11 Meeting Killers and How to Kill those Killers

As leaders, it seems we spend an inordinate time in meetings. However, we can’t lead well without face time with others. And face time means we must meet with our teams in person. At the same time, an unproductive meeting wastes time and creates frustration. What are some common meeting killers? Consider these 11 and potential solutions for each (some very obvious).

  1. You do more than 25% of the talking.
    • Solution: monitor how much you talk and ask others off-line if they feel like you jabber too much.
  2. Team members regularly jump to conclusions and make pre-mature judgments about what others say.
    • Solution: train your team that great listeners seek understanding first before being understood (a famous Covey quote)
  3. Some people seldom speak up.
    • Solution: specifically ask the quiet ones what they think about an issue.
  4. Team members get easily hurt and offended when their ideas aren’t received well.
    • Solution: if a staffer consistently does this, talk off-line and find out what root issues are causing the touchiness.
  5. There is too much happy talk. Seldom do you discuss emotional and/or difficult issues.
    • Solution: don’t fear difficult conversations. Encourage them. Those can provide some of your greatest leadership learnings.
  6. Someone interrupts to complete somebody else’s sentences when he or she is having a difficult time formulating ideas.
    • Solution: if that happens, ask the person who was cut off if she felt she was able to fully share her thoughts.
  7. Personal stuff comes up that should have been addressed off-line and 1-1.
    • Solution: set expectations annually about how you expect meetings to go. Include the importance of discussing personal issues off-line.
  8. Too many rabbits get chased that have nothing to do with the agenda items.
    • Solution: if you lead the meeting, again, set the expectation that as the meeting leader you have the prerogative to shoot the rabbit.
  9. You try to accomplish too much in a meeting and as a result feel rushed.
    • Solution: schedule different kinds of meetings…perhaps some need to focus on weekly tactical items while others should focus on just one or two strategic items.
  10. Your meetings are waaaaay too long.
    • Solution: Shorten your meetings. Meetings beyond 2-2 1/2 hours are seldom productive unless you break them up with lunch, dinner, or something that isn’t mentally draining.
  11. You don’t start or end your meetings on time.
    • Solution: start and end on time.

What meeting killers have you seen in your experience? How have you killed those killers?

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5 Vision Killers

Casting vision is a key role every pastor must fill. Yet sometimes corporate attitudes and unhealthy cultures can get in the way. I’ve discovered five attitudes that will stifle even the best cast vision. See if you agree.

  1. Consumer Christianity reflected in the attitude, What’s in it for me?
    • Healthy churches realize they can’t consume their way into discipleship. Following Jesus is not all about us. Great churches rally around a unified cause centered in Jesus and move forward for the good of the whole and the glory of God even it means some people won’t get their preferred way. Good leaders will teach that flexibility and a deferential spirit are crucial ingredients for prevailing churches.
  2. Losing sight that the church gathers on Sundays to scatter the rest of the week.
    •  Leaders and churches must not lose sight that we live in a troubled world desperately in need of the Gospel. Attending church was never meant to be an end in itself.

      Rather we should gather to be transformed, taught, challenged, discipled, and inspired so that we then can scatter into our respective worlds as salt and light for the Gospel.

  3. Risk aversion.
    • Minimizing risk and maximizing safety can becomes a trait for risk averse leaders.  J Oswald Chambers who authored the devotional My Utmost for His Highest wrote, “The frontiers of the kingdom of God were never advanced by men and women of caution.” Great churches can’t play it safe, huddle and cuddle, strive for safety and security, nor guarantee comfort and convenience. While not throwing caution to the wind, great leaders and churches must take bold steps of faith
  4. Programs and processes that trump passion and people.
    • It’s easy to assume that great plans and strategies will automatically and easily reach people. They are important, but without a driving passion for God and a love for people, they are, well, only plans.
  5. The barrenness of busyness.
    • Busy pastors often struggle with this one. I know I do with what seems to be a limitless to-do list. However, busyness can make us miss God. And it does not always translate into productivity. As Bill Hybels has famously said,”Doing the work of Christ was killing the work of Christ in me.” When that happens, our hearts become calloused and cold, we lose our leadership edge, and vision gets stifled.

