Tag Archives: leadership

Good Leaders Need a “To-Don’t” List

medium_22237769

I recently attended a three-day training on community organizing and congregational leadership. There were many great insights that I’ll be chewing on for a while, but one hit me right away.

Our trainer quoted Jim Collins’s book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t. According to Collins, all leaders have to-do lists, but great leaders also have stop-doing lists. These are tasks that someone else should be doing, and/or tasks that don’t have much impact in the long run but that keep us busy and make us feel useful. They take up our time to the point that we have no energy or mental bandwidth for the deep thinking or creative work that is essential to move an organization forward.

There was a definite buzz in the room when the trainer dropped this tidbit on us. One pastor couldn’t contain herself; she stood up and said, “My name is [Kate], and I’m going to stop photocopying the bulletins!” We all erupted in cheers, applause and nods of recognition. (We also recognized that she has some calling/training/equipping work to do before she gets to that point.)

As a Sabbath-minded gal, I am totally on board with leaving stuff undone—but I’m mainly good in the short term. When break’s over I try and pick everything up again. I’ve been complaining for several days about my kids’ crazy camp and swim schedules and having no time to think. But the truth is, I bear some responsibility for that. I’ve been holding on to (and committing to) too many things.

The training gave me permission to be more intentional about letting stuff go, not because I’m a slacker or unconscientious, but because there’s a bigger goal in mind. Granted, you’ve gotta be smart about what gets delegated to another person or to the floor. But there’s something liberating about saying, “I’m gonna get to that thing… never.”

Following the training, I had a great week eliminating the low-hanging fruit. Now I feel called deeper into this practice, which is going to be tough. It’s going to mean some agonizing decisions. When you stop doing, you disappoint people. (Ugh. UGH.)

Case in point: what about newsletter articles? Virtually every pastor I know detests writing them. Most people don’t read them, and it’s a chore to come up with compelling content each month. (If only there were a lectionary for newsletter articles!) But just enough people read them that we keep on doing this thing that saps our energy.

Of course, not everything we do is going to be fun. And Jesus does call us to care for the one wandering sheep over the 99 safe in the pen. But sometimes our time and energy gets held hostage by 2-3 people.

In fact, when we’re trying to decide what to stop doing, the question isn’t whether people benefit from the activity. The question is whether the activity is central to our mission as an organization, and whether the benefit is worth the cost to us personally, given other creative options we have for our time. Remember my theology of call lately, a la Howard Thurman: the world needs people who have come alive.

And in the case of newsletter articles: could these people’s needs be served in a different way that doesn’t drain us?

What do you need to stop doing? Maybe these sticky notes can help.

photo credit: Afroswede via photopin cc

Why Congregations Are Stuck

We can... but will we?

We can… but will we?

I had an “aha” this weekend about why many of our congregations seem so stuck.

I attended a “Building and Empowering Communities” leadership training sponsored by VOICE, a group of congregations and institutions in northern Virginia that are doing community organizing around issues of affordable housing, immigration, and other issues.

The tools of community organizing are not just for engagement in the wider community; they are also helpful within the congregation, as you seek out leaders and discern a vision.

The crux of the training centered on the one-on-one “relational” meeting, in which you try to identify potential leaders through getting to know people and learning their stories—their histories, their passions, and what “keeps them up at night.”

To give us a taste of this, each presenter offered a bit of personal history before launching into his/her topic, and it was easy to connect the dots between the person’s past experiences and his or her life’s work. One person’s aunt and uncle was the victim of a predatory loan. Another saw her single working mother face discrimination and sexism and was driven to empower herself and other women in her community as a result. You get the idea.

Then we practiced one-on-one meetings, and I was struck with how many stories (mine included) were some variation of “I had a pretty comfortable life… and now I just want to give back and make the world a better place.”

Now, admittedly, many of us were brand new at this relational meeting stuff. The organizers who trained us (and whose dots were so easy to connect) have been telling their stories for a long time. And granted, it was an artificial exercise, taking place in a fishbowl, and we could only go 8-10 minutes long instead of the 30-40 minutes that is suggested.

But these rather bland, generic responses revealed to me how we find leaders and volunteers in the church, and how we talk about service. And how it’s killing us.

Here are three realizations I had:

1. We do discernment primarily around gifts rather than stories. We need to stop doing that.

Whether we’re the nominating committee trying to put forth a slate of officers, or a youth director trying to find confirmation sponsors, we think predominantly about a person’s skills and gifts. “This person is a teacher, so I bet he’d be a great Christian Education elder.” “She’s chief operating officer of her company; maybe she’d serve on the stewardship team.”

It’s not that gifts are unimportant. After all, spiritual gifts language has been with us from the very beginning. But one of the tenets of community organizing is that good leaders are made, not born. As a pastor, I can teach skills. But I cannot teach passion. Getting in touch with a person’s history allows you to find those deep hungers that will motivate and drive them even when the going gets tough. No wonder so many of our congregations are boring and lethargic—we’ve been talking about the wrong things!

2. We need to get way more concrete in our language about service.

“I want to help people because Jesus tells us to love our neighbor” doesn’t get us anywhere. Yet it’s our default response when people ask us what drives us. The content of a relational meeting is why and how. “Why do you want to help people? Why does that matter to you? How have you seen that impulse lived out? How do you see that not being lived out in your community?”

Just as we’ve relied on gifts as the primary mode of discernment, we have not taken the time to drill down past our surface responses about service. Many of the overworked pastors there (myself included) were searching for shortcuts—Can’t you do this work in group settings? Does it have to be one on one? What do you suppose the response was?

3. Anger is not the enemy. It is a resource. 

Maybe you’re one of those who had a genuinely untroubled childhood. You didn’t see your aunt and uncle’s devastation at almost losing their home because of that predatory loan. But I bet there is an injustice that makes you furious. We don’t like to talk about anger, especially in the Church of Nice that so many of us belong to. Anger is bad, we tell ourselves—something to suppress. But anger, properly contextualized, is also energy. Anger is fuel for action. And there is plenty of holy anger in scripture. One of my favorite benedictions has the line, “May God bless you with anger—at injustice, oppression, and the exploitation of people, so you will work for justice, freedom and peace.”

There are plenty of injustices in the world that I worry about. But when I look back on my personal history, the key issue for me has been women and girls, again and again. The specifics of that have played out in different ways over the years, and the pivotal events that sparked that anger are for another post. But yeah. Women and girls.

My favorite quote these days is this one by Howard Thurman:

ask2

But how do we know what makes people come alive unless we ask them?

How Men Can Help Women Lean In

urlI wrote a post Friday afternoon about Sheryl Sandberg’s new book Lean In and said in part:

There is still a tremendous gender gap in ministry. By and large, women are the associate pastors and solo pastors. Men are the tall-steeple preachers. (Men of my generation are very sad about this, and they lament it—sincerely, I believe—but will gladly move into those prestigious and well-paying positions even as they tilt their heads sympathetically and decry the patriarchy.)

My friend Andrew Taylor-Troutman commented on Facebook:

I appreciate (and am convicted by) your point about men lamenting sexism while benefitting from it. As an ally, I wonder what the image for privilege would be. Leaning back? Or, as you point out, support is key. Leaning in together? Lean, mean fighting machine?

If my comment convicted him, then his sincere question convicted me: What would I ask of my brothers who are in positions of influence and privilege? That is an excellent question. Here are the first things that come to mind:

Don’t be a jerk. I guess that’s not very useful advice, because jerks either don’t know or don’t care that they are. But basic kindness and empathy go a long way. If you see a woman “leaning in,” don’t push her over. But don’t hover around, ready to catch her if she falls either. That’s annoying. And patronizing.

Name it when you see it. That thing where a woman makes a suggestion and it gets ignored, and then a man suggests it and people fall over themselves to praise it? It’s happened to me. It’s happened to virtually every woman I know. It’s nice when women aren’t the ones to point it out.

Advocate for decent parental leave, even if you don’t need it. Maybe you aren’t planning to have kids, or maybe your kids are grown. All the more reason for you to get into the game—it’s not personal. When I was pregnant with my second child, I helped the church I was serving put together a good parental leave policy, which they didn’t have. They were great about it. There was not a lot of pushback. Even so, it’s an awkward process. Help a gal out.

Cut the macho stuff. If you are eligible for parental leave and the situation arises, take it. See also: vacation, study leave and for heaven’s sake, days off!

Recommend us for stuff, and mean it. I’m not looking to move into a new call, but I appreciate that people put my name in for pastoral positions that open up. And don’t give up just because it’s not the right time. Someday it could be. (Don’t freak out, Tiny Church. I ain’t going anywhere.)

What have I missed?

Leaning In: A Post on International Women’s Day

lean1-640x426

Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook has a new book out for women leaders called Lean In. It’s featured on the cover of Time, and Andrew Sullivan has had some good discussion about it here, here and here.

