Reprimand at the Moment or Look for a Teachable Moment?

If you lead people in any way … in a church, a business, or a team, those you lead will screw up, fail, and often disappoint you. When that happens, and that employee or team member needs correction, when is the best time to correct?

Boss and employee having a serious discussion

In the past, when a staff person who reported to me made a mistake, I tended to be ‘quick on the draw’ to point out the mistake or poor judgement.

But is that the best approach?

Several years ago I dialogued with a psychologist with expertise in leadership. I asked him for advice about an issue when I felt that a staff person who reported to me was totally off-base in his response to a particular situation. My emotions ranged from shock to surprise to disappointment and finally to anger. My carnality wanted to blast this guy and let him know how wrong he was.

My psychologist friend just listened as I processed. After I finished my ranting, he asked me this question.

Why do you want to say these strong things to this person?

As I mulled over his question, I had to admit that I probably wanted to exert my authority to make him feel ‘guilty’ for being ‘wrong.’ My desire to reprimand was ME focused. When I forced myself to evaluate my motive and heard my words that tumbled out, I realized that my motive was very wrong.

He made two suggestions.

  • Don’t bring up the issue until I and the other guy had cooled down.
  • Then, bring up the issue in the context of a teachable moment, a moment in the other guy’s life when what I say would come across as a way to boost his leadership ability, rather than be perceived simply as a reprimand.

This simple insight has helped me maximize learning in my staff when they make a mistake.

How do you deal with your staff when they mess up?

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8 Indispensable Qualities Every Leader Needs

Israel’s second king, King David, poses a question about character in Psalm 15.1, “God, what do you look for in those who draw close to You?” He them summarizes the answer in the first part of verse 2 with the words ‘blameless’ and ‘righteous.’ The NASB version uses the word ‘integrity’ for ‘blameless.’ These eight qualities rise out of this passage.

Hand and word isolated on white, concept picture

Psa. 15.1 LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill?  2 He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart 3 and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbor no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman,  4 who despises a vile man but honors those who fear the LORD, who keeps his oath even when it hurts,  5 who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.

The verses that follow verse 1 describe a blameless-integrous-righteous person.

Take a moment and ask yourself if these qualities would accurately describe your leadership character. If not, what needs to change in you?

  • I tell the truth. (v 2)
  • I avoid gossip. (v 3)
  • I protect the reputations of others. (v 3)
  • I hate what God hates. (v 4)
  • I show honor to the faithful. (v 4)
  • I keep my word. (v 4)
  • I’m fair with others. (v 5)
  • I refuse to be manipulated. (v 5)

Integrity means avoiding sin. I’ve always appreciated this definition of sin from Susanne Wesley, the mother of Charles and John Wesley. We leaders would do well to heed her wisdom as we lead.

Whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself.

What other character qualities would you add to this list?

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Have you Overlooked this Key to Communication?

Have you ever heard yourself speak on an audio recording and said, “Wow! I didn’t know I sounded like that?” If you have, you are not alone. It’s a brain thing. We actually can’t hear our voice and tone the way it actually sounds. [That must be why some people with really bad voices think they can sing and try out for American Idol.] This simple insight is an often overlooked communication key.

Boy and girl used the Internet communication

Just above your ear lies a part of the brain called the superior temporal sulcus (STS). In a baby up to four months old the STS attends to all sounds. Yet at seven months the STS triggers attention only from human voices. And when emotion accompanies that voice, it really gets activated. God created that part of our brain to help us understand language and read tone and meaning.

However, when we speak, the STS actually turns off. In other words, we don’t hear our voice the same way others hear our voice. That’s the reason we’re surprised at how we sound when we hear an audio recording of it. Some scientists believe this happens because instead of listening to our voice, we listen to our thoughts. And since the brain can’t pay focused attention to more than one thing at a time, it defaults to listening to our self-talk.

So how is this an overlooked key to communication?

Because tone matters greatly when we communicate. One of the world’s leaders in communication, Dr. Albert Mehrabian, believes that tone contributes 38% to spoken communication. 

So if tone matters that much, we must pay attention to it, especially if we are leaders.

How can we match our tone to our intended message? Consider these  ideas.

  • Ask someone who will tell you the truth how your tone comes across when you speak. Is it harsh, condemning, condescending, weak, insecure, positive, upbeat, etc.
  • Occasionally record yourself in a conversation and listen to the recording right afterwards. Ask yourself if your tone matched your intended message.
  • If a conflict around miscommunication arises with you and your spouse or someone you work with, ask the other person if your tone influenced their perception. If you see patterns in miscommunication, you may find that your tone is the culprit.
  • Sloooooow down when you speak. Sometimes we can appear pushy when we talk fast when we’re actually trying to economize time. Space and silence between sentences is OK sometimes.
  • Smile when you talk. Research has confirmed that smiling, even when forced, can reduce stress and make us feel happier. And happier people usually convey happier tones.

So the next time you’re in a conversation, try one or two of these ideas and see what happens. Your STS will be glad you did.

What has helped you improve your communication?

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See Thanks for the Feedback by Heen and Stone for a fuller explanation of the STS.

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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