3 Thinking Errors Leaders often Commit

God gave us an amazing 3 pound dynamo called the brain. And although it weighs on average 2% of our body weight, it requires 20% of our body’s energy and blood flow. So, it follows that we should steward well our energy and consider what goes on in our brains. Great leaders recognize that great leaderships requires great thinking. Unfortunately, we often commit serious thinking errors that muddies thinking and hinders leadership. Ask yourself if you commit these thinking errors.

Before I list them, it’s important to understand a concept called metacognition. It simply means to think about what you are thinking about. In other words, when we pay attention to our inner chatter, we’re more likely to catch ourselves in these critical thinking errors. Neuroscientists tell us that we have five times more negative networks in our brains than positive ones so we naturally default toward these errors.

Here are the three thinking errors.

  1. Catastrophizing: We assume the worse-case scenarios. We don’t get an email response from a critic and assume that they are causing trouble. It’s Chicken Little saying, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling.”
  2. Discounting: Because we biologically tend toward negative thinking, discounting minimizes the good. If you are a pastor, after a Sunday service you may have received several positive comments but the one negative comment casts a shadow over all the positive ones.
  3. Mind reading: We think we know what someone is thinking even though we have no real evidence. The fight-fight-freeze-appease structure in our brain, the amygdala, has twice as many neurons looking for the negative than the positive. As a result mind reading often results in negative assumptions.

So, how can we minimize these thinking errors. Consider using the STOP process, often used in mindfulness exercises. Here’s what it means.

S: Stop. When you feel anxiety rising, catch yourself before the emotion gets out of hand. Literally stop what you are doing to attend to yourself.

T: Take a breath. After you stop what you are doing, take several deep breaths. Studies show that deep breathing calms our sympathetic nervous system (the body’s response to an activated amygdala).

O: Observe. Observe and pay attention to the thoughts in your mind. What’s happening in your mind, in your body, or in your environment at this very moment? Don’t listen to the narratives in your mind about how bad everything is, how wrong he or she was, or what may happen at the meeting coming up. What negative emotions are you feeling? Pay attention to them. When we name them we actually reduce their intensity.

P: Proceed. By now you’ve probably paused for a few moments. You are ready to move forward, probably having caught some of these thinking errors.

The Apostle Paul understood how we easily get caught in these thinking errors. To counter that tendency, he counsels us with these words in Philippians 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.

Which thinking error challenges you the most?

Related posts:

3 Ways Leaders can Deal with their Shame

Shame is a powerful and often silent killer of our soul. It has afflicted many pastors and ministry leaders. Edward Welch, author of Shame Interrupted (a great book) defines shame in this way. Shame is the deep sense that you are unacceptable because of something you did, something done to you, or something associated with you. You feel exposed and humiliated. Or, to strengthen the language, you are disgraced because you acted less than human, you were treated as if you were less than human, or you were associated with something less than human, and there are witnesses (Kindle loc 177-180). So how do we deal with it. Here are some thoughts.

3 Ways Leaders can Deal with their Shame

  1. Realize where shame comes from. 
    • It comes from our own sin.
    • It comes from sins others commit against us.
    • It comes simply by association (i.e., someone in your family commited something scandalous and you feel shame because of it).
    • It comes from our humanness (i.e., when we realize we don’t have what it takes to achieve our goals in life; this is often true for pastors when they realize they may never pastor a big church).
  2. Take comfort in God’s perspective on shame.
  3. Make four critical decisions.
    • Turn to his face in repentance. Read the amazing story of Isaiah’s encounter with God in Is. 6.1-7 for the biblical basis of my thoughts below.
      • When we feel shamed, we don’t want to look someone in the face. We want to avoid them. However, Jesus wants us to come into his presence and look Him in the face to deal with our shame caused by our own sin. He wants us to confess and repent. Psalms 34.5 says, Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.
    • Receive his touch of forgiveness.
      • Jesus often physically touched the outcast, broken, and shamed. Human touch can often melt away shame. Jesus wants us to experience his touch of forgiveness and cleansing
    • Drink deeply of His Spirit.
      • In John 4 we read the familiar story about the woman at the well. When Jesus asked the Samaritan woman for water, he crossed many shame barriers: rabbis did not talk to women, Jews did not talk to Samaritans, and Jews did not contaminate themselves by eating or drinking with non-Jews. He offered her life-giving water from His Spirit. God’s Holy Spirit can wash away our shame as it did for this woman.
    • Feast at his table of acceptance in the church community.
      • After Peter denied Jesus, he felt great shame. Yet, after Jesus’ resurrection and after Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved him, he had a meal with Peter and the other disciples which pictured his being welcomed back into community. Shame can melt away when we experience real community in the church.

Shame stings, but it need not be deadly. Although people and circumstances around us may still shame us (and it hurts), Christ can release us from its destructive power.

1Pet. 2.6 For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

What has helped people you know deal with their shame?

Related posts:

5 Ways to Gracefully Say “No”

As a pastor, I’m constantly faced with more time demands placed upon me than I could ever possibly fulfill. As a result, I must make choices. Those demands sometimes are self-imposed (totally my choice) and sometimes they come from others. Often people in the church will ask pastors to do something that takes their time or they want to meet with them on some issue. In many cases we know deep inside that we should respond with a “No.” However, because we don’t want to disappoint, we often say, “Yes,” and later regret it. In this post I suggest 5 ways to gracefully say, “No.”

How to Gracefully Say, “No.”

  1. Say “No” without using the word, “No.” 
    • In some settings the word no itself can come across too harsh. Sometimes using other phrases like these can soften your response and yet still convey a no.
      • “My schedule simply won’t permit it now. I don’t have the bandwidth. Thanks for thinking about me though.”
      • “I’d love to, but right now I can’t. Can you ask me again next week (or whatever timeframe seems appropriate)?”
      • “I’m sorry but it won’t work now.”
  2. Pause a few seconds before giving an answer to someone.
    • Because we don’t want to disappoint people, we often allow our default response to be yes. To avoid this, learn to pause a few seconds before responding to someone who asks you for a commitment. That short pause will buy you some time to frame your response, whether it is a yes or a no. Pausing can also give you time to consider what you’d have to give up were you to say yes.
  3. Delay your response when you honestly aren’t sure how to respond.
    • Sometimes the ask is a valid one and you should give more time before making a decision. In that case, tell the person that you can’t give him a decision now but that would like to check your calendar and think more about it. If it does become a no you will have created sufficient time to consider the pros and cons and then to frame a gracious no. And if a boss asks you for something that will cause you to push other important projects aside, explain the situation and your willingness to say yes. Then ask for his or her advice on how to re-prioritize your current commitments so that you can follow through on your yes.
  4. Ask them to email you with their request.
    • I’ve found that when someone wants me to make a decision on the spot, putting the onus back on him or her potentially creates a default no. I will often ask them to email me their request. Often they never do which becomes the default no.
  5. Simply and kindly say, “No” and if possible explain why.
    • Sometimes you immediately know you should say no. In that case, a firm but gracious no is appropriate. It may feel awkward, but that uncomfortable emotion will quickly pass. However, if you say yes when you should have said no, the feelings of regret last much longer and take a much greater toll, notwithstanding the extra time you’ve now committed yourself to.

Some time back I read the book by Greg McKeown, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I highly recommend it. In a chapter where he writes about saying no, he describes how Peter Drucker once said no. It’s a great example of the graceful no. I’ve quoted it here.

Peter Drucker, in my view the father of modern management thinking, was also a master of the art of the graceful no. When Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the Hungarian professor most well known for his work on “flow,” reached out to interview a series of creative individuals for a book he was writing on creativity, Drucker’s response was interesting enough to Mihaly that he quoted it verbatim: “I am greatly honored and flattered by your kind letter of February 14th— for I have admired you and your work for many years, and I have learned much from it. But, my dear Professor Csikszentmihalyi, I am afraid I have to disappoint you. I could not possibly answer your questions. I am told I am creative— I don’t know what that means.… I just keep on plodding.… I hope you will not think me presumptuous or rude if I say that one of the secrets of productivity (in which I believe whereas I do not believe in creativity) is to have a VERY BIG waste paper basket to take care of ALL invitations such as yours— productivity in my experience consists of NOT doing anything that helps the work of other people but to spend all one’s time on the work the Good Lord has fitted one to do, and to do well.”

A true Essentialist, Peter Drucker believed that “people are effective because they say no.”

[Mckeown, Greg (2014-04-15). Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (pp. 135-136). Crown Religion/Business/Forum. Kindle Edition.]

What insights have you learned about giving a graceful, “No”?

Related posts:

5 Nuggets of Wisdom I Learned from a Ministry Coach

I strongly believe in coaching, a process that intentionally invites a wise person to speak truth into another. I’ve been coached by Lance Witt, founder of Replenish Ministries and author of two great books, High Impact Teams and Replenish. We met via FaceTime each month and that hour was worth gold. One week we discussed several topics and these gems of wisdom rose to the top. I’ve put them into my own words.

  1. Overworked schedules lead to underwhelmed souls. 
    • When we don’t keep healthy margin in our lives, our souls will shrink.
  2. When we pastors get wounded, we must own those wounds and not let them get infected through bitterness and unforgiveness.
    • You will get hurt in ministry and as an old saying goes, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” What we do with our wounds is our responsibility. Wounds need healing and to a great degree we control that healing process. We can encourage the healing or we can allow those wounds to fester. Given time, as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit, He will heal us. The scars may remain but the wounds get healed.
  3. Our current church culture sets up 100’s of pastors to struggle with pride and 10,000 pastors to struggle with failure.
    • This insight refers to the challenge pastors face when they realize they won’t pastor a large church. Speakers at most church conferences are pastors of large churches and it’s tempting to feel like a failure when we compare our smaller church to the really big ones.
  4. When you finish a staff meeting, make sure everyone understands what decisions you made and what are still discussions.
    • Often staff meetings end with fuzziness about decisions. This practice, however, can help us intentionally keep clear about actual decisions we make in contrast to ongoing discussions.
  5. When you finish a staff meeting, make clear who needs to know the decisions you made.
    • Related to number 4, this practice reinforces our need to communicate, communicate, communicate.

Related posts:

The Worrying and Fearful Leader

Worry and anxiety can stifle the effectiveness of the best leader. In my life when anxiety gets the best of me, my leadership always suffers. So, what goes on in the mind of a leader when he or she worries and what can we do about it? Consider these suggestions.

When we feel anxious, a process in our brain starts because God created our brains to help us survive. When we feel threatened and anxious from a roar we hear outside our tent while camping or from a roar from a nasty email, it initiates a flight-fight response in our bodies.

One significant component of our flight-fight brain structure is called the amygdala, two almond shaped clusters of brain cells (neurons) that activate when we sense real or perceived threat. 2/3’s of the cells in the amygdala are wired to look for the negative. That’s why it’s so easy to get anxious, worried, or fearful. The amygdala is always looking for a problem.  

 Unfortunately, it’s not good at distinguishing between a valid and real threat.

Worry and fear show up in our bodies in several ways:

  • Our heart rate and breathing increases.
  • Our pupils dilate.
  • Saliva production slows (that’s behind dry mouth when we feel anxious or fearful before we speak).
  • Our muscles can tighten (many of us carry our tension in our shoulder muscles and neck).
  • We can feel goosebumps (think of how you feel when you hear the ‘bump’ in the night).
  • We get that ‘anxious’ feeling (norepinephrine, also known as adrenalin, is released in our bloodstream as a hormone and into our nervous system as a neurotransmitter).
  • Memory, decision making, motivation, and attention get diminished (our fear center hogs our limited mental resources).

So what can we do to minimize the effects of anxiety and fear upon leadership.

  1. Awareness: If we constantly live with low level anxiety, our fight-flight centers are more sensitive so it takes less to push us into serious worry, anxiety, and fear. The term, metacognition, means to be aware of awareness or aware of what you are thinking about. Instead of mindlessly rushing through life, often stop during the day to ask yourself these questions to become more aware of your inner world and the chatter in your mind (metacognition).
    • What am I thinking about right now?
    • What are my feelings right now?
    • Are these thoughts and feelings based upon reality?
  2. Labeling: We’ve often been told that to make painful emotions go away, ignore or suppress them. Actually, studies show that doing so does the opposite. Ignoring or stuffing them actually makes them stronger. Instead, take the power out of your painful emotions by recognizing them and naming them. Scientists have discovered that when we label them (i.e., I am feeling anxious), we actually calm our fight-flight centers.
  3. Distancing: Another very helpful way to calm anxiety and fear is to take the proverbial ‘fly on the wall’ perspective as an observer. When you experience these emotions, imagine stepping back as a third person observer and observing yourself and the situation at a distance. Distancing has proved to be one of the most effective ways to calm our fight-flight centers.

I love how Martin Laird, a college professor and writer, uses the metaphor of a mountain’s response to weather to picture how we should respond to unpleasant emotions. He bases his thoughts on Psalms 125.1. Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever.

Mt Zion symbolizes God’s power, blessing, and protection. So, when we trust in the Lord and redirect our thinking and our attention, we are like a mountain and how it responds to weather.

A mountain has weather around it all the time. The mountain does not become the weather. It simple observes it. In Christ we are like that mountain with all kinds of external and internal weather around us. Now we may prefer certain kinds of weather, but we are not the weather.

Your anxious thoughts and emotions are not you.

They are simply the weather.

The marvelous world of thoughts, sensation, emotions, and inspiration, the spectacular world of creation around us, are all patterns of stunning weather on the holy mountain of God. But we are not the weather. We are the mountain. Weather is happening—delightful sunshine, dull sky, or destructive storm—this is undeniable. But if we think we are the weather happening on Mount Zion (and most of us do precisely this with our attention riveted to the video [of our internal world, my addition]), then the fundamental truth of our union with God remains obscured … When the mind is brought to stillness (what Paul calls thinking on these things) we see that we are the mountain and not the changing patterns of weather appearing on the mountain. [Laird, Martin (2006-06-07). Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation (Kindle Locations 287-293). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition]

So, paying attention to our thoughts and emotions is essential for good leadership. If we don’t pay attention to our inner world, we become captive to it and blinded to its potential negative effects upon our souls and upon our leadership.

What has helped you deal with worry and anxiety?

Related posts: