Is this the Holy Grail for Effective Leadership?

The term ‘holy grail’ is often used to describe something highly sought after or earnestly pursued. Whether you are a leader in a ministry environment or a business environment, great leaders are always looking for ways to lead better. But is there such thing as a ‘holy grail’ for effective leadership? Probably not. However, recently I learned a concept that although it may not qualify as THE ultimate key for effective leadership, it probably should be a competency leaders should develop. It’s called a growth mindset.

Chart depicting the leadership style of transformational leaders

Growth mindset versus fixed mindset…

I recently read Thanks for the Feedback by Sheila Heen and Douglas Stone. I highly recommend the book. In one section they unpack a concept related to our personal identity: growth mindset versus a fixed mindset. Simply put, leaders with fixed mindsets believe that their abilities and traits are fixed and finished. Leaders with a growth mindset believe that they are capable of constantly growing and changing.

Heen and Stone write about Professor Carol Dweck’s study at Stanford University on how children cope with failure. She used a puzzle experiment with kids. She had a group of kids engage with progressively harder and harder puzzles. Some kids gave up. And to her surprise, some kids actually became more engaged the more difficult the puzzles became.

After these experiments she talked with the kids. Kids who gave up felt that the harder puzzles made them look dumb. However, the kids who persisted believed that the harder puzzles made them get better at solving puzzles and said that their experience was actually fun.

Neither interest nor aptitude made a difference in their responses. For the kids who stopped, they assumed that their skill at solving puzzles was a fixed trait. The kids who persisted felt that their puzzle-solving ability was a flexible trait and they believed they could change and grow.

Dweck explained that the kids who refused to quit didn’t feel that they were failing even though they couldn’t solve every puzzle. They believed they were learning. For them, the puzzle was more like a coach and less like a referendum on their abilities or intelligence.

As I read this fascinating study, it struck me how important a growth mindset is for effective leadership. If we feel that our competencies and abilities are static, what we were born with, we won’t personally grow nor will our leadership grow. However, when we face difficult challenges and believe that God has given us the capacity to grow and develop, we’ll become more effective leaders.

So, how might we develop a growth mindset?

1. Be aware of the stories we tell ourselves.

The term metacognition means to think about what we are thinking about. The next time you face a difficult leadership challenge, pause and listen to your self-talk (practice metacognition). Do the stories you are telling yourself reflect a fixed or growth mindset? Do the same when you work with others. Listen to the stories you are telling yourself about them.

2. Recognize that an anxious feeling about a leadership challenge does not imply you lack faith or don’t have what it takes.

Our brains are wired to dislike uncertainty. When we face an uncertain leadership challenge, the fight-flight center of our brain releases hormones into our blood stream and neurotransmitters into our brain. This results in unpleasant emotions we feel, like anxiety. Remind yourself that leadership challenges are uncertain and to feel a bit anxious is normal. It has nothing to do with your ability to handle the challenge.

3. Include learning as a goal when faced with a leadership challenge. 

When we face a leadership challenge, we certainly want to solve the problem or overcome the challenge. However, the next time you face the challenge, include as one measure of success what you actually learn about yourself and the problem area. Learning may actually serve you better in the long term than solving the problem.

4. Don’t fear failure.

The possibility of failure should never keep us from facing new challenges in life or leadership. The prophet Isaiah addressed fear when he wrote these words.

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.  (Is 41.10)

So, a growth mindset may not be the ‘holy grail’ of effective leadership, but it can make a profound difference in how well you lead.

What do you think about a growth versus a fixed mindset? Where do you see yourself? 

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A Simple Way to Deal with Criticism

In the heat of the moment when someone criticizes us, it’s easy to react and make things worse. Too often when I’ve received a critical comment at church I’ve gotten defensive or said something in return that I wish I could take back. Has that every happened to you? When that happens, what can we do in the moment? Years ago I learned a simple acronym that can help us respond appropriately to criticism. Here it is.

Illustration depicting cut out letters arranged to form the word critic.

Respond to criticism with LEARN.

  • L listen: Simply hear the person out.
  • Eempathize: Acknowledge how they feel.
  • Aapologize: Even if you aren’t responsible for the problem, an apology for their experience may help ameliorate ill feelings.
  • Rrespond: Explain that you will attempt to address the issue if at all possible.
  • Nnotify:  Let those who can potentially fix the problem know about it.

The next time someone in your church brings you a complaint, LEARN from it instead of reacting to it.

What has helped you respond appropriately to criticism?

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Great Staff Meetings Require these 7 Rules

Leaders can’t lead without meeting with others. Sometimes meetings go well. Sometimes they don’t. Often team dynamics derail productive meetings simply because someone misspoke or misheard. As I began to realize this, several years ago I asked a psychologist to help me create some rules for talking in our staff meetings. I call them conversational ethics. Here are the 7 rules.

