Smart Leaders stay close to their Critics

MEN WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS. Little did those accepted for this job out of the thousands who applied realize how true those words would eventually become.

Ernest Shackleton, a well-known explorer in the early 1900s, placed this ad in 1915 to recruit a team for his third attempt to cross the continent of Antarctica. In August of that year, he set sail with his recruits in the ship Endurance, named after his family motto: “By endurance, we conquer.” Three months later they arrived at South Georgia Island in the southern Atlantic to begin their thousand-mile trek to the Antarctic Peninsula, a trip expected to take 120 days.

More than a year earlier, Vilhjalmur Stefansson had led a different expedition to explore the Arctic in their ship, the Karluk. Both ships endured similar fates in their respective voyages. Dennis Perkins recorded these words about Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition:

The masts toppled and the sides were stove in, as shards of ice ripped the strong timbers to shreds. Frank Wild made a last tour of the dying vessel and found two crewmembers in the forecastle, fast asleep after their exhausting labor at the bilge pumps. He said, “She’s going, boys, I think it’s time to get off.” ( N. T. Perkins, Leading on the Edge, New York: AMACOM, 2000, p. 6.)

Both expeditions, a year apart, had been gripped in an icy vice that crushed their respective ships, forcing each party onto the ice and into horrific conditions. Yet similar circumstances, only poles apart, yielded dramatically different results. In the months following the Karluk’s destruction, the crew disintegrated into a conflict-­laden, self-centered group, which resulted in the death of eleven of its crew.

In contrast, Shackleton’s crew, although they too confronted harsh circumstances and conflict, emerged on dry land 634 days after the expedition began. Not a single man perished. Although they faced the same hellish conditions as Stefansson’s men did, they experienced a different fate. What made the difference? Shackleton’s calm leadership presence before his critics and naysayers. 

The ship’s surgeon, Alexander Macklin, captured this important leadership characteristic Shackleton embodied that contributed to the men’s survival.

“Shackleton at this time showed one of his sparks of real greatness. He did not rage at all, or show outwardly the slightest sign of disappointment; he told us simply and calmly that we must winter in the Pack, explained its dangers and possibilities; never lost his optimism, and prepared for winter.” (J. Marcuson, Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry, New York: Seabury Books, 2009, Kindle ebook, loc. 1117, emphasis mine)

Shackleton exemplified a key quality needed for every leader: engage your critics. In his time of crisis, he calmly connected to his men, especially the dissidents and troublemakers. It made the difference between life and death.

When our environment breeds anxiety and our critics try to stir up trouble, we can defuse this anxiety by calmly staying connected to them. Neuroscience actually verifies the biblical principle from Proverbs 15.1 that says, “a gentle answer turns away wrath.” It’s called emotional contagion. Others will catch our calmness which actually helps quiet the emotional centers in their brains responsible for anxiety and fear.

Men in Shackleton’s expedition noticed his calm, steady demeanor. When they were stuck on the ship, even one of his most pessimistic crewmen wrote these words in his journal.

“He is always able to keep his troubles under and show a bold front. His unfailing cheeriness means a lot to a band of disappointed explorers like ourselves. . . . He is one of the greatest optimists living.” (ibid, Kindle loc. 1182).

Shackleton keenly understood the importance of setting an example for his men on how to handle conflict and stress in a crisis. As you might imagine, living under such harsh conditions could easily cause arguments and disagreements. Yet those disagreements rarely disrupted unity because he developed an atmosphere that also encouraged dissent to be brought into the open.

Shackleton constantly faced four choices when confronted with dissident people, the same choices spiritual leaders face today:

  1. Pander and give in to critics to restore tranquility. Often because the critics are big givers or wield relational influence in our churches, we pander to them.
  2. Isolate or ignore critics, troublemakers and those with whom our personalities rub, thinking that if we don’t hear those voices, they will go away.
  3. Get defensive and power up to quiet the critic.
  4. Show courage and stay calmly connected to the critic.

Shackleton wisely chose the fourth option. Smart leaders do the same.

How have you managed the critics in your life?

(Taken and adapted from People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership by Charles Stone. Copyright (c) 2014 by Charles Stone. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, USA.

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How Well do you Value Your Leadership Team? 5 Must Do’s

Great teams feel valued by those who lead them.

