Page 2 of 7

Becoming a Discipling Leader

This is a post I wrote earlier this year and published at the Vision Room in October.

Over the years, I have worked in a variety of fields, gaining exposure to many different industries. Each industry has unique jargon. Have you ever worked on a cat cracker or executed a turnaround? If so, you probably worked in a refinery. In church, we throw the word ‘discipleship’ around like everybody knows what it means. We talk about needing more of it and how we are really going to focus on it next semester. I was not well versed in church terminology, so I did a bit of research on the word. In addition to discovering this funny video from Tripp and Tyler, I found the major theme of discipleship was ‘following in the ways of someone else’.

I love the practical nature of this approach. It is not about reading more books and listening to more sermons or getting another degree. In fairness, I love knowledge and I loved school while I was there. However, real life happens in, well, the real world. What, then, is a disciple?

Disciple = Learner

I had a friend boil all that down for me: to be a disciple is to be a learner. I again went back to our old friend Chris Argyris, who stated (with Donald Schön) that learning is the ability to detect and correct error. We are striving to change our behavior to follow in the ways of Jesus. The best way to do that is to discover when we miss the mark and then get better. Sounds easy, right? There are a few key steps to making that happen consistently for you and for those you lead.

Build a Learning Environment

  • Create safety. The foundation of a learning environment is safety. Learners must feel safe enough and confident enough to admit mistakes. First to ourselves, then to our community (family, friends, coworkers, bosses, employees … you name it). This begins with the leader and sets a tone for all disciples. Exposing your own failures, fears, or questions is a sign not of weakness but of strength. This does not mean exposing every detail of your life to everyone; you must use judgement when being vulnerable. We are all disciples together, sometimes in the role of teacher and sometimes in the role of learner, so we need to consider how we create the environment for others to learn. Find a learning partner that you can listen to, guide, and hold accountable, and who can put their trust in you.
  • Embrace your mistakes. Too often, the concept of being a disciple of Christ is associated with having everything together. This is not how we think about a student. No one thinks the third grader can calculate the velocity of a moving object on the first day of school. Calling yourself a student begins with acknowledgment that you don’t have all the answers and are prone to mistakes. As disciples, we need to see our mistakes not as failures but as opportunities for growth. We must learn to enjoy our mistakes. Those may be errors in judgement, poorly chosen words, or a swing on that golf club that didn’t work out just right. Remember, mistakes are better teachers than success.
  • Check your emotions. Think back to the last time you realized you had made a mistake. The bigger the better. Without focusing on the error itself, revisit the experience of that realization. Is that a positive feeling? For most, this is an unpleasant feeling and leaves us running for the hills, thinking, “I will never do that again.” I recently had the chance to hear Brené Brown talk about this sense of being ‘emotionally snared’ and how it limits your ability to think clearly or learn anything new. That mistake you made — can you think clearly about it or are you staying wrapped up in the emotional response?
  • Talk less, act more. Great, you analyzed your mistake. Unless you translate that into action, you are likely to find yourself in the same position again. Often, through introspection, the learning we gain from a mistake can be applied to numerous situations. Don’t just learn from the individual circumstance. Look for the themes, causal factors, and unique things about your personality that make that situation difficult. Now experiment with new behaviors to see what works. Trying new things helps you know how best to engage with others and get a better result.

Is it possible to enjoy your mistakes? I think so, and it happens when you have experienced more good from your errors than bad. When you have presented a mistake to the world, and you got better as a result, that leaves a mark. Lather, rinse, repeat. Over time, reframe the experience of error from fear to excitement.

Your Next Move

Take a risk and admit the next mistake you make to the most dangerous person in the room. Detect your errors and share them with a close friend you can trust, then ask them for help in changing your behavior. To walk in the ways of someone else, to become disciples of Jesus the Christ, communicate your weakness and strengthen it for the next encounter.

Closing the Values Gap

This is a post I wrote for the Vision Room in September of this year.

I say a lot of things I don’t actually do. I don’t intend to lie, or even drop the ball. It is just that I don’t seem to be able to execute consistently what I envision in the future. The gap between what we say and what we do can be hard to acknowledge. In fact, I used to really beat myself up for this, but as it turns out, I am not alone in this gap between what I espouse and what I actually produce. Even Paul in Romans points to this gap: “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate.” (Rom. 7:15) Not living according to our aspirational values is part of the human condition, but not all of us address this dissidence in a way that results in reducing the gap.

