I continued my leadership journey with Dr. Scott Cormode at the Vermeer Charitable Foundation seminar on Thursday, October 30, 2014. If you would like to read my summary of the day’s seminar, “Cultivating Change,” please read on.
By Dr. Scott Cormode
Thursday, October 30, 2014
Summary Notes and Editorializing of Dr. Bob Stouffer, Principal, Oskaloosa Christian School
Dr. Scott Cormode, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of Leadership Development, Fuller Theological Seminary
I write the same thing on the board every time I start a course:
“Leadership begins with listening.”
I believe that very strongly. I like to be interrupted. I would rather play off what you’re thinking, rather than guess what you’re thinking. I want to listen to what you say.
I don’t know where we’re going today. I have a plan. But I haven’t listened to you yet. I decide the order of my material based upon “what comes into the room” from you. You don’t want me to treat you like a stereotype. You need to tell me stories. I’ll go in the directions you want me to go.
For what are we listening? To whom are we listening?
We are listening to the people entrusted to our care. [We are listening to their stories.]
We all have responsibility to the people entrusted to our care – our spouses, our children, our grandchildren, co-workers, those within ministry, etc.
Every one of us is planted by God someplace, and people are entrusted to our care.
Have you ever had someone “dumped on you”? [God gives you “opportunities” to listen and mentor others about Christ and a system of thinking which guides our lives.]
[People are looking for mentors and mentoring.]
If leadership begins with listening, what do you listen for? The leading sociologist of religion is descriptive, not prescriptive. This sociologist tells you about religion, not what he thinks about religion. Eventually, he did tell what he thinks in a book, but he gave a disclaimer that he was departing from his typical role as sociologist.
It used to be that, if you were not in church on any given Sunday, someone would have called to see if anything was wrong. We don’t have the strong ties to church any more. This leading sociologist wanted to blame the clergy, but he blamed the seminaries for the topics of the sermons on Sunday morning.
We as Christian leaders would rather talk about culture war issues and arcane theology than listening for things that keep people awake at night.
Your job is to listen long enough that you can tell me about the people entrusted to their care. Know what matters most to people within your care. Teach them to see those cares and worries and fears from God’s perspective.
To do so, we’re going to practice that. I’m going to show you a short video from a Pixar movie. Shakespeare was wonderful in talking about the human condition. But Shakespeare doesn’t resonate with people today. Pixar knows how to answer these questions about the human condition today.
What does it mean to be human? Who am I? To whom do we belong? Who am I in the world? These are questions that people are asking.
The image of God is imprinted on us. Many people don’t know this.
This clip is from the beginning of the movie, Up.
[Life happens.] Leadership begins with listening. For what do we listen? Listen for the things which matter most to the people within your care.
Listen for longing and loss.
In this clip, what were the longings and losses?
Longings: babies, adventure, oneness, companionship, plans, dreams, investment, stewardship, security, freedom, identity
Losses: babies, goals, opportunities, plans, money
When we are listening wells as leaders, we discover companions we never expected. This happened in Up.
These are the issues faced by the people within our care as leaders.
We identify with each other by “where we’re from” and “what we do.” [But life is so much more than that. What are people’s longings? What are their losses?]
Your agenda in ministry should be to find out what keeps the people under your care up at night.
Take your story. Take their story. Weave all of that together with God’s story to give them hope.
At its core, the brain works the same no matter where you’re from. But not all [in fact, few] think the same as anyone else.
We fall into the trap of our own experiences and map our experiences over other people, as though they think like we think.
What REALLY matters to the people entrusted to your care?
Chap Clark, one of my colleagues, took a sabbatical, secured a job in a high school, listened to the students in their natural habitat, and wrote the book, Hurt.
The first rule of retail is “the customer is always right.” This consumer mentality has moved into every sphere of our lives. Consumers believe EVERYTHING is negotiable. You still need to listen to people long enough that you can figure out what matters most to them. Take advantage of teachable moments. [Don’t just assert your authority.] Talk to people about really matters to them. [Listen. Mentor.] Find out “what’s really going on here.”
[It’s not about you.] Listen to people. Have longer conversations about issues.
How do you deal with longings and losses with individuals and groups?
For an individual, a discovery someone comes to on his/her own is much more powerful than a person “dumping” something on him/her.
For a group, I tell stories which reach the different layers of response from them. And then, as a mentor, I follow-up with individuals to address individual issues.
Use the biblical narratives. The Psalms are filled with longing and loss, for instance. It’s not about you. What is the appropriate biblical response to loss? A psalm of lament. The message of the Psalm of lament? God can handle your honesty, even and especially when you are angry at Him. People think God is just like you and me, only better. God is qualitatively different. Have you ever been really angry at your boss? Did you believe you could tell exactly how angry you are to that boss – in the baldest possible terms? Probably not. You were too afraid about getting fired. We Christians are too afraid of getting “fired” by God when we’re angry at Him.
My favorite Psalm is 139. It’s beautiful. It’s written as a Psalm as Lament. Most of the Psalm is about God. The Psalmist is honest with Him. He names specific people he wants God to kill! He’d put God on a timetable, if he could! We too often make that Psalm “polite” by removing the language of “wanting someone dead”! People need to know how to express their anger biblically. We need the language of being completely honest. Most people do not believe they have permission to be angry at God, so they put up facades, pretending they’re not angry. God already knows you’re angry! So, be completely honest! But people don’t like to go to places where they’re really angry. We think that’s not okay! Psalms “pre-legitimize” the opportunity to honestly express anger. God is with you always. God did not promise to take away the pain. But he promised to never leave you. He will not abandon you. Your immediate response to that truth is “Neither will I” abandon another human being.
When God uses you in a positive situation, you sometimes get credit for what God does. When God has you in the path of people facing negative circumstances, you sometimes become a lightning rod for those people’s hurts. You signed up for both scenarios. It’s not about you.
In the book of Numbers, the sons of Jacob are now out of Egypt, and they are wandering in the desert. They did not receive the manna with gratitude and thankfulness. They complained. How did God react? God invites some complaints, but other complaints will get you 40 years in the wilderness! Trust in God. The Hebrews had stopped talking TO God. They were talking ABOUT God in their grumbling.
God meets you in your brokenness. He can handle your honest anger, and he appreciates your trusting in Him. Meet others in their brokenness.
We often will not be honest about our brokenness. Invite people to allow you deeper into their lives. [Don’t force it, but earn the trust of others. Be a safe person to others.]
Finances, relationships, caring for children, caring for parents, addictions – these are all burdents of the people entrusted to your care. This is part of what it means to be human. What’s up in their lives? [Find out!]
[Don’t take up the ideal. People find the ideal unachievable – and discouraging when unachievable. Take up the real.]
How do you invite people to see God as a part of their lives?
People are not logical in the sense that we think of “logical.” People try to make sense of something by sticking it into a story. We are story-driven.
After 9/11, the New Yorker magazine did not publish that week. They sent their reporters into the city to document what was happening. The next issue of the magazine was the “Black Issue.” The articles captured the conversations about 9/11. Most people were very inarticulate. They couldn’t figure out what was going on. One writer found it odd that a movie title and plot kept coming up in conversations – