Are you a Bogie or a Birdie Leader?

I must confess upfront that I don’t play golf. I’ve only played it once, unless you count dinosaur carpet golf our family often played while on vacation. However, several years ago my father-in-law tried to interest me in the sport. He gave me a set of nice used clubs. But, I never used them. Three years later he asked me how my game was going. Chagrined, I had to admit that I never played with them. He asked me to give them back to him (he really did). Although I don’t play the game, I know a few key terms such as birdie, bogey, and par. A golfer scores a birdie when he sinks the ball in one less stroke than par. He scores a bogie when he sinks it one stroke over par. So what do birdies and bogies have to do with leadership?

They provide a compelling visual metaphor for how some leaders miss great opportunities (birdies) because they act like bogey leaders. Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania analyzed over 2.5 million putts from the top 20 golfers on the PGA tour in 2007 and made a surprising discovery.[1] Prompted by fear of a ‘bogey,’ these golfers often played it safe in tournaments. Their fear resulted in an average one-stroke loss per 72-hole tournament with a combined annual loss of $1.2 million in potential prize money. “The agony of a bogey seem(ed) to outweigh the thrill of a birdie.”[2]

This dynamic, called loss or risk aversion, occurs when fear of loss stifles our attempts at gain. As a result, that fear can cause us to miss opportunities because we lead (or golf) too conservatively. In fact, our brains seem to be wired this way. Two thirds of the cells in the fight-flight structures of our brain (the amygdala) are wired to look for potential bad news. Personal experience tells us that we tend to more easily remember bad things than good. And we more quickly form bad impressions of others than good ones. Unfortunately, some leaders give in to this tendency too easily and make leadership decisions to avoid loss instead of achieving gain.

So what can a leader do to minimize risk aversion?

I suggest what I call the 3-C approach to minimize it: counsel, certainty, and confidence.

  • Counsel: seek it. When you feel you’re about to play it safe when faced with an important decision, seek counsel from wise people. You might choose your staff, your board, a close friend, or a coach. Often input from an objective person can give us what we need to pull the trigger, or not. The writer of Proverbs encourages us to do this. Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success. (Prov 15.22, NLT)
  • Certainty: get it. Our brains love certainty.[3] We want to know what lies just around the corner. But often we have no control over the future. Every decision brings with it some uncertainty because we can’t guarantee most outcomes. In response to uncertainty, the flight-fight part of our brain secretes chemicals that prompt the fear emotion, a big de-motivator. That’s where faith must come in. Faith is essentially confidence in the One who is most certain, God Himself. To overcome this fear prompted by the uncertainty of decision-making, we must place our confidence in the one thing we can be sure of, God’s faithfulness. He’ll give us that extra boost of certainty we need to make the decision.
  • Courage: live it. Courage counters fear. It doesn’t remove it. When fear rises before a decision, perhaps it’s a sign that we’re on the right track. Mark Twain said it well when he wrote, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear. John Wayne, the venerable cowboy of cowboys offers great advice when fear prompts us to avoid a reasonable risk, “Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.”

So the next time you face a leadership decision and fear attempts to derail you, consider what you could lose if you don’t move forward and saddle up anyway. Don’t bogey your decision. Birdie it instead.

How would you describe most of the leaders you know, bogie or birdie leaders?


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[1] David G Pope and Maurice E. Schweitzer, Is Tiger Woods Loss Averse? Persistent Bias in the Face of Experience, Competition, and High Stakes (2007), http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/papers/download/101009_Pope_Schweitzer_Final_with_Names_10_2009.pdf, accessed 1/8/12.

[2] Avoiding the Agony of a ‘Bogey’: Loss Aversion in Gold—and Business, Knowledge @ Wharton, (11/11/09), http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article.cfm?articleid=2380, accessed 1/8/12.

[3] David Rock, “Managing with the Brain in Mind,Strategy+Business, 56, (2009), http://www.davidrock.net/files/ManagingWBrainInMind.pdf, accessed 1/9/12.

When Leaders Get Hooked on Being Right

You’ve been wrestling with a ministry challenge and you believe you’ve found the right answer. At the next board meeting you share your idea and one board member begins to voice opposition. Because you feel so strongly that you’re right you begin to raise your voice, talk faster, and talk over others who want to engage in the conversation. Tension escalates. Anger rises. You think, “How dare they think I’m wrong. I know I’m right.” What happens in those types of meetings? Why do they tend to go south? And what’s a leader to do when this happens more often than not? What do you do when you are hooked on being right?

hooked

If this has ever happened to you, a small almond shaped structure called the amygdala has hijacked your brain. Located deep inside our brains, it (there are actually two of them) causes our fight-fight-freeze-appease response to danger.

So when you felt threatened from a board member’s pushback, your emotional side takes over. And when that happens, the part of our brain that helps you think clearly, respond wisely, and listen carefully, the prefrontal cortex right behind your forehead, gets shut down. You react emotionally rather than thoughtfully. And when you get too pushy, you probably put the other people’s brains in the same fight-fight-freeze-appease mode which increases their resistance to your idea.