In Sandberg’s view, women are sabotaging themselves. “We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in,” she writes, and the result is that “men still run the world.” Ms. Sandberg wants to take women through a collective self-awareness exercise. In her book, she urges them to absorb the social science showing they are judged more harshly and paid less than men; resist slowing down in mere anticipation of having children; insist that their husbands split housework equally; draft short- and long-term career plans; and join a “Lean In Circle,” which is half business school and half book club.

The issues of women in leadership, especially in the workplace, are so complicated that I feel overwhelmed even starting to write this post. There’s so much to say.

It’s personal: some women feel resentful that the lion’s share (lioness’s share?) of domestic work still falls to women, and are working to change this. Others don’t feel called to climb the career ladder even if you offer them equal footing on it. Still others would like to stay home with children, or pursue a more leisurely career trajectory, but can’t for economic reasons—they may be the sole breadwinner, or their family depends on two full-time incomes.

It’s political: I love Sandberg’s Lean In initiative. We need to stop sabotaging ourselves and our sisters. But let’s also be honest and admit that there are still structural barriers for women. The Time article reports that the United States’s maternity leave policies rival those of Papua New Guinea, “a country that still has actual cannibals.” My dad gave me a T-shirt when I was a teenager that said, “A woman must work twice as hard as a man to be thought half as good. Luckily this is not difficult.” That was some thirty years ago, and it’s still true.

It’s cultural: women who are competitive, who have strong personalities and negotiating skills, are viewed negatively in comparison to their male colleagues with the same attributes. The Time article quotes a woman who interviewed for an executive job and did not get it. When she asked for feedback on how she might improve her chances, she was told, “You could have smiled more.”

Oooh, you should see the smile on my face right now

And it’s ecclesiological (if you’re talking about church leadership). There is still a tremendous gender gap in ministry. By and large, women are the associate pastors and solo pastors. Men are the tall-steeple preachers. (Men of my generation are very sad about this, and they lament it—sincerely, I believe—but will gladly move into those prestigious and well-paying positions even as they tilt their heads sympathetically and decry the patriarchy.)

Many have pointed out that Sandberg frames the issue from a place of obvious economic privilege. For a woman to “lean in,” she has to have the support and means to outsource a lot of the household tasks. That’s just not possible for a big swath of the population. Very true. Let’s acknowledge that, while also giving her the dignity of addressing the audience she wants to address.

A couple additional things come to mind as I read the buzz around the book:

Your partner matters. Sandberg argues that your choice of partner/spouse is one of the most important career decisions you’ll ever make. This is absolutely, positively true. I could not fulfill this dual vocation of pastor and writer/speaker without a supportive spouse who believes in me and the work I do. Seriously. (A friend of mine quoted the Christian Century article that reviews my book with Rachel Held Evans’s A Year of Biblical Womanhood. It says “Robert is a much more active presence… Evans tells us that she has an egalitarian marriage; Dana shows us what this look like.” My friend added, “Robert drops the mic – boom.” Dang straight!)

Leaning in is an internal issue and an external one. It seems that there are two issues at play: the way in which we do the work we do, and the speed with which we advance in our careers. Although they are related, I think it helps to separate them. I know women who genuinely enjoy being home with their children, perhaps while working part-time, and do not want to lean into a promotion or a higher powered position. More power to them. But they still need to lean in emotionally, with confidence, not shrinking or minimizing. In order for us to start changing the culture that says that an assertive woman is a domineering b****, everyone needs to lean in. They need to model assertiveness and competence, whether on the PTA, in part-time ministry, as volunteers, or wherever.

I recently accepted the role of co-chair of the NEXT Church. That was a leaning-in moment, even though it doesn’t land me a fatter paycheck. (Interesting fun fact: the two co-chairs of NEXT and its director are all women.)

And in a related point:

Meaningful work isn’t always the same as paid work. I need to say this carefully, because too often women leave money on the proverbial table, either by not negotiating or by not going for higher-paying opportunities. But someone recently said to me, “You seem to have set up your life in order to do the work that you care about most.” This stopped me in my tracks, because while I’d never thought about it that way, it’s true. I don’t serve a large church; I don’t feel called to that. I like being home most evenings. Driving the preschool carpool and eavesdropping on two five-year-old boys is a delight I wouldn’t trade for much of anything. And to be blunt, in the economy of our household, it makes way more sense for the IT professional working for the cyber-security company to lean in to traditional ideas of advancement.

But I get to write and be read. I get to speak to congregations and groups. I get to serve on the board of a fledgling national organization. And I get to serve a local congregation. None of that pays a lot of dough—some of it doesn’t pay anything. But it’s meaningful, significant work. And maybe when my kids are older, this work will lead to something that pays more; I don’t know.

