How Many People Can One Pastor Supervise?

Friday, July 14th, 2017

Only the largest congregations have the resources to hire full-time supervisors. The average congregation employs a “head of staff” who also preaches, teaches, provides pastoral care, leads mission and ministry, and guides the work of the board. Given this breadth of responsibility, how many employees can a pastor effectively supervise? What happens when a supervisor has too many direct reports?

Supervision is performance management. The effective supervisor manages a simple, but challenging communication loop between the employee and the organization. She sets clear expectations for each employee and provides ongoing feedback about whether those expectations have been satisfied.

Let’s examine the components of effective performance management and determine the time it takes to supervise well. Only then can we speculate about the number of employees that a pastor can manage.

Setting Expectations: The primary tool used to set employee expectations is the job description. The job description outlines the core duties and tasks associated with the role. These are called the essential functions. The job description also outlines the skills, abilities and attributes that we expect an employee to demonstrate as they engage their duties. These are referred to as the core competencies.

In addition to defining essential functions and core competencies, a supervisor helps to create two or three performance goals for each employee. The goals shape the employee’s focus in the current performance cycle. The performance goals link the employee’s efforts with the immediate priorities of the congregation. For example, congregation A is focused this year on getting 50% of its active members engaged in small groups. Every member of the staff team has a performance goal aligning their energy with this congregational goal.

Setting expectations requires time beyond creating a job description and performance goals. The congregation operates in a dynamic environment. Employees need regular check-ins around shifting expectations. Should this still be my priority? Given limited time, should I focus primarily on this or that?

The ongoing clarification of expectations happens best in one-on-one meetings with our employees. We bring emerging priorities to their attention. They check assumptions about priorities with us and they bring concerns about things that stand in the way of their performance. We help shape their decision making so they can satisfy our shared objectives.

Providing Feedback: Accountability in employment relationships happens through conversation. We hold employees accountable by reminding them of expectations and discussing how their performance measures up. Did the employee meet, exceed, or fail to satisfy our expectations this past week, month and year? We affirm their good work or we ask them to step up their performance and close the gap.

Fairness and justice require that we provide feedback frequently, not storing up resentments and disappointments for the annual performance review. We give employees opportunities to correct their performance and satisfy our expectations on an ongoing basis.

Evaluating the Whole: Effective supervision also requires a periodic evaluation of the whole person in the whole role. Typically, a full performance evaluation takes place once a year.

Throughout the year we focus on individual components of the job as they arise. Annually, we pause to consider how the role is evolving, how the employee is shaping the role, whether the employee has been neglecting aspects of the job, whether a salary adjustment is appropriate because the role has significantly expanded.

The supervisor must take primary responsibility for leading the annual employment appraisal. Others, including the employee, may provide input. A personnel committee or human resource function may assist with the synthesis of feedback, but the supervisor must shape and deliver the message.

The Role of the Staff Meeting

Regular staff meetings are an important component of performance management. Staff meetings serve several important supervisory functions.

Staff meetings help with mission alignment. The clergy leader can regularly ground the team in the larger vision and mission of the congregation and emphasize the core values of the congregation.

Staff meetings help to develop community and resolve conflicts. They provide a venue for sharing information, so that team members share a common base of knowledge about what is happening in the life of the congregation.

During staff meetings, we work on the oversight of joint work. The supervisor helps the team negotiate shared boundaries of work, identify overlapping responsibilities, and coordinate efforts that involve multiple team members.

Staff meetings are also effective for developing the culture of the team. We establish acceptable group norms and challenge unhelpful group behaviors. We proactively shape attitudes.

The staff meeting is NOT an appropriate venue for individual performance management. We should not use team meetings to set individual expectations, establish individual priorities or offer corrective feedback. These things are best accomplished in individual conversations.

Intentional One-on-Ones

Ineffective supervisors rely only on group meetings and an “open door” policy for supervisory work. They trust employees to ask for help when needed. This shifts the burden for expectation setting and feedback to the employee.

Unless we are intentional about one-on-one supervisory sessions, “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Our best supervisory energy goes into our most problematic employees. Effective employees rarely interrupt our work to seek guidance. They get the least amount of our attention when, in fact, they should get our best energy.

In a strong performance-management culture, every member of the team has a regularly scheduled and honored appointment with their supervisor. For most employees, this one-on-one conversation happens weekly or biweekly. Employees may require more or less frequent meetings depending on the nature of the role, the length of time the employee has been in the position, and the extent to which the employee and supervisor share a common mindset. Effective employees value the time and energy invested in oversight of their work.

Protecting these appointed one-on-one meetings shows respect for the employee and their contributions.

Managing Your Limits

How many supervisory relationships can you maintain and still tend the rest of your responsibilities? It depends. You need to have enough time with each employee to guide the full communication cycle described above. If you can’t sustain the necessary schedule of individual and group meetings—and get the rest of your job done—you have too many direct reports.

In general, pastors cannot effectively supervise more than five employees. Some pastors should have fewer direct reports because of the needs of those employees and the other demands of the pastor’s role. A pastor with five direct reports will generally have to spend 25 to 30 percent of their time on supervisory related activities. Senior pastors of large congregations must limit their direct supervisory relationships to a smaller number.