Teamwork concept. Isolated on white


  1. Listen: let others say their piece; as Covey said, “Seek to understand before being understood.”
  2. Suspend judgment: don’t make assumptions about what others say.
  3. Share in the thought pool: everybody gives input; participate truthfully (how you really feel).
  4. Stay detached from your ideas: don’t take things personally; use “I” messages; own your personal view.
  5. Let others be inarticulate: help others articulate what they are trying to say by engaging.
  6. Privacy: if personal issues with you and another person potentially could affect a discussion and/or a decision, first deal with it 1-on-1 in private with the individual.
  7. Accountability: everybody helps hold each other accountable to this set of ethics.

What guidelines have helped you lead good meetings?

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The Original Jesus

My friend Daniel Darling just released his latest book, The Original Jesus: Trading the Myths We Create for the Savior Who Is. Daniel is a great writer and provides an insightful look at the myths we create about Jesus. I highly recommend it. I’ve included an excerpt below.

orig jesus

Who is Jesus? The answer to this question is the foundation of Christianity. His deity is enshrined in all three major Christian creeds and has been held by the church for its two thousand years of history. Tozer says, “For more than sixteen hundred years this has stood as the final test of orthodoxy.” Theologian Michael Bird writes, “All in all, the testimony of the Christian tradition, based on its exegesis and experience, is that Jesus Christ is both fully human and divine.” John Frame says the deity of Christ is a “pervasive doctrine of Scripture,” and he sums up Scripture’s claims with three statements:

  1. Jesus bears divine attributes: holiness, perfect truth, wisdom, almighty power, immutability, glory.
  2. Jesus performs divine acts: creation, providence, miracles, forgiveness of sins, final judgment.
  3. Jesus in Scripture is an object of faith and worship.

Every generation faces new temptations to diminish or doubt Jesus’s deity. As you read this book, Newsweek and Time are likely working on the “Scholars Debunk the Supernatural Jesus” feature they run every Easter. This thin gruel of journalism will once again be answered by the most basic evangelical scholarship.

But red-faced skeptics and timid doctoral students are not the only ones tempted to flinch at Jesus’s unpopular claims. Even those who claim to be true believers have trouble grasping who Jesus is. It’s less hassle for us to just place Jesus where we want to, in a long line of inspirational religious figures. But for the Christian story to work at all, Jesus has to be more than a first-century Gandhi-like figure.

I’m guessing if you’re reading this book you’re a believer like me. Chances are you found this at a Christian bookstore or through an online review at a Christian blog or because millions of your friends posted on Facebook about how awesome it is.

But maybe, just maybe you are not a Christian and chose this book out of curiosity or boredom or because a Christian friend recommended it. If this is you, then for the rest of the chapter I’d like to make the case for why you might consider Jesus.

While more gifted apologists could give you in-depth answers as to who Jesus is, my aim is not only to fill your head with more information but to see God by his grace penetrate your heart with the truth of his Word.

I hope to show why Jesus is less compelling as a mere guru than he is as the Son of God, the Savior of the world.

Excerpted from The Original Jesus: Trading the Myths We Create for the Savior Who Is by Daniel Darling, Baker Books, 2014, by permission.

The 3 Kinds of People in Every Church

In Judson Edward’s book, The Leadership Labyrinth, he describes 21 paradoxes in ministry. He defines the ‘relationship paradox’ in this way: the people who like you the most will be the ones you try least to please. He then writes that these three kinds of people fill every church.

People praying in European church. Brezje, Slovenia
  • The energizers: their very presence makes us feel better, buoys our spirits, and fills our tank.
  • The regular folks: they may not buoy our spirits, but they don’t demoralize us either. They make up the largest group in a church.

The main difference between the energizers and the drainers are their expectations of us. The energizers don’t place great expectations on us. The drainers do.

We don’t measure up to the drainers expectations. Either our preaching or counseling or leading or availability is not enough. These subtle unmet expectations may not be overt, but when we are around these people, we feel their unspoken disapproval.

Edwards pens these profound words.

“When our credo becomes ‘I am as you desire me,’ we have lost the very thing that will enable us to minister effectively: our authenticity.”

Edwards rounds out his chapter with three insights into how Jesus responded to his drainers.

  • First, Jesus retreated from this drainers to refresh himself and seek God. He regularly sought renewal.
  • Second, Jesus balanced his drainers with his energizers.
  • Third, Jesus didn’t allow the drainers to deter him from his plan and purpose.

Although Jesus practiced a rhythm of renewal and time away from his drainers, he never got rid of them. He still had to contend with them, just as we pastors must do in our churches.

Not everyone liked Jesus. Not everyone will like us. But God’s grace gives us what we need to serve even the most draining drainers.

What other categories of church people would you add to this list?

If this post resonates with you, you may enjoy my third book that released last year: People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership. It was one of this year’s Outreach Resource of the Year Recommendation in leadership.

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