Archive for October, 2014

Breaking Our Dependence on Praise

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

“You like me.  You really like me!”  Let’s face it. We are all guilty of defining our self-worth by what others think. When people praise us we feel successful.  Are we?

Courageous and adaptive leadership requires leaning into our own incompetence, and pointing out the incompetence of our congregations.  Leading beyond our own competence will invite mistakes and failures. Mistakes and failures call forth criticism.

Anything really worth doing as a leader is going to involve criticism.  How do we wean ourselves from a dependency on praise and teach ourselves and others to work well with criticism?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

1. Recognize that feedback is data. Feedback, in the form of praise or criticism, is primarily about the person offering it. Typically, praise or criticism leveled at a leader has little to do with the leader’s personal performance.  If you treat the feedback as data you can remain more objective about it, and use it to better understand the organization you are leading.

An individual offering praise may be using it as an ingratiation tactic, to get into your good graces, to create rapport, or to advance an agenda.  They may be trying to enhance their own self-image by displaying their magnanimous nature.  They may use praise to break the ice, to introduce a topic that is hard for them to talk about. They may be telling you that what you have done aligns with who they are.

Similarly, criticism is often data about the personal preferences, emotional maturity or values of the person(s) offering the critique.  Criticism may indicate change resistance, a tension in values, or priorities out of alignment.

2.  Become more aware of your own triggers. Each of us has emotional triggers that reflect our personal insecurities.  Our most dysfunctional congregants have a knack for honing in on our triggers, criticizing us in just the right way to provoke reactivity.

If I know which stimuli are likely to set me off, I can create intentional strategies to override my automatic “flight or flight” response, so that I can respond with greater intentionality.

3. Learn to evaluate the quality of the feedback you receive. You are in control of whether you will receive the feedback that has been offered, whether you will seek further information to strengthen the feedback, or whether you will simply choose to ignore it.

You can evaluate whether or not the feedback you receive is valid by considering its accuracy, its substance, and its importance.

  • Accuracy:  Who is offering this feedback?   Are they in a position to accurately observe and evaluate your efforts?  What are their intentions and vested interests? Do they have the emotional capacity and willingness to offer feedback constructively? Are they having a bad day?
  • Substance: What values and priorities does this individual hold with regard to the feedback topic?  Are their values and priorities in alignment with yours? With the organization? Are they vested in your best interest and the best interest of the congregation?
  • Importance: How critical is this feedback to the success of your initiative?  How central is their viewpoint to your efforts? How connected are they to others and what is the likelihood that others will give credence to what they are saying?

4.  Ask for better feedback. Undifferentiated praise is no more helpful than undifferentiated criticism.  If you want to move away from a dependency on praise you must invite more concrete feedback.  Begin by explaining to others how, when and where you prefer to receive feedback. (A critique of the sermon in the back of the church during the meet and greet…not so helpful.) Ask clarifying questions. What was the specific context, the behavior, the impact?  Invite feedback from others to verify the data that you are receiving.  In the face of criticism, ask the critic to suggest alternative behaviors that would be more effective in the future.

5.  Nurture a contemplative mind-set. Ultimately, to break our dependence on external praise we need to strengthen our authentic, soulful self.  As we become clearer about who we are in relationship to our source, we lessen the need for external validation.  Contemplation is an all-embracing quality of presence that is grounded in prayer and union with the divine. Contemplation through prayer and meditation invites us to release our attachments to outcomes in general, and to the need for praise. We remain steadier, more objective and less reactive when we are centered in God.

Attaching our self-worth to the praise of others is a dangerous leadership practice.  It prevents us from taking necessary risks.  We must focus less on whether we are praised or criticized, and focus more on improving the quality of feedback we offer and receive.

Holding Steady (Maintaining Presence)

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014
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(Photo Credit: Hartwig HKD, Flickr /CC-BY-ND/ via Wylio)

Congregations today are chronically anxious. When the anxiety of the congregation rises, leaders come under attack. We know this intellectually, but understanding that something will happen and actually riding out the experience are two different things.

Every change leadership theory has a name for the leader’s needed presence during times of high anxiety.

Edwin Friedman in “Generation to Generation” calls it leadership through self-differentiation. A differentiated leader takes non-reactive, clearly conceived, well- defined positions that seek to define the leader as the “head”, distinct from but committed to relationship with the body.