Supervision doesn’t just happen while you are busy doing other things. Effective performance management requires intentionality and time. Only you can determine whether there is enough time in your day for effective supervision. If not, it’s time to develop other supervisors on the team.

 

This post originally appeared at congregationalconsulting.org on 07/03/2017

Photo Credit: “Organization Chart”, © 2011 Luc GaloppinFlickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

 

Don’t Just Talk About Mission-Act With Passion!

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

Congregations waste precious time forming mission statements that fail to inspire action. Writing a mission statement produces clarity, but rarely generates energy. It’s time to move beyond mission and start focusing on the passion that compels us to make a specific difference.

We often think of an individual as having a vocation and an organization as having a mission. Religious organizations have both a mission and a vocational calling. They are related to one another but they are not the same thing. A mission explains, but a vocation inspires.

Mission vs. Vocation

The mission of an organization defines the work undertaken by the organization. It describes why we do what we do. Our mission is our reason for existence.

Most religious organizations derive their mission from Scripture. This may sound blunt, but the mission of any Christian congregation boils down to some version of “Bring them in, transform them through the Gospel, and send them out to change the world.” Does every congregation really need to craft their own clever spin on this?

Alternatively, an organization’s vocation is its path of authentic service to the world. A manifestation of the divine spark within. An awakening of the God-given gift of the institution. The fundamental yes from which everything else in the organization flows. Perhaps theologian, Frederick Buechner, said it best, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

When you ask a struggling congregation about their vocational identity you are likely to get a response like this, “We are just one big family. We are a group of people that love being together. We are here to serve the world.” Struggling congregations are rarely able to describe their specific work. Sadly, the warm and loving feelings they ascribe to themselves rarely extend to anyone beyond a core group of insiders.

When you ask a thriving congregation about its vocation you are likely to hear something like this, “We have a heart for walking with people as they deal with their addictions. Our pastor has a professional background in addiction recovery and many in our congregations are themselves in recovery. We find ourselves particularly drawn to serving the homeless within our community, many of whom are struggling with issues related to substance abuse and addiction.”

Thriving congregations understand their broad part in spreading the Good News and in loving and serving others. At the same time, they are clear about the specific ways they are called to engage those broad mandates in their local context.

The Heart of Vocation

In Holy Conversations, consultants Alice Mann and Gil Rendle pose three questions that lie at the heart of identity. A congregation has vocational clarity when it answers these three questions: Who are we? Who do we serve? What are we called to do or become next?

Who are we (the identity question)?

Congregations, like people, bear unique fingerprints. Who we are is a function of our unique demographic; education level, affluence level, racial and ethnic profile, beliefs, core values, giftedness, limitations and passions.

Who we are is also formed by where we have been, by our history. Understanding the trajectory of our past clarifies our present. Our identity is shaped by our success, failings and shortcomings. Our limitations are as unique as our strengths and they help to clarify the work that may not be ours to do.

Who do we serve (the context question)?

We live in time and space. This season in ministry is unique. Clarifying vocation requires an understanding of how our context is changing.

There are many ways to think about the constituencies that we serve. Certainly, we serve the people who show up and include themselves in what we do. We can also include the neighbors in the places where our people live and work. And, we might include those we serve with our mission and outreach efforts. These geographies may overlap but they may also be quite distinct.

Of all the constituencies we serve, which constituency group(s) are we called to make a difference among in this season? Where is the greatest unmet need that we are uniquely situated to address?

What are we called to do or become next (the purpose question)?

The discernment of vocation requires an act of faith; a declaration of what God is doing in our midst here and now.

Our vocational calling emerges at the intersection of three circles represented by identity, context and purpose. Our identity has many components, but one piece of our identity has significance in this season because of our unique context. Similarly, we may serve diverse constituencies, but a subgroup is more relevant in this season because of who we are and how we feel called. When clarifying vocation, our task is to articulate what lies at the intersection of the three questions.

Three Oaks Community Church feels called to reach the unchurched thirty-five-year-old male who thinks that religion is irrelevant, and to transform that individual into a fully devoted follower of Christ.

First Church feels drawn to serve the families of children with special developmental needs. The congregation has embraced all abilities inclusion in worship and education. This is their gift to the community.

Cherry Hill Church is in a predominantly Muslim community. The congregation regularly hosts interfaith dialogue in the city, helping the community embrace its multi-cultural identity.

Vocation is a journey of discovery. We cannot manufacture it. It is a gift, given and discerned. When we gain clarity about our vocation we unleash energy and excitement in the life of the congregation.

Stop Worrying About Worship Attendance-Thrive Instead!

Wednesday, March 22nd, 2017

For a long time, clergy have taken credit when attendance rose and felt guilty when it fell. Most people assume that the best measure of a congregation’s spiritual vitality is the headcount at weekly worship. But some congregations have begun to think beyond that metric and focus more broadly about how their ministry transforms lives. As a result, they’re finding new ways to think about worship, vitality and effectiveness.

What if worship attendance is no longer the best measure of the spiritual vitality of a congregation? What if it never was? Can a community that is declining in worship attendance still be a growing and thriving congregation?

Clearly, if worship attendance is declining along with every other benchmark indicator of health, a congregation is not doing well. However, some congregations are making the following observations: “Our budget is growing, our average pledge is increasing, membership is growing, and our programs are thriving. We haven’t lost members. People are simply worshiping with less frequency than they used to. How much of a problem is this? What kind of a problem is this?”

Stating the Problem

Let’s begin with the assumption that declining worship attendance is a problem. An adage by inventor and business leader Charles Kettering reminds us, “A problem well stated is a problem half solved.” The way we frame a problem either limits or empowers our diagnosis and idea generation. An effective problem statement follows several rules of thumb:

  • Avoid problem statements that are either too narrow or too broad. “People aren’t coming to worship as frequently as they used to” is a simple and direct statement, but it doesn’t indicate what’s wrong with low attendance. On the other hand, observing that “There is a 20% decrease in attendance among millennials who grew up in the church and claim to be believers,” may be too narrow to help frame a larger conversation about the health of our worshiping community.
  • Don’t create a problem statement that includes implied assumptions or solutions. “The problem is that we need to offer more worship options and venues.” Or, “The problem is that people today like more contemporary musical styles than we offer.” Each of these problem statements sends us chasing down rabbit holes before we fully understand the issues at hand.
  • Don’t confuse symptoms of a problem with the problem itself. Simply stating, “Worship attendance numbers are down 10% from the same time last year” describes a symptom, not a problem. What condition does declining attendance point towards?

There isn’t a universal problem statement that applies to all congregations struggling with declining worship attendance. The statement you frame must address the specific issues relevant in your context. One congregation framed its problem statement this way:

“We are a congregation with a reputation for excellence in traditional worship. Average worship attendance is down ten percent from last year. Some of the people who are no longer worshiping with us now attend neighboring congregations that offer contemporary expressions of worship.”

Discovering the Root Causes

Once we have crafted a problem statement we turn to examining the causes of the problem. We can’t craft solutions until we better understand what is driving behavior. It is too easy to blame trends in the larger culture and to identify possible causes outside our control. We need to dig deeper.

Declining attendance may be an indicator that something is wrong, or it may point to an emerging unmet need. It could be that worship feels less relevant to people, so they attend less. It could mean we are more mobile as a culture or that people have more options to be elsewhere Sunday mornings. It may be a sign of how pressured people’s lives feel. Does it mean our people are less committed to their faith or their congregation? Does it mean our spiritual vitality has decreased? We don’t know until we research and ask.

One congregation discovered that many of their young families were skipping worship because the Sunday morning experience at church separated family members. The adults stayed in worship while the children attended Young Church and Sunday school. Young families were staying at home to create much needed family time.

Once leaders understood this, they resourced young families with worship materials that could be used at home. Those gathered in communal worship prayed for those worshiping at home, and vice versa. The church also initiated a “children in church” service once each month. Families stayed together in church on those special Sundays.

Invention or Innovation?

Once the problem has been articulated and the root causes have been clarified, we are ready to move into the generation of possible solutions. A mistake that many leaders make at this stage is failing to differentiate between invention and innovation.

Innovation theorists Peter Denning and Robert Dunham define an invention as the creation of a new idea, artifact, process or method. We invent a new worship service with a different musical style. We add a worship service on an alternative day of the week. We channel new resources into technology.

Innovation, on the other hand, focuses on the adoption of new practices. Invention is important, but creating new ideas is fundamentally different from getting people to adopt them. If you want a new thing to succeed, you must focus time and attention on getting people to commit to the new practices.

In the church that provided resources to young families for worshiping at home, the educator on staff made home visits to help families access and use the resources. She asked participating families to evaluate the resources and collected stories of home worship to share with the congregation. All this helped with adoption of the invention.

Finding Better Metrics

Increasingly, congregations are finding new ways to tend the spiritual vitality of the congregation. These new practices may or may not impact weekly worship attendance. If we continue to place all our emphasis on counting bodies in the seats on Sunday morning, we’ll miss opportunities for innovation. If we evaluate our clergy leaders only or primarily on what happens inside the sanctuary, we’ll miss other measures of vitality.

The relationship between worship and vitality is complicated. There is certainly some correlation between the two, but we need to be careful not to presume causation. We need to foster innovation and encourage progress that may not reflect itself in who shows up to be counted.

This article was originally featured at congregationalconsulting.org on 3/20/2017.

Working Around Incompetence on the Team

Monday, May 11th, 2015

We aspire to build staff teams of competent, motivated individuals who work in dogged pursuit of a clearly articulated vision. What most of us have are teams with some outstanding staff and some not so outstanding staff, working side by side towards a vision that seems clear, on some days.

Most of you are grappling with some incompetence on the team you inherited, or incompetence you managed to hire yourself.  You spend your time accordingly.  Sometimes, it is abundantly clear that a member of the team just isn’t able or willing to adequately fill the needs of the role, but the political dynamics of the situation don’t allow for making a transition now.  How do you manage in this environment?

Maintain Clarity of Expectations: Effective performance management of the team requires clarity in three areas, for each staff role: the essential functions (duties & tasks of the job), the core competencies (behavioral attributes, skills & abilities required), and the performance goals (area of focus for the current year).

Oftentimes, as a supervisor comes to terms with the incompetence of a team member, the supervisor abandons performance expectations, settling for whatever the employee delivers.  The supervisor grows weary of communicating failed expectations over and over. So, he scales back the expectations. Each time that expectations are lowered, the underperforming staff member reduces effort and performance degenerates even further.

Working with incompetence on the staff requires vigilance around role expectations. If we cut the underperformer slack, we teach the larger staff system that excellence is not important. We set up an unhealthy dynamic where high-functioning staff burn out as they over-compensate for the underperformer. We lose sight of effective staffing structures because we keep re-assigning responsibilities to newer hires that are brought in to pick up the slack.

Maintaining clarity of expectations requires a commitment to ongoing communication about what the role requires, and communication about the gap we observe between actual performance and the ideal. Maintaining clarity of expectations means that the under-performing team member bears the discomfort of their own under-performance. We don’t create a comfortable environment for them to settle into by displacing responsibility elsewhere.

Be Honest with Yourself: It is easy to tell yourself that it isn’t in the best interest of the congregation to move the incompetent member off of the team right now.  You imagine the level of conflict that such a move might produce. You exaggerate the level of social support that the person has in your congregation.  You empathize with the drama the employee is experiencing in his personal life. You nurture all of your worst fears about how badly this could unfold. You tell yourself that people of faith are invested in redemption and that you are giving this person one more chance.

If you are honest about the situation, you may have to acknowledge your own conflict avoidance.  You may have to admit that you haven’t moved on the situation because you simply haven’t engaged the hard work of expectation setting, and you haven’t invested the necessary time in performance feedback. You may have to admit that this season isn’t any better or worse than a future time for addressing the problem; in fact, to allow the situation to continue will only make things worse over the long term.

Have a Long-Term Plan: Now may not be the right time to move the under-performer off of the team. What conditions would be evident if it was the right time?  How can you create those conditions?

Recently I spoke with a pastor who vowed to me that she would not pass her incompetent employee onto the next senior pastor. So I asked the pastor, “If you are ultimately going to deal with this, why not now, so that you can enjoy the benefit of the improved environment, along with the next senior pastor?”  She didn’t have a response.

If we decide to live with continued incompetence, we should have a clear picture of the conditions we are trying to produce that will ultimately birth a healthier team. For example, a pastor decides that she needs eighteen months to bring a new staff member fully onboard, so that the new leader can step into the gap as we let the problem staff member go.  Or, a pastor targets a six-month period of time to help lay leadership become more aware of the performance gap, and to build a cadre of lay leadership supporters before moving the incompetent team member out. The pastor should have a specific action plan in mind to justify inaction now.

Having a long-term plan also means creating a five year staffing plan, so that each time you make a staffing change you work towards a long-term solution that resembles your dream team.  Don’t structure around incompetence.  In other words, don’t create new positions to shore up an under-performer. When you eventually move an under-performer off of your team, you don’t want to be saddled with a patchwork of positions that no longer make sense.  Design roles and hire new people only because they move you towards your long term vision of team health.

You may not have the staff team of your dreams, but there are concrete steps that you can take to eventually live into that dream.  It requires persistence and hard work. You can move in the right direction by maintaining clear expectations, being honest with yourself, and having a long term plan.

Silo Mentality: Breaking Through to Collaboration

Monday, March 16th, 2015

We have great leaders.  They just don’t work together collaboratively. What we accomplish together is sometimes less impactful than the sum of our individual parts, because we spend precious time and energy protecting individual or departmental turf. This is silo mentality.

silos-in-the-cloudSilos are artificial boundaries put up to accomplish personal   goals and keep others (perceived outsiders) from interfering with progress. A silo mindset produces sub-units that fail to share information, resources, or decision making.

Why are silos a problem in congregations? They encourage local optimization (personal, department or committee agendas) at the expense of alignment around mission.  Silos diminish the capacity of the whole. When allowed to flourish, silos advance favoritism and scapegoating. They contribute to secrecy, resource hoarding and an absence of trust.

Many congregations try to address silos through behavioral promises, “We will do a better job of sharing information, resources and decision making”.  If silos could be minimized through simple behavioral intent, we would have figured out how to eliminate them by now.

Complex organizational dynamics give birth to silos.  In the paragraphs that follow we will explore five contributing conditions.  By addressing these five conditions you can reduce or eliminate the destructive power of silos in your congregation and breakthrough to greater collaboration.

Lack of Incentive

In a healthy congregation leaders will collaborate so long as there is reason to do so. We often promote collaboration as a virtue without articulating what collaboration will serve.  It takes energy to sustain a collaborative culture. If we want staff and lay leaders to invest energy in collaboration, then we need to identify a clear and compelling case for doing so.

It begins with clarity about the overarching mission that unites us in ministry.  This is no small task in and of itself.  But then we also need each member of the team, committee, or board to link their personal passion to the overarching mission.  We can ask them what they need from the rest of us to pursue their passion. We can identify our intersecting points of need and interest, the places where my ministry needs intersect with yours.

Collaboration will naturally emerge if the case for crossing barriers becomes personally and departmentally compelling and satisfying.

Focusing Primarily on Resources

Silos flourish when our primary focus is on the allocation of scarce resources.  When the conversation is always about who gets what resource, people and departments become fearful.  Individuals seek to preserve and promote their own needs and agendas.

First Church went through a rocky pastoral transition.  During the interim time period the budget took a hard hit. Finding a new pastor took longer than anyone anticipated. Leaders hunkered down to get by with less.  The allocation of resources became the default mission of the congregation for a period of two years.  By the time the new senior minister arrived silos were firmly entrenched on the staff team and in the committee and board structure.

Once the new pastor arrived and found a way to turn the primary conversation towards mission, and away from resource allocation, the silos diminished.

Lack of Accountability

In some congregations favored leaders or departments get whatever resources they want without needing to demonstrate need or impact.  In other instances, players who fail to perform as needed, or people who introduce dysfunction into the congregation are not held accountable for their behavior.

In such environments constituents learn to protect themselves from neglect, abuse or dysfunction by focusing only on what is in front of them.  The result is an entire congregational system that hoards information, decision making and resources.

When silos exist due to lack of accountability, the solution is to establish clear performance expectations (essential functions, core competencies, performance goals) for each member of the team and every department.  People must be held accountable for meeting those expectations, with natural and logical consequences for failure to perform.

Once it becomes apparent that health and good performance are rewarded, and that inappropriate behavior is addressed, shared communication and decision making will naturally reemerge.

 

Poor Organizational Design

Organizational design theory teaches us that hierarchical structures work against collaboration. We have learned that flatter, more decentralized structures invite collaboration.  This is true in theory.

However, collaboration is possible in every structural design model.  Similarly, silos can emerge within any organizational design.  Flat structures produce silos when they become unwieldy and unmanageable. Hierarchical structures produce silos when we fail to create logical linkages between organizational sub-units.

If your congregation is struggling with silo mentality, take a look at your organizational design to make certain that it can handle the size and complexity of the congregation.  Does your senior minister have too many direct reports to provide effective supervision?  Are there too many committees reporting into your board structure?

Make certain that there are solid integrating mechanisms in your organizational design. Integrating mechanisms include things like effective meeting structures that delegate planning and decision making to appropriately sized decision making groups. Integrating mechanisms also include the shared supervision or oversight of ministry areas that need to logically coordinate work.

Absence of Trust

An absence of trust rarely develops from a single incident or violation.  People have learned over time that others cannot be trusted, that being vulnerable gets you nowhere, and that sharing resources and information generally leads to loss or punishment.

A team or board that is mistrustful cannot simply declare a new day and become instantaneously collaborative.  The team has to learn its way back to trustworthiness. New sprigs of trust emerge when we make small commitments to one another and then deliver on those promises.

A good way to restore trust is to establish a behavioral covenant. Clearly define acceptable healthy behaviors and teach people conversational techniques for holding one another accountable when unacceptable behaviors emerge. Collaboration will slowly build as team members learn their way back to health.

Breaking down silos is not easy because silos don’t have simple origins. They are the result of complex organizational dynamics that must be addressed simultaneously. However, silos do not have to become your organizational status quo.  Begin where you are. The benefits are worth the investment of time and energy.

 

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.

You Disappointed Me

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

A volunteer agrees to complete a task but fails to deliver, or delivers a less than satisfactory outcome. A leader violates an established behavioral standard. What do you do? How do you redeem the situation?

Disappointment is inevitable when people are involved in ministry; but disappointment doesn’t have to be the final word. Delivering an effective feedback message in the face of disappointment can turn the situation around and introduce accountability into the volunteer relationship.

Many of us have learned to blindly accept less than desired or agreed upon outcomes. Often we choose to simply redo or complete a task ourselves, or work around a problem player. After all, congregations are volunteer organizations. What can you expect? We take what we can get.

Each time that we fail to addresimagess a disappointing outcome with one volunteer, we send a harmful message to all of our volunteers. We communicate that the ministry itself isn’t important enough to warrant excellence and accountability. We communicate that the overarching mission of the congregation is not as important as the volunteer’s feelings.

I suspect that we fail to confront because we fear that the conversation might get away from us. We aren’t sure how to start the conversation, or how to respond if the volunteer gets upset, denies that there is a problem, or blames others for the outcome. It is easier to say nothing, and if necessary, to do the task ourselves.

Describe the Situation-Behavior-Impact

The Center for Creative Leadership Feedback_That_Works_How_to_Build_and_Deliver_Your_Message offers a simple model for giving specific feedback that is time tested and works.

Situation: Describe the Situation. Be specific about when and where the behavior occurred, or was supposed to occur.

Yesterday morning, I passed you in the hallway and you were having a conversation with John Q about the new building plan

Behavior: Describe the observable behavior. Don’t use generalities and don’t assume you know what the other person was thinking.

John said that he thought the plan was poorly conceived and downright stupid. You responded that you didn’t like the plan either and had never supported it.

Impact: Describe what you thought or felt in reaction to the behavior.

I was surprised to hear you lack of support for the plan, because you had never indicated those reservations during Council discussions on the topic. I was also hurt that you were not supporting a decision that we as a Council had all agreed upon together. I felt like you were being disloyal to me and other Council members.

Ask About Intention

Once you have clearly delivered your feedback, pause and ask the volunteer to offer an explanation about why they behaved as they did. “Why did you choose to have that particular conversation?” or “What were you hoping to accomplish?” or “What was your intent?”

Inquiring about intent prevents misperceptions and clears up incorrect inferences or assumptions on our part. It also transfers the responsibility for the conversation over to the volunteer. It is their turn to explain their thinking, assumptions, action or inaction. For example:

I feel really badly about that conversation. I never meant to betray the decision of the Council. John was berating me for supporting a plan that he did not like. The whole conversation got away from me and I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just told him that I didn’t agree with the decision, so that I could end the conversation.

-or-

I don’t feel like I can comfortably speak up and express my viewpoints in Council meetings. When I express an opinion that is contrary to the popular opinion in the room, I feel pressured to conform. I don’t know why I should defend the Council, when I feel like my voice isn’t really represented in the decision making.

Once the intent is clearer, you can coach the volunteer about how to make better choices and resolve their performance issues in the future.

Avoid Sidetracks

It is commonplace for the person being held accountable to avoid responsibility by redirecting the conversation. The volunteer may disagree with your assessment of their performance or the situation. They may blame you or others for their lack of performance. They may minimize the impact of their behavior. All of these responses are known as “sidetracks”. A sidetrack is meant to take the pressure off of the individual being confronted, and to focus the accountability elsewhere.

The most difficult sidetracks are those which are meant to implicate us in the failure. “You shouldn’t have been listening in on my conversation with John.” “I know that you aren’t crazy about the plan either, why are you supporting this initiative?” “You know that the only reason we settled on this building plan is because our Council President has a relationship with the architect that proposed it.”

It is easy to get hooked by the sidetrack. We get embroiled in a logic debate, and several minutes later find ourselves engaged in a conversation that has nothing to do with the behavior we were trying to address.

The simplest way to handle a sidetrack is to acknowledge the central truth in the statement, and then draw the conversation back to the performance issue at hand. The most effective way to do this is with the phrase, “But, right now…”

I am aware that eavesdropping on conversations is not an ethical practice. I wasn’t intentionally trying to listen in. But, right now I’d like to address your decision not to support the decision that we made together as a Council.

-or-

Whether or not I feel comfortable with the building plan is not the issue here. Right now, I’d like to talk about why you didn’t raise your concerns in our Council meeting, and why you chose to indicate your lack of support to someone who is not on the Council.

Restate the Standard

The final part of the accountability conversation should include a restatement of the standard.

I’d like to remind you that we have an agreed upon standard as Council members. We speak our personal truth to one another when we are in the midst of decision making. Once a decision has been made, we support that decision when speaking to non-Council members.

The work of volunteers is critical to the well-being of our congregations. Holding volunteers accountable for agreed upon performance standards is not as menacing as we often fear it will be. You can create a culture of accountability by modeling these conversations and training others to follow these simple conversational guidelines.

How to Develop Wise Leaders

Saturday, September 13th, 2014

Consider the last slate of candidates nominated for leadership in your congregation. What attributes were sought when recruiting this group? Perhaps you looked for potential leaders who were: invested, good decision-makers, strategic, prayerful, respected, effective communicators, with strong personal boundaries.

How did the actual list of nominees compare to your desired list of attributes? Did you find the attributes you were seeking, or did you default to: loyal, breathing, and willing?2 beautiful owls

Congregations struggle with a perpetual gap between the leaders they need and the pool of talent that they actually have. There are a host of circumstances to blame. However, if we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we haven’t developed our leadership base. We rely on other institutions to cultivate leadership talent in our members, which we try to harvest. And, we haven’t clearly identified or developed the most important attribute for congregational leadership: Wisdom.

Wisdom, in the biblical tradition, stands for many things ranging from the technical skill of artisans, to the art of governance. It incorporates simple cleverness, with the practical skill of coping with life, and the pursuit of ethical conduct. Wisdom is seen as derived from God, as belonging to God, as associated with creation, and as identified with the Torah or law.

Congregations are not meant to operate like other for-profit, or not-for –profit entities. We value the effectiveness and efficiency associated with institutional life, but we need to be led in ways that reflect our faith based origins and in ways that foster covenantal community. We seek leaders that can nurture institutional health, while tending to the soul of the institution and its constituents, and while listening for the guidance of Spirit. We seek wisdom.

Can wisdom be taught? Or, is wisdom something that certain people are born to, or gifted with, independent of learned skills and experience?

Two Schools of Thought

Let’s examine two viewpoints on the development of wisdom in leaders; one secular and one spiritual.

Yale psychology professor, Robert Sternberg, promotes the Balanced Theory of Wisdom to explain how wisdom can be intentionally developed.

Sternberg explains that wisdom seeks the common good. Wisdom realizes that the common good may be better for some than for others. A wise leader can negotiate the differences among individuals and groups, much like Solomon negotiated between two mothers who each claimed the same baby. Sternberg claims that we can nurture wisdom by developing the following capacities in our leaders.

• Basic intelligence (practical problem solving and verbal abilities)

• Factual & procedural knowledge

• Intrapersonal awareness (biases, skills, orientations, values)

• Extrapersonal awareness (goals, political agendas and interests of others)

• Balance and integration of competing interests

• Clarity about goals, along with the ability to recognize competing goals and to negotiate unifying goals

• Balancing short and long-term interests and needs

• Naming and clarifying core values, and using values to negotiate competing interests

• Shaping and adapting the congregation to changes in the environment

A more spiritual approach to developing wisdom is described by Cynthia Bourgeault, in “The Wisdom Way of Knowing”.

Bourgeault asserts that wisdom is a way of knowing that goes beyond one’s mind, one’s rational understanding and embraces the whole of a person: mind (intellectual center), heart (emotional center) and body (moving center).

This viewpoint sees wisdom as a gift of God, a gift that can be invited through prayerfulness. When a person is poised, balanced and alert in all three centers, a shift in consciousness happens. We become present, fully occupying the now in which we find ourselves. A state of presence is required to move into wisdom. The wisdom way of knowing stresses the fluidity of movement between God consciousness and present-centeredness. The Wisdom way of knowing requires:

• Surrender (which opens the heart directly to the more subtle realms of spiritual wisdom and energy)

• Seeing with the eye of the heart, and

• Connecting to the Divine Source

Tips for Cultivating Wisdom

We do not need to choose between secular and spiritual approaches to developing wisdom. We must nurture both. Our churches and synagogues need wise leaders with practical organizational wisdom and deep soulfulness.
Here are several practices to consider adding to your leadership development toolbox:

• Create the expectation that every member of your leadership team will have a personal prayer discipline. Create a culture in which leaders hold one another accountable for that discipline, by encouraging spiritual direction, check-ins and testimony.

• Introduce prayer practices into your meeting format, practices that extend beyond opening and closing prayers. Teach your leaders how to engage in guided meditation, lectio-divina, appreciative inquiry, theological biblical reflection, and consolation vs. desolation. Help your leaders become more comfortable spending time in silence.

• Instruct your leaders in the basics of governance and polity that will guide their work. But also ground them in the core values, strategic priorities and goals of the congregation.

• Help new leaders articulate their own personal core values and priorities and examine the overlap or conflict between their personal goals and the goals of the congregation.

• Define an intentional decision making/discernment process that includes these elements:

o Framing the issue,
o Naming guiding principles and core values that apply to the decision,
o Weighing the competing interests at work in the decision; clarifying who stands to gain or lose what,
o Distinguishing between the long and short term implications of a decision,
o Naming the adaptive work at the core of the issue, and
o Inviting silence and prayerful reflection in the midst of group decision making.

In this era of congregational life, where change is constant and adaptive leadership is needed, we must cultivate different leadership skills. We can’t simply assume that the leadership skills that our congregants have learned in other settings will translate well into the church. We need to be about the work of cultivating wisdom and developing more soulful leadership.

If-Then Plans

Friday, April 25th, 2014

The problem with most planning is that people simply don’t do what they have declared they want to do. There is a goal setting technique that claims a 300% increase in the likelihood of goal attainment. It is called the if-then plan.

if-this-then-that-red

Heidi Grant Halvorson, the associate director of Columbia Business School’s Motivation Science Center, wrote a featured article on the topic in the current Harvard Business Review, and in a recent issue of Fast Company.

Let’s look at how it works, and explore how we might work with it in congregational contexts.

If-then planning works by building contingencies into our neurological wiring. If ‘x’ (a condition) occurs, then I will engage in ‘y’ (a specific action). This very specific form of planning improves individual and group performance by sharpening focus and by prompting members to carry out agreed upon activities in a timely manner. It’s about creating instant new habits.

The problem with most goal setting is that the goals are stated very broadly. Many goal statements are not much more than a statement of intention.

    We will improve communication within our staff team.

The difficulty with a broad statement of intent is that people rarely know what they are actually supposed to do to impact the condition, and even if they do know, they often don’t deliver.

If-then planning creates an explicit link between our intention and a desired behavior that is likely to produce the intended state. It creates a clear trigger for action.

If we have reached the end of a program staff meeting, then we will stop to consider what information from our meeting needs to be communicated to the admin staff, and how that information will be delivered.

• If it is Tuesday afternoon at 4 pm, then we will have an all staff gathering around the water cooler, where our head of staff will provide a 5 minute update on the decisions made in the Executive Team Meeting that impact the rest of us.

The language may feel artificial and forced, but the tasks and the time frames are clear, which makes it more likely that people will engage the behaviors.

