Saturday, January 31, 2009

Unspoken Board Discussions

Church boards are notorious for their unspoken discussions! Those are the issues that are present, that people know are present, but that either individual board members or the board itself does not have the courage to discuss as a board. The elephant in the room - often key issues for the church that require being named and dealt with but the culture of the board mitigates against it.

Many individuals do not like conflict and their definition of conflict is anything that might cause individual or group discomfort. So there is subtle pressure put on board members to be nice and not rock the boat by naming issues that are out there and need discussion. (The same dynamics can be had on almost any team.)

I recently read an article about Patrick Lencioni suggesting that one of the reasons that major financial institutions have found themselves in so much trouble recently is the prevailing culture on company governance boards to not deal with issues that would make others uncomfortable. So the culture of nice sabotages a culture of truth and effectiveness.

Pastors, leaders, board members or team members who choose not to speak in the face of real unspoken issues do a disservice to the organization they serve. The irony is that everyone generally knows that there are unspoken issues - they just don't want the discomfort of naming them.

Now how we speak to the issues is important. If I approach an unspoken issue and put it on the table it will be best received if: There is not a personal vendetta; my words are not meant to hurt; I don't have a hidden personal agenda; I want the best for the organization; I communicate in a way that invites rather than dis invites dialogue; I say it in love; and I acknowledge that the issue may make others uncomfortable.

The funny thing about "elephants" is that once they are named they are no longer elephants. I once worked with a group around a whiteboard and asked them to name every elephant they felt existed in their organization. We willed the white board (a bad thing) but once up there we could talk about all of them (a good thing). Once named an elephant is simply another issue that we are allowed to talk about. Unnamed it is one of the unspoken discussions that we know we need to have but don't have the courage to discuss.

Every board, team and organization is better off with a high level of candor coupled with a high level of trust which mitigates against the candor turning into anger or cynicism.

If you are brave, I would suggest that you ask your team or your board in a relaxed atmosphere to brainstorm on any unspoken board discussions you need to have, on any elephants that need to be named, white board them and then develop a plan to talk through them one by one.

Unspoken discussions are not discussions, just frustrations and they often hide real issues that unresolved will hurt the organization.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lessons learned from ministry burn-out

Recently I addressed the issue of ministry burnout which is not uncommon among successful pastors or missionaries in their fifties. One of my cohorts who has experienced this is a founding pastor of a church that now runs around 2,000 people per Sunday.

As he has tried to make sense out of the growing lack of satisfaction in his role as senior leader and has thought through his sweet spot – the things he is good at and those things he is not good at, he offered the following seven observations that are worth considering.

1. We are an amalgamation of body, emotion, and spirit. These parts borrow from one another like good neighbors. But when all are depleted, bankruptcy follows. I kept borrowing and nearly lost the farm. Weariness is God's wake-up call that I am in debt in my life and need to pay down that debt before investing again.

2. I have learned that a good leader first cares for his own life. Sounds selfish, but it isn't if it is motivated properly from a devotion to stewarding God's resource, and a determination to lead long-term. I am advance blocking unstructured hours into my week to assure that I will retain time to do what I determine is most important. My schedule used to determine what was most important.

3. I have been learning what energizes and sustains me and what exhausts and drains me. I need to delegate the exhausting long-term job-related aspects of my life. I used to feel that was what I was paid for. Now I am pushing more down to others without losing sleep.

4. Growth brings good things, but also grief. There is a lot of loss that travels with growth: Loss of connection, Loss of control, Loss of old roles... and the list goes on.

5. Founders have full underwear drawers. We keep ill-fitting stretched out stuff that needs to gets tossed as our 'body' changes. Finding the courage to throw away old expectations and roles that don't any longer fit is essential of life is going to be good.

6. You will disappoint people no matter what. Choose the right people. Your own sense of calling, God and your family, and your closest colleagues are not the right people. I am being very intentional in choosing my priorities wisely, building structures and accountability to avoid disappointing the right people, but I am steeling myself to endure the judgment of those I do disappoint. I have learned that I am not good at 'no', so I am creating structures that can say 'no' for me... and an assistant who understands my priorities and steers appointments to others as needed.

7. Fun is holy. Without it planned into my life, I lose the ability to be renewed and carry joy and hope to others.

My friend also listed symptoms to pay attention to that may well be indications that not all is well and that a rethinking of roles, responsibilities and priorities is needed: I am sure many of us could add to this list.

Symptoms to pay attention to:

1. When you are so immersed in your job that you don’t plan anything fun anymore.
2. When a day off is a zombie-like shuffle through sadness that seems to have no clear source, not a day embraced with enthusiasm.
3. When work seems like it is all that is happening in your life.
4. When resentment over-takes satisfaction.
5. When a day off does not refresh you, and you resent having to go back to work.
6. When you are preaching about contentment, but you are discontented with your sermon. (Not proud of that one.)
7. When you resent people calling you or wanting to meet with you and you wish everyone would just leave you alone.
8. When people talk about the future and you feel numb.
9. When you have stopped laughing, and emotions seem to be just under the surface.
10. When you feel alone even though you are surrounded with people.
11. When you feel used and taken for granted.
12. When you have trouble sleeping at night, and trouble getting up in the morning.
13. When you are mostly irritable instead of mostly affable.
14. When you feel like everyone wants something from you, and you cannot possible meet all of their expectations… but you try anyway.
15. When people tell you. ‘You don’t look so good, you look tired, get some rest’ and you are stunned that they have no idea how tired and worn out you really are… and you wish you knew how to stop your schedule and just figure out your life.