Leader Disease - Lack of Accurate Feedback

Motivated clergy and church staff ask us regularly how to get accurate feedback on their leadership effectiveness. I have to laugh as I remember one pastor who reported the two kinds of feedback she regularly receives from church members. “You are the best thing that ever happened to this church and you are single-handedly moving us forward.” Or, “You are the worst thing that ever happened to this church and you are single-handedly tearing this church apart.” This pastor smiles and says that it’s likely neither of these statements are accurate (though she likes hearing the first far more than the second).

How am I doing? How effective is my pastoral leadership? What am I not seeing in my leadership which everyone else sees? How can I get constructive criticism so that I can work from a baseline toward growth?

Great questions. Here’s another complicating factor. In fact, this factor is the primary impediment to accurate feedback. In the April 1991 edition of Business Week, John Byrne describes “CEO Disease;” a colorful way to describe the information vacuum created around a leader when others withhold important information (usually unpleasant info). Daniel Goleman describes this phenomenon in his 2002 book Primal Leadership (a great read on applying Emotional Intelligence research to leadership). Goleman and team cite another study showing that the higher one goes in an organization, the less consistent and accurate feedback becomes.

Why is this so? Well, who wants to tell one’s supervisor or boss that he or she is performing poorly? People fear for their positions or simply want to be positive team members. So, we may tell the truth, just not all the truth, especially the unpleasant part.

Then for clergy and church staff, we add another dimension. We are ordained ministers. People carry all kinds of powerful feelings and perceptions about what this means. Most of them influence others to be even less forthcoming regarding the communication loop with those who speak for God.

Where does this leave motivated clergy and church staff when it comes to developing as leaders? Is guessing how we are doing the best we can do? Fortunately, no. Two specific actions one can engage are available (among others). They do require some investment of time and money; and they can pay off in huge ways.

Leadership Assessment through Inventories and Questionnaires

There are professionals who can administer the appropriate instruments, resulting in a Leadership Profile. No inventory is perfect, yet they are nearly the best way we humans have for gaining a baseline for our leadership effectiveness. Clergy can choose personality inventories, leadership style inventories, leadership questionnaires, and if they are very courageous – the Mother of All Inventories: The 360 Assessment. The 360 is an inventory completed by 15-30 staff, lay leaders, and church members regarding one’s leadership. Their feedback is compiled into one huge feedback report. Clergy and church staff who are serious about growth, and have a strong back-bone, use the 360 to identify leadership strengths and growth areas.

Leadership Coaching

Executive Coaching has been around for years. Long ago executives were aware of the complexities of leading effectively. Now, clergy and church staff are also well aware of the challenges in leadership, and are willing to use the resources available to grow and learn. Some Leadership Coaching clients give the Coach permission to interview significant people in one’s ministry context. This allows the Coach to see a multi-dimensional picture of the client’s leadership, rather than the single view of the client. Again, Leadership Coaching is not for those who simply want to cruise in their pastoral ministries.

Whatever route you choose for leadership development, embrace the process. Honest effort, with qualified assistance, will raise your leadership effectiveness – ultimately contributing to the kingdom’s advancement in your ministry context.

Mark Tidsworth, President, PLA

Contact Mark at markt@pinnaclelead.com