Five ways to Motivate others you may have Skipped

Motivating staff and volunteer leaders in the church or in any organization begs the question: How can we do it better? I believe David Rock, author and speaker, offers fresh insight from neuroscience about how we can best motivate others. He developed a paradigm based on five domains that influence behavior that he coined with the acronym SCARF.

The letters in this acronym stand for these domains that affect brain functioning and thus performance in our jobs and ministries.

  • Status: a feeling of importance relative to others around us
  • Certainty: a sense of predictability about the future
  • Autonomy: a sense of control over events
  • Relatedness: a sense of safety with those around you
  • Fairness: a perception of being treated fairly

When a staff person, employee, or volunteer experiences SCARF in his or her ministry it actually increases a chemical in their brain called dopamine which has a positive effect on our moods and our thinking. When a leader intentionally tries to meet the SCARF needs of those around him or her the more he will see positive results in the areas below. The less these needs are met, the opposite will occur.

  • collaboration
  • intrinsic motivation
  • productivity
  • change management
  • healthy relationships

So how might a church leader meet some of the SCARF needs in his church or team? Consider these.

Status: Teach that every person has intrinsic worth and value in God’s eyes. Just because a person lacks certain skills does not mean his status in God’s eyes is anything less than someone who seems to be super talented.

Certainty: Keep your people informed about the future. Don’t spring new initiatives on them. Don’t blindside them. Give them sufficient time to process something new. Consistently do this.

Autonomy: Don’t micromanage. Give choices to your staff and volunteers within reasonable parameters. Let them own some decisions.

Relatedness: Provide plenty of time for your teams to do social stuff together. Encourage involvement in a small group. Intentionally build community.

Fairness: Make sure you treat everyone fairly. Don’t ever play favorites.

Motivating others will always test us as leaders. The SCARF model can help us become more intentional and effective in how we motivate them for Kingdom impact.

What have you found that has helped motivate those you work with?


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Rock, D. (2008) SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. Neuroleadership Journal, (1), pp.44-52.

5 Qualities to Look for in a Youth Pastor.

Occasionally I offer a blog by a guest blogger. Today’s post comes from my friend and youth pastor expert Jeremy Best. Jeremy has served in student ministry for many years and is one of the most knowledgable guys around on the subject. He speaks with wisdom on the qualities to look for in a youth pastor.

You’re looking for the wrong qualities in your youth pastor.

I’ve been through the hiring and interview process a few times, have helped churches design job descriptions, and I’ve walked with other youth pastors as they’ve gone through the job hunt. Through all of this a few trends have emerged, but one stands out clearly – churches don’t have a grasp on the type of person their youth pastor needs to be. They get caught up looking for someone who checks off the boxes in the usually unrealistic job description and who seems to have that classic youth pastor look and feel (which is entirely subjective and typically based on the past experience – good or bad – of the people conducting the search). Because of this, churches often either hire the wrong person or miss out on great candidates that didn’t happen to meet their criteria.

So, let me submit 5 qualities to look for in your next youth pastor.

1. Horses over Cattle.

What does it take to get a horse to run? Not a whole lot. It’s in their nature. In fact, if you’re riding a horse you’ll hold on to the reins to slow the horse down or change its direction. But, what does it take to get cattle to move? A prod, an electric stick that shocks the cow to get them to move. Sure, cows are easier to control, but you’re much better off hiring a horse that you have to rein in from time to time than a cow that you’re constantly prodding just to get them moving.

2. Character over Charisma.

Charisma is by definition, attractive. People are drawn to charismatic leaders. Churches will often look for a charismatic leader whom people will be drawn to. Charisma isn’t a bad thing to have in a youth pastor, but it shouldn’t be a priority. What you need in a youth pastor is someone who will draw students to Jesus, not to themselves. Hire character. Look for a person who is deeply respected by those that know them and that is deeply in love with Jesus. This person will lead students to Jesus. If they happen to have charisma too, bonus!