I first became aware of this as a theory when reading a book by Chris Argyris (Strategy, Change, and Defensive Routines). At its root, the idea is that we all have two theories in our head at any one time:

1. Espoused Theory
The worldview and values people believe their behavior is based on.
2. Theory-in-Use (Produced in Action)
The worldview and values implied by their behavior, or the maps they use to take action.

At times, these two theories are perfectly aligned and our behavior is exactly what we want it to be, and exactly what we said it would be. Of course that builds credibility and trust in our relationships and we should strive for this all the time. Other times, the distance between our espoused and lived-out values can be visible and even painful. How do we, in those times, create more alignment between our aspirations and our actions?

For Ourselves

When we notice this misalignment, consider it a great learning opportunity. Having the self-awareness to recognize the gap is a critical first step. Rather than beating yourself up over the gap, I suggest you respond carefully:

  • Fix It. Can you correct this now, or is it too late? If there is still a chance to ‘do the right thing’, then do that immediately. As you do, pay special attention to what is the most difficult about it. That will provide insight to the inner struggle you have to resolve.
  • Inspect your Values. Are your espoused values really what you want? If so, then dig deep and do more of that. What was most difficult about doing the right thing in the first place? Work with a friend or mentor to talk through that challenge.
  • Communicate Carefully. Once you are more clear about your actual values and beliefs (not just aspirations), get very good at communicating precisely what you value and where you are on that journey. I believe my diet is the number one factor in my physical health, and I believe we all have responsibility for our own health. However, I am overweight and eat too much of the wrong stuff and too little of the right stuff. I now have to add a caveat to that belief: “and I am really struggling to implement that consistently.” Open acknowledgment of the struggle creates credibility with others and an environment where people may feel safe to be more transparent themselves.

For Others

As leaders in our organizations, sometimes we are more aware of our co-workers’ inconsistency than our own, especially when we are in the supervisor role. How do we deal with that?

  • Stop Assuming the Worst. We often jump right to a character flaw in that person. “He must have lied during the interview.” “I guess he doesn’t really care as much as he said.” Give them a break and assume they had the best of intentions and just have a gap between what they espoused and what they produced. It is OK for you, right? Then make it OK for them too.
  • Remember Your Purpose. As a leader/mentor/supervisor your primary job is to develop the people around you. Getting the work at hand done is important, but should be secondary to building the capacity of the people who do the work. We all need people in our lives to help us identify these disconnects — take the time to have the conversation. “Elizabeth, I know you value treating others with respect, and yesterday you interrupted Shannon several times. Help me understand what was going on there.”
  • Be Precise. Be very careful to describe the problem you are trying to solve. There are usually two problems and people often get them mixed up. One is the specific behavior that created the concern (the immediate problem). The other is the gap between espoused and produced beliefs (the more important problem). Separate the conversation to ensure you are only working one problem at a time. Why Elizabeth was acting outside of her values in that moment and apologizing to Shannon are two different things and should be treated separately.

Your Next Move

For yourself, think about the past week — is there any situation where your behavior did not match your espoused beliefs? Go address it in your own heart and then with the other person immediately.

For others, have you judged someone too harshly? Go apologize and reengage them to give the benefit of the doubt. Be prepared for hesitancy and defensiveness in that person. That is to be expected and is simply part of the process.

Process Drives Culture

Below is a post I wrote for the Vision Room, published in March of this year.

In organizations I have coached over the years, there is a common belief that business processes and work culture are separate, distinct things. While they are indeed different sides of a coin, I believe they are inextricably related. In fact, I believe they both affect each other, in a sort of chicken-and-egg relationship.

One question many leaders ask is, “How do I improve the culture?” Asking this question without also looking at your processes may not yield the right answer. And before we can dig into how to improve our processes or culture, we must define what we mean by those terms.

Defining the Terms

A process is a series of steps executed by people to achieve a result. Often times, those steps have dependencies on each other or on time. For example, when making coffee, it is important to put the coffee in the filter, then turn on the flow of water. To do it backwards creates a mess, not coffee. In addition, some of the coffee-making steps have a dependency on time. It is not a good idea to finish all the steps of making coffee the night before. The coffee gets cold and stale overnight.

