Smart Leaders stay close to their Critics

MEN WANTED FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS. Little did those accepted for this job out of the thousands who applied realize how true those words would eventually become.

criticism stick figure

Ernest Shackleton, a well-known explorer in the early 1900s, placed this ad in 1915 to recruit a team for his third attempt to cross the continent of Antarctica. In August of that year, he set sail with his recruits in the ship Endurance, named after his family motto: “By endurance, we conquer.” Three months later they arrived at South Georgia Island in the southern Atlantic to begin their thousand-mile trek to the Antarctic Peninsula, a trip expected to take 120 days.

More than a year earlier, Vilhjalmur Stefansson had led a different expedition to explore the Arctic in their ship, the Karluk. Both ships endured similar fates in their respective voyages. Dennis Perkins recorded these words about Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition:

The masts toppled and the sides were stove in, as shards of ice ripped the strong timbers to shreds. Frank Wild made a last tour of the dying vessel and found two crewmembers in the forecastle, fast asleep after their exhausting labor at the bilge pumps. He said, “She’s going, boys, I think it’s time to get off.” ( N. T. Perkins, Leading on the Edge, New York: AMACOM, 2000, p. 6.)

Both expeditions, a year apart, had been gripped in an icy vice that crushed their respective ships, forcing each party onto the ice and into horrific conditions. Yet similar circumstances, only poles apart, yielded dramatically different results. In the months following the Karluk’s destruction, the crew disintegrated into a conflict-­laden, self-centered group, which resulted in the death of eleven of its crew.

In contrast, Shackleton’s crew, although they too confronted harsh circumstances and conflict, emerged on dry land 634 days after the expedition began. Not a single man perished. Although they faced the same hellish conditions as Stefansson’s men did, they experienced a different fate. What made the difference? Shackleton’s calm leadership presence before his critics and naysayers. 

The ship’s surgeon, Alexander Macklin, captured this important leadership characteristic Shackleton embodied that contributed to the men’s survival.

“Shackleton at this time showed one of his sparks of real greatness. He did not rage at all, or show outwardly the slightest sign of disappointment; he told us simply and calmly that we must winter in the Pack, explained its dangers and possibilities; never lost his optimism, and prepared for winter.” (J. Marcuson, Leaders Who Last: Sustaining Yourself and Your Ministry, New York: Seabury Books, 2009, Kindle ebook, loc. 1117, emphasis mine)

Shackleton exemplified a key quality needed for every leader: engage your critics. In his time of crisis, he calmly connected to his men, especially the dissidents and troublemakers. It made the difference between life and death.

When our environment breeds anxiety and our critics try to stir up trouble, we can defuse this anxiety by calmly staying connected to them. Neuroscience actually verifies the biblical principle from Proverbs 15.1 that says, “a gentle answer turns away wrath.” It’s called emotional contagion. Others will catch our calmness which actually helps quiet the emotional centers in their brains responsible for anxiety and fear.

Men in Shackleton’s expedition noticed his calm, steady demeanor. When they were stuck on the ship, even one of his most pessimistic crewmen wrote these words in his journal.

“He is always able to keep his troubles under and show a bold front. His unfailing cheeriness means a lot to a band of disappointed explorers like ourselves. . . . He is one of the greatest optimists living.” (ibid, Kindle loc. 1182).

Shackleton keenly understood the importance of setting an example for his men on how to handle conflict and stress in a crisis. As you might imagine, living under such harsh conditions could easily cause arguments and disagreements. Yet those disagreements rarely disrupted unity because he developed an atmosphere that also encouraged dissent to be brought into the open.

Shackleton constantly faced four choices when confronted with dissident people, the same choices spiritual leaders face today:

  1. Pander and give in to critics to restore tranquility. Often because the critics are big givers or wield relational influence in our churches, we pander to them.
  2. Isolate or ignore critics, troublemakers and those with whom our personalities rub, thinking that if we don’t hear those voices, they will go away.
  3. Get defensive and power up to quiet the critic.
  4. Show courage and stay calmly connected to the critic.

Shackleton wisely chose the fourth option. Smart leaders do the same.

How have you managed the critics in your life?

(Taken and adapted from People-Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership by Charles Stone. Copyright (c) 2014 by Charles Stone. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515, USA. www.ivpress.com.)

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The Glue that Makes Great Teams Great: Permission to Play Values

Every great organization shares common values unique to them. Whether it’s a church, a para-church organization, or a business, prevailing teams know and breathe their values, their shared assumptions about how they do things. I’m new at my church in Canada, having served in U.S. churches for over 30 years. Yet one of the first things I did was to share the 10 core values I wanted our team to embrace. I call them ‘permission to play’ values. In other words, if you want to play in our sandbox, here’s how we play. You may already have a great set of values that work for you, but if you don’t, this list I’ve developed over the past several years might provide a starting point for yours. Both Bill Hybel’s and Rick Warren’s lists have influenced mine. Here they are.

core values on blackboard

We value . . .

  1. Integrity.
    • Is. 32.8 But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands. (NIV)
  2. A positive, coachable attitude. 
    • Phil. 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. (NIV)
  3. Volunteers
    • We work for them; they don’t work for us.
  4. Body, soul, and spirit care.
    • Luke 2.52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men. (NIV)
  5. Simplicity
    • Simple is best.
  6. Authenticity
  7. Teamwork and trust.
    • We keep short accounts with each other and subordinate our personal agendas to the church’s agenda.
  8. Continual growth and learning.
    • We welcome constructive feedback.
  9.  A healthy work ethic.
    • We work hard and have fun.
  10. Taking bold faith steps. 
    • We aren’t afraid to fail.

What staff values would you add to this list?

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4 Legal Drugs Every Leader Should Know about and Use

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?

Human intelligence with active neurons

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)
    1. 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.
    2. 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)
    1. Look for and acknowledge good performance from team members.
    2. 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)
    1. Provide ways for your team members to build community with each other.
    2. 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?

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The Wounded Pastor

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.

wounded heart
  1. 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
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

  5. 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?

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Should a Pastor be Accessible 24-7?

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.

24 7 hours and days

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?

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