Are you in an Unhealthy Relationship Triangle?

Relationship triangles are the essential building blocks relationship systems are built upon. And I don’t mean them in the sense of a love triangle. We can’t avoid triangles. If you spend any time with people, relationship triangles will form. They aren’t intrinsically good or bad, they just are. A triangle provide a visual way to describe the dynamics between two people and an issue/group or the dynamics between three people. They picture how strained relationships between two people cause them to intentionally or unintentionally avoid issues, dump burdens, shift pain, and pass relationship angst to a third person. Often we leaders get triangled in which can diminish our effectiveness. So how do we avoid unhealthy triangles? Consider these suggestions.

Hands holding rope forming triangle isolated on white

1. Think in threes.

Play a grown up version of Where’s Waldo by looking for triangles in your relationships. As you relate to others, always keep in mind that we naturally tend to handle our anxiety through triangles. They come in many forms. Keep an open eye to their pervasiveness. Here are some examples.

  • Husband-wife-child
  • Husband-wife-job
  • Pastor-wife-church
  • Boyfriend-girlfriend-dad
  • Husband-wife-inlaw (or outlaw)
  • Boss-employee-employee
  • President-board-customers
  • Brother-sister-parent
  • Pastor-elder-elder
  • Pastor-board-church vision
  • Brother-sister-inheritance
  • Student-teacher-parent
  • Student-student-teacher

2. Don’t try to fix the problems of the other two in a triangle.

Imagine a triangle and a each point place a different person, ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C,’ with ‘A’ being you. If ‘B’ and ‘C’ are at odds with each other and you are the third point in the triangle, avoid the temptation to force change in ‘B’s’ relationship with ‘C.’ I tried for years in a previous church to get a leader to see another person in the church in a positive light. Even after many attempts, I never heard him say, “Charles, you are right. I don’t know why after all these years I saw ____ like I did. He’s a great guy.”

In fact, the opposite occurred. The harder I tried to make the relationship get better, the worse it got. It wore me out because I was taking on their relationship tension. And for all my efforts, their relationship never improved.

I don’t mean to imply that we should discourage healthy dialogue between two people in conflict. We should often coach others toward healthy dialogue. But when we try to push a relationship to get better, it seldom will. People resist such efforts.

When Martha tried to triangle in Jesus to force Mary help her in the kitchen (Luke 10.38-42), He did let himself get sucked in. He pointed back to Martha’s heart condition rather than trying to ‘fix’ Mary.

3. Don’t bail or distance yourself from those in your triangles.

We naturally tend to shy away from relationships in conflict. We don’t want to deal with the emotionality they bring. However, distancing or bailing out often makes the relationship worse. And when we distance ourselves, we actually keep people in the dark. The result? The relationship often gets worse. So, keep a reasonable connection to each person in the triangle.

4. Expect triangles to intensify in times of change or stress.

When you face more stress in your family, at work, or in your relationships, the tendency to get triangled in will increase as will your tendency to triangle somebody else in. Be more vigilant and aware during those times. Remember to take responsibility only for the relationships you are in, ‘A’ to ‘B,’ and ‘A’ to ‘C.’ Refuse to take unhealthy responsibility for the other two in the triangle, ‘B’ to ‘C.’ Encourage healthy dialogue between the two and focus on your relationship with each person. Often when you do that, the tension between the other two in the triangle will lessen.

5. Focus on issues, not personalities.

When we get triangled, we’re tempted to take sides. The solution to the relationship problem may be obvious to us and to the offending party. However, keeping emotionally neutral can keep you from getting over involved. When you sense someone is trying to suck you and trying to get some commitment out of you to take sides, a good response is, “Let me think about that.”[1] 

6. Know the signs when someone’s trying to triangle you in.

Here are some potential signs that someone is trying to draw you into an unhealthy triangle.

  • When someone obsesses about somebody else not doing his or her job.
  • When someone takes an unhealthy interest in the problems of others.
  • When someone tries to rescue another.
  • When you get an uncomfortable feeling that someone wants to get unnecessarily close to you.
  • When someone over-focuses on you in a negative way (i.e., criticism) or he over-focuses on you a positive way (i.e., extreme flattery).
  • When someone’s reaction to you exceeds what the situation would normally dictate.

7. Map your own triangles.

Think about the unhealthy triangles you may be in now. Draw those triangles on a sheet of paper. Put names on them. Take a learner’s stance and ask yourself these questions.

  • How are you responding to those in your triangles? Is it healthy or unhealthy?
  • What patterns do you see? Are they healthy or unhealthy?
  • Is the same person constantly trying to triangle you in?

When we discover and become more aware of our relational and emotional triangles, we can keep a more objective stance to the unhealthy ones, which in turn helps us lead better.

What are some negative results you’ve seen in your life when you’ve been sucked into unhealthy triangles?

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[1] Margaret J. Marcuson, Leaders Who Last, Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry (New York, NY: Seabury Books, 2009), Kindle e-book loc. 582.

 

The Dumbest Mistake I Ever Made as a Pastor

On the whole, I believe pastors are a pretty smart bunch. We earn advanced degrees, study biblical languages, go to conferences to learn, and constantly challenge our brains when we prepare messages and talks. I’ve earned two theology degrees and consider myself a relatively smart guy. But, brain smarts won’t guarantee ministry fruitfulness. Our walk with Christ fundamentally matters. And how we manage relationships probably ranks second in influence. As I look back over my 34 years in ministry, I realize I repeatedly made this one really dumb mistake in the relationship area.

Smart Vs Dumb - Choose Intelligence Over Ignorance

I hid out.

I don’t mean that I intentionally hid from people. But I isolated myself too much from staff and people in the church. I didn’t make myself visible enough.

  • In one church my office was the furtherest away from everybody else. And I stayed in it way too long during work hours. I seldom came out of the office.
  • In that same church I didn’t emerge from my office until three minutes before the Sunday service.
  • In another church as a low level associate, I would never meet with anyone unless they made an appointment several days in advance. This practice certainly may be necessary for the lead pastor of a large church, but not for my role at the time, my first full time position.

Since those early years, I think I’ve grown up and become much wiser. Most church people (and staff) recognize that lead pastors are busy. Yet, they want to feel they have some connection to him or her. They don’t want to feel we are always in a rush to be somewhere else.

I now recognize that my visible presence matters greatly. And I don’t mean that we should make ourselves 24/7 accessible. We, too, must keep healthy margins. But, church people and staff need relational touches. Even small ones matter.

Here are changes I’ve made to help me be less of a ‘hider.’

  1. When I’m not preaching on a Sunday, I visit the kid’s areas, poke my head in each classroom, and thank the leaders. I don’t just sit in my office and read (which I enjoy doing).
  2. Before each Sunday service I intentionally finish my prayer time with an elder 10-15 minutes prior to the service start time so I can shake people’s hands and chat.
  3. I ask an elder to close out each service in prayer and just prior to that as I share some final comments, I explain that I will be at the welcome center after the service and would like to meet new people.
  4. I more often manage staff using the MBWA technique, Management By Walking Around. Although I still keep my door closed to minimize interruptions, I intentionally break throughout the day and wander around to touch base with staff.
  5. When I talk to a staff person during the week or a church person on Sundays, I try to give them my full presence through eye contact and genuine listening. Even a minute or two ‘fully present’ interaction can make a positive deposit into the souls of others.

I’m much wiser now and hope that going forward I won’t make as many dumb mistakes as I did when I was younger.

What’s the dumbest mistake you’ve every made as a pastor?

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How to Discover Your True North Values

Every leader should be clear on his or hear true north values. Such values aren’t the essential values every believer should embrace like keeping the ten commandments, obeying the golden rule, or living out Jesus’ great command and great commission. Rather they are more nuanced ones that deep down capture the essence of the real you. These values should so infuse our souls that nothing external can cause us to compromise them. Granted, they might be aspirational, ones not yet fully developed. Nevertheless, they would describe the authentic, Christ-honoring you to which you aspire. Here’s a way to discover them.

true versus false dilemma concept compass  isolated on white bac

3 initial steps to prepare:

  1. Seek input: Ask a few close friends, co-workers, and/or family members to write their response to this question. In your experience with me, what do you see are my core strengths, passions, gifts, and competencies?
  2. Plan a personal retreat: Block out a full half-day mini-retreat in your schedule to be alone. Better yet, schedule an overnight retreat for even more time to discern your values. Bring your Bible, pen, paper, and your computer. Also, bring any personality or leadership inventories you may have taken, as well as the above feedback from your friends and family.
  3. Pray: Recruit two or three prayer partners who will pray for you as you seek God’s will about your values.

Steps for your discernment retreat:

At your discernment retreat, you’ll notice eight parts to include. If you’ve scheduled a half-day, you can plan for about 30 minutes for each part. If you’ve scheduled an overnight retreat, you’ll probably want to take an hour or so for each part. The goal for each step is to create a list of ten or less themes, words, or concepts for each category. Then you’ll combine them into your final list.

  1. Delights: Ask yourself, “What truly delights me? What do I love doing? What do I do that I enjoy so much that I seem to lose track of time when I do it?” Write down less than ten thoughts and ideas on a piece of paper.
  2. Past: Think over your past. Write down answers to these questions.
    1. When you were a kid, what was fun? Where did you get your joy? What did you like doing more than anything else? What themes do see emerging?
    2. Move now to high school and then to college and ask the same questions.
    3. Combine your themes into a list of not more than ten.
  3. Peak Performance: Think now of when you are at your best. Write down your answers to these questions.
    1. Think of peak moments in your life or career, those moments when you feel that you did your very best work or made your greatest contribution or difference. Why were those peak moments? What was true about you? What was ignited in your soul? Do you see any themes emerging?
    2. Last week when were you at your best? Why?
    3. Last month when were you at your best? Why?
    4. Last year when were you at your best? Why?
    5. Approach this from the opposite direction. When are you not at your best?
    6. List words that describe you when you were at your best in your peak moments from your exercises above. List no more than 20. Now narrow that list to no more than 10. Play with those words a while until you get colorful, descriptive words that describe you when you are at your best.
  4. Heroes: Think of those in your past or present that you’d consider your heroes.
    1. What qualities about them prompted you to put them on your list?
    2. Narrow those qualities down to less than 10.
  5. Input from others: Look at the answers to the questions you posed to your co-workers, friends, and family. Make a list of themes, less than ten, that stand out from their comments.
  6. Scripture: Write down the key scriptures or Bible characters that have meant the most to you in your life. Create a list of less than ten themes from those verses and characters.
  7. Inventories:If you brought any personality inventories, make a list of less than ten themes you see from them.
  8. Values list: Finally, look at this list of words/phrases. Circle ten or less that resonate most with you. You may start with a longer list and then pare it down to less than 10.

Creativity   Accomplishment   Accuracy   Acknowledgment   Adventure 
 Aesthetics   Authenticity   Beauty   Balance   Challenge   Collaboration   Community   Compassion   Competition   Comradeship   Connectedness   Contribution   Directness   Diversity Diligence   Elegance   Empowerment   Excellence
   Fast pace   Focus
   Forward the action   Free spirit
   Freedom to choose   Full   Fun   Growth   Harmony   Health   Honesty   Humor
  Independence   Integrity   Joy
   Knowledge   Lack of pretense   Leadership   Lightness   Nurturing   Orderliness   Participation   Partnership   Peace   Performance   Personal power   Physical challenge   Precision   Productivity   Recognition   Reflective   Risk taking   Romance   Safety   Self-Expression   Service   Sensitive   Spirituality   Success   To be known   Tradition
   Trust   Variety   Vitality   Wisdom   Zest

Combine and reduce themes to 10 or less: So by now you have eight lists of ten or less themes/words per list. You’ve done a lot of great work. Now it’s time to prayerfully begin combining the lists into one final list of ten or so words and phrases. That final list will give you a great idea about your unique true north values. Wordsmith that final list into phrases or concepts that resonate with you.

Add key scriptures if you want. Prayerfully commit to the Lord to live out these values. Ask Him to help you hone them the rest of your life.

Finally, record these in a way that will remind you to often revisit them. Print them and put them in your bible, on the refrigerator, or store them in a computer file that you review regularly.

What has helped you discover your true north values?

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Taken with permission from People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, IVP, 2014, Charles Stone.

7 Ways Multitasking Dumbs Down Leadership

Most leaders face the challenge to get more done with less time. Our so called time-saving technologies like smart phones, texting, and faster internet have actually done the opposite. They have created more work for us because they often make us accessible 24/7. This availability and rapid speed of communication has created the expectation from others that we should get more things done, and get them done faster. This reality tempts us to think that multitasking can actually save us time to meet the demands of life and leadership. However, multitasking as a way to increase productivity is a myth. Neuroscientists are now learning that multitasking negatively affects leadership in several ways.

Busy Businessman

Wise leaders understand that a key to productivity lies in their ability to focus their attention on what’s most important at the moment. And as neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin writes in his book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload“Multitasking is the enemy of a focused attentional system.” (The Organized Mind, p. 16)

Before I give the 7 ways multitasking dumbs down your leadership, a quick explanation of multitasking will help.

When I say multitasking, I don’t mean that we can’t do two things at once. We can drive and talk to our spouse at the same time. We can jog and listen to a podcast on our iPods at the same time. And we can wash dishes and talk to our kids at the same time. We can multitask when one of the tasks is imbedded in the habit center of our brain (the basal ganglia), like driving. We drive without thinking about driving.

But multitasking that I’m writing about is attempting to do two things simultaneously that requires the focused attention of the executive center of our brain (the pre-frontal cortex), like listening to a podcast and answering email at the same time.

With that concept in mind, here are 7 ways multitasking will dumb down your leadership. Daniel Levitin expands on these concepts in his book. I highly recommend it.

  1. Reduced efficiency: Multitasking is not really multitasking. It’s simply switching rapidly from one task to the other and that switching carries a cost. It’s called task switching cost. We actually are less efficient with our time when we try to simultaneously do two attentional tasks versus doing them consecutively.
  2. Foggy thinking: Multitasking increased the production of the stress hormone, cortisol. When this happens we get anxious, our brains get overstimulated, and our thinking gets scrambled. This results in foggy thinking.
  3. Dopamine addiction: Multitasking can cause the feel good, reward neurotransmitter dopamine to increase by rewarding our task switching. The brain loves novelty and when we switch tasks and find something novel in that switch, we get a tiny feel good boost. An example is that while you’re preparing a sermon or talk, you tell yourself, “I’ll just quickly check Facebook to see if I see something interesting.” If you do see something interesting it reinforces this pattern of distraction because it feels good. And then when you get back to your sermon prep, you again experience the cost of that task switch. It’s the, “Hmmm, now where was I?” As Dr. Levitin writes, “Instead of reaping the big rewards that come from sustained, focused attention, we instead reap empty rewards from completing a thousand little sugarcoated tasks.” (p. 97)
  4. Reduced problem solving ability: Multitasking can actually reduce your problem solving performance by the equivalent of 10 IQ points. People who regularly multitask have poorer short term memories which diminishes problem solving ability.
  5. Important information goes to the wrong part of your brain: One neuroscientist studied students who tried to do homework while watching TV. He found that information from their schoolwork did not go into the part of the brain responsible for memory (the hippocampus) where it should have.
  6. Depletion of brain nutrients: The brain gets its fuel from two sources: sugars (glucose) and oxygen. When we multitask, we actually burn up the brain’s fuel which leaves less fuel for the more important mental tasks required of leaders. Yet when we stay focused on an important task, we actually reduce the brain’s need for glucose.
  7. Impaired decision making: When we constantly switch tasks, we’re faced with more and more decisions we must make. Do I answer this email now? Should I file it somewhere for later? Do I answer that text message now or later? As a result we lose impulse control because our brains tire from constant decision making. As a result we lack sufficient mental energy to wisely make decisions for more important issues.

So you can see that multitasking does not really save us time or help us become better leaders or pastors. The next time you catch yourself tempted to multitask, reread this post. It just might help you become a better leader that day.

How have you seen multitasking affect your leadership?

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11 Traits of a Foolish Pastor

When you think of a ‘fool’ often a humorous movie character comes to mind like the Three Stooges, Don Knotts, or Jerry Lewis. But Proverbs gives a different slant on a fool. We are to avoid them, not argue with them, or refuse to employ them. Proverbs describes fools as unwise, unteachable, proud, and blinded to their foolishness. But can pastors sometimes act like fools? I think so. Consider these 11 traits of a foolish pastor.

Making faces
  1. Foolish pastors live in a black or white world.
    Very little is gray for them.
  2. Foolish pastors think they have all the answers. Because of their education, experience, or “God’s anointing,” they believe God made them the repository of all correct answers and good ideas.
  3. Foolish pastors are blind to their own weaknesses. When someone tries to help them see their blind spots they often respond with, “Yea, but….” They seldom receive correction well. They give an excuse for everything.
  4. Foolish pastors shift blame and minimize responsibility instead of owning up to their mistakes and errors of judgment. They often defensively react.
  5. Foolish pastors take credit instead of giving credit to others. 
  6. Foolish pastors see themselves as victims… of misunderstanding from others (they just don’t know what it’s like being a pastor), a bad church situation, or a resistant board they inherited when they came to their church.
  7. Foolish pastors think they deserve special treatment like discounts at stores or deference from others because of their position.
  8. Foolish pastors resist accountability. They like to make their own loosey-goosey schedule. Since they are “always on” they justify not keeping a reasonable office schedule.
  9. On the other hand, some foolish pastors think they are at the beckoned call of everyone in the church. They take pride in being available to others 24/7. Unfortunately, their family and personal life suffers.
  10. Foolish pastors don’t see how they suck the life from others with their demands, passive aggressiveness, or whiney attitudes.
  11. Foolish pastors ultimately flame out, burn out, or compromise their morals and integrity. They simply will not last in ministry.

Fortunately, I’ve only met a few foolish pastors. One foolish pastor I knew destroyed two churches, his marriage, and sullied the reputations of the good pastors in his community (guilt by association).

Most pastors are men and women of integrity who sacrifice greatly for a call greater than themselves.

I applaud you.

I love you and hope my blogs and books encourage you.

But…if you are a foolish pastor, please turn from your foolish ways and find someone who will help you before it’s too late.

What are some other traits you’ve seen in foolish pastors?

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