Work culture is the environment, communication, and behaviors that intrinsically reward (or don’t) the processes we want. Of course, the concept of culture is tougher to define. It is even more difficult to define your specific work culture. You might hear comments like ‘people are so nice here’ or ‘the culture is so great, it’s like family’ or ‘the work was fine, but I couldn’t stand the culture’. What do your people do or say that gets them more freedom, more respect, a pat on the back, a round of applause at the staff meeting? That is your culture, regardless of whether that is what you want it to be.

Is Your Leadership Reinforcing the Culture You Want?

Because it is so difficult to define culture, it is extremely challenging to improve it directly. Rather than chasing this enigma, I suggest improving the processes we use to get work done and focus on the cultural implications that result. When people think of process improvement, the first idea is making something more efficient and trimming a few minutes off a task. While that can be helpful, I am talking more about focusing on the leadership and communication around processes.

Does the way you lead processes create the culture you want? If so, you are way ahead of the game — keep it up! Here are a few examples of inconsistencies I have seen over the years.

  • Safety is #1. I worked in a refinery years ago to improve safety processes and culture. Their safety record was pretty poor and they were suitably concerned. They were doing all the typical things, like hanging up posters touting safety, starting meetings with a safety discussion, even checking workers’ protective equipment and spending money to upgrade it. However, these processes were not creating the desired result because their leadership decisions did not reinforce the ‘safety is #1’ idea. In fact, the joke among the staff was, “Safety is number one, right after production and profit.” This was the result of leaders in the organization routinely making decisions to put people at risk in the name of keeping the machines running. Each decision seemed reasonable or even innocuous on its own, but the theme created a culture that rewarded putting people at risk for production.
  • We hire creative self-starters. Go online and read job postings and you will find an abundance of descriptions of how they want to hire self starters, independent workers, disciplined people, and on and on. That sounds great. Do those organizations then reinforce those qualities, or stifle them through approvals, bureaucracy, punishing mistakes, or rewarding ‘getting it right’? Creativity and the like inherently mean making mistakes and taking risks that sometimes don’t pay off. If we punish mistakes and reward perfection, then we are likely saying one thing and culturally reinforcing the opposite.
  • I don’t micromanage. Staff and managers alike do not enjoy an environment of micromanagement where every move requires approval and checking. I recently coached a church whose executive leader was very proud he was not ‘one of those’ micromanagers. He gave his staff quite a bit of freedom and autonomy, which are good things. However, in his desire to give freedom, he did not give direction or set expectations. As a result, the staff generally felt unsupported and uncared for.

In these three examples, the leaders all meant well, but did not create the culture they intended. Their leadership decisions and communication created the opposite culture. Not only was that culture not as strong as they wished, it created confusion in the staff with the mixed messages.

Your Next Move

Next time you think about your leadership decisions, ask yourself if your communication and behavior are reinforcing the culture you want or not. If you have a trusted advisor, ask their advice on this subject, since it is tough to have this level of self-awareness.

Steve Caton interviews Dave Bair

Back in March of this year, Steve Caton interviewed me for the Vision Room, so I have re-posted here!

If you regularly read my Vision Room content, you know that I tend to lean towards process and leadership themes. For people that know me only as a part of the leadership at Church Community Builder, that may seem inconsistent. After all, shouldn’t I be writing more practical, software focused articles? If software alone were the answer to the challenges church leaders face when it comes to stewarding God’s people effectively, I might. The truth, however, is that software is only part of the answer. Maximum effectiveness and impact requires good tools (software is one option), solid processes, and passionate people working together in harmony. This isn’t just a theory of mine. I’ve learned it the hard way through many years of working and leading in both business and ministry. I’ve also learned a lot from my good friend and co-worker, Dave Bair. As the guy who leads process development and Coaching for Church Community Builder, Dave understands and teaches this truth better than anyone I’ve ever met. In short, he’s brilliant! Dave and his team have made an amazing difference in hundreds of churches who have chosen to be coached, whether it be through their software implementation or through the development of a new Connections strategy.