Discuss…

~

Image source: Colossal

Friday Link Love: Art Books, Mysterious Wires, and an Appreciative God

First things first… you guys know about the Sabbath in the Suburbs website, yes? I post there a couple of times a week.

Onward…

~

The Best Art Books of 2012 — Brain Pickings

I covet them all. Here’s a page from Alice in Wonderland:

~

The Fear of Women as Bishops — New Yorker

I went to see the great Oxford historian of Christianity (and former ordained deacon) Diarmaid MacCulloch, and asked him to explain the roots of such lingering hostility to the idea of women bishops. He laughed and called it a piece of theatre, confabulated by men still smarting from the fact that Christ chose two women to witness and announce the Resurrection.

Snerk.

I quoted him then, and I’ll do it again, now: “The historical ‘against-women’ argument about twelve male apostles—it comes from the early years of the Christian era and the spectacles put forth by the male leaders, who [had] wanted to be the ones to ‘see’ Christ first. By the end of the second century, a male leadership had emerged, and after that it became the men-were-what-the-Holy-Spirit-intended argument and then the tradition-of-the-church argument. It was specious. Slavery was also our ‘tradition’ for seventeen hundred years. If you want a doctrine of the Holy Spirit, you change.”

~

Five Charts about Climate Change That Should Have You Very Worried — Atlantic

Most of Greenland’s top ice layer melted in four days this summer:

The event is uncommon, though not unprecedented. A similar event happened in 1889, and before that, several centuries earlier. There are indications, however, that the greatest amount of melting during the past 225 years has occurred in the last decade.

I’m sure everything will be just fine.

~

Gazing into the Abyss — Christian Wiman

Wiman is the editor of Poetry magazine. He has an incurable form of blood cancer. And he is my kind of Christian:

So now I bow my head and try to pray in the mornings, not because I don’t doubt the reality of what I have experienced, but because I do, and with an intensity that, because to once feel the presence of God is to feel His absence all the more acutely, is actually more anguishing and difficult than any “existential anxiety” I have ever known. I go to church on Sundays, not to dispel this doubt but to expend its energy, because faith is not a state of mind but an action in the world, a movement toward the world. How charged this one hour of the week is for me, and how I cherish it, though not one whit more than the hours I have with my wife, with friends, or in solitude, trying to learn how to inhabit time so completely that there might be no distinction between life and belief, attention and devotion.

~

Giving Thanks for a God That is Appreciative — Hesham A. Hassaballa, Patheos

A link from Thanksgiving week:

In Islamic tradition, it is believed that God has 99 names, or attributes, that describe God for the believer. These include the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Loving, the Shaper, the Maker, and many more…

in honor of Thanksgiving, I want to reflect over a particularly fascinating name for God: Al Shakur, or “The Appreciative.”

This is truly, truly amazing. The Lord God—Originator of the heavens and the earth, Creator of all that exists, Giver of Life, the Most Powerful of all things, the King of all kings—is al Shakur, or “the appreciative.”

Appreciative of what, however? What have I done, as a servant of God, so that He would be appreciative of me?

~

What’s That Thing? Mysterious Wires Edition — Slate

The “What’s That Thing” series is fun. See the thin wires in the picture?

Apparently it’s a Sabbath thing. More at the link…

~

Moneyball and the Future of the Church — David Lose

The third in a series relating aspects of the book/film with the tremendous upheaval that’s at work (and that’s needed) in the church:

One of my definitions of good leadership is the ability to take advantage of crises.

What do I mean by that? Simply that a good leader is always tending a vision of the future. A vision that is always a little larger than the present, always moving just a little beyond where we are now.

The challenge however, is that as a species we tend to put a very high value on homeostasis. We greatly prefer, that is, stability to change. And for good reason: stability promotes growth. But that means we are often far more reactive than proactive, changing only when we have to. And that makes advancing a positive vision of the future difficult, as we would often prefer to make due with a less-than-adequate – but known – present than a promising but unknown (and therefore risky) future.

Which is where crises come in. A crisis demands immediate action and provides the thoughtful and prepared leader with an excuse to make changes that he or she knew were necessary but couldn’t enact because they seemed too difficult for most to contemplate previously.

Incidentally, I used the clip he discusses in part 1 of his series in my workshop for the NEXT Church gathering in Dallas in February. You have to define the problem accurately in order to solve it.

~

And the obligatory Colossal post:

The Energy Generated from a Single Orange — Colossal

It’s alive!!!!

May you be alive to your world this weekend. Advent blessings.