Drugs. At first blush the word implies something illegal, immoral, and bad for your body and brain. However, there are 4 key drugs or chemicals that every leader should know about, use, and wisely leverage in the ministry and the workplace.
God wired our bodies and brains to use these four chemicals so that we function most effectively. And leaders who understand their function can help their teams become most productive. So, what are they and how can leaders use them?
First, a bird’s eye explanation. There are two basic kinds of these drugs or chemicals. Neurotransmitters traffic in our brain’s neurons (brain cells) and hormones flow through our blood. There there are over 100 neurotransmitters and over 50 hormones. Some act as both a hormone and a neurotransmitter.
But these four are significant body-brain chemicals that a leader’s actions can influence in the bodies and brains of those we lead.
- Dopamine: a neurotransmitter involved in attention and reward. When you learn something new or check something off your to-do list, dopamine gives you a nice pleasurable feeling.
- Serotonin: the neurotransmitter the brain releases when we feel pride in our work. When someone compliments you on a task you did or a talk you gave, that ‘feel good’ sense comes from serotonin.
- Oxytocin: the neurotransmitter/hormone called the trust hormone. When you feel safe and secure around another and feel that you belong, this chemical releases and also makes us feel good.
- Cortisol: called the stress hormone. We need this hormone to respond to the stresses in life. But when under prolonged stress, too much cortisol can damage our cardiovascular system, suppress our immune system, and diminish cognitive function like memory.
As a leader, you can leverage these chemicals in your teams in these positive ways.
- Dopamine (attention/reward)
- Help your team members set and reach realistic goals. When they do, they will get a nice dopamine burst which will motivate them to set and reach new goals.
- When you teach, model techniques that can help your team maintain attention and learn more effectively. Some of these techniques that can help the brain release dopamine (and increase attention) include novelty, using object lessons, adding pictures alongside words in power points, and helping the listener apply what they hear.
- Serotonin (affirmation)
- Look for and acknowledge good performance from team members.
- Know your team members well enough to know what communicates to them “job well done” (i.e. verbal, in writing, before the group).
- Oxytocin (trust)
- Provide ways for your team members to build community with each other.
- Spend relational time with your team simply to get to know them.
- Cortisol (stress management)
- While encouraging hard work, reinforce the Sabbath-keeping principle by making sure your team members take a day off to rest.
- Regularly monitor how well your team members manage their stress. If they are under long term stress, help them develop ways to decrease it.
What specific ways could you leverage these chemicals in your unique team environment?
Woundedness. A condition this side of heaven we all will face from time-to-time. Pastors are not immune. I’ve been hurt and you probably have been as well. If you’re wounded right now because of what someone in your church or family said or did, what should you do? Consider these five critical choices that can help you deal with your hurt.
- Recognize and acknowledge your basic behavioral response when you get hurt.
- God wired our brains to act quickly when we feel threatened. Two small almond shaped cluster of neurons (brain cells) called the amygdala lie deep in the brain. When we feel danger or threat (i.e., someone hurts us), they enable us to respond quickly. Although they are quick to respond, they don’t differentiate very well between a real tiger in the woods (real danger when we need to run to keep from getting eaten) and a paper tiger (someone in your church who said something hurtful to you).
- Here are the four basic responses to hurt. When we become aware of the one that is our predominant reaction, we can then become more proactive to not let it get out of hand.
- Fight: we react, become defensive, yell, scream, refuse to yield
- Flee: we physically or emotionally cut ourselves off from others, become passive aggressive, quit talking, shut down
- Freeze: we don’t take any position, we stay neutral and don’t do anything when we should do something
- Appease: we people please, try to keep the peace at any price, compromise convictions, enable the person to continue in his or her hurtful behavior
- Act as if.
- Jesus said in Luke 6.27 that we must love our enemies. The word for love is the word agape, a love that is not based on the merits of the other person. This love is not something that happens to you (i.e., like someone who ‘falls’ in love). Rather agape love is a choice of our will superintended by the Holy Spirit that allows us to love the offender even when we don’t feel like it. It is an ‘act as if’ kind of love.
- Guard your tongue.
- When someone hurts us it’s easy to lose control over what we say in return. Jesus says in Luke 6.28 that we must bless those who curse us. To bless is the opposite of cursing. It is using our words in a God honoring way rather than in a vindictive or a ‘tit-for-tat’ way.
- Wish the best for your offender.
- Again in Luke 6 Jesus makes some astounding statements about how we should treat those who have hurt us: turn the other cheek, bless them, pray for them. When Jesus makes these statements he’s not prohibiting self defense. Neither does He imply that we should pray that our offender would continue in his or her hurtful ways or that they should necessarily get their way. Rather, He’s saying that as we pray we pray for God’s best for that person. Often their greatest need is for true repentance so that they can experience God’s forgiveness. John Piper aptly explains what it means to pray for and wish the best for our offenders.
Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love, because it means that you have to really want that something good happen to them. You might do nice things for your enemy without any genuine desire that things go well with them. But prayer for them is in the presence of God who knows your heart, and prayer is interceding with God on their behalf. It may be for their conversion. It may be for their repentance. It may be that they would be awakened to the enmity in their hearts. It may be that they will be stopped in their downward spiral of sin, even if it takes disease or calamity to do it. But the prayer Jesus has in mind here is always for their good.
- Lean into Jesus.
- Jesus commands in Luke 6 may seem like nonsense statements. If you’ve been deeply hurt, these first four choices are impossible on willpower alone. It takes supernatural strength to respond in a godly way to those who hurt us deeply. When we lean into Jesus and respond appropriately to such hurt, we act most like God. When we lean into Him, the Holy Spirit will give us the strength we need to not yield to our default responses. Rather, He will give us the wisdom, stamina, and strength to respond to our offender in a God honoring way.
What has helped you deal with hurts in ministry?
Accessibility. An issue that probably every pastor struggles with. Should we make ourselves accessible around the clock or should we not? Here are my thoughts and some helpful practices. I’d love to hear yours as well.
I believe that pastors who make themselves accessible 24/7 can’t do the job God has called them to do. We must proactively plan how we spend our days, making sure that we allocate time for our key responsibilities that include sermon prep, strategic planning, and leadership development. Although emergencies sometimes must take precedence over our planned schedules, we must manage our time to reasonably meet people’s personal needs while still fulfilling the strategic roles we must play.
On the other hand, I’ve known some pastors who simply don’t make themselves accessible at all. I knew one pastor who told me that he disappeared after a Sunday service because he didn’t want to interact with people. He didn’t last long in ministry. I’ve found that most church people will not abuse the access you give to them. We are called shepherds and we must spend time with the sheep. Otherwise, we won’t know their needs, hurts, and pains and as a result, we can’t lead the church to help meet those needs.
So in my view, wisdom must dictate how accessible we allow ourselves to be. We must guard our time so that we can accomplish our strategic roles I mentioned above. At the same time we must interact with people which requires reasonable accessibility.
Here’s what I do to try to keep a balance. I’ve certainly not arrived, but these practices have served me well.
- I use two email addresses. One I use regularly is not public. The other is available through our web site that goes directly to my assistant. Often she can handle many of the requests that come via that email address. Those that I must handle, she forwards to me.
- I don’t feel obligated to immediately answer every call that comes to my cell phone. Sometimes I intentionally let the call go to voice mail and answer the call later in the day when I return calls.
- I have determined who needs to have the highest priority access to me. My family, our elders, and our key staff have the highest access to me. They have my cell phone number and know that in an emergency they can call or text me. I’m there for them. If they become aware of emergencies in our church, they can quickly get in touch with me. This recently happened with a sudden death in our church. Once I was alerted, I immediately met with the family.
- I guard against getting sucked into Facebook. I interact very little on Facebook. I do use Twitter and link it to my Facebook and Fan page, but I seldom chit-chat on Facebook. Often, though, I will interact on Twitter because it takes little of my time.
- I often float in our lobby to make myself available for people just for chit-chat.
- When I close each service, I say that I will be at our guest area in the lobby and that I’d love to meet people I’ve not yet met. One of our elders closes the service with prayer while I walk to the lobby. Visitors and regulars often come to chat with me at that time. We both enjoy it and our church people feel that I am accessible, often through simply watching me interact with others in a visible place.
- When someone tells me on a Sunday that he or she wants to meet with me, I put the onus on them to call the church office. I explain that my assistant schedules appointments. Only about 25% actually call back. I work off the premise that if someone really wants to meet with me, they will take the effort to make the call and schedule the appointment with my assistant.
It’s always a challenge to strike the right balance. But if we approach accessibility with a plan, I believe we’ll get done what needs to get done while at the same time maintain healthy accessibility.
How do you handle accessibility?
God created us to live and work in community. The more community we experience, the stronger our teams. Highly productive teams often exude strong personal bonds and work in an atmosphere that fosters community. Good leaders understand the importance of community and actively seek to build it among their teams. Consider these 6 ways to build community in the teams you lead.
- Provide regular relationship building experiences for your teams to deepen their chemistry and their friendships.
- Foster the sense that nobody is in an ‘out group.’ If some team members are perceived to be in an ‘out group’ it can set up a subtle prejudice that can affect team dynamics. Teach your team that because we naturally default to seeing others as being in an ‘out’ group, your team must be vigilant to avoid it. Monitor for cliques. Be vigilant especially when you bring new team members on board.
- Create physical gathering places in the workplace that encourage socialization.
- Something as simple as water cooler conversations can help build community.
- Regularly remind your team to see other team members’ perspectives.
- Teach your team to learn to walk in other team member’s shoes. It’s called mentalizing. Mentalizing helps us see situations from the perspective of others. Studies show that the more we do this, the more we are likely to feel empathy toward and relate more positively to those whose perspective we are taking.
- Help team members share their goals.
- When team members share goals, their connection to each other and their commitment to the team’s goals will intensify.
- Build an attitude of gratitude among your team.
- Model gratitude so that your team can see it in you. Regularly explain how gratitude not only is Biblical but that it actually helps build team cohesiveness.
- Build trust.
- As trust increases, the neurotransmitter oxytocin increases which strengthens cooperativeness among your team and empathy toward each other. It even lowers blood pressure and the amount of the stress hormone, cortisol, in our bodies.
What have you done to build community in your team?
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?