Dave has a ton of insight to share about how to implement vision and strategy. So much so, in fact, that I have asked him to start sharing his thoughts and ideas here on the Vision Room. In the months ahead, you can look forward to regular articles from Dave that will really challenge your thoughts and ideas on how business-oriented themes like processes, systems and change management fit into the conversation about how we do ministry and reach people for Christ. I realize that many people don’t think those two things belong in the same conversation but they probably aren’t hanging out here on the Vision Room!

So, let’s get started by getting to know Dave a little bit.

Q & A with Dave Bair

Q: Dave, your experience before coming to Church Community Builder was really fascinating. Tell us a little about it.

More years ago than I care to admit, I got my degree in electrical engineering, with a minor in psychology. While that might be an unusual combination, I have always been interested in how stuff works, whether they be machines or people.
Straight out of college, I went to work for Hewlett Packard, helping to create software for procurement and inventory management. While I was there, I got a chance to design, build, and test software. Over time, I realized our software didn’t really scratch the itch for the customer. That was the point where I began informally consulting to the customer and helped improve their processes to the point where software could be helpful.
I enjoyed the process work with the customer so much that I eventually moved to a consulting firm specializing in leading large change projects in heavy industry. I got the chance to consult to companies like Kraft, BP, DuPont, BASF, The Electricity Supply Board of Ireland, Total, Husky Oil, and a variety of power companies. I learned that managing the change journey was just as important, if not more important, than getting the right answer. That was a very fun job getting to travel all over the US and beyond to coach business leaders, implementing culture and process improvements.

Q: Why would a Church Management Software company be interested in someone like you?

After roughly 8 years working with church leaders, Church Community Builder realized some were getting better with the purchase our software, and some were not. After some digging, they observed that the difference appeared to be the quality of the processes the software was being asked to support. With that realization, we decided to create this coaching service helping church leaders implement better processes to better utilize our software. I think they had come to the same realization I had back at HP – the combination of people, processes, and technology is really the recipe for success.

Q: Can you tell us more about this “Coaching” service?

We like the term “coaching” because it implies someone who walks alongside an individual or organization as they seek to become better at something. That is exactly what we seek to do. In our current context, most of our coaching is done with church leaders who want to implement our software effectively and realize that technology is only part of the equation. Each church is different and has a unique culture and processes. We’ve developed a methodology which allows our proven expertise to be customized for each church as we guide them towards their goals. We focus on five main areas: software utilization, project planning, process design, leadership coaching, and change management

Q: Working in heavy industry and the local church seem pretty unrelated. Can you help us make the leap from one to the other?

Over the years, I have come to believe most organizations have the answers they need to be successful; implementation, not knowledge, creates the gap between great vision and great success. Time and time again, I have observed that success results from good processes, executed through well managed change. Those principles apply regardless of industry, whether it be maintaining a power plant or managing volunteers at a church.

Q: You talk a lot about processes but you also mentioned culture. How do those relate to each other?

Culture is the glue that makes processes more effective and sustainable. Culture must be congruent with the processes as they can sabotage each other if they don’t line up. If the leader advocates for a certain set of processes, but also supports a different behavior in the culture, both will suffer.

Q: Tell us a little about you…personally. When you are not coaching church leaders what do you do?

I have been married to an amazing woman for nearly 19 years now. I have two kids. My daughter is a freshman in college studying chemistry. My son is a freshman in high school with a lot of his time focused on music, playing saxophone and drums. When I am not coaching church leaders, I enjoy reading a lot, hiking around Colorado, and flying hot air balloons. Ballooning has been a family hobby for us for many years and we love the camaraderie and the challenge.

Dave’s Bio:

Dave brings a unique talent for system and process implementation to the Leadership Team at Church Community Builder and also leads our team of coaches. His history of consulting with major corporations to implement change has enabled him to build an impressive coaching framework to guide church leaders towards operational effectiveness.
Dave and his wife of many years have a daughter, studying chemistry in college, and a son in high school who’s passions include saxophone and drums. In addition for finding Dave at you may occasionally spot him piloting his hot air ballon in the western sky.

Are You Improving?

This is a blog I wrote for the Vision Room, published in July, 2015.

