Kevin Cashman wrote a great book every leader should read, Leadership from the Inside Out: Becoming a Leader for Life. In it he challenges leaders to lead from character, the inside. If you’ve not read it, I highly recommend it. In one chapter he lists several questions that can help reveal where our leadership strengths lie. I’ve adapted his questions into five below. I suggest reading these questions slowly and reflectively every day for the next 5 days.
5 Questions that Reveal a Leader’s Strengths
- What would your dearest friend say in a moment of deep admiration of you?
- When you feel energized and fully alive, what strengths and traits do you exercise?
- What circumstances bring out your strongest character traits?
- What experiences in your life have caused you to feel most completely yourself?
- If you witnessed your funeral, what do you hope people would say about your life?
When we discover, develop, and deploy our strengths and gifts, we maximize our Kingdom impact and experience the greatest joy.
One of my life verses reminds me to focus on building character as a leader.
But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands. (Is. 32.8, NIV)
What questions would you add to this list?
I love leadership and I love learning about the brain. I just finished an executive masters in the Neuroscience of Leadership. And a few months ago my fourth book was published, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry. As I’ve immersed myself in learning how our brain affects life and leadership, I’ve learned a few short cuts, or hacks that have helped me lead better. Consider these 4 brain hacks that just might make you a better leader.
Brain Hacks that can Make You a Better Leader
- Minimize multi-tasking.
- Research has shown that multi-tasking, trying to accomplish multiple tasks at once, is a myth. We can’t truly pay attention to two things at once, even though we may think we can.
Actually, when we think we are being efficient by multitasking (answering email while working on a project or presentation while checking a text) the opposite happens. Every time we switch from one task to the next, our attention does not immediately follow. A bit of our attention remains with the previous task. It’s called attention residue. However, when we work on a single task a longer time without switching back and forth, we perform better (see number 4 below). You can read more about multi-tasking here.
- Complete a mini-goal.
- God wired our brains to repeat behaviors that give us pleasure. When we eat a piece of chocolate cake, learn something new, or check something off our to-do list, they feel good because the brain releases the neurotransmitter dopamine into the brain’s pleasure center (the nucleus accumbuns). When we feel good we want to repeat what made us feel good which provides a boost of motivation. Sometimes we experience a lull in our daily routine. When that happens, find something to do that you can complete in a short time. It might be to clean off your desk, send that email you’ve been delaying, or make a call you need to make. When you accomplish such a task, you’ll get a nice boost of dopamine which can help get your motivation back on track for the day.
- Strategically use caffeine.
- In this post I explain how caffeine works and how if used in moderation, it can help us be more effective as leaders. Although some people are addicted to it (not good), if you use it strategically, science has proven that it blocks a neurotransmitter that makes us tired (adenosine) and increases dopamine and adrenaline that can boost both motivation and attention.
- Strive for ‘deep work’ 4 hours a day.
- Cal Newport, author, professor at Georgetown University, and a really smart dude, recently wrote the bestselling book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. In his book he uses science to back up his assertion that truly productive people focus about four hours of their work day on their most important tasks. The unimportant ones, like surfing Facebook and answering emails, get too much of our time. He says the brain is able to focus about four hours a day on ‘deep work,’ what he describes as meaningful work with a minimum of interruptions. So, calendar your day to reflect four hours of your ‘deep work.’
What brain hacks have helped you be a better leader?
Every year as a pastor I’ve taught a 3-5 week series on giving and generosity. One year we titled our series The Treasure Principle, based on Randy Alcorn’s book by the same name. We also sent a copy of the book to every giver on record and encouraged the church to read a chapter each week that matched the upcoming sermon theme. I highly recommend it. If you’re a pastor, you’ve probably felt the same angst I’ve felt when I’ve taught on giving. Even though I believe my heart has been in the right place, I can’t help but think some people felt I was being self-serving as I taught. Here’s what I now do to help mitigate those thoughts in people’s minds.
How pastors should prepare before teaching about money
First, make sure your heart is right by asking yourself these questions.
- Do I faithfully give?
- Do I tithe and give beyond a tithe?
- Do I teach from a desire that others will experience the joy of generosity or because my church is not making the church budget?