Unfortunately, many pastors and leaders get stuck in this unhealthy mode. They are driven to be right, avoid appearing wrong, or even appease others. As a result, too much of the stress hormone, cortisol, courses through their bodies and brains and puts them in a state of chronic stress. Too much cortisol over long periods of time harms our hearts, decreases our creativity and memory, and actually kills brain cells.

When that happens, what can we do?

  • Evaluate whether or not you are under chronic stress. If you often feel anxious, react easily, people-please too much, or have difficulty concentrating, your amygdala may be controlling you instead of the Holy Spirit. Your body may be telling you that you need a cortisol break. Ask a close friend or a counselor to help you determine if you’re under chronic stress. Even better, ask them if they feels like you always need to be right. Of course, you may not even need anyone to tell you that. You may already know it. A good dose of self-honesty will go a long way toward healing. If you are under chronic stress, create a plan to lessen your stress.
  • Remind yourself that God is in control. When the brain experiences uncertainty, (i.e., Will the board approve my idea?) it feels threatened. When we feel threatened, our emotional side driven by the amygdala tends to take over. Yet, God is the most certain Reality in the universe and He tells us to have faith in Him. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Heb. 11.1, NIV) Even with the uncertainty that comes with leadership, we can rely on God’s steadfastness certainty and His Spirit can override our human tendency to become fearful when things seem uncertain.
  • Learn to listen more empathetically (i.e., when you present your idea to your board). Empathy, being able to step inside another’s shoes, is a key competency for successful pastors and leaders. One study even showed that empathetic doctors got sued less than non-empathetic ones (Ambady, 2002). It doesn’t mean that you don’t hold to your convictions. It does mean, however, that you try to listen with your heart. Empathy, kindness, and caring can actually help activate the trust hormone, oxytocin. When that happens, when others feel that you care and that you really listen, they will endear themselves more to you and to your leadership.

So, if you have to get hooked on something, don’t get hooked on being right about your ideas, but about being right with others and with the Lord.

What behaviors have you seen in leaders who are hooked on being right?

Here’s another great blog posting on the subject by Judith Glasser.

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References:

Ambady, N. (2002) Surgeons’ tone of voice: A clue to malpractice history. Available from: [Accessed 27 March 2013].

6 Brain Barriers to Healthy Church Change

Healthy change is necessary for any church, ministry, or business to thrive. However, leaders often run into invisible brain barriers when they attempt change. Ignoring them can slow or stonewall a change. Since neuroscientists are now rapidly learning amazing new insights about the brain, it behooves us to learn about how our brains respond to change. The next time you plan a change initiative, consider how you might lessen the effects of these brain barriers that can stifle healthy church change.

6 Brain Barriers that Stifle Healthy Church Change

  1. Brain Barrier 1: Undoing a bad impression is harder than creating a good one. It’s the “you don’t have a second chance to make a good first impression” adage. Neuroscientists have found that to be true. It’s not just an old wives’ tale (Lount et al., 2008). Poorly introduced change will start your change on the wrong footing.
  2. Brain Barrier 2: People initially assume the worst. Your brain is wired to pick up the negative more than the positive. In fact, 2/3 of the brain cells in the flight-fight part of your brain, the amygdala, are wired to pick up on what’s wrong rather than on what’s right (Hanson, 2010). Our brains have a built-in negativity bias. People will initially latch onto potential negatives of your change rather than onto the positives.
  3. Brain Barrier 3: The brain can only handle so much change at once. Trying to create too much change too quickly increases the brain’s fear response and will hinder that change (Hemp, 2009).
  4. Brain Barrier 4: People will fill in knowledge gaps about your change with fear. Change causes uncertainty about the future which in turn breeds fear. And when the brain senses fear, it doesn’t like it. It will act out of that fear which dampens the brain’s ability to think clearly. The less information you provide about your change initiative, the more others will fill in the knowledge gaps with their negative assumptions. As a result, they’ll be more fearful and more resistant to change.
  5. Brain Barrier 5: People underestimate their ability to weather difficult future events (Wilson & Gilbert, 2005). Uncertainty causes us to poorly forecast how well we can face the difficulties that changes might bring. The term is called “affective forecasting.” When you present change, others will often initially assume that life will be worse for them because of your change.
  6. Brain Barrier 6: Emotions play a significant role in decision-making and influence how well others will embrace change. Just presenting facts about your change without engaging positive and hopeful emotions about the future will seldom move it forward.

What barriers have you seen from others when you’ve introduced change?

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References:

Hanson, R. (2010) Confronting the Negativity Bias [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/your-wise-brain/201010/confronting-the-negativity-bias> [Accessed 31 January 2013].

Hemp, P. (2009) Death by Information Overload – Harvard Business Review [Internet]. Available from: <http://hbr.org/2009/09/death-by-information-overload/ar/1> [Accessed 20 March 2013].

