Leadership Skills You Don’t Learn in Seminary – Episode 150 | The Unstuck Church Podcast

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Systems & Best Practices to Get Your People Organized, Aligned and Well-Led

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I hear from pastors all the time that leading an organization is a skill they weren’t taught in seminary. When their church was smaller, it was easier to lead the staff on their team. But as their church grew, and team members were added, that’s when challenges started to show up.

And that makes sense. Early on, you can get everyone around the same table. You can keep everyone on the same page.

But as the team gets larger, there are new tools you need in your leadership tool belt to keep your team aligned, productive and increasing in their skills and abilities.

Whether your church staff team has already grown larger than you know how to effectively manage, or whether you just want to invest in your own leadership development now in anticipation of what you hope will come, this episode is a winner.

Because here’s something we see in SO MANY churches we have served at The Unstuck Group: Churches often over-engineer the responsibility of managing people’s performance.

Of course people need assessment and coaching. And of course we have to lean in when there are underperformance issues. Everybody needs a coach because we all have blind spots.

But the goal is improvement and growth in our people, and most systems we see out there don’t actually result in much tangible growth in the people being led.

So, this week, Amy and I continue our series on shifts that church staff teams are making for the next normal. (Here’s the link to Part 1 on Clarifying Decision Rights, if you missed it.)

Bottom line: If you listen to this episode, you’re going to learn some really practical ways to get your team organized, aligned and better-led—with strategies you can start implementing this week.

In Part 2 of this conversation, Amy and I discussed…

  • Why the common methods of “grading” people are ineffective for assessing performance and providing feedback
  • How churches often over-engineer this responsibility of managing people’s performance—and a BETTER way to approach it
  • The hard, easy and missing steps in most church staff performance management systems
  • One-sentence job descriptions, why they matter, and how they create radical clarity for your team members around their mission-critical contributions to the ministry
  • How to assess character, competence, chemistry, and culture on your staff team—and which of the 4 tends to be the biggest issue (and create the most long-term tension) at churches
  • The most critical element of managing direct reports, how to get better at itand the red flags that you have too many direct reports
People can't see their blind spots. That's why you, as manager, have to be willing to say the hard things. #unstuckchurch [episode 150] Click to Tweet The goal in managing performance is improvement and growth, but most systems we see in churches don’t actually result in much tangible improvement in the people we lead.u003cstrongu003e u003c/strongu003e#unstuckchurch [episode 150] Click To Tweet

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That’s why we created Unstuck Leadership Coaching—to equip you with the practical skills to navigate complex ministry challenges around vision, strategy, digital ministry, staff structure, and execution.

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Links & Resources from the Episode

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Tony (00:02): Welcome to The Unstuck Church Podcast where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an unstuck church. For many pastors, leading a staff team wasn’t a skill they were taught in seminary. And for those who have seen their staff team grow over time, they can be faced with challenges they’re unsure of how to address. This week, Tony and Amy continue our series on shifts that church staff teams are making for the next normal. But before you listened today, make sure you stop and subscribing to the show notes. When you do, you’ll get resources to go along with each week’s episode, access to our podcast resource archive, and occasionally bonus resources that you won’t find anywhere else. Just go to theunstuckgroup.com/podcast and subscribe. Now let’s join Tony and Amy for week two of team shifts.

Amy (00:50): Well last week we kicked off a two week podcast series on team shifts where we’re talking about the people side of leading ministry, because, and I’m repeating myself, Tony, as important as strategy is, which I know you love, if churches don’t have their people organized, aligned and led well, well then they’re going to have a hard time executing any strategy well. And I should mention, along with this series, we also just released a new resource for listeners and it’s a brand new online training tool called The Unstuck Church Staff course. It gives pastors the self paced training tool to learn more skills like the ones we’re covering in these podcasts. And I just have to say, it’s really practical and it’s very helpful when leading teams and people. And so if you listeners, if you’re interested in learning more, you can check that out at theunstuckgroup.com/staff.

Tony (01:40): I would concur with that, Amy, because, um, I didn’t have anything to do with putting it together. You and the team that you’ve built that really support churches when it comes to looking at staffing and structure invested a great effort in that. And it’s a, it’s a great resource. So we’ll share more about that at the end of the podcast. But Amy I’m hearing from pastors all the time that leading an organization is a skill that they weren’t taught in seminary. And when their church was smaller, it was easier to lead the staff on their team. But as their church grew and team members were added, that’s when challenges started to show up. And that makes complete sense. I mean, early on, you can get everyone around the same table. You can keep everyone on the same page, but as the team gets larger, there are new tools that you need in your leadership tool belt to keep your team aligned, to keep them productive and increasing in their skills and abilities. So Amy, like last week, I’m going to have you walk us through today’s topic. It’s all about performance management today. And so where do you want to start?

Amy (02:47): Well, first I hope the pastors who tuned in are still listening. When we say performance management, by the way, I think some pastors love that because they want their people to perform, but I have to believe a lot of them were tempted to hit stop, you know, next podcast. And I get it because I’ve been a victim. If I can say it that way of awful performance management systems, both on the receiving end and when I had to lead them with my teams. I find Tony that most performance management systems they’re over engineered and they’re far from effective and most times as leaders, um, honestly, I’ll speak for myself, I’m just so glad when I’ve gotten them done that I have this 11 month break again until I have to do them again. And I think for team members, actually, I like what our colleague, Lance Witt says—he’s the author of high-impact teams—he says, “Most performance reviews feel like an IRS audit. You never quite know what to expect, but you know it’s not going to be fun. It’s stressful, unnerving and usually worse than you anticipated.” So I just relate with that. And I actually love performance conversations, performance management, when it’s done well. I mean, I’m a product of great performance systems, especially in my early leadership days. Honestly, the coaching I received back then, Tony, still shapes my leadership today. So these are good things.

Tony (04:08): But, you know, me, Amy. I like to start with the awful experiences first. So let’s go back to the awful performance management systems that you mentioned. What made them so ineffective?

Amy (04:20): Oh man. There’s so many things I could say, but, um, let me boil it down to two or three big headlines. The first one I already mentioned, they’re just over engineered. Now. I love my HR professionals. They do great jobs, but sometimes when they get ahold of performance management things, they just get them over engineered. There’s too much information. There’s, you know, 50 competencies. We have to rate people on the processes really cumbersome. So that that’s one. The second one is that they’re sometimes solely focused on assessment and grading. If I can put it that way, they’re grading. So on a scale of one to five, how good of a listener are you on a scale of one to five, this. And I don’t know for me, I like to think that I, you know, I like to achieve—that’s in me. And so if you give me a scale of one to five and you give me a four, I don’t even care if you gave me a 4.5, I’m like, why not a five? I don’t see the four. I don’t see the 4.5. All I see is the gap that’s in there. So, and then maybe the third one is that when we look at performance management, we often talk about it in the form of an annual review. And that whole process is focused on looking back. So obviously annual is not frequent enough. Looking back? Fine. There’s some learnings there, but we want people striving ahead in getting better. And honestly, I probably got this from Lance too, but those feel very organizational. They don’t feel very personal when we’re talking about feedback. So those would be my big headlines on awful performance systems.

Tony (05:58): With that in mind, are you saying we shouldn’t assess people’s performance and we shouldn’t have those formal annual processes that you were just describing?

Amy (06:06): No, not exactly. I’m just saying if we over-engineer this responsibility of managing people’s performance, that’s the miss. Of course people need assessment. Of course people need coaching. Of course we have to lean in when there’s underperformance issues. I mean, everybody needs a coach because there’s always a part of us that we can’t see, but the goal is improvement and growth. And most systems I see out there don’t actually accomplish much tangible improvement in the people that we lead.

Tony (06:34): Alright, Amy, rather than just looking backward at what was awful about performance management in the past, let’s look forward. So, how can we develop an effective performance management system?

Amy (06:48): Again, pastors don’t bail on this podcast. The truth is the best process I believe is what I would call hard, easy. That is, there’s a few harder steps in the beginning that lead to an easy process going forward. And honestly, maybe they’re not so much as hard steps as they’re missing steps for most people. So there’s two of these hard steps and both of these are around clarifying the win for the people that report to you. In other words, if they do their job right, what should be accomplished? So let me jump into those first. And I said, there’s two. So the first hard step is to create a one sentence job description for your team members. The right one sentence should provide a crystal clear picture of why their position exists and what the primary result of their work should accomplish. It’s not focused on the how of their role, but rather on the what and why. Job descriptions, you know, they’re great when you’re hiring people and they’re kind of one of those necessary things you have to think through, but I don’t know, Tony, if you disagree, but I think they’re rarely referenced again once, once someone does.

Tony (07:53): Yeah. Do you have some examples of this, Amy?