Second, at the beginning of each message, acknowledge what some people feel. I actually say something like this. “I recognize that when a pastor talks on money it can appear self serving. I know that some of you may be thinking, I really don’t want to hear some preacher talk about it. I would simply ask that you lower your guard a bit, listen to what I have to say, and then decide how you want to respond. It’s between you and God.”
Third, share your giving story. In one message I explaineded that my wife and I had faithfully tithed and beyond since we were married. I also shared that my parents taught me to give at an early age and that a comment from my 5th grade Sunday School teacher left an indelible imprint in my life that put me on the path to generosity. When people hear our honest stories, it can help lower their guard and resistance to the message.
When I began serving in ministry 35 years ago, I’d often shy away from the money subject. However, I now realize that giving is as much a part of discipleship as is Bible reading and prayer. I can’t shy away from it, but must approach the subject with tact and grace.
What has helped you get the generosity message across?
If you are not a pastor, what advice would you give to us about how to effectively encourage people to give?
If you serve in a church, criticism comes with the territory. I doubt that any pastor or leader likes it. But, we must deal with it in a God-honoring way. One way to do that is to understand why people criticize us. I’ve listed below what I believe are 7 reasons why church people criticize pastors with a suggested response to each.
Why church people criticize pastors
- They lack spiritual maturity. Some people criticize you because they think it’s part of a Christian’s job description. After all, “Pastors need to avoid pride and some good healthy criticism can keep ’em humble.”
- Response: Don’t be surprised that you get criticized. Make sure that your church has an intentional spiritual formation strategy to help people think and act more biblically.
- They feel they are losing the church they once knew. As we get older, we must deal with the inevitable results of aging, slowing cognitive function and reduced flexibility and resilience. Seniors in your church may feel that changes you are bringing are taking away the church they grew up in. Guess what? Unless we stay resilient as we age, when we get older we’ll probably feel the same way.
- Response: Give a gracious listening ear to seniors and seek to empathize with them by stepping into their shoes. Try to see their concerns from their perspective.
- They don’t feel they have a voice. Some church people can feel that their opinions don’t matter and so criticize to get their voice heard.
- Response: Provide opportunities that give people a way to give input. I’ve heard Patrick Lencioni, leadership author and guru, often say that people will support you if they feel that they’ve been truly heard.
- They don’t deal with change very well. Some people are born more adverse to change than others. Their brains are wired that way. Their fear circuits are more easily set off by uncertainty and change brings uncertainty.
- Response: Recognizing this fact will give you greater tolerance and understanding why some people tend to criticize more than others. Again, empathy will go a long way to help these folks feel more comfortable with change and less critical.
- They need to find something or someone toward which to vent their hurt caused by other life issues. Some people in your church project their personal hurts through criticism. Criticism helps ease their angst, at least for the short term.
- Response: Although this is not a pleasant reality, it is true. A wise counselor once said, “The past is not past until it is processed.” Many in your church still carry heavy loads of guilt and anger that can easily spill over toward you through criticism. I suggest prayer in response to this kind of critic. Prayer could fit into a response for every category I’ve listed, but it’s especially apropos in this case. If you sense that others are projecting their pain toward you through criticism, ask the Lord to heal their hurt and to release their unforgiveness, bitterness, and pain.
- They are truly malevolent people committed to your demise.
- Response: Although I believe these critics are few, they do exist. If you face this kind of person in your church, take bold action. Titus 3.10 commands us to warn a divisive person once and after that have nothing to do with them. Sometimes extreme cases require you to apply church discipline.
- They have a point. Sometimes the criticism is valid and you need to hear it.
- Response: Listen and heed. When the criticism reflects a valid issue, learn from it and make appropriate adjustments in your life or ministry. Proverbs 27.6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.”
Criticism is never pleasant, but sometimes necessary.
In my third book, People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, I quoted a bold statement by author Edwin Friedman who wrote a great leadership book, Failure of Nerve. He said, “Chronic criticism is, if anything, often a sign that the leaders is functioning better.”