3. Potential over Pedigree.

It seems every church is looking for someone with a master’s degree and 5-10 years experience.  They want someone with a good pedigree, and for good reason. Experience is extremely valuable. But, don’t limit your search based on how many years someone has been working. Look for potential. Look for someone who wants to prove they can do the job and is willing to work their butt off to do it. That person could be someone who has the education and the experience, but it could also be someone who’s still looking for their first shot.

4. Relational over Relevant.

Relevance is likely the most overrated quality churches look for in youth pastors. The idea that typically lies behind it is a good one – hire someone who the teens can relate to.  Yes, do that. But that doesn’t mean a youth pastor needs to dress like, talk like, or act like a teenager. What a youth pastor needs to be is relational. Find someone who cares deeply about teens and legitimately enjoys spending time with them, and that person will become relevant to your teens because he cares about them.

5. Curator over Custodian.

A custodian’s task is important, but limited. They are hired to care for a space, to keep it clean, tidy, and in good working order. However, a curator is a specialist in their area and are hired, typically by museums and art galleries, to design exhibitions. Curators determine what pieces are important and how they should be displayed. Many churches are looking to hire custodians for their youth ministry.  They want someone to make sure the program runs well and to keep the kids out of trouble. Aim higher for your church, hire a curator. Hire someone who will specialize in youth ministry and youth culture. Then trust and empower them to create a program that meets the unique needs of your church and community.

What quality would you add to this list?

Jeremy blogs at jeremyjbest.com.

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Introverts Don’t Make Good Pastors

Or, maybe they do.

  • I’m a pastor and an introvert.
  • I get energy from being alone.
  • Being with people for long periods of time drains me, although I  have strong people skills.
  • I love to read.
  • I go on silent retreats.
  • After church every Sunday I need to spend time without high people interaction.
  • Did I say I am an introvert?

Am I automatically disadvantaged as a pastor?

Do only the gregarious, back slapping pastors lead big churches?

Some  years ago I learned that my introversion offended a church leader where I once served. We held an overnight leadership retreat at a local retreat center. After the last session ended around nine, we provided snacks and games. At about ten, I went to bed as was my habit. Most of the other leaders stayed up past midnight. Had I stayed up with them, I would have been toast for the sessions to follow the next morning.

I learned months later that my leaving the group to go to bed offended him. He brought it up more than once. He was an extrovert and did not like me yielding to my introversion.

Should I have stayed up to “work the crowd?” Perhaps. But that incident illustrates the challenges introverts often face when they serve in ministry.

As I’ve pondered this issue more deeply, I read the book Quiet, the Power of Introverts that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, a great read. As an introvert, Susan presents a compelling case for the the power of introverts. If you are an introvert, you will feel affirmed if you read it.

Here’s a good article on introverts here.

If you are an introvert, what challenges have you experienced in ministry?

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Critics: Stay Away or Draw Close to Them?

Criticism hurts, especially the non-constructive kind. We tend to stay away from such critics. But is that the wisest choice? Should we draw close to them instead of pulling away from them? In this post I explore the idea of not shunning your critics.

Murray Bowen, the father of family systems, coined the phrase “non-anxious presence.” He used this term to describe a personal quality that when a leader exhibits it, can keep a family or a group’s overall emotional reactivity and anxiety down. He and others suggest that leaders should not cut off their critics, but should actually stay connected to them in a calm way.

What does a non-anxious leader look like?

  • can truly listen to another, even if he or she is bearing bad news or criticism
  • can hold his emotions in check when in the hot seat
  • seldom gets defensive
  • can acknowledge the emotions of his critic
  • will calmly and courageously respond instead of reacting

Ernest Shackleton, one of the greatest explorers ever, modeled this non-anxious presence with his Antarctica expedition crew as they were marooned for over a year in 1915-1916 after their ship was crushed by the ice. His calm presence and his drawing to difficult crew members allowed him to lead them all to safety. Not one man perished. Here’s what he did.

  • His photographer, Frank Hurley would feel slighted if the crew didn’t pay attention to him and would become difficult to work with. Instead of isolating him, Shackleton gave him a place in his tent and often conferred with him.
  • His physicist, Reginald Jamer, was an introverted academic. Shackleton feared that his personality might invite ridicule that in turn could escalate into a serious issue. He made him a bunkmate as well.
  • When Shackleton selected a crew to take a lifeboat to sail from Elephant Island to South Georgia Island to assemble a rescue party for the entire crew, he selected the carpenter, McNeish. He chose him not only for his skills but also because he was concerned that McNeish could create discontentment with the men who were left.
  • Finally, Shackleton specifically picked two other crewmen because he felt they might cause trouble in his absence. In total, more than half of the group he chose were potential troublemakers.

So, how can we present a non-anxious presence to those who are our critics or to those with whom our personalities rub? I suggest these five ideas.

  1. When criticized, truly try to understand the critic’s perspective. Ask questions. Really listen.
  2. When someone criticizes, thank them for sharing it.
  3. Keep a good sense of humor. Don’t allow the criticism to suck the life from you.
  4. Spend some social time with the critic so he can get to know you. Share some of your personal life story.
  5. Do something thoughtful for your critic, something that he or she would not expect from you.

As counter-intuitive as this may seen, staying calmly connected to your critics can actually help you grow as a leader and move your church or organization forward.

At what point do you believe you should you draw the line with criticism? That is, when should you cut if off before it truly damages you?

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Staff Performance Reviews: Do they Help or Hinder?

As a senior pastor I’ve performed annual staff performance reviews for years thinking that I was helping those leaders improve their performance. But recent neuroscience has shown that negative feedback (including such feedback given in evaluations) may actually hurt the self-esteem of those we evaluate. If staff evaluations potentially hurt the cause rather than help, should we eliminate the evaluations or make some other changes? In this post I answer that question.

The researchers in one study performed a simple experiment on college students. The students first performed a mock interview. Afterwards as they lay in an MRI, they received evaluation on their performance through 45 separate words given by someone who observed their interview. The words were equally divided into 15 neutral ones, 15 positive ones, and 15 negative ones. Even though the positive and neutral words outweighed the negative ones 2 to 1, over 40% experienced lower self esteem. And, the part of the brain that feels rejection from others lit up in the scanner. Negative feedback apparently diminishes our self-esteem.

I understand this insight from personal experience. Years ago a key leader told me numerous times that although I possessed great character, my preaching didn’t connect with other people’s hearts nor did I have sufficient leadership skills to bring the church to the next level. After reading about this study, I now understand why I felt so bad after his comments.

In light of this and other similar studies, how should we approach staff reviews to avoid diminishing the esteem or confidence of those we review? I suggest five ideas that can help us maximize reviews while minimizing their potential negative effect.

  1. Constantly affirm those who report to you. Catch them doing something good and tell them. Create an environment filled with affirmation.
  2. Seek to know the personality of the staff person you are evaluating. The study implied that some personalities ruminate and mull over negative comments more than others. If you know a staffer tends toward introspection, give the feedback with an extra dose of grace. Follow up a few days later to see how they are processing it.
  3. Teach your staff to build their self-esteem around their relationship with Christ rather than around their performance. Doing so doesn’t minimize high performance standards. Rather, it maximizes where we should center our self-esteem and frees us to do our best.
  4. Couch your feedback with positive steps the staff person can make. Help him see that positive corrective steps can make him a more fulfilled person and a more effective employee.
  5. Discover how well you affirm others. Ask your staff to tell you how well they feel you affirm them. If you get negative feedback, re-read this article.

What have you discovered that helps moderate negative feelings from staff reviews?

(Source of study: Eisenberger et al, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, November 2011)

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