Teams that don’t feel valued often simply go through the motions which dampens motivation and decreases productivity. Great leaders pay keen attention to how valued their teams feel. Poor leaders seldom even think about it. Evaluate your leadership against these five behaviors great leaders show.

  1. Great leaders regularly tell and show their team members that they value them.
    •  Thank your team members often. Tell them how valuable their contributions are even though their jobs may not be viewed as important as other ones. Use tangible expressions of appreciation. Discover what uniquely gives them a sense of value and communicate thanks in that way. The highest performing teams receive a ratio of six positive comments to one negative one.

      However, praise should focus on effort such as hard work rather than attributes such as intelligence. Praise for effort keeps your team open to grow whereas praise for attributes can sometimes cause the person to become static in order to protect those attributes.

  2. Great leaders help their team members make progress in their work.
    • Support your team members so that they feel they are making headway. In one study, over 600 managers recorded at the end of each day the experiences that satisfied them the most. Progress on their goals and tasks satisfied the most, even more than receiving praise or recognition from their boss.
  3. Great leaders teach their teams about healthy and unhealthy comparison. 
    • Most people tend to naturally compare their efforts against others. Often such comparison leads to either pride or diminishes that person’s sense of accomplishment. Talk to your team members about the downsides of comparison and help them learn to recognize it when they begin to compare themselves with others. Teach that good comparison is comparing their personal efforts against their own efforts and goals.
  4. Great leaders provide their new team members with a thorough orientation process.
    • Whether your teams are paid or volunteer, a good orientation process will help new team members feel valued, right from the get-go and help create a sense from them that you really care.
  5. Great leaders value the insight and input from their teams.
    • Help your team realize that we naturally default to believing others see things as we ourselves do. It’s called the false consensus effect. Foster a healthy, open atmosphere so that everybody on the team feels free to share his or her views. Foster an atmosphere that not only gives everyone a chance to share his opinions, but welcomes his opinions as well. When you do, everybody can get a boost of the neurotransmitter, oxytocin, which helps build trust.

What has helped your teams feel valued?

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The Glue that Makes Great Teams Great: Permission to Play Values

Every great organization shares common values unique to them. Whether it’s a church, a para-church organization, or a business, prevailing teams know and breathe their values, their shared assumptions about how they do things. I’m new at my church in Canada, having served in U.S. churches for over 30 years. Yet one of the first things I did was to share the 10 core values I wanted our team to embrace. I call them ‘permission to play’ values. In other words, if you want to play in our sandbox, here’s how we play. You may already have a great set of values that work for you, but if you don’t, this list I’ve developed over the past several years might provide a starting point for yours. Both Bill Hybel’s and Rick Warren’s lists have influenced mine. Here they are.

We value . . .

  1. Integrity.
    • Is. 32.8 But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands. (NIV)
  2. A positive, coachable attitude. 
    • Phil. 4.8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. (NIV)
  3. Volunteers
    • We work for them; they don’t work for us.
  4. Body, soul, and spirit care.
    • Luke 2.52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (NIV)
  5. Simplicity
    • Simple is best.
  6. Authenticity
  7. Teamwork and trust.
    • We keep short accounts with each other and subordinate our personal agendas to the church’s agenda.
  8. Continual growth and learning.
    • We welcome constructive feedback.
  9.  A healthy work ethic.
    • We work hard and have fun.
  10. Taking bold faith steps. 
    • We aren’t afraid to fail.

What staff values would you add to this list?

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The Cortisol Stress Flooded Church: 9 Signs and 8 Antidotes

Cortisol, the stress hormone, is often associated with negative effects that prolonged stress puts on our bodies. Those effects  include weight gain, anxiety, heart disease, depressed immune system, digestive problems, sleep impairment, and even effects on memory. But could churches be negatively affected by cortisol as well? That is, if the leaders and culture of that church are constantly stressed, and flooded with cortisol themselves, could it affect the church negatively? I think it can and does in many churches. Consider these 9 tell-tale signs of a church flooded with cortisol.

