How to Lead in a World of Distraction: An Interview with Clay Scroggins

Clay ScrogginsAs a leader, how do you learn to tune-out distractions—busyness, the numbing nature of entertainment and social media, the urgency of ministry itself—without growing deaf to the inner vision and issues you need to listen to? What are the common white noises in leadership and ministry that you use to mask your unpleasant emotions and ignore the desires deep inside of you?

Bible Gateway interviewed Clay Scroggins (@clayscroggins) about his book, How to Lead in a World of Distraction: Maximizing Your Influence by Turning Down the Noise (Zondervan, 2019).

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[Read the Bible Gateway Blog post, How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge: An Interview with Clay Scroggins]

Describe what you observe as the problem of distraction and what it costs.

Clay Scroggins: Distractions are keeping us from doing the difficult things that make us successful leaders and healthy people.

Plato once said, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m not sure I’d go that far. I think life is still pretty good, even if we aren’t always 100 percent self-aware. But I’d agree with the overall idea and say that, while an unexamined life might still be worth living, if we don’t examine our lives we’ll never experience anything better than what we have now. There’s no hope for things to get better, and most likely they’ll get worse over time. And that’s flat out discouraging.

The problem isn’t one specific distraction—even though we’re all quick to blame technology, smartphones, social media, and the like. The problem is that we have a lot of white noise in our lives that’s keeping us from looking at, and listening to, our emotions, as well as the voices around us that want to help.

What are the three villains of leadership?

Clay Scroggins: To put them simply they’re the appearance of success, the allure of progress, and the attraction of certainty. Everyone experiences these things, whether they’re in a position of leadership or not, and they have the ability to really keep us from moving forward in our lives.

We care more about appearing successful than we do about actually being successful. I think social media is a great idea of this. I’ve seen students in our youth ministry standing around on their phones, only for their faces to suddenly light up in huge smiles as they pose for a selfie. But then they return to just standing there. It’s like they care more about the people on the other end of their phone thinking that they’re happy than they do about being happy themselves. And I think adults do the same with success.

The allure of progress is one where I think we can all relate. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I hate sitting in traffic. So, when I’m planning my route home from the office, I look for the option that has the least amount of traffic, even if it means covering several more miles. I’ll go all over the map just to keep the wheels spinning. We do the same thing in our leadership. Sometimes we’ll waste time spinning our wheels just to feel like we’re going somewhere, when actually all we’re doing is depleting our gas tank. We don’t want to wait. We like to see things passing by, some movement, to know that something—anything—is happening.

And finally, the attraction of certainty. This is another one I think we can all relate to. We want to look like we know what we’re talking about, whether we actually do or not. So, when your boss asks you something in a meeting and you don’t know the answer, you’ll still try to talk confidently as though you do. I do this. I’ve seen people do this. And I think we all have done it before. But what that really shows is a lack of authenticity—we don’t want to let our guard down; we don’t want people to know that we don’t know the answer. And I think great leaders actually do the exact opposite.

How should leaders be “emotional detectives”?

Clay Scroggins: The masking effects of white noise are stronger than we realize, and it takes intentionality to actively turn down the noise in our lives. Great leaders turn down the noise low enough and long enough to be ruthlessly curious about their emotions.

One of the skills that we must learn to cultivate is emotional curiosity. Justin, one of my coworkers, remarked to me the other day, “Noise and distraction kill our curiosity.” How true that is! Emotionally healthy leaders are those who’ve learned, often through trial and error, to eliminate the distractions in their lives and turn down the noise because they’re curious. They’re emotional detectives, ready to listen, evaluate, and discover new things about themselves. And this work will take time. You’ll need to choose to make it a habit.

Chances are you can’t become an emotional detective on your own. You’re probably going to need someone you trust to help you process your discoveries. The goal is to make emotional work a habit in your life; something you practice on a daily basis. And if you want some action steps it starts with identifying the emotion, finding language for the emotion, and then dealing directly with the emotion.

What are the four noise-cancelling habits you identify in the book?

Clay Scroggins: Yeah, I’ll list them for you here, and each of these gets its own chapter in the book, but they are simplicity, self-talk, silence and solitude, and sabbath. Another way I’d describe them is finding your why, speaking to yourself, getting quiet, and pressing pause.

In writing this book, I didn’t want to just point out a bunch of distractions. I think that’s obvious—we all know we’re distracted in some way or another. So, I wanted to give us habits to counteract those distractions.

Ultimately, these habits will help us create and maintain emotional health. The trend line of your career progression will parallel the trend line of your emotional health. As you grow in emotional health, you’ll grow in influence. As you grow in influence, you’ll grow in opportunities. This correlation could not be more important.

How can the Bible be the foundation for a person to lead in a world of distraction?

Clay Scroggins: I think there are two answers to this question.

One, the Bible is a great resource for any of us looking to practice silence and solitude. I try to make reading the Bible a part of my daily routine, and in doing so it always keeps me grounded in God’s Word. No matter what you’re reading in the Bible, you’re reminding yourself of what’s true. And so much of the world’s distraction is trying to convince us that something else is true; knowing God’s truth is a great thing.

Secondly, in the Bible we see Jesus taking time to be by himself. Talk about a guy who had reasons to be distracted! He had hundreds of people coming up to him every day trying to be healed, so if the Son of God felt like he needed time to be alone and to pray, then how much more is that true for us?

What is a favorite Bible passage of yours and why?

Clay Scroggins: It’s tough to pick one passage, but for this topic, Psalm 42 has had a massive impact on me.

Psalm 42:3
My tears have been my food
    day and night,
while people say to me all day long,
    “Where is your God?”

Clearly, the author is struggling. And unfortunately, too many of us can relate. Whether it’s because of a decision we’ve made or some kind of circumstance outside of our control, all of us know what it’s like to be so distraught that our tears feel like our sustenance. But the author does something brilliant! He speaks to himself. He challenges himself. He reminds himself what is true!

Psalm 42:5
Why, my soul, are you downcast?
    Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
    for I will yet praise him,
    my Savior and my God.

Too often, we’re too friendly with ourselves. We allow ourselves to wallow and ruminate in our negative thoughts and self-pity. Instead, we must learn the skill of speaking to ourselves. Out loud. With volume. On a consistent basis. It’s actually one of the habits I’ve found to help most in turning down the noise. And great leaders do just that: great leaders turn down the noise low enough and long enough to be ruthlessly curious of their emotions.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?

Clay Scroggins: Bible Gateway has been my go-to online source for reading the Bible. you’ve made reading the Bible so accessible and simple. Clearly, as a pastor, it’s a fantastic resource for me. But as a follower of Jesus who’s trying to know him better and follow him more closely, I use Bible Gateway almost every day.


How to Lead in a World of Distraction is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.


Bio: Clay Scroggins is the lead pastor of Buckhead Church, providing visionary and directional leadership for the church’s staff and attendees. As one of the largest campuses of North Point Ministries (ranked by Outreach Magazine in 2016 as the largest church in America), Buckhead Church averages over 9,000 people in weekly attendance. The author of How to Lead in a World of Distraction and How to Lead When You’re Not in Charge, Clay holds a degree in industrial engineering from Georgia Tech as well as a master’s degree and a doctorate with an emphasis in online church from Dallas Theological Seminary. He lives in Atlanta with his wife, Jenny, and their five children.

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