Sunday, February 28, 2010

Take a Minute

Empowering others to give messages/directives/answers to third parties is a common practice and okay when those messages aren’t emotionally loaded. Busy church leaders do this all the time through their associates, staff members and people with positional authority such as wardens or committee chairs. But all too often this practice is justified by busy people who would rather go through another person than take a minute to directly communicate with the individual seeking a response, particularly to an emotionally charged question or situation. Whether intentional or not, this triangulation creates an air of superiority, division, class, whatever you might choose to call it. It can also become a toxic practice, distancing leaders from the hearts of the people they are called to serve. This is a sure fire way to erode respect for the leader. It may be hard to take a minute to pick up the phone, not knowing what to expect from the recipient of the call. But a thoughtful and personal response builds relationship capital and has the power to knit back together misunderstandings and clarify critical information that might otherwise be omitted or poorly translated if given through a third party. Remember, email or texting is no substitute for that phone call.

I remember a time when I was asked to convey a significant answer to someone. This was emotionally charged information that I agreed to deliver. Upon hearing this information, the recipient was filled with angst, felt unheard and asked to speak directly to the person who had originated the answer. I felt this was a justified response in this situation, yet the originator turned a deaf ear to this person’s request for a direct conversation. In that deafness distance was created and relationships and trust were weakened. In retrospect I regretted agreeing to be a part of that triangulation. Chalk that one up to remember next time.

Taking a minute to pick up the phone to directly speak to people about important stuff sometimes takes courage. It is often easier to delegate that responsibility away, yet leaders are called to do the hard stuff when working with people. The Church is full of opportunities for courageous conversations. We are in the people business. God expects us to dig deep for that courage and count on His strength to carry out this work.

Leadership is full of tough choices. One has to ask, ‘what would God have me do in this situation?’ before immediately handing off a challenging responsibility to another person. Jesus didn’t back away from difficult conversations. Next time you are tempted to ask someone else to have the conversation that you really need to instigate, pray that God will give you the courage and grace to do it. You will become a stronger and more effective leader by doing so.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Soul Work

Last week I wrote of the essential nature of self awareness and the importance of feedback for the missionary leader. One’s effectiveness in leadership is directly impacted by the willingness to do this internal work. Leaders can forget making progress toward their God given vision or goals if they are not open to hearing how they impact those who work alongside them and those who follow. There is not enough blog space to describe situations I have witnessed where the leader refused, rejected, or passive aggressively misused important feedback that ultimately came back to bite them. Some situations included painful resignations. Most required interventions by a third party. All were costly in human and financial terms. What was missing in these situations? I think soul work, the willingness to be humble, vulnerable, open to the in-flooding of God’s spirit to forgive and transform. Then followed by the soul work of commitment to personal growth and change, knowing this is very difficult to do without leaning on God.

One particular area that I have found to be disconcerting is the use of powerful, unrestrained, ugly language by leaders. I believe that all of us have been negatively impacted by the unfettered use of incredibly destructive language in the media. We are bombarded 24/7 with all sorts and conditions of criticism, blaming, blasting of others. We have become numb to seeing violent acts and hearing violent language. Our culture says it is okay to use raw references and ugly comebacks. All of this has insidiously crept into our families, our workplaces, our social networks and our churches. Words have the power to build up or tear down. Too often the careless usage of these words smacks as attempts to sound hip and youthful. But each time spoken they reduce the credibility of the spiritual leader little by little. There is a profound expectation on the part of staff and average persons in the pew that church leaders will guard their conversations and be very sensitive to the power of language. But I am finding this practice slipping and it is impacting the respect people have for each other in the church. Although it may seem less destructive behind closed doors, ugly words and references can have huge impact. Often these exchanges are between people working together who otherwise are seen as models of good leadership. This creates a huge disconnect. This calls for even more soul work.

This brings us back to self awareness. Blindspots are often brought to light by persons who work closely with leaders, sometimes staff, sometimes key lay leaders. It takes courage and humility to listen to the pain that has been caused by careless words. It’s the leader’s job to listen and truly digest the impact of those conversations. Doing so creates an opportunity for forgiveness, reconciliation and new life. God is ready to renew those relationships if invited into the situation. Unfortunately, most persons who work with difficult leaders don’t have the stomach to initiate those conversations. This being the case, it is every missionary leader’s responsibility to be very sensitive to avoidance behaviors of staff and others who work closely with them. Asking, listening and sincere caring go a long way in restoring important relationships. The missionary leader is called by God to do no less.

Monday, February 15, 2010

That Awareness Thing

In my last blog I talked about the incredibly important need for missionary leaders to be self aware. I’d like to share some more thoughts about this subject before moving on. There is a theory called the Johari Window, developed by Luft and Ingham, which explains through a grid of four windows the principle of self-awareness. These windows define how persons give and receive information about themselves and others. The theory speaks to the power of feedback to help an individual grow in self awareness. The four windows include:
ARENA which defines information a person knows about him/herself and information others know about him/her
BLINDSPOT which is information a person does not know about him/herself but is known by other people
FAƇADE which describes the degree to which a person shares information about him/herself
UNKNOWN which is information not known by the individual about him/herself and information other people do not know either.

Since studying this theory I have tested it in my observations of leaders. First, I started with myself. I think my cautious reaction to receiving feedback is shared by most others in the human race. I don’t want to hear things about myself that might sting, but I have grown in my understanding of the critical nature of seeing myself through others in order that I can self evaluate and work to be a better representation of Christ. Mother Teresa said, “Just allow people to see Jesus in you”. That is a tall order but necessary for all leaders who seek to be faithful. Since embarking on my intentional journey to grow in self awareness I have learned many things about myself. I continue to have my blindspots revealed. It is a bit like seeing through a glass dimly when sudden light brings my vision into focus. With each revelation comes an opportunity to change, to grow in humility and personal strength. It can be a double edged sword that if used well can be an instrument for good. A quick personal example. I am a tall woman and I was well into mid life before I realized that my physical height could be intimidating. It took nearly running over a very short person with a grocery cart and her reactionary admonishment that I realized I must be sensitive to the way I carry myself. That seems so minor, but the revelation that my very physical size could be intimidating changed the way I move. It heightened my sensitivity to those around me in a good way.

Over the years secular businesses in America have put into place ‘performance reviews’.
The intention is often to help a person see what others see, to complement achievements and to encourage working on challenges and setting personal goals. As difficult as reviews may be, they have the potential to break through blindspots and facades. If done well, a person can walk away from them with a heightened self awareness and opportunity to grow. The practice of performance reviews can translate to the culture of the church if thoughtfully done. Everything depends on the intent. Performance reviews in the church should never be used as a tool to unseat a leader. They can easily become a weapon if that is the reason for utilizing them. However, once the practice is put into play for the periodic review of church leaders including clergy, staff, and laity, it has the potential to pro-actively address small challenges that otherwise can become explosive. Well done reviews create the opportunity for leaders to become better representations of Christ to each other and those they lead. Please note, reviews for all categories of leaders should be utilized, not just for clergy. All leaders in the church should strive to give their best, to trust each other in the context of their ministry, and to work together as the Body of Christ. This is inter-dependent, systemic work. What is good for one is good for all.

The Diocese of Texas has recently created review forms that will be put on line this week under the Iona banner at . The intent is that they be used for personal growth in self awareness of church leaders. They are documents developed with a sensitivity to the uniqueness of leading in the Church.

Establishing new practices of review takes courage, humility and faith. Sounds like Christian discipline doesn’t it?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Strive for AAA

No, I don’t mean joining the American Automobile Association or the minor baseball leagues. I am speaking of leaders who understand the huge importance of Awareness, Alignment and Assessment as part of their ongoing personal growth and development. I don’t think there is a leadership tome written for secular or religious leaders in the last 20 years that hasn’t stressed self awareness as a foundational need for leaders. So why is self awareness so important to missionary leaders? It is the starting place. To be able to say, ‘this is the way I am’ gets us in touch with the Great I AM. Understanding how God uniquely created each of us with gifts, skills, passion, and what I like to call ‘default behaviors’, gives us the opportunity to align ourselves with others who complement, help make our efforts whole in order to bring about God’s vision for His people. Leaders were not created to be lone rangers. Although leading may be a lonely activity at times, the very nature of leadership is to influence and impact the behavior of others. With the privilege and responsibility of leading comes the need for the inward look.

If we do not understand ourselves, if we do not see our personal blindspots that are glaring to others, if we are just working harder at the same old thing, making the same mistakes, how do we grow? The presumption here is a desire for personal development. Loving and serving God usually define the heart of missionary leaders. Loving and serving are humble acts. It is at our deepest moments of humility and vulnerability that God can break through, revealing things about the Spirit and ourselves that can help us grow. This growth helps us on our personal paths toward transformation and a greater understanding of God.

Herrington, Creech and Taylor speak to the ‘Threefold Process of Personal Transformation’ in their book, The Leaders’ Journey. This process involves three parts, all interconnected, that help lead one to personal transformation. They include personal commitment to obey Christ, leading in the context of a loving, graceful and truth telling faith community, and working to be reflective of one’s life, faith and behaviors.
Personally, I have found my faith community, the church, to be a great testing ground for heightening my self awareness, recognizing the impact I have on others, and my ongoing journey of faith. I find there is a high degree of expectation on the part of parishioners that congregational leaders will admit vulnerability and act out of humility. At the same time there is an expectation and need for strong leaders. I do not find these expectations to be mutually exclusive. I think it is in how one defines “strength”. It takes guts to admit that you don’t do something well, or have erred or need help. It has been my experience that healthy groups respond, complement and support their leaders at these times, bonding and strengthening the relationships and the Body of Christ. And the stronger and healthier the Body, the better it can witness to the world. So much can be said about working on self awareness. Let’s just start working at it, praying for revelation, asking others, and believing that it is part of the necessary journey for personal transformation in order to better serve Christ as missionary leaders.