

Both perspectives have their respective dangers:

  • Complacency can cause your leadership to become careless or sloppy.
  • Fear can cause your leadership to shrink to less than you are capable of.

What do life and leadership feel like for you right now?

Smooth sailing?

Rough waters?

When it comes to “life under control or out of control,” the answer isn’t finding a balance between the two. Life isn’t that neat and tidy. It’s going to throw you curveballs. There are calm seasons and crazy seasons.

Even in the calm moments, you must keep your head in the game. Yes, catch your breath, but if you don’t pay attention, the next “out of control” season will catch you off guard.

It’s really about learning how to stay strong and steady over the long haul, regardless of what life brings your way.

The following thoughts and principles will help you do just that —  hold strong and steady while moving forward.

5 principles and action steps to help you lead when life seems out of control:

1) You may be in charge, but you are not in control.

If you have led for any time at all, you understand that just because you are in charge doesn’t mean you are in control.

The first time that became obvious to me was more than twenty-five years ago when a staff member resigned unexpectedly. I didn’t see it coming, and it left a big hole in the team. The added weight and pressure were significant. I may have a title of XP, but there is so much I can’t control.

The art is in learning how to accept the fact that you are not in control without a sense of surrender, apathy, or defeatism.

Keep your eye on the vision.

Focus on making progress, solving problems, and helping people.

2) If you sense peace and comfort all around you, you are missing something big.

We all prefer order over chaos.  

Security, safety, and stability are innate desires within us. We need a certain amount of it to stabilize the times of increased pressure and stress.

However, if your leadership is characterized by long term calm, there is likely a storm coming. That is not a prediction of something terrible. It is more often the truth of an uneventful plateau and or slow decline.

Leaders cause motion, and motion causes friction. Progress not only requires you to solve problems, it also creates them. That’s the nature of movement and change.

Right now, you probably have your hands full solving obvious problems. But remember that while we are all thankful for peace and comfort over the long haul, that is not a good sign.

Here’s a practical tip. The large problems you face are obvious, but there may be a ministry or two that seem on autopilot and somewhat comfortable. They need your attention soon!

3) Lead through the chaos — attempting to manage it never works.

You can’t manage a crisis; you need to lead through it. You have to get to the other side.

The same is true for the sense of chaos, and the two are often related.

You can’t manage chaos; you must lead through it. When leaders try to slowly and methodically organize the sense of being out of control, it just doesn’t work.

When you attempt to manage chaos, you get caught in the swirl and end up stuck in it because it’s going faster than you are, then the chaos is leading you – sometimes in circles.

Leading through the chaos:

Helps you break through any panic in the moment.
Words like chaos and panic may feel too dramatic to you. OK, let’s change chaos to problems and panic to stress. When the problems get big enough, and the stress becomes high enough, being overwhelmed and panic can hit you.

Helps you make progress in the short term.
If you’ve ever been sailing in really rough waters, you know that charging directly through the waves isn’t ignoring the problem; it’s making the necessary progress back to shore!

It’s similar in leadership. You don’t have time to analyze every detail when things seem out of control; the problems are obvious. Press forward.

Helps realize your purpose over the long term.
Once you are through the biggest waves, you can then slow down just a little to think through the next steps that are not as obvious.

4) Focus on what you can do, don’t get stuck on what you can’t do.

If you focus on the things you can’t do or problems you can’t solve right now, you will get frustrated and discouraged. You may even consider resigning before it’s time.

  • Improve the things you can improve.
  • Solve the problems you can solve.
  • Help the people you can help.

That may seem obvious, but there are so many leaders that get stuck in what they can’t do right now. It’s not that they are bad leaders; it’s just easy to become short-sighted by the stress of feeling out of control.

But the remedy to the stress that results from feeling like things are out of control is to focus on the forward-moving things you can do.

5) Peace within you is different than peace all around you.

It’s easy to become confused with the difference between the peace within you and the peace all around you or the absence of it.

  • Internal peace is a gift from God from the presence of the Holy Spirit.
  • External peace is a season when the storms are calmed, and therefore pressures and problems feel sustainable.

Internal peace allows you to hold steady no matter how difficult life and leadership may become.

External peace is that usually brief period of time that allows you to catch your breath and experience the security, safety, and stability we desire.

The mistake leaders make is to long for and pursue external peace from the world more than internal peace from God.

I know, I’ve certainly done that.

But it doesn’t work, not for long.

The peace within your soul is what helps you endure the chaos in the world. And when those wonderful moments of peace in the world come, simply thank God and enjoy!

8 thoughts on “How To Lead When Life Seems Out Of Control”

  1. Hi Dan,

    This post and the last have been perfectly timed! 🙂 Thank you for following God’s leading on what to share and when.

    Blessings, Jim

    1. Hi Jim,
      I’m so glad to hear that!
      It is God’s leading… I was reading a devotion from Proverbs when the idea came to mind.
      Keep leading!

  2. Anthony Martinez

    Awesome post Dan!! Love it!! It gives us some definitive and real takeaways for us to implement in our life and leadership practice immediately!! Great work at the right time!!

  3. Hi Dan,

    This phrase struck me. “If you focus on the things you can’t do or problems you can’t solve right now, you will get frustrated and discouraged. You may even consider resigning before it’s time.” I did not just consider resigning but I actually did resign. It is really hard to handle corporate politics and intrigues. Anyway, I am still very thankful to you for sharing this.

    Have a blessed and wonderful day to you!


    1. Gelbert,

      I’m sorry to hear that you needed to resign, but I pray God leads you to your next… the exact right place for you1


  4. Excellent article Dan. Very inspiring and helpful.

    I want to thank you Dan for all the things you are doing for leaders. All the articles, videos, books, etc. You are making the difference in the life of so many leaders across the world, including me, a French pastor near Montreal, Qc, Canada. Don’t give up Dan, may God bless you richly in the new year.

    1. Thank you Guy, for your very kind and encouraging comments.

      They truly are quite meaningful.

      Blessings to you in Canada, and it’s my privilege to help you in any small way that i can.


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