Amy (07:55): Yeah. I just I’ll give you an example. And I just wanted to say a one sentence job description, again, it brings clarity to why this person was hired and why this job exists in the first place. That’s what we have to get back to—just really foundational. So for example, a lead pastor, his or her job description might be to inspire our staff and congregation to fully engage in the mission and vision of our church. Of course he does other things, but that’s really the foundational reason he was brought on the team. Or, a kid’s pastor, children’s pastor: to create safe, irresistible and transformational environments for children. And let me just give you a couple more. This was my job, the weekend services director at my church. My job was to create an unforgettable experience for those who attended our worship services so they want to come back and they want to bring a friend with them. That’s the win. And now I’m just going to throw a digital director because that’s had a lot of conversation, lastly. I just took a stab at one to see what you think, but to lead and design our online content strategies that will equip, inspire people to take their next steps towards Jesus, anytime, anywhere.

Tony (08:59): I like that. I kind of want that job. I know.

Amy (09:05): So it doesn’t describe the entirety of a person’s role, but it defines their mission critical contributions to the church. And I think that’s the first step. Let’s go back—why did I hire this person in this role? And name it and start there. The second part of it, um, is the hard step to clarify their goals. And by the way, this is typically an annual target. But goals should be specific and measurable. We’ve talked about this before and you should be able to assess if you’ve hit the goal. So for example, if I use a children’s pastor again, their sample goals might be related to the number of children we want to see engaged in the ministry. Their goals could be around the number of volunteers and volunteer leaders that need to be engaged in the ministry. I mean, those are the type of goals that you can measure, and those are the type of numbers that a leader can bring influence to, right?.

Tony (09:53):Yeah. Yeah. I liked that. But for a moment, let me play kind of the devil’s advocate, especially as it relates to this children’s pastor role that we’re talking about. I mean, parents bring kids to church. How can a children’s pastor own the goals for children’s attendance with that in mind?

Amy (10:12): Sure. That’s a good question. Yeah, for sure, attendance is what we call a lag measure, meaning it’s kind of like, you know, if you want to lose weight, the scale is your lag measure. How much you eat and how much you exercise, things like that are your lead indicators. But when his or her job is to create the safe, irresistible and transformational environments, they’re thinking about that. So if they have a chance that a kid’s going to come, they want to make sure that kid has an amazing experience and maybe even would invite their friends or at least drag their parents back to church. So they have control over that experience. I also like the ownership of it because that is the person who’s going to lie awake at night if we aren’t reaching kids because they own the goal. And so they may not have control over everything with attracting kids, but they’re the ones who are going to raise a red flag if something’s not working well. And I think they will be an influencer for change when they own those metrics. They’re going to think more holistically. How do we reach our kids? And they’re going to be creative around those because they own the metric, they own the goal.

Tony (11:14): Okay. So that was the hard part of performance management. Now we have clarity around the win for the position on the team and clear goals to strive for. What’s the next part of an effective performance management process?

Amy (11:28): Yeah. Once those first steps have been addressed, now, it just gets a little bit easier. And I would say the next step is to do the work of assessing your team members in the area of specifically character, chemistry and competence. And this assessment by the way is really between you and you right now. It’s not with a team member. In fact, they don’t even need to know how you’re scoring them in these areas, but as their manager, you’re having an honest conversation with yourself about their performance in these three areas. And, you know, I recommend a scale of like zero to 10 as you go through those. So on character, you know, we’re looking at things like, are they honest, trustworthy, positive example to others? Are they patient with others, disciplined, teachable, humble, all those character components and give them a score. The next one, I’d say on your chemistry, you know, this is really about being able to relate and fit with the people you work with.

Amy (12:23): And it’s not just about being a likable person, but does this person have good EQ? Do they, do they demonstrate wisdom and how to deal with people? Can they influence up down and laterally? Do they use intuition and wise judgment? Do they seek win, win? Do they energize others? Do they ask good questions? So those are some of the descriptions there. And then competency is all about getting their job done. By the way, the job that you’ve given them. So are they self motivated and diligent? Do they think about what’s next? Do they prioritize? Do they get the work done? Are they hungry, available for more? And so, you know, you have to figure out how to base your definition for character, chemistry and competency. There’s some great books out there. One of my favorites is the Ideal Team Member by Patrick Lencioni and he uses different words. He uses humble, smart, and hungry, but you’ll get the drift, just, just be consistent. But do that because that gives you a basis for where you might need to coach them. And what I mean by that, Tony is if someone has a character issue, that’s very different than a competency issue—how you would walk someone through that. You know, if I, in fact, I had a, I had an employee like this, a team member, and he was a worship leader on my team. And I just had to say, you know, this is not a character issue whatsoever. It’s a competency issue. We need you to lead worship the way our church does worship. But if it was flipped, let’s say I’ve got the best worship leader in the world. But the character is suspect, you know, I could tell him that, “You know, you’re one of the top 10 in the country when it comes to leading worship, but we need to talk about is something on the character side of things.” So I like the diagnostic of what that does. And so as you do this personal reflection, um, and by the way, you don’t share these numbers, how you’re ranking. You don’t post those just like you don’t post salaries. This is the behind the scenes work you do to formulate this coaching, but it gives you an ability to coach them because there’s always things about ourselves that we can’t see, but you as their supervisor or manager, that’s part of your job because you want them to get better and you don’t want, whatever’s a low score to get in their way of being all that God wants them to be. So, and then at the right time, which we’ll talk about in a minute, you praise them where they’re strong and you move in on the areas that need attention.

Tony (14:39): Yeah. Uh, so, one additional thought here, Amy, and I don’t know if you’ve seen this in your experience or not, but around those three areas—character, chemistry, competence—my experience working with church leaders is generally they do a pretty good job of kind of appropriate accountability and coaching around character. And even the competence piece, I think church leaders recognize, I think it’s driven by the importance of the mission that we’re on that we just can’t, we can’t afford for people not to pull their weight and to get their job done effectively. But where I tend to see leaders being a little bit lax maybe is around the chemistry piece, actually. If the character is solid, if they’re getting their job done well, but some of that chemistry stuff is not happening, we kind of let that slide a little bit. And I don’t know, do you, do you see that?

Amy (15:39): Yeah. I often tell the churches I work with, if someone knocks on your door and when you look up and you have that feeling in your gut, like, I do not want to talk to this person right now, uou probably have a chemistry issue, you know. And we don’t like to move in on those things cause that’s a weird thing for some people to give feedback on and they don’t always have the words to do it well. And so they just let it slide.

Tony (16:01): This is true. I will say too, again, my experiences, the character stuff again, because I think because we address it when it pops up, that’s not usually a huge issue for teams. Competence, again, because there’s accountability for follow through, that typically doesn’t end up being a big issue for teams, but the chemistry piece I have found, again, it’s I think part of it, it’s just hard to, hard to put handles on that. It’s hard to name it. And then because of it, because of that, it’s hard to have the tough conversations around it. But my experience has been, it’s actually that chemistry piece that if you don’t address it, that’s where the biggest cancer can begin to develop within your team. So, but all of this leads to the conversation that needs to follow. Am I right?

Amy (16:52): That’s right. And actually you just made me think of one other thing before I move on to the conversation. I think the other thing that can sometimes go unaddressed Tony is organizational wisdom–like fitting in with the culture of your organization. Every culture, whether it’s defined or every organization, whether it’s defined or not has a culture and people who are a little skewed from that, that’s another thing that we can let slide, but that’s another area you should probably think through. Does this person fit with the culture of our team? So you asked when do we have these conversations? A couple places, but before I go there, let me talk about the next step in an effective performance management process. And that’s the one on one. Okay. So having a one-on-one with your direct reports, I think is one of the most critical pieces of performance management. I think you should meet at least once a month with each of one each of your direct reports, and this is a don’t miss meeting. If they’re done well, I think once month is good for 60 to 90 minutes. Sometimes if they’re newer, maybe twice a month, but I often tell churches, if you have to meet with your direct reports every week, then you probably have the wrong person, or there’s something in your leadership where you’re not empowering people because nobody needs to have a one-on-one every week. The week is short enough with, you know, the weekend always coming. But the one on one, how you do it is what’s really important. This is not time for you just to talk to your staff member. It’s a time to both listen and to do some coaching. So as we walk through it, we talk about, you know, a personal check in time, get to know your people. Know their spouses name if they’re married. Get to know what’s happening in that part of their life. You want to provide some encouragement. You want to follow up on the action items from the last meeting. You want to talk about current priorities. You want to have a conversation about what they need from you. Lance Witt put together a great tool for our Unstuck Team’s process and he just had a list of questions that we should go through. And we’ll put that resource up on our notes page, but it’s asking questions of things that maybe are challenging right now. What can I do to support you, those types of things. Then you cover your coaching pieces. You agree on the action for the next month. And then you close in prayer. You cannot do that in 30 minutes and you can’t do that on a drive by or happenstance. Those are scheduled times where, as a leader, you have to slow down and be fully present. And by the way, if you’re having those conversations every month, even if you have an annual summary for the year, you’ve been coaching through this all year long. There’s no surprises now. So that’s where to give some of those praises and some of those redirects. But I love the book one minute manager by Ken Blanchard, and this is my experience as a leader as well. I love in the moment coaching. When you see someone doing something right, I love calling it out, manage by walking around, call out when people are doing what you want them to be doing. And then also when they’re not doing what you want them to be doing, call that out as well. Now, the first one’s public, right? You can praise people publicly, the other one’s private. But I’ve always captured it in the phrase, “What gets noticed gets repeated.” That’s a public praise. And as a leader, you get what you tolerate. And so those are the times where you know that you need to lean in and behind all of this, it probably goes without saying, but I mentioned, we all have blind spots as leaders for the people that you’re leading. When you have the right motivation, which is to help them get better, it’s not as difficult to help move in on those blind spots when you have to give coaching. So that’s how I think that’s where the communication comes.

Tony (20:31): Yeah, and let’s face it. I mean the good leaders, the good folks on your team, they want, they want to know when they’re doing things right. And they actually want to know when they’re doing things that need to be improved too. That’s one of the distinctions between the quality people that you want on your volunteer team or your staff team and especially in leadership roles. So certainly something to consider there. And Amy, as you were talking about the one on ones and the investment of time, I’m just thinking about some pastors I’ve talked to in the past that said, I just don’t have enough time to have all of these one on one conversations. And usually the reason why they don’t have enough time for all of those conversations is because their span of care is too broad. They’re trying, they have too many staff members that are reporting directly to them. So if you heard that encouragement from Amy and you’re thinking, “I just don’t have the time that would be required to invest like that and the staff that are reporting to me,” that should raise a red flag that you have too many staff members reporting to you. Alright, Amy amidst all the change and disruption churches have faced these past few months if they don’t have all these pieces in place that you’ve walked through today, where should they start?

Amy (21:50): Best place to start is actually to get those one-on-ones going in a healthy way for the things that we just talked about. You know, I think it’s important during times of change that there’s strong relationships and that we’re providing clarity for our team members on what’s expected during that change. And so I would just start with those one on one conversations, even if they’re not perfect and then set aside some time now to do the rest of the work because one-on-ones will fill the gap to get things started, but don’t avoid the hard work and coast on the easy work. Honestly, longterm, you’re not going to have good performance results if we just rely on that one on one. Well, Tony, I’ve talked a lot again today, but let me ask you, do you have any thoughts on this topic? Any other thoughts before we wrap up?

Tony (22:39):Yeah. I just want to kind of reemphasize some of the key things I’m hearing from you, Amy. The first being this—to be effective and released to lead team members really need, they’re looking for that clarity around what success looks like for their role. That’s why we have to, to clarify the win and the goals for each position on our team. The second thing I’m hearing from you, team leaders need to regularly assess team member’s performance around character, chemistry and competence. And again, I think we think about the competence part often, but you’re suggesting, and I think rightly so, you know, periodically, we need to look at those character aspects of who a person is. And chemistry—really how they fit with the rest of the team, if we’re going to get the best out of the people on our team. People can’t see their blind spots and that’s why you, as a manager, you have to be willing to say the hard things. And just to remember, it’s for your team’s benefit, it’s for your benefit, but it’s also the benefit of the person that you’re leading. And then the final thing I’m hearing you say is team members should be set up for success with clear expectations, regular coaching, and opportunities to improve performance through those one on one meetings that you were describing. So, Amy, this is just quality help, I think for us as leaders. And, again, I’m just encouraged, too, by the resource you and the team helped create around these staffing questions. And I think a lot of leaders have, and again, if you’re interested in learning more about that, please go to theunstuckgroup.com/staff.

Sean (24:27): Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. As Tony just mentioned, we’ve launched a brand new course to help you structure your team so that your church can thrive. To learn more about the interactive Unstuck Church Staff Course, just visit theunstuckgroup.com/staff. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast, we’d love your help in getting the content out farther. You can do that by subscribing on your favorite podcasting platform, giving us a review and telling somebody else about the podcast next week, we’re back with another brand new episode. Until then, have a great week.

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