Whether or not what he says always holds true, I do believe that it you aren’t facing at least some criticism in your church, you’re probably trying to lead too safely. I also believe that to lead at our best, we must respond to all criticism in ways that honor God and respect the criticizer.
What other kinds of critics have you seen in the Church?
I’m a leader. I want to maximize my brain power. And I care about how I treat my body. I don’t drink coffee or tea, yet I do strategically use caffeine with diet caffeine drinks and 5-Hour Energy (Disclaimer: I am in no way related to the company who produces 5-Hour Energy). I believe my strategic use of caffeine has helped enhance my cognitive resources as a leader. In this post I look at three areas: what caffeine does to your brain, cautions about its use, and how to strategically use it.
Caffeine is the most widely used stimulant in the world, consumed primarily through coffee consumption. The National Coffee Association says that nearly 2/3’s of Americans drink coffee. We also consume it through tea, weight-loss pills, chocolate, and energy drinks. It has gained the moniker as a,’waker-upper.’
How does caffeine work? It affects the brain in three ways.
- It blocks a neurotransmitter that makes us tired (adenosine). Neurons have tiny receptors where adenosine binds. Think of adenosine (or any other neurotransmitter) like a key and a receptor like a lock. So, when it ‘binds’ the ‘key’ goes into the ‘lock’ to create the tiredness effect by slowing down brain cell firing.
- It stimulates the brain to tell the adrenal glands to release adrenaline which gives us a boost of energy and increases attention.
- It improves mood by increasing the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, a brain chemical related to pleasure, attention, and motivation. It also helps dopamine hang around longer in our brain.
What cautions should you consider?
- You can become addicted to it. It’s addictive because dopamine feels good and when we get addicted to it, we want more and more caffeine to maintain the same pleasure level. You will know you’re addicted when your try to stop because for a few days you may experience a dull headache, lethargy, sleepiness, and even depression. Most experts say the average person can manage 400 milligrams of caffeine each day, the equivalent of four cups of coffee. A bottle of 5-Hour Energy has about 200 mg.
- You can develop a tolerance for it. Regular caffeine use actually creates a need for even more caffeine because it increases adenosine receptors in your brain. Thus, you need more caffeine to block the tired effects of adenosine.
- Too much caffeine (more than 500 mg) can really mess up your body by causing such issues as muscle tremors, sleep difficulty, upset stomach, nervousness, and dizziness.
- Caffeine too late in the day can disrupt your sleep patterns. Its half-life (how long it takes the body to eliminate 1/2 of it) is 3-5 hours and its effect can last 8-12 hours.
How can you strategically use caffeine?
- First, I never use caffeine to wake me up in the morning. I try to get sufficient sleep so that I don’t use caffeine as a fall back for lack of sleep. I live in Canada and the winters can be brutal and overcast so I’m now using light therapy in the morning which appears to give me a nice natural wake up boost. I use a portable Philips blue light to give me 20 minutes of light when I wake up.
- Consider a nap first. A 10-20 minute nap can clear out adenosine and give you a nice mental boost without caffeine. If you can’t take a nap at work, perhaps these other suggestions below will work for you.
- Consider a nap-caffeine combination. It takes caffeine about 20 minutes to get into your gastrointestinal track and bloodstream. So, a cup of coffee or tea, a diet soda, or 5-Hour Energy just before your nap can give you a one-two punch.
- When I’m studying to put a sermon together, I find that 1/2 bottle of 5-Hour Energy about mid-morning gives me a nice mental boost. About 2 hours later I will finish the bottle off so that I’m only getting about 200 mg per day.
- About 30 minutes before I speak on Sunday mornings I drink a half of a bottle. I find it helps give me a bit more mental focus during my sermon.
- On days when I need lots of mental focus in meetings, I will split a bottle of 5-Hour Energy between mid-morning and early afternoon. I find that I’m more focused later in the afternoon to give those in my meetings my full attention.
- I seldom if ever use it after 3:30. Remember, it can stay in your system many hours.
I recognize that many readers may prefer to stay away from any caffeine. I respect that as I used to avoid anything with caffeine in it. Only in the last few years have I discovered that moderate use has helped improve my attention, concentration, and ability to think more clearly.
How have you used caffeine in a strategic way?