CYNICISM: It can take a leader out

Pastor and author Carey Nieuwhof recently sat down with Trent on the Cause+Effect podcast to unpack truth from his latest book and important leadership insight around the topic of cynicism. We hope his wisdom helps you lead to your full potential in 2023 and as a result, see more Kingdom impact.

It seems to be a universal truth: Leaders grow more cynical over time, rather than more optimistic.

Whether it’s within the family, professionally at work, or spiritually in your ministry or church, you have influence as a leader. And one thing that’s sure to make you ineffective?


Not only does it affect your ability to lead well, cynicism is a strong indicator towards a potential burnout.

Take the mindset of kids for example. For the most part, children are pretty happy. Mostly because they don’t know better! But over time, as they gain knowledge and experience, they begin to realize that life is not all rainbows and unicorns… and bad things can happen.

In the same way, leaders often start off with an ideal: “I’m taking on the world and nothing can stop me!”

Then perhaps five to ten years later, you come across this same person and he or she seems jaded. Time has led to more knowledge, and more knowledge has led to cynicism.

You might have high hopes for a friendship but eventually it fizzles. Maybe you believe your organization will change the world yet you are still barely surviving financially. Or perhaps you looked at church one way growing up, but now, you work there and you’re seeing it from the other side of the curtain. And it’s not the same.

Whatever it is, the danger comes when your cynicism becomes septic and even erodes your creativity. So what can you do about it?

If you’re feeling weighed down by cynicism today, here are three ways to combat it:
1. Cultivate curiosity.

Ask more questions than you give answers and be interested in other people and other things. This is the opposite of thinking you know it all (which leads to cynicism). We can learn so much from others!

2. See life for what it really is.

Life is hard and you’re going to get hurt. It’s just the truth so don’t be naive to that. Instead, try to keep your heart fully engaged even after a hard disappointment. Live in the tension between understanding that bad things are going to happen while also acknowledging that things might be different next time.

3. Take some breaks.

Weariness and cynicism are frequent companions. Feeling overworked or burned out often results in not believing the best in people. Get eight hours of sleep each night, exercise, and maintain margins in your life. Just like a plant, if you’re left out in the sun too long, you’re going to wither. You need water and nurturing.

Don’t allow your ministry or work to take over your entire life. Find hobbies that allow you to take a ‘two-hour vacation’ at least twice a week. It might look like cooking a brisket, driving a boat or hitting golf balls on the range. It may be reading a book by the fire or a walk in the woods. Whatever it is for you, find the thing that disconnects you from your problems, helps you reset, and refills your tank in a very short time. Then put that one thing on your schedule more than once a week. When you do, you give God margin to speak into your life in fresh ways.

Here’s the good news: Cynicism is not a fatal condition. Let’s remind ourselves today that we believe in a Savior who brings life from dead things and a God who has a plan for the world.

And instead of going with the flow and drifting toward cynicism, let’s be more hopeful and optimistic at 80 than we were at 50. Let’s believe the best and not the worst about others. Let’s choose trust and generosity.

Isn’t that what the world needs? We have enough cynics.


For more leadership insight around the dangers of cynicism and to hear the full conversation, be sure to listen to the Cause+Effect podcast, I Didn’t See It Coming.

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