Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tiger's Achilles Heel

            Sometimes what a leader sees as a strength is really a weakness that needs change.

Actually, as it turns out, Tiger Woods’ Achilles heel is not his heel, but his knee.  He has had four surgeries to repair damage done to his left knee because at impact in his 120 mile an hour swing, he violently kicks his left knee strait.  This means his left knee has to absorb the full impact of his champion swing.  What does all this have to say about congregational leadership?  It says a lot if you stay with me.

In Tiger’s own book on the golf swing, he describes this “violent kick” as a distinctive part of his way of doing things.  Of course, today sports physiologists shake their heads at what he does and the damage it has caused him, but my point is that he told us 10 years ago his rationalization for doing so.  It is a unique characteristic of his swing.  Despite three well publicized coaching changes, he still repeats this action.  As Lee Trevino said recently, “Either he will stop doing this, or his career is over.” 

Often, I have found clergy leaders, even very outstanding leaders, who have a unique habit (dare I say flaw?) that they justify as simply part of their individual style.  In other words, they view, what is really a fault, as strength.  For example, I remember a Bishop with a notoriously bad temper who explained to me that “When I am mad at one of my clergy, I sure let them know it.  It clears the air, and afterward it is over and done as far as I am concerned.”  Of course, it wasn’t over and done as far as many of the clergy persons on the receptive side of the interchange were concerned, but my main point is that this leader saw such behavior as a unique part of his own style that was beneficial in some way. 

I also remember a vestry person in my first congregation that would regularly tell me her frank opinion about most church issues.  She would fire off a broadside followed by her comment that “You may not like it, but you always know where I stand.”  I can tell you that her husband, her children, and her employees also always knew where she stood, and most had long since stopped caring. 

In the long run, such justifications are just that, justifications.  They are used to rationalize behavior that one should change, but many leaders use their strengths to justify such things as a virtuous part of their personal style.  I know that I have done this.  I am a mild introvert on the Myers-Briggs personality index.  One day a clergy friend pointed out to me (painfully, I might add) that I sometimes used this as an excuse for not more positively emotionally engaging people on Sunday mornings.  At first, I thought my friend was unkind for saying so, and that he did not really “understand me.”  After time, I came to realize that I was using my introversion as a justification for not carrying out one of my primary jobs of a leader, namely, showing people that I genuinely care about them.  I cannot say it was easy to change this behavior.  I would say that realizing that it was a problem, and that I needed to address it, rather than justify it as a part of who I was, became an important step in learning to be a more effective leader.

Let’s face it, personal insight and commitment to change is hard.  God grant it to us, and God give us also truthful friends who care enough to give us such feedback.  Recently, a colleague shared with me a remarkable book about just such issues.  It is Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership: How to become an Effective Leader by Confronting Potential Failures by Gary McIntosh and Samuel Rima.  If you are a leader committed to growing as a leader, you may want make this part of your summer reading.  

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Good and Bad News for TEC

Statistically there is good news and bad news for the Episcopal Church for the first decade of the 21st Century.  It should help us as leaders focus on the challenge for the future.

This past week, I attended the national TENS Conference (The Episcopal Network for Stewardship) at Camp Allen.  It was a very good event with keynote speakers and lots of workshops.  I came away with a number of good ideas.  If you are not familiar with TENS, visit their website and check out the resources.

I also attended the pre-conference for diocesan folks (figured that I qualified as Dean) and heard some very good presentations there too.  One of these was by Kirk Hadaway who is the congregational resource person for 815 who keeps up with all those statistics from our parochial reports.  I have known Kirk for many years and I have always found his work helpful.

He shared three pieces of information that specifically relate to our work as parish clergy that I want to share this with you.  The first has to do with the overall health of TEC.  For the first decade of the 21st Century, we have lost 20% of our pledging units.  This nearly matches the 19.5% loss of attendance during this same period.  What this says is that it is not primarily the economy that is the source of recent financial woes, but the loss of people. 

The second significant number is good news.  About 30% of our congregations show a 10% growth in membership at this time.  This number is up from a few years ago.  Unfortunately, this does not off-set the nearly 50% of our congregations that are showing a 10% decline.  Kirk added, “Many in significant decline,” to underscore his point. 

Kirk, like me, is also concerned about the significant number of Pastoral Size churches that have now declined to Family Size.  Remember that Pastoral Size congregations usually have full time clergy while Family Size ones do not.  This has a number of significant implications for our community as a whole, but this is a matter for future blogs. 

The third piece of statistical information is that after 20 years of increase in pledges by households running ahead of inflation, the past four years show an alarming trend of decline in financial support by current members. 

What does this mean for our congregations?  One thing is for sure.  We will all have to work a lot harder at stewardship in the days ahead.  This is where TENS can be of tangible help to many of us. 

Here is the great quote of the week that I got from another staff member from 815.  It is from Gus Speth, scientist, environmentalist, and former head of the Yale School of forestry and environmental studies.  It was directed to faith leaders.
I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation and eco-system collapse, and that we scientists could fix those problems with enough science. But I was wrong. The real problem is not those three items, but greed, selfishness and apathy. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don't know how to do that. We need your help."

As we say in my occupation, “That will preach!”