Halvorson recommends a four step process to create your if-then trigger statements.

1. Establish the broad goal.

    The work schedule of all staff will be transparent, so that those with a legitimate need to find staff are able to reach them.

2. Break the goal down into specific, concrete subgoals.

    a. Each staff member communicates their expected calendar of meetings/events for the upcoming week.

    b. Staff members communicate when they are on campus and off campus.

    c. Staff members working off campus communicate their availability for contact when off campus, and their expected time of return.

3. Identify detailed actions-and who, what, when and where-for reaching each subgoal.

    a. Each staff member updates a shared online calendar on Tuesday morning, indicating their expected schedule of meeting & activities, both on and off campus, for the next seven days.

    b. The receptionist oversees a color coded magnetic board that hangs next to the church office door. Each staff member moves their magnet to indicate their presence or absence from the building.

    c. Each staff member completes a pink slip when they go off campus during the work day. The slip is handed to the receptionist. The slip indicates whether the staff member will be reachable during their absence from the building, how they may be contacted if needed, and when they are expected to return.

4. Create if-then plans that trigger the actions.

    a. If it is Tuesday morning at 9:00 A.M., then staff will update their online calendar for the upcoming week.

    b. If a staff member is leaving the building, then they will come to the office on their way out of the building, to move their magnet to “out” on the board, and to turn a pink slip into the receptionist.

    c. If a staff member is entering the building, then they will first stop by the office to move their magnet to “in” on the board.

That’s the essence of an if-then plan. Give it a try on one of your tough behavioral challenges and let me know how it works for you!

Myth Busters-Supervision

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

Our unstated and unexamined assumptions about supervision prevent us from being more effective in the role of supervisor.

Myth #1: If I could just get the right people on my team, I wouldn’t have to spend so much time supervising them.

The Truth: If you lead a congregation with more than 400 people in average weekend attendance, then you will be spending at least one third of your time on the task of supervision. You have a choice. You can either spend that time squelching the chaos caused by your under-performer, or you can spend your time actively setting up a performance management system to align the collective energies of the entire staff team. Either way, you WILL spend about a third of your time on supervision.

Supervision is performance management, not people management. Supervision is NOT about making people do the work that you want them to do. Supervision IS about aligning the resources and energy of each staff member in pursuit of a common goal or mission. This means that you should be spending your time setting expectations, providing ongoing feedback, and aligning the energies of all your workers, not simply cajoling your under-performers to step it up. Our best workers should receive at least as much attention, if not more attention, than our problem employees.

Good performance management takes time. It’s not something that you “get out of the way” so that you can get back to the real work of ministry. Supervision is ministry.

mythbusters-final2Myth #2: It is too late to introduce accountability! If I have an employee on my staff that has been under-performing for a long period of time, without correction, then there isn’t anything that I can do to fix the problem. I just have to wait this one out, especially if I inherited the problem from someone else.

The Truth: It is never too late to invite accountability into an employment relationship. Righting an employment relationship begins with clarifying expectations and then providing ongoing feedback. Every member of your staff team should have three clearly defined sets of expectations for their role.

1. 8-10 essential functions of the job (these describe the basic duties and tasks of the position.)
2. 8-10 core competencies of the job (these describe the behavioral attributes, characteristics and skills that you expect the employee to demonstrate as they engage the essential functions.)
3. 2-3 performance goals (these describe the growing edge, or focus of the role for the current performance cycle; these align the energies of the staff member with the overall goals of the congregation.)

Ongoing feedback should include a regular (weekly, or bi-weekly) one on one conversation between the employee and their supervisor to establish priorities, clarify expectations and provide feedback on the basic expectations. This should be augmented with a quarterly goals update and an annual performance review.

Problem employees will often step it up once the expectations become clearer; or they will choose to leave because they are uncomfortable with the increased accountability. Either way, it’s never too late.

Myth #3: Every employee is redeemable and deserves another chance.

The Truth: All of the people on our staff team are the beloved in the eyes of God, but not all of our employment relationships are redeemable.

Once we have appropriately defined the expectations of the employment relationship, and provided ongoing feedback, with invitations to step up to our expectations, then we have done our part. If the employee demonstrates an inability or unwillingness to satisfy the basic expectations of the employment relationship over time, then the employment relationship should be brought to an end.

Myth #4: A good supervisor should be able to create a good ending for both the employee and the congregation.

The Truth: You cannot control how a terminated employee leaves your system. You cannot control how congregants will respond to the departure. You can create an open and transparent process, and you can invite healthy behaviors from the departing employee and from your congregants, but you cannot control what any of them actually do!

You best defense in a difficult employee termination process is a good offense. Gather a group of healthy leaders about you. Equip each leader with a transparent and consistent message that is appropriate, given the situation. And then, stand firm and non-anxious and let the disequilibrium work its way out of your system. You cannot control what happens, you can only respond to what happens with equanimity of mindfulness and heart.

You can learn more about replacing myth with good sound principles of supervision in, “When Moses Meets Aaron: Staffing and Supervision in Congregations”