What have you experienced that can stifle a God-directed vision?

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5 Statements that Help Leaders Define Reality

I began serving as a lead pastor in Canada almost five years ago. When I arrived I had to adjust not only to a new church and a new staff but to a new culture as well. Fortunately I prepared myself for the transition by reading several books about on-boarding, the process of adjusting to a new job. One book, You’re in Charge, Now What suggested a process to help a new leader define reality with his or her new staff. Whether you are new to a ministry or business leadership role or not, consider using this process with your staff to learn fresh insight about your work setting.

Within the first month I asked one of the longest tenured staff members lead a discussion with the entire staff during a staff meeting. I gave the team instructions and then stepped out for about 45 minutes. He lead them to complete these statements in a candid sharing time. Here are the statements.

  1. We expect this from you…
  2. You need you to know this about us… (including what we believe we do well and where we need to improve as a staff)
  3. We want to know this about you and here are our concerns…
  4. Here are the burning issues now facing the church…
  5. Here are the major obstacles now facing the church...

After I left he recorded everyone’s responses on our conference room’s white board. When I returned, I read through each one and asked questions for further clarification. Here’s what I learned.

  • They wanted me to show that I cared for them through prayer, feedback, and truth telling.
  • They expected consistency and integrity.
  • They wanted to be taught, trained, and challenged.
  • They wanted to know what they could do better.
  • They wanted clear communication and clarity about their respective roles.
  • They wanted me to know that they worked hard and supported each other.
  • They wanted to know what was important to me, my boundaries, my personal struggles, and whether I wanted them to reply to every email I sent. 🙂
  • They wanted me to know that the church at the time faced financial challenges and trust issues.
  • They wanted me to know that I might face resistance to bringing change in the church.

This simple process provided an invaluable, honest, and simple way to help me define reality through the eyes of our staff. This experience helped me craft appropriate action plans to bring essential change for staff development and to the church at large.

My first eight months have been a joy and we’ve made great progress. This unique listening session helped set me up for success.

What tools have helped you define reality in your setting?

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Burnout: How to Dig Out

From time to time every leader and pastor faces burnout. The well runs dry. He or she becomes weary in well doing. He runs out of gas. She simply has nothing left to give. When we totter on the precipice of burnout, what can we do? As I’ve faced those times during my ministry, I’ve learned a few ways that have helped me dig out.

  1. Recognize the symptoms
    • Everybody’s burnout looks a bit different. Sometimes burnout comes from doing too much outwardly with over busy schedules. Sometimes burnout comes from an inner world in turmoil: worry, incessant anxiety, and fear. I suggest starting with self understanding. What does your burnout look like? Which of these factors might indicate you are burning out?
      • The joy you once had seems to have disappeared. You seldom have fun anymore.
      • You consistently sleep poorly.
      • You feel non-localized, free floating anger in your heart.
      • You catastrophize in your thinking, assuming the worse in people and life.
      • You easily snap, lose your cool with friends, families, or people in the church.
  2. Rest
    • After you recognize the symptoms, I’ve found that rest really helps. Whether it means taking time off, taking more breaks during your work day, getting more sleep, or trimming your schedule, the body and soul needs rest. Neuroscientists have coined a term for excessive wear and tear on our body due to prolonged stress and burnout, allostatic load. When we don’t give our body and brains time to rejuvenate, we prolong our burnout and its negative effects.
  3. Re-visit
    • Third, revisit your core values and mission. I encourage every leader to develop his or her own mission statement, their mission God has called them to achieve with His power. Most weeks when I do my strategic planning, I revisit my mission statement and personal values. If you’d like to see mine, you can click here. In this post I talk about the importance of developing your own personal values.
  4. Re-orient
    • The final step is to re-orient your time and effort to best live out your personal mission, without burning out. I suggest taking a half day alone to reset your goals and adjust how you use your time. Here’s a post on how to plan a retreat.