Peter Steinke in “Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times” calls it the non-anxious presence. Steinke describes this presence as a steady and calm way of being that acknowledges the anxiety, but does not let the anxiety drive behavioral choices.

Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky in “Leadership on the Line” call it holding steady. Holding steady is about learning to take the heat rather than restoring the status quo. It involves focusing attention on the issue and letting the issue ripen. It requires the ability to observe and learn from resistance and the factions that emerge.

These three authors provide leadership language and skill sets that are useful in congregational contexts. However, as faith leaders we must first acknowledge the foundational importance of soul.

We dare not forget that presence is primarily a contemplative state of mind, and only secondarily a leadership state. We may enhance our leadership presence through learned behavioral skill sets, but our personal presence is ultimately nurtured through prayer and cultivated through spiritual discipline.

Presence is a different way of knowing, a knowing that emerges from the intelligence of the heart and spirit- from a place of wisdom. Presence is strengthened when we connect with our Source. In a state of presence we recognize our authentic personal self, alongside the authentic self of the institution.

We can invite presence through three spiritual postures: unknowing, attending and unbinding. But ultimately, presence is a gift that is given through grace, not something that we can manufacture.

Unknowing: Presence requires a willingness to step outside of the comfort zone of expertise and into the openness associated with “not knowing”. This is frightening work for the leader who has been authorized to lead by virtue of demonstrated expertise. An anxious system wants definitive answers from its authority figures.

A posture of unknowing is fostered in the leader and in the organization through a variety of spiritual practices that include slowing down, entering silence, engaging prayer, and confessing shortcomings. These are counter-intuitive behaviors to an anxious congregation that feels compelled to demonstrate mastery over its environment.

Attending: Attending is a shift in perspective. In the busyness of daily congregational life most leaders pay attention to the institution from the center. We see institutional life with ourselves and our world view as the definitive perspective. We make assumptions accordingly. Presencing requires shifting our field of awareness from the center of the organization to its margins, seeing with new eyes and fresh perspectives.

Attending invites us to seek Divine perspective, through the lens of kairos time. It requires disengagement from held assumptions and reengagement from a different place, which may feel counter-intuitive to holding steady. When a shift in our field of attention happens, the boundary between observer and observed collapses (unitive awareness) and the observer begins to see the system from a holy and holistic point of view.

Unbinding: Upon shifting perspectives we may notice that the organization lacks the freedom to work openly with the Divine. Unfreedom blocks our capacity to move from knowledge to wisdom, to move out of our heads and into our souls. Unfreedom may cloak itself as resistance, shame, cynicism or pride.

Unbinding work is fostered by a spirit of abundance and nonjudgmental blessing, when the space between us holds unconditional love, and when we invite a quality of witnessing and listening that is totally safe, where each person is honored as an authentic soulful self. Unbinding work requires letting go of the old and surrendering past wounding experiences or outdated self-images.

At the end of the day, our capacity as leaders is best served by cultivating personal spiritual presence. When we adopt postures that are unknowing, attending and unbinding, we position ourselves to remain non-anxious, to hold steady, and to self-differentiate.


Join me for my PEN talk: This Wednesday 10/15/14

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

PEN talk: “Adaptive leadership: What is it, really?” with Susan Beaumont

Drawing distinctions between adaptive challenges and technical solutions has become commonplace in congregations seeking to change, perhaps too commonplace. These terms are being overused and misused in ways that diminish their impact. We lull ourselves into thinking that we are being truly adaptive when we are really just reinforcing the status quo. In this webinar we will revisit ten basic principles that define the practice of adaptive leadership. You will be invited to rethink your understanding of what it means to be an adaptive leader.

Susan Beaumont is a consultant, author, coach, and spiritual director. She has consulted with over 100 congregations and denominational bodies across the United States and in Canada. She is known for her ground-breaking work in the leadership dynamics of large congregations. Before establishing Susan Beaumont & Associates, Susan worked for nine years as a Senior Consultant with the Alban Institute.

Those interested in this event may also be interested in Peer power: Cultivating clergy communities of practice.

Cost: free

Registration: No registration required. To join the meeting and to also get information about the conference call line, go to:

Contact: Willie Sordillo


Phone: 508-405-1850

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