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.

"If you had ..."

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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8 Ways to Maximize Christmas Outreach at your Church

I’m an American serving as a lead pastor at a great church in Canada after serving over 30 years in the U.S. Canada is a great place to live and minister and I’m learning how to leverage key outreach events. Christmas Eve is by far the most attended service of the year, even surpassing Easter. This year Christmas Eve falls on Saturday which means Christmas Day falls on Sunday. As a staff we’ve spent considerable time planning how to maximize Christmas outreach. You might want to consider some of these ideas.

Magnificent colorful Christmas tree outdoor in a snowy night with a shooting star in the sky, for the perfect Christmas mood

How to Maximize Christmas Outreach at your Church

  1. Provide multiple services.
    • Our church is one church with three unique language services. In addition to English, we offer a Spanish service and a Mandarin service, all at the same time on Sundays. We’ve tried doing a Christmas Eve multi-lingual service. We found, however, that some English speakers opted out of coming on Christmas Eve. This year we are offering four different services, three at 5 pm (English, Chinese, and Spanish) and one at 7 pm (English only). Although we probably could cram all the English speakers into one service (our auditorium seats 800 and we have space for the Spanish and and Mandarin service in other areas), parking would be an issue. And, multiple services provides options for families with special family gatherings on Christmas Eve.
  2. Pay special attention to families with kids.
    • This year for the first time we are providing a kids program through grade 2 during the 5 pm service. We usually include all kids in the service but during the last two years we’ve had some screamers and runners which made it difficult to keep people’s attention. We are also providing two options for families on Christmas Day. We will hold our regular 10.30 am service, although shorter and with no childcare. We also will provide packets of materials for parents who may want to have a family service at home on Christmas Day instead of coming to the church facility. We will make those available the Sunday before Christmas and at our Christmas Eve service.
  3. Distribute invite cards.
    • The past several years we’ve designed an attractive card that we mail to our community and put into the hands of our attenders two weeks prior. We encourage everyone to invite one to three friends using the invite card.
  4. Do a live nativity.
    • Our children’s ministry holds a live nativity in front of our building on Christmas Eve. That may sound old school, but people from the community actually come just for that. They and their kids visually see the Christmas story. We hire a company that provides live animals. The company also brings some smaller animals kids can pet. The highlight last year was a baby kangaroo. We even provide a petting zoo on Easter which is a huge draw. Kids (and adults) love animals.
  5. Design a special bulletin.
    • Each Sunday we hand out a standard format bulletin which highlights events at the church. But for Christmas Eve we design a bulletin targeted to the unchurched attender. We highlight programs and ministries that might interest them.
  6. Promote a felt-need sermon series.
    • In the U.S. I never saw many returnees to our felt-need series after Christmas Eve. However, some pastors in Canada say that they’ve seen unchurched people return to such a series. We’re going to try that this year.
  7. Recruit a special greeter team.
    • We use regular greeters and ushers each Sunday. Those greeters and ushers will be on duty Christmas Eve as well. But this year we are recruiting a special team of greeters who will wear a shirt that says, “Ask Me” on it. Their sole purpose is to mingle in the atrium to meet new people and to be available for questions new folks may have about our church.
  8. Begin Christmas planning in September.
    • If you are just now planning Christmas, you may not have enough time to implement some of these suggestions. In the past couple of years it seemed that Christmas simply slipped up on us. Now, however, we have visually scheduled onto our staff wall calendar to begin planning for Christmas each September. We are in great shape for this year.

What innovative things are you doing this year as you prepare to reach out this Christmas?

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Rejection: How if Affects Leaders

Disapproval and rejection can sting and wound. We’ve all felt it. What do we do when important people in our lives (or even those that we don’t deem important) reject us? How do we respond as did Jesus when he was rejected and scorned? In this post I unpack this painful thing called rejection.

One depressed person stands lonely, apart from the group

Years ago I experienced deep disapproval and rejection from some key church leaders in the church I was in. Essentially they told me that I wasn’t a good leader nor could I inspire people when I preached God’s Word. I was devastated and the effects lingered for months. At the time I didn’t process this rejection well. In retrospect, however, I now understand why this hurt so much and what to do about it.

God created our bodies and our mental command and control center, our brains, with two overall systems that profoundly impact how we think and feel. Our refleXive system (think X-system) is the one that acts without thinking. When it controls, our emotions often take over. The other system, our refleCtive system (think C-system) is the one that helps us think clearly and biblically when our emotions want us to do otherwise. When our X-system controls, we become highly emotional and reactive which dampens our C-system’s ability to think clearly and objectively. However, when we submit our C-system to the Holy Spirit, we are able to think more in line with the Apostle Paul’s command in Philippeans 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.

Because I failed to appropriately filter their disapproval with the mind of Christ (His thoughts and perspective), my response prompted my brain to release neurochemicals, called catecholamines, that revved up my X-system. This in turn further diminished my ability to think and lead effectively in these three ways.

  • Mental exhaustion: My brain’s check engine light was always on. One part of our brain (the anterior cingulate cortex) senses inconsistencies we detect in verbal or non-verbal messages we get from others. Because those leaders often gave me mixed messages about my performance (you are a great guy… you don’t inspire people), that part of my brain was constantly ‘on.’ I become mentally exhausted which bred even more anxiety about the situation.
  • Easily defensive: My brain’s impulse control brake pads wore thin. I’m usually able to control my emotions and avoid defensiveness. However, because the stress had tired my brain and body, the part of my brain that helps control impulses and emotions (the ventral lateral pre-frontal cortex) had little ‘brake pad’ left. As a result, I was not able to carry on objective conversations about their perspective, which would have helped. Instead, I became defensive, didn’t listen well to their viewpoints, and reacted to small irritations at home.
  • Inability to concentrate: My brain’s mental etch-a-sketch could not hold a creative thought long without losing it. An important part of the brain (the dorsal lateral pre-frontal cortex) gives us the ability to plan, hold items in memory, and think abstractly. However, I could barely concentrate which impacted my ability to think creatively when preparing a sermon or when planning a new initiative. My brain felt like an etch-a-sketch constantly being shaken causing the picture on it to quickly dissolve. I often defaulted to mindless activities such as looking at Facebook several times daily rather than focusing on the more important mind-taxing tasks ministry demanded.

When leaders feel rejected, these internal processes will occur unless with the Spirit’s power we proactively take action to counter them. In my next post I discuss how we can counter these tendencies when we feel rejected.

When others have rejected you, what negative consequences have you seen in your leadership?


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The 7 C’s of Great Ministry Leaders

I recently read a great article by Brad Powell on the 7 C’s of great ministry leaders. I’ve heard of the three C’s before, but his 7 captured the essence of great leaders. Here are his 7 C’s.

Leadership concept
  1. Calling: we must have a sense of God’s call where we currently serve
  2. Character: perhaps the most important, there is no substitute for integrity and a pure heart
  3. Competence: we need the right gifts and abilities to match the needs in our ministry
  4. Confidence: our confidence in the Lord gives us what we need to lead without hesitation
  5. Courage: we must be willing to take unpopular stands sometimes and remind ourselves that we play to an audience of One
  6. Commitment: if we are going to last for the long haul we must be ‘all in’
  7. Continuous growth: a good leader must constantly be learning and growing

What C’s for great leaders would you add (or any other qualities that don’t begin with C)?

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Is this Leadership’s Missing Ingredient? (neuroleadership)

Whether we lead a church ministry, a para-church organization, or run a business, Christian leaders want to lead at our best. Books, leadership seminars, coaching, and mentoring can all help us grow our skills. I’ve used all three to develop mine. Recently, though, I’ve realized an emerging and rapidly growing field is filling a gap in spiritual leadership. It’s called neuroleadership. I explain it in this post.

brain

So what is neuroleadership? Essentially, neuroleadership takes what neuroscience is discovering about the brain and applies it to the art of spiritually leading. You can see a cool animation here by clicking on “What is neuroleadership?” David Rock, author of a great book, Your Brain at Work, coined the term.

Interestingly, the bible affirms neuroleadership principles. The word ‘mind’ appears over 140 times in scripture. Solomon writes in Proverbs that as we think so we are. The Gospel writers tell us to love God with all of our hearts and souls and minds and strength. And the Apostle Paul reminds us that we experience true transformation when we renew our minds. Curt Thompson who wrote Anatomy of the Soul writes that neuroscience is much like a magnifying glass to help us see things we may not otherwise have seen. But a magnifying glass is only as good as the light that illuminates the object we are looking at. That light, for a Christian, is God’s Word.

When pastors and Christian leaders learn and apply neuroleadership principles, they will develop into competent leaders who . . .

  • stay cool under pressure.
  • improve relationships with others.
  • consistently make wise ministry decisions.
  • strategize and navigate change well.
  • learn to inspire others through their teaching.

To maximize our minds and brains, consider these three essentials.

  1. Learn how the brain works. Without trying to become an anatomy expert, take a few minutes to Google “brain” and read a few articles about how the brain works and its anatomy. You’ll also find several good YouTube videos as well. This four-minute video summarizes the techniques scientists are now using to learn more about the brain. This 55-minutes video by David Rock explains how understanding the brain can make a big difference in your leadership.
  2. Practice good brain care habits. Adequate sleep, healthy food, and regular exercise all help keep your brain sharp and functioning well. Scientists have also discovered that managing stress also protects the brain.
  3. Learn the art of self-awareness. Often our brain focuses on negative thoughts that take up precious brain space we need to think and lead well. When we “think about what we are thinking about” we have begun to win the battle against negative thinking. The Apostle Paul speaks to this issue in Phil. 4.8 when he writes,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.

So, as you grow in your leadership, consider how to use your brain to maximize your life and leadership.

In your education and experience, how have your insights into how the brain works helped your leadership?

I unpack this concept in detail in my latest book, The Brain-Savvy Leader: the Science of Significant Ministry.

Related posts:

  1. When Pastors Lead from their Lizard Brains
  2. 9 Signs Your Hormones May be Hijacking Your Leadership