  1. Your leadership team seems to always be uptight, tired, and sick a lot.
  2. Little trust between staff, elders, and the people in general exists.
  3. The leaders incessantly push bigger and better programs and ministries. They often switch from one great idea to the next.
  4. Your staff experiences lots of turn-over.
  5. An atmosphere of suspicion and “the wary eye” seems to pervade the church and your teams.
  6. Staff meetings are conflict filled or staff simply don’t say much in meetings for fear they will get reprimanded.
  7. A heavy spirit seems to linger over the office and even the church itself.
  8. Tension and conflict fill elder and/or deacon meetings.
  9. You seem to focus most on problems rather than victories or stories of how God is working.

How many of these did you check? Granted, spiritual forces are at work here as well. It’s not just a biological thing. But if more than two of these are true of your church, you might need to take a good look at your church’s stress level. Your church may be flooded with cortisol.

How might a church dial down a cortisol culture? Consider these potential antidotes.

  1. Create a ‘do not do’ list for your church. Pare down what you do so that leaders and volunteers don’t feel run ragged. Do a few things well.
  2. Teach your leaders how to build trust. Here’s a recent blog on building trust. When we build trust, we help activate the trust neurotransmitter oxytocin in our brains that creates a feeling of safety and belonging. Here’s a video of a recent talk I gave on building trust.
  3. Build fun experiences into your staff calendar. Don’t make every encounter revolve around pressing ministry issues.
  4. If you are the main leader, dial down your own intensity. Take breaks during the day. Deal with your own stress. Take your day off. Disconnect from technology 24 hours each week.
  5. Begin your staff and elder/deacon meetings with praises and victories.
  6. Share stories in your services that point to God’s blessings and changed lives.
  7. Over-communicate with your church. When people sense they know what’s happening, they will tend less to assume the worst. When we assume the worst we become anxious and cortisol ratchets up.
  8. Smile a lot. Our brain has what are called mirror neurons (brain cells) that prompts us to mimic the intentional, goal directed actions of others. Model give body language to others that you want them to imitate. And, make it positive.

Do you think churches can be affected by cortisol in leaders? Why or why not?

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How to Do your Best and Leave the Results to God

Do your best and leave the results to God.  That phrase may seem a bit worn and trite, but it’s well worth heeding. So, just how do we do that?

In Christ’s parable of the talents, the master, representing God, gave responsibility to the servants based on individual ability. (Matt 25) The story implies that some pastors have greater competencies than others.

Similarly, Paul teaches that the Holy Spirit gives gifts as He sees fit. (1 Cor 12)

It’s obvious that the Spirit gives some pastors extra preaching or leading gifts, evidenced in the size and impact of their ministries. It’s easy to become discouraged when we do our best yet don’t see our church grow like others to which we may compare ourselves. When we wrap our identities around numerical results and the numbers don’t increase, the discouragement can overwhelm us. This is especially true for older pastors who realize they may never achieve the dreams they had for ministry.

David Goetz, a marketer and author of Death by Suburb, wrote,

I often sat in the studies of both small-church pastors and mega-church pastors, listening to their stories, their hopes, their plans for significance. I deduced, albeit unscientifically, that often clergymen in midlife had worse crises of limits than did other professionals. Religious professionals went into the ministry for the significance, to make an impact, called by God to make a difference with their lives. But when you are fifty-three and serving a congregation of 250, you know, finally, you’ll never achieve the large-church immortality symbol, the glory that was promised to you. That can be a dark moment-or a dark couple of years. (Goetz, p 43)

However, noted theologian Fred Rogers, of Mr. Rogers fame, recalled an experience he had when attending seminary. He wanted to hear a variety of preachers, so for a time he visited a different church each Sunday. One week he experienced “the most poorly crafted sermon [he] had ever heard.” A friend had accompanied him, and when he turned to her, he found her in tears. She said, “It was exactly what I needed to hear.”

Rogers then told his audience, “That’s when I realized that the space between someone doing the best he or she can and someone in need is holy ground. The Holy Spirit had transformed that feeble sermon for her, and as it turned out, for me too.” ( 9r5035. html?start=1)

Although the results from our best efforts may look feeble to some, they can touch a heart and change a life when we least expect it. This side of heaven we will never know the people we impacted through our faithful service.

What has helped you leave the results to God?

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Taken from Five Ministry Killers and How to Defeat Them: Help for Frustrated Pastors (Kindle Locations 1813-1827). Kindle Edition.  Charles Stone (used by permission)