Lount, R.B., Zhong, C.-B., Sivanathan, N. & Murnighan, J.K. (2008) Getting Off on the Wrong Foot: The Timing of a Breach and the Restoration of Trust. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34 (12), pp.1601-1612.

Wilson, T.D. & Gilbert, D.T. (2005) Affective Forecasting. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14 (3), pp.131-134.

Neuro-diversity in Your Church: Why it Matters

Diversity in the church is big today. With greater globalization and the desire to melt racial barriers, many pastors want their churches to become ethnically diverse. Many pastors intentionally seek to create such diversity through staffing, who gets on the worship teams, and who becomes the face of the church from the stage or on their web site. I laud that desire. However, I many have unintentionally limited my definition of diversity to ethnicity or language and missed one huge area of diversity that already exists in every church: neurodiversity. What do I mean when I say neurodiversity? Simply this.

Neurodiversity means that people think and process information differently. Not everybody thinks like you or me. I think more linearly, logically, and left brained. As a result, my preaching, leading, staffing, and volunteer selection has tended to reflect my thinking style. I may have unintentionally taught and led without taking into account that God gave us all unique thinking styles. I’m much wiser now and realize that I must take into account neurodiversity when I perform these pastoral functions.

Preaching and teaching: People learn differently and thus process teaching differently depending on their tendency as left-brained or right-brained. Below, I’ve contrasted a few left brained traits on the left with right brained traits on the right (notice how linear I am).

  • Process the familiar…process the novel
  • Detailed… holistic/big picture
  • Sequential…random
  • Logical…intuitive

If you want to read a great (and long) book on left brain vs right brain, read The Master and His Emissary by Ian McGilchrist. Also, here’s a great TEDvideo on the divided brain (over a million views).

Change management: People respond differently to change. Some people’s brain make-up makes them less fearful of change, and thus able adapt to it more quickly. Others perceive change as a huge threat and they dig their heels in to oppose it. (A great article on the 5 Fears of Change here.)

Encouraging healthy followership: Some will follow you simply because you present a compelling and logical reason to follow. Others will follow only when you move them emotionally.

Teams: If everybody on your team thinks like you, you can foster groupthink, when a team gets along so well or agrees so readily that nobody challenges ideas or the status quo. As a result, you can miss opportunities or even make poor choices. Susan Cain, author of one of the best books I’ve read in the past two years, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, talks about groupthink in this great article.

Every pastor who wants to move his church forward for Kingdom purposes should certainly seek to remove ethnic barriers to allow that church to be as diverse as God intends for it to become.

However, those in your church are already significantly diverse in one significant domain, neurodiversity. As you lead, teach, and develop others, heed and adapt to their diverse thinking and mental processing styles. You’ll become a more effective Kingdom leader.

Is this a new concept for you? How can you apply it to your church setting?


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8 Ways to Make Church Change Run Smoother

In your church you’re probably trying to bring change in some way or are contemplating it. Unfortunately, change in our churches often doesn’t go well. In fact, we’re not alone. In the business world some have estimating that the majority of organizational change either fails, underperforms, or makes things worse (Cope, 2003). I imagine that church change doesn’t fare much better. However, we don’t have to become a statistic. Consider 8 these insights the next time you try to bring change to your church, ministry, or organization.

8 Ways to Make Church Change Run Smoother

  1. Incorporate a change mentality into your church culture so that people don’t see it as a threat. The more you talk about, the less scary it becomes when it happens.
  2. Include change as a component in the church’s current strategy. When you create your annual goals and strategies, include a clearly defined component of change. Do this every year. Don’t make it a sporadic communication.
  3. Regularly teach on the Biblical basis of personal change so that change is more easily embraced. When training leaders, always include some component that teaches about change. Try to build change management into key staff and volunteers as a core competency.
  4. Help key players (staff, key volunteers, and church boards) embrace a philosophy of healthy change (see above). Seek to hire staff and recruit volunteers who aren’t change averse. When you recruit others, be sure to discuss their view about change and your expectations about it.
  5. Build forward thinking into the highest levels of your leadership conversations. Help leaders think about ways they can stay ahead of the change curve in culture rather than reacting to it when it inevitably comes.
  6. Involve as many people as reasonably possible into change initiatives. Give away small to medium-sized components of change to those lower on the leadership org chart. Get ownership as much as possible.
  7. Celebrate wins, both short and long-term ones. You can’t overdo this one.
  8. Reduce internal threat levels through building healthy relationships and a brain friendly working environment. Read this article that talks about what a brain friendly environment looks like. It’s based on the latest neuroscience research, a model called SCARF, an incredibly insightful way to build team collaboration and productivity.

In my most recent book, Brain-Savvy Leaders: the Science of Significant Ministry I devote an entire chapter to church change.

What has helped you create change in your church, ministry, or business?


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References:

Cope, M. (2003) The Seven Cs of Consulting [Internet]. Available from: <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/355030.The_Seven_Cs_of_Consulting> [Accessed 2 March 2013].