Meeting Phobia: The Cure

I began my last post with the admission that I have a healthy respect for well-facilitated meetings, unlike most people I know. But please notice I did specify that I appreciate meetings that are facilitated well. Sadly, many are not…which is why so many folks suffer from meeting phobia.

There is a direct correlation between meeting phobia and the abundance of leaders who have neglected to hone their facilitation skills. Those of us who appreciate face-to-face communication can overcome the resistance by consistently leading efficient and effective meetings. There’s one critical key to doing this well: be considerate of those who will participate in your meeting.

1. Create an agenda

  • Be realistic about what you can accomplish in the allotted time. Next, subtract one thing from the agenda.
  • Share the agenda with participants prior to the meeting so that they have time review material and come prepared

2. Control the flow of the conversation

  • Introduce the concept or problem, then allow the participants to interact with it.
  • Create space for people to think, particularly those who tend to craft their speech carefully.
  • Listen. Let me say that more emphatically: be quiet and listen to what others are saying. Their idea or solution may be better than yours!
  • Don’t be afraid of conflict. It’s healthy to wrestle with concepts and problems. It goes without saying that verbal abuse is off-limits.
  • If the conversation gets off-topic, suggest putting the distraction in “the parking lot.”* Come back to it later or make it the agenda for a future meeting.

3. Be sensitive to time

  • Simply put, start and end on time. No excuses.
  • If an exception has to be made–e.g., the group has nearly accomplished its task/purpose and can complete it in a few more minutes–ask if everyone agrees to extend the meeting 15 minutes.

4. Summarize

  • If a decision has been reached or a problem solved, re-state the decision or solution to be sure everyone leaves the meeting with a clear understanding.
  • If action items have been established, review them at the end of the meeting.
  • Follow up within a few days with a written summary of the meeting.

In speaking of Christ’s humility, Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.   -Philippians 2:3-4 [ESV]

Every one of the bullet points above requires the leader to consider the time, thoughts, and feelings of the meeting participants ahead of his/her own. It’s definitely a challenge–especially when you have a great idea to share or a perplexing problem that must be solved quickly–but doing so will go a long way to curing meeting phobia!

good meeting

*This concept is taken from Death by Meeting, by Patrick Lencioni. It’s a must-read for anyone who regularly facilitates meetings!

 

Need a leader? Disciple one.

In my last post, I wrote about the critical investment of mentoring potential leaders. Since then, I’ve had somewhat of an epiphany:”discipling” is a more fitting term than “mentoring.” Maybe it’s just semantics, but there is an energy in the term discipling that I don’t experience when speaking of mentoring. Oxford Dictionary defines a mentor as an experienced and trusted advisor who trains and counsels. That sounds somewhat pedantic to me,  like a sage on the stage kind of role, one-sided rather than an exchange between two people.

The dictionaries I use don’t recognize the word “discipling,” so I can’t quote a definition to compare alongsidedisciples-follow “mentoring.” But discipling brings to my mind Jesus going from town to town with the disciples following Him, observing His behavior as well as listening to His teaching. He would put them to work, too, challenging them to step beyond their comfort zones by telling them to feed 5000 people with a couple of fish and some bread, or sending them to villages to heal the sick and cast out demons.

Leaders come from discipling–intentional prolonged investment in someone’s spiritual formation. Not a quick Bible study on leadership. Not a workshop designed to develop the leader within you. I am not implying that these things are bad or useless–they can be quite helpful when used effectively. But on their own, they won’t create the leaders we need. No, this is a personal, one-on-one process that takes time, energy, intentionality. The reward, however, is well worth the investment.

To develop a leader requires letting them get close enough to see you when you are not at your best, when you are dealing with the difficulties of life. They are likely quite capable of consulting the scriptures to see what God has to say about feeding the hungry, but it’s quite another thing for you to suggest that you go together to a homeless shelter to serve a meal, debriefing the experience afterwards and sharing honestly how you found it difficult to tolerate the odor of alcohol, stale cigarettes, and unwashed bodies. The disciples witnessed Jesus when He was tired, frustrated, sad, and mad as well as when he was gentle, kind, generous, and forgiving.

While you are discipling someone, both you and they learn about their spiritual gifts. Gifting without discipleship is anemic; gifting under the tutelage of an equipping leader can be much more effective. When you disciple another, the opportunity to explore, encourage, and empower is built into the process. You can avert the train wreck that results from an unnoticed mismatched ministry opportunity, and celebrate the joy of successful, fulfilling service. You get to see up close and personal an emerging leadership style as it matures and bears fruit!

Leadership development is all about discipling. It’s tempting to think there’s a shortcut. There isn’t–I’ve tried. It’s tempting to think you can’t afford to invest the time and energy. Don’t be deceived. In reality, you can’t afford to do anything less. No one is going to do this for you. (Believe me, I speak from experience.) If you are a leader, you need to be discipling someone to become a leader, too.

So…what are you waiting for? Find someone who is FAT–faithful, available, and teachable. Let them get close to you, invest in a one-on-one relationship, pour yourself into them, then watch for a leader to emerge.

*Two resources I have found helpful are Building a Discipling Culture, by Mike Breen and What Jesus Started: Joining the Movement and Changing the World, by Steve Addison.

P.S. It should go without saying, but…if you aren’t leading, find someone to disciple you!

Preventing ministry stoppage

I was recently reminded of an old Smothers Brothers skit where Tom and Dick are singing Boil the Cabbage Down. At one point, Dick turns to Tom and says “Take it.”  Tom turns his head and ignores Dick. The music stops and Dick explains to Tom that he is supposed to take the lead, but Tom evades the issue.

The music stops.stop

Sound familiar? Have you tried to hand off leadership to someone who refuses to take it? Meanwhile, the ministry stops.

There’s a lot of talk these days about releasing people into ministry, empowering leaders and avoiding the urge to micromanage. Like a knee-jerk reaction, I can’t help but wonder sometimes if the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Have we become so eager to avoid the appearance of hording ministry or micromanaging that we we have abdicated our responsibility to properly vet and prepare leaders before releasing them into ministry?

There’s a lot to be said for having a process for developing leaders before you hand off the ministry to them. Creating a solid infrastructure is critical to successful leadership development. Consider these steps:

  1. Identification. Who are the potential leaders? It’s easy to default to the cultural norm–that is, the charismatic extravert–and completely overlook the “diamond in the rough.” You might begin with these questions:
    •  Who do others talk about?
    •  Who do others listen to?

    Begin a list and keep adding to it as names come to your attention.

  2. Investment. It’s a mistake harried ministry leaders often make: Just as we must fight the tendency to plug warm bodies into ministry slots, so we must refuse to release the seemingly competent marketplace leader into ministry leadership without first investing time and energy in discipling them. A leader worth having is a leader worth investing in…and a leader worth having is willing to invest their time and energy in being discipled.
  3. Incremental release. Last summer I took my four-year-old grandson to his swimming lesson a few times. In the beginning, he was afraid to move off the steps leading down into the water, but when the instructor promised she wouldn’t let go, he would venture into the pool. By his last lesson, he was much more confident, willing to let go of the side of the pool even without the instructor close by. The “grand finale” was jumping off the diving board–a long way from the steps at the shallow end of the pool! What do you think would have happened if he had been told to jump off the diving board at the very first lesson?

These three steps of  identifying, investing in, and incrementally releasing leaders are essential keys to preventing ministry stoppage as you try to convince someone that it’s time for them to “take it.”