In addition to communicating positive feedback, leaders also have to share negative things with their constituents at times. When delivering correction or “constructive criticism,” leaders should do the following (some of these ideas have been adapted from Management by Proverbs by Michael A. Zigarelli):
- Pray first. The leader should ask for God’s help and wisdom so that he can speak with the appropriate spirit and with the right words. He also should pray for the person receiving the correction so he can receive it with humility and grace.
Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Prov. 12:18)
A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. (Prov. 17:27)
- Do it privately. To publicly criticize someone’s work or behavior is to humiliate them. Sometimes it can even lead to unnecessary lawsuits. Contrary to praise, which should be offered publicly whenever possible, discussions about someone’s deficiencies should remain private (exceptional circumstances are described in 1 Tim. 5:20).
- Do it personally. It is often a mistake to deliver a correction by phone. It is always a mistake to do it via email. On a telephone call, the person still has the benefit of hearing the tone of your voice, even if they can’t see you; but email is absolutely without any non-verbal assistance whatsoever! Face-to-face conversations allow the leader to observe the person’s non-verbal language (which is often far more revealing than what is spoken). This may assist the leader in the sometimes arduous task of identifying root problems. Similarly, a personal discussion permits the person to more clearly observe the leader’s concern both for him and for the whole organization.
- Begin with something positive. Researchers have found that people are more likely to accept negative feedback as accurate if some positive feedback is offered first. It is essential that the person understand that his leader sees not just his deficiencies, but also his contributions to the organization. At the same time, if significant affirmation is due the person, then it’s probably best to deliver it at a separate time. Appending a “but on the other hand…” to an affirmation often has the effect of nullifying its beneficial aspects.
- Get to the point. Most people can sense when their leader has a problem with them. So, when the leader beats around the bush, it is both transparent and frustrating for the person receiving the correction.
- Speak in terms of “I,” not “you.” Speaking in the first person is a good way to minimize defensiveness. A statement like, “I don’t understand your behavior in this situation” is easier to receive than the blunt “You’re doing something wrong.” The first approach communicates essentially the same information, but it runs less risk of creating defensiveness.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Prov. 15:1)
- Be specific. Generalized or abstract criticisms (e.g., “You’re doing poorly”) do not work as well as more specific feedback. Be clear about what is expected and contrast that with objective facts about what the person has or has not accomplished. The leader must clearly identify this gap between his expectations and the person’s current performance, thus bringing into sharp focus the problem that must be addressed. This will become the basis for a more constructive discussion of how to bridge that gap.
- Stick to the facts. Be objective and avoid speculative judgments about the causes of misbehavior or under-performance. Instead ask the person about the reasons for their behavior or performance and then actively listen to their response.
- Don’t twist the knife. In any one discussion, there is no need to repeat criticisms. The person will usually get the idea. Furthermore, if possible, only deal with one problem per conversation and avoid resurrecting old problems that were previously resolved. People tend to perceive such bringing up of the past as unnecessary and unfair.
- Jointly craft a solution. After presenting the negative feedback, involve the person in solving the problem. Someone who has helped craft a solution is usually more committed to it than one who has a solution forced upon him. Pinpoint the problem and set up some mutually agreeable goals as a standard against which to evaluate future performance. Also, if appropriate, jointly design a development plan to train the person in his areas of need.
- Follow up. After the plan for improvement has been made and agreed upon, the leader must hold the person accountable for his future actions. If there is no lasting change, more drastic measures may be necessary.
- Offer feedback continuously. Feedback should be given more than once or twice a year. Ideally, when a leader sees a person doing something wrong (or right), he should let him know about it immediately to correct (or reinforce) the behavior.
Christian leaders should always take the long view. We are striving towards eternity, not merely temporal goals. By keeping the people focused on our ultimate destination, we can encourage them to endure the many sufferings and setbacks along the way.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)
The future is why we keep going now through difficulties and struggles. In the end, it will be worth it all!
The Power of Affirmation
Effective leaders affirm their people and their contributions. Look at how Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:
I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have great confidence in you; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds… I am glad I can have complete confidence in you. (2 Cor. 7:3-4, 16)
Paul’s words are even more significant when we consider that this was the same church that previously required extensive correction in 1 Corinthians. Thus, leaders should not only affirm people who are perfect! Even in 1 Corinthians, before beginning his correction, Paul was positive toward the people:
I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor. 1:4-8)
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The following are some of the reasons why leaders might find it hard to give power away:
- Failure to plan. To simply recruit someone at the last moment to do something is “dumping,” not delegating. The leader must think ahead, communicate thoroughly and commit to an effective ongoing oversight.
- Pride. Of course, we all know that no one else could ever do the job as well as we can! However, the example of Jesus instructs us – He was not too proud to give power away! If Jesus could give power away, then we are not indispensable!
- Insecurity. Leaders who are afraid of losing their authority or position will not give power away to others.
- Lack of vision. If our vision is limited to our existing four walls, then we will see no need to expand the leadership base. However, if we have a vision for growth and impact, then we know that growth requires leader development and empowerment. Pyramids are made tall by widening their foundations. Spectators become critics; participants become partners.
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The seven leadership essentials of sharing power with others are:
- Give power away. Paradoxically, leaders become more powerful when they give their own power away. Leadership power is not a fixed and limited sum – like a pie that is divided into pieces – to be hoarded and grudgingly divided up only when absolutely necessary. Everyone benefits when a leader gives power away. No one loses – especially not the leader! A leader’s power is not reduced when he empowers others. Organizationally, power actually consolidates and multiplies when it is shared with others. When people have responsibility and genuine influence, their commitment to the organization and its success drastically increases. The key to unleashing an organization’s potential to excel is putting the power in the hands of the people who perform the work. Thus, leaders must trust and respect their constituents, and they must know their people well enough to empower them appropriately. Jesus is our ultimate Model for this (Matt. 10:1; Mark 16:15-20).
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According to the New Testament, the role of the leader is not merely to do the ministry but to equip the people to minister.
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Eph. 4:11-16)
For many spiritual leaders this is a radical shift in mindset: to become a team-builder instead of being someone who just does it all himself – to move from focusing on the task to focusing on the people. Continue Reading »
In our last Letter we began looking at the “Be, Know, Do” (BKD) model of leader development. This model is used by the U.S. Army but has also gained some measure of popularity in Christian leader development circles.
According to the Army, leaders lead others by their character, by their competence, and by their actions; therefore, effective leader development must focus on the leader’s character and values (“Be”), his competencies (“Know”), and his decisions and actions (“Do”). Continue Reading »
It may be a surprise to learn that the “Be, Know, Do” (BKD) model of leader development which has gained some degree of popularity in both formal and non-formal Christian leader development did not originate in the church, but in the U.S. Army. Continue Reading »
I am an emerging leader. You are an existing leader. I’m so grateful that God has placed you in my life. I really need you! Continue Reading »
In our last Letter, we looked at “Three Approaches to Leader Development”: the three ways that a leader development ministry might work with indigenous leaders. The third of these, and the most recommended for achieving true indigenization and contextualization, is the “Build the Designer Approach.” Continue Reading »
A New Paradigm
Our last two Letters set forth several significant paradigm changes regarding leader development that are necessary to deal with the crises of quantity and quality of church leaders around the world. Continue Reading »