People often ask how the ministry is going. It is a simple question, and often garners a simple answer like, “Fine”, “Busy”, or “Growing”. Those answers are OK to start the conversation, but they really don’t provide much insight. When digging into why we get those pat answers, I discovered it was because people didn’t really know how their ministry was doing. Many pastors knew how they felt about the ministry, or how they felt about themselves, but a rare few measured and monitored performance of their church or their ministry team.

Performance Matters

As church leaders, we have the most important job in the world, with current and eternal significance. If we believe so strongly about the job, then that job deserves the best performance we can muster. So how do we define and measure performance in a ministry? More importantly, how do we improve? In order to truly improve our performance requires three key steps – Define what good looks like, Monitor performance against that standard, and finally Execute change to improve.

Define what good looks like

A key cause of poor performance is poorly set expectations. Setting expectations for performance must happen at the individual level, through a job description, and a ministry team level through a mission statement and business plan. A quality job description includes three sections – the purpose of the role, the activities and tasks the individual is directly responsible for, and how success in those activities will be measured, both objectively and subjectively.

A ministry team must have an idea what they are trying to accomplish, within the context of the church’s mission. If the team is new to mission statements and business plans, I recommend starting with the resources at Building Champions. This organization provides great guidance for how to create your mission, and a simple business plan to move you forward.

Monitor Performance

Setting expectations is a great start, and now it is time to monitor how we are doing against that standard of excellence. I suggest three types of metrics for each ministry team or leadership role.

  • Track some hard numbers. How many baptisms did we do this year? What percentage of attendees are in small groups? How many people in our church gave money each month in the last year? These are the types of things you put on a graph and publish to the team.
  • Trust your intuition. The graphs are great, and only tell part of the story. How you feel about the ministry, or how others feel about it, is equally important. Do we look forward to coming to work every day? Is the team getting along well, or is there tension? How would you rate the level of collaboration in your team?
  • Get an assessment. There is great value in getting an unbiased assessment of your ministry, based on an objective standard of excellence. Your numbers might be stable or even improving. You might feel good about your ministry operations. However, we are all blind to the things we don’t do well. It is common in an assessment to discover things we didn’t even consider as important are the lynchpin to taking the ministry to the next level. Church Community Builder offers assessments of four key leadership roles: Volunteer Coordinator, Connections Pastor, Finance and Generosity Leader, and Executive Pastor.

Execute Change

You have set clear expectations for performance, and now you have your assessment results and your metrics trending on a nice colorful graph…now what? The purpose of all this is to know what behaviors need to stay the same and what needs to change. If the metrics you track can’t change your behavior, stop tracking that and find something meaningful. When using metrics to drive behavior change, we examine the data in three sequential steps.

  1. What – What is the data telling us? What is included in this data? How was it calculated? As an example, “we had 560 people on Sunday.” Does that mean in the main worship service? What about kids, or youth, or volunteers? Before we can make a judgement about the data, we must understand what the number represents.
  2. So What – What does the data mean to us? Is that more or less than last week or last year? How does it compare to our goals? This is the time you make a personal judgement about what you see. This is good, bad, indifferent. In church we often talk about not judging, and this is the time to do it. We are not judging the character value of our team, we are forming an opinion about our performance. This is the time to be very clear and direct. To learn more about the power of being direct, read this article from Rob Cizek.
  3. Now What – What are you going to do differently tomorrow, next week, and next month? Is this a behavior you can change on your own, or do you need to demonstrate some expert change management in the team or church-wide to make it happen? How long will it take to make the change? Then, how long until you expect results? If we are trying to increase visitors, we might place radio ads on the local station. That will take some time to create the ad, then they will have to run a few weeks before we know if it worked. Lastly, are the metrics we are tracking going to tell us if we made the right decision? Add “I heard it on the radio” to the connection card to know how people heard of you.

Your Next Move

There is a lot involved in tracking and improving performance in your ministry team. It would be logical to start at the beginning and revisit job descriptions and mission statements. However, I recommend you start with metrics. Start tracking the data you think is important. You may not get the metrics just right, but they will likely be close. Then, you can watch the trend while you are working on the business plan and job descriptions. In addition, starting with metrics tends to reveal the quality of our data, which is likely to become a metric in itself. Start tracking and iterate on your thinking with your team.

« Older posts Newer posts »

© 2024 Dave Bair

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