Monday, February 28, 2011

Women, Leadership, and Temperament

I had the opportunity on Friday to hear Lois Frankel speak at my alma mater. Frankel is a corporate coach and prolific writer, focusing on women in leadership.  She's written books like Nice Girls Don't Get the Corner Office and See Jane Lead.  My wife was participating in a women's leadership day and so I tagged along for Frankel's talk. 

The talk got off to a rough start for someone who has written about introverts and leadership. Frankel started out by saying "People like speakers with energy. So be sure to speak with lots of energy." Later on she said "Those who speak up first are considered leaders. So make sure, in meetings, that your voice is one of the first voices to be heard."  Essentially she confirmed many of my frustrations with our extroverted-biased culture. Those who speak up the most and who radiate the most energy are considered self-confident leaders, ripe for promotion, whereas those who reserve their opinions and have a smaller "presence" in a room are considered followers or worse, timid or ineffective.

I've written much about this topic, especially in the two leadership chapters in my book. I've tried to demonstrate those who speak up first may not actually have the best ideas, and that often the person with the most power in a room is the one who remains silent for a time and then speaks up later.  In fact, later in the talk Frankel talked about how traditionally "feminine" qualities, like listening, are becoming increasingly valued in our leaders.  She said, "People want leaders who will ask their opinions and listen to them."  Those also sound like introverted qualities.

She also later qualified that "having your voice heard first in a meeting" does not mean that you have to state your opinion. You can just ask a question or clarify something. But speaking early shows you are engaged. I think that's pretty good advice.

What her talk helped remind me of is that being an introverted man is a different experience from being an introverted woman. A man who is silent in a meeting most likely has more power than a woman who is silent in a meeting. A man who speaks softly and slowly is interpreted differently from a woman with those qualities. In the personal sphere, a woman who wants time to herself is often read differently than a man who goes into his cave. I wish this weren't so, but it's unfortunately still a reality.

Women, what is your take on these things? What is your experience of being an introvert in meetings?  How do you think you are interpreted differently than introverted men? Do you think that you have to project extroversion more than your male counterparts in order to be successful?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Leadership and "Authenticity"

In three days, my last post became my highest visited post of all time. This topic has really struck a nerve. I've been asked about it by a reporter working on a story on pastors and failure, I've had others ask to reprint it, and it received 600 visitors on the day I posted it. Wow.

Rhett Smith continues the conversation today, with a post entitled "Being Authentic Doesn't Mean Bleeding All Over the Congregation."  Rhett is a marriage and family therapist and former college pastor. This is just a brilliant post, and I wish he had written it about 10 years ago.

I've told you I have a forthcoming article on why pastors need therapy, and I'll let you know where it ends up.

Please read Rhett's article and pass it on!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pastors and Honesty

My friend Rachel Evans put up a provocative post this morning. Dear Pastors - Tell Us the Truth

In her post, and you should read it first, Rachel urges pastors to be honest with their churches about their doubts, weaknesses, and struggles.  Signing it from "The Congregation," she says that a pastor who is transparent in front of others will lead them into freedom and will create communities that radiate grace, love, and truth. And it sounds great. Who doesn't want that? There's a big part of me that agrees with her sentiment. But I've also been the pastor who waved the flag of honesty and transparency and I've been burned by it. 

When I first started preaching in 2000, I was the prototypical Gen-X pastor who committed to describing things like they really were. I refused to varnish life with religious platitudes and I threw out words like "authenticity" and "real" a lot.  I thought that if I could model these things then I would free others to put down the religious masks and to experience real intimacy, forgiveness, and healing. I openly expressed my specific struggles in my spiritual life and my relationships. And, honestly, it felt horrible. I felt exposed and vulnerable. I felt like I was giving things away that I would never get back. It felt a little like a public therapy session without the therapeutic elements. And then a few people in the church started using what I said against me. They usually did it in subtle ways, but they would mention shortcomings I had shared in public settings to undermine my leadership. One person, upon finding out I was in therapy, questioned whether I should be in ministry at all. Other pastors I know who are part of more conservative denominations have been fired for sharing personal struggles. 

Pain is part of ministry, and I know that those of us who are called to pastoral ministry will experience pain. I know that we need to lose life in order to gain life. Jesus has demonstrated that quite well. But when I read challenges like Rachel's I am reminded of those vulnerable experiences. As a result, now, when I speak in public, I am very careful with how I word things and I don't share many details of specific struggles. I only share those aspects of my life with close friends and with my therapist and spiritual director. It feels much healthier. When I share with them, it feels healing for me, like I'm gaining something from it.

So, when Rachel signs her letter from "The Congregation," I have to wonder which "congregation" it is who is eager for their pastor to tell the truth about life, faith, and relationships? Which congregation doesn't only say they want authenticity and honesty, but will actually respond well to it and find God's healing through those things?

My guess is that the congregation she is describing has these characteristics:

1. The church has a culture of grace. When people share honestly with one another, they are not condemned for it but are met with love and empathy. They hear "me too" more than "shame on you."

2. The church has a lot of young people. The college students and young adults I've worked with over the years have been far more eager for honesty than others I've worked with. They are likely immersed in social media and its culture of sharing and are comfortable with opening up the intimate aspects of their lives with others.

3. The church is emotionally healthy. When confronted with weakness or struggle, they search inside of themselves instead of punishing others for what they've done.

4. The church wants to be challenged. Truthfully, a lot of people in churches are not looking to hear something hard or new. They don't want to be led in new ways. They come to church to hear the things they already know and to be comforted. They need to want to be led and to be stretched in new directions in order to be open to the honesty that heals.   

If we're being honest, most churches do not have these characteristics. I don't know how many Rachel Evans there are in most churches who would receive a pastor's honesty with grace and self-reflection. And that's why most pastors are unwilling to tell the truth.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Introverts and Extroverts

Michael Hyatt is the CEO of Thomas Nelson Books and is by all accounts, an outstanding leader, as well as an introvert. His blog is one of the top 10 Christian blogs.  He has a post this week about how introverts and extroverts can benefit from each other. It's first and foremost about marriage but he is also touches on leadership, community, and a few other topics. I think you'll want to check it out.

How Introverts and Extroverts Can Benefit from One Another - Michael Hyatt

Friday, February 4, 2011

A working vacation

I haven't posted in a few days, and that's because I'm up in the Bay Area on a bit of a working vacation.  I stopped by Westmont College, in Santa Barbara, on the way up to meet with the campus pastor and a couple of others in their campus life department. It's looking like I'll be speaking in their all-student chapel sometime next school year, which I'm very excited about.  Yesterday I had the opportunity to spend a half-hour with John Ortberg, one of my spiritual heroes, and it did not disappoint. You know how some people just radiate something from their persons that, though indescribable, makes you want to be a better person and a more deeply transformed follower of Christ? That's what John Ortberg is like.  He didn't even really have to say anything, though he had wise and witty things to share.  I so deeply desire to be that kind of person.

I'm currently working on an article entitled "Why Pastors Need Therapy" and also preparing to do a blog interview with Jason Boyett, author of O Me of Little Faith, a memoir about faith and doubt. 

That's no doubt more information than you wanted, but I'm in informal vacation mode, so go with it.