If you’ve faced burnout, what has helped you?

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How to Foster ‘Aha’ Moments in your Team

Wise leaders encourage their teams to solve their problems with their own insight rather than with the leader’s insight. When an staff person or a volunteer brings a problem to us, it’s often easier and less time consuming to give them advice and solve their problem. Yet in the long run such a response can foster dependency on us to solve their problems and diminish their motivation simply because the solution isn’t theirs. And, people are less likely to act on somebody else’s ideas anyway. So how can we replace ‘answer giving’ with self generated insight?

Insight is a solution to a problem that recombines what we know in a new and fresh way that often leads to creativity. Rather than solving a problem analytically, when we focus our attention outwardly on the problem, insight occurs when we turn our attention inward and becomes less focused. This inward focus can help us experience a sudden ‘aha’ solution. This historical illustration about insight describes the ‘aha’ process well.

We use the word ‘eureka,’ attributed to Archimedes (c. 287 BC – c. 212 BC), to describe an ‘aha’ moment, a flash of insight we sometimes get. As a brilliant scientist in antiquity, Archimedes is perhaps known for a story about his inventing a method to determine an object’s volume. A goldsmith had forged a crown of gold for the then king, King Hiero II. He was concerned, however, that the goldsmith has substituted the cheaper metal silver for some of the gold. He asked Archimedes to find the truth without melting the crown. This stumped Archimedes until a flash of insight appeared to him.

One day as he took a bath, he noticed the water level rise as he stepped in. Suddenly he realized that by making few mathematical calculations, he could use water volume displacement of the crown to determine if it was indeed made of pure gold. In his excitement, he ran into the streets naked crying, “Eureka, Eureka!” which means in Greek, “I have found it.” Thus, the word ‘eureka’ we use for insight. Through this insight he then discovered that the goldsmith had indeed substituted silver for some of the crown’s gold.

Archimedes had discovered an insight in a moment when he wasn’t even thinking about the problem. When we get a ‘eureka’ or an ‘aha’ insight, we just know the answer without actually knowing how we got it. The insight doesn’t come piece by piece, but usually all at once.

Researchers who study insight use a word game called Compound Remote Associate (CRA) problems. Study participants try to create three two-word phrases from three words that could share a common word. For example, consider these three words: barrel, root, and belly. What two-word phrases can you create that share a common word? Participants often use the word beer to create beer barrel, root beer, and beer belly. After they solve the problem they press a button to indicate how they solved it, either logically or with an ‘aha’ insight. Using both EEG and fMRI, neuroscientists then examine their brain functioning (Jung-Beeman et al., 2008) to learn what happens during insight.

Through these studies they’ve discovered a process that occurs in our brain when it receives an insight. First, our brain is at rest in what is called the default mode. We may be daydreaming or our minds may be wandering. MRI studies show that at this stage, the alpha wave (the wave active when the brain idles during daydreaming and relaxation) spikes. This indicates that our brain is visually gating (Sandkühler & Bhattacharya, 2008), reducing the visual input it’s processing to reduce distractions.

This is in contrast to the brain’s dominant wave, the beta wave, active during visual focus and alertness. The alpha wave shows that the part of our brain behind our eyebrows is more active prior to an insight. This part of the brain, the anterior cingulate cortex, lights up when it senses conflict. This makes us more aware of competing alternatives and enhances our predisposition to switch between difference solutions (Beeman, n.d.), potentially creating an insight. That is, if one solution doesn’t work, the brain will try another. This part of our brain helps orchestrate attention since it is so highly connected to the rest of the brain.

Finally, at the moment an insight occurs the gamma wave spikes (Kounios et al., 2006). A gamma wave, the fastest brain wave, sweeps across the entire brain 40 times per second to bring our brain to attention, much like how a conductor synchronizes an orchestra when he raises his baton. The gamma band activity indicates new brain maps are being formed, the insight. And when that happens it literally feels good because neurotransmitters are released. As the insight occurs at the point of gamma synchrony, right hemisphere activity also increases to help us make connections with subtle associations we might have otherwise missed. The brain’s right hemisphere, which process information more intuitively and holistically, apparently drives the insight process.

I envision a setting ripe for an insight akin to a guy drinking lemonade while sunning in a lounge chair at the beach. Then, as he reads a fishing magazine, the solution to a nagging work problem suddenly pops into his mind. That image contrasts to his intense mental state a week prior at work when he tried to solve the problem, much like how Rodin’s famous sculpture ‘The Thinker’ pictures. So, insights are more apt to come when are brains are less focused and rested.

Consider these tips to help your team learn to develop insight.

  • Daydreaming: Insight often comes when we daydream and allow our minds to wander (Christoff et al., 2009). Teach your team how daydreaming can help them solve problems. Encourage your team to schedule times to daydream and to allow their minds to wander rather than always actively trying to solve problems. Help them realize that thinking less about a problem may actually bring the solution. In fact, some companies such as Google, Intuit, and Twitter expect their employees to take time for daydreaming about projects other that than those they’re working on (Waytz & Mason, 2013).
  • Mood: When we are in a positive mood, problem solving often comes more easily (Subramaniam et al., 2008). Yet when we’re anxious, we solve fewer problems because the anxiety uses up brain resources. So if you’re facing a dilemma in your organization, it might help if the team watched a funny movie to stir the creative juices.
  • Location: Encourage your team to discover the kinds of activities that help put them into an insight state. Two settings have helped me generate insight. Ideas pop into my mind when I read and walk at a reasonable pace on my treadmill. Insight also comes more readily when our family leaves for vacation while it’s still dark. I’m the driver and I’m usually the only one awake that early in the morning. With little roadside distraction, my brain has generated many good ideas during those three or four hours of solitude.
  • Application: Although insight gives us a nice dopamine rush (the neurotransmitter involved in attention and reward), we all know that the feeling eventually wears off. Remind your team to record their insights in an easy to remember location so that they won’t forget them. Even if your team member can’t immediately act on an insight, getting him to commit to acting on it at a later time can help translate the insight into action (Rock, 2007, p. 108).
  • Speed: If you’re working with a team member who is trying to find a solution to a problem, don’t rush the process. Give him time to engage his brain. Allow space in conversations and encourage him to carve out some down time to give his brain a break.

The above is a brief excerpt from of my newest book to be released next April entitled Brain-Savvy Leadership: the Science of Significant Ministry. 

How have you helped foster ‘aha’ moments among your team members?

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Sources:

Beeman, M. Insight in the Brain. Available from: <http://groups.psych.northwestern.edu/mbeeman/PLoS_Supp.htm>.

Christoff, K., Gordon, A.M., Smallwood, J., Smith, R. & Schooler, J.W. (2009) Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (21), pp.8719–8724.

Jung-Beeman, M., Collier, A. & Kounios, J. (2008) How insight happens: learning from the brain. Neuroleadership Journal, (1), pp.20–25.

Kounios, J., Frymiare, J.L., Bowden, E.M., Fleck, J.I., Subramaniam, K., Parrish, T.B. & Jung-Beeman, M. (2006) The prepared mind: neural activity prior to problem presentation predicts subsequent solution by sudden insight. Psychological Science, 17 (10), pp.882–890.

Rock, D. (2007) Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work. Reprint. HarperBusiness.

Sandkühler, S. & Bhattacharya, J. (2008) Deconstructing Insight: EEG Correlates of Insightful Problem Solving. PLoS ONE, 3 (1), p.e1459.

Subramaniam, K., Kounios, J., Parrish, T.B. & Jung-Beeman, M. (2008) A Brain Mechanism for Facilitation of Insight by Positive Affect. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21 (3), pp.415–432.

Waytz, A. & Mason, M. (2013) Your Brain at Work [Internet]. Available from: <http://hbr.org/2013/07/your-brain-at-work/ar/1> [Accessed 26 June 2013].