The Secret of Frustration-Powered Leadership

It was five years ago when I first acknowledged to myself, “I am a leader.”

At the time, I was 28 years old and up to that point, most of my professional accolades were attributed to my success as a practitioner (in my case, a marketer). I had not yet had any direct reports, but I had successfully led a few project teams.

Still, I had never thought of myself as a leader even though, looking back, I was clearly in positions of leadership. Since then, I’ve had direct reports and led larger teams. I’ve also become much more intentional about cultivating my skills as a leader. However, I’ve still been in positions where I’ve been led.

Now, I’ve been blessed to serve under some fantastic leaders, Carey Nieuwhof being one of them. However, being led while acknowledging I’m an emerging leader hasn’t been easy for me.

Multiple times I’ve found myself frustrated with my leaders. All frustrations, however, are not created equally. I recognize a few times when my leader frustrated me to help me, and here are three such situations:

(Note: If you’re a millennial or new to leadership, this post is for you. I’d love to help you navigate the tension of being an emerging leader with grace, humility and optimism. If you’re a seasoned leader, I hope this reminds you of the opportunity you have to leverage your new and young leaders’ ambition and challenges.)

When Carey Nieuwhof Frustrated Me To Teach Me About Excellence and Follow Through

After nearly four years since the launch of the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast, Carey has never missed a Tuesday. Never.

Maybe a technical difficulty has forced an episode to be published a few hours later than usual, but it’s safe to say 90–95 percent of the episodes have been published between midnight and 1 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday morning. Now, as the original showrunner of the podcast, I wish I could take credit for this, but I can’t. The consistency we’ve come to expect from the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast is attributed to Carey’s fanatical focus on excellence and trust. For Carey, the podcast coming out on Tuesday morning is not a suggestion or goal—it’s a promise.

There were times early in the life of the podcast when we had to work through technical glitches, production processes or busy schedules, and Carey would intentionally, frequently and thoroughly check in with me to verify the podcast would be published on time. Transparently, I would think to myself, What’s the big deal? This is free content. These are incredible interviews. We should be allowed the opportunity to publish a few hours or even a day late. Carey never wavered. He would press and press until the team I led responded and got things out on time.

Carey always communicated in a kind, respectful manner, but here’s the truth: I was annoyed. I was frustrated. I believed my hard work on the podcast with and for Carey earned me the right to be less intense about this tiny detail every now and then. In my mind, as long as the episode was released that week and it remained free, it would be fine.

Looking back, I’m grateful Carey never stopped pushing. He ultimately helped me understand our team’s ability to thrive is driven by the leader’s relentless commitment to setting high standards and holding everyone accountable. We will fall short, but the goal is to never give ourselves an excuse for not reaching the standard.

High standards are a necessary ingredient to thriving teams.

When A Leader Frustrated Me To Teach Me About Communication

My team at Junction 32 was busy serving a non-profit organization. We were launching a new website, online store, new products and several backend systems. Needless to say, my head was down, and I felt like my team and I were doing incredible work that would move this great ministry and their mission forward faster. However, its founder wasn’t too happy with parts of our performance so she called a meeting with me.

When we sat down to chat, she explained her disappointment in my lack of communication. She felt out of the loop. When she emailed me with questions, my response time was slow. I knew everything she said was valid. However, I found myself frustrated because I was working long hours on all of the organization’s projects, and the work being done by my team was setting up the organization for long-term success. In that moment, I felt misunderstood and unappreciated.

Now that I’m a few years removed from that situation, I’m grateful she confronted me. I was making assumptions about what she knew and holding her accountable for information she didn’t possess, which was why she was contacting me in the first place.

My lack of communication wasn’t allowing her to lead her organization well. In addition, it was impossible for her to appreciate contributions she was unaware of. She taught me our busy, stressful, challenging seasons are where misalignment is likely to happen. Yet, it’s also the time when we need each other most. Communication is essential to our team’s ability to stay connected, collaborative and supportive.

When A Leader Frustrated Me To Teach Me About Influence And Persuasion

I approached my leader about exploring a few new initiatives. After a few conversations, he appeared to be on board with these ideas. However, instead of giving me permission and a budget to proceed, he required I connect with my teammates to secure their permission and request portions of their budget.

At the time, I thought to myself, “If my idea is worthy of our efforts, why won’t you just make the decision to move forward and commission it to be done?”

I look back and realize he was helping me learn the importance of using influence and persuasion over authority and position. As I recently shared on the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast, people need to weigh in if you want them to buy in. Well, I didn’t learn that on my own. I’ve had other leaders model that for me, and, in this case, require I practice this powerful principle.

So What’s The Point Of These Stories?

I personally asked Carey if I could share these stories on his blog because I believe it’s important for emerging leaders to pass along the lessons we learn as we learn them. The sting of these situations is still fresh enough that I’m slightly embarrassed by them.

Why would these situations be embarrassing? Well first, none of these lessons are necessarily different from what my mother told me to do my entire life, so part of me is disappointed these leaders had to call me out.

Second, I’m a recovering perfectionist and people pleaser so making mistakes really hurts.

Lastly, and somewhat surprisingly, I’ve discovered I’ve occasionally used my calling to leadership and my appetite for learning to rationalize being arrogant or prideful as if my preparation and calling would guarantee that I flawlessly execute a job I’ve never done.

A call to leadership isn’t a video game cheat code; just ask Joseph or Abraham. Leadership is messy, complicated, lonely, and hard. Mistakes will be made. Therefore, humility is required.

Gratefully, His grace is sufficient. Did you know one manifestation of God’s free, unmerited favor in your life is an opportunity to serve under other leaders? It is! If you’re an emerging leader, take advantage of your season to be a follower. This is a priceless opportunity for you to prepare for the realities of leadership without the pressures of being the leader.

Carey and these other individuals are on an ever-growing list of leaders I appreciate more as time passes and my season to lead arrives, and I want to publicly thank each of them for leading me well even when it wasn’t convenient or comfortable.

What frustrating situations did you encounter early in your leadership that you now realize helped move you forward? What previous or current leaders do you need to thank for their example?

Kevin Jennings is the founder and CEO of Junction 32, a team of branding and marketing consultants. He has done marketing and platform development with Orange, Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Dave Ramsey, Carey Nieuwhof and many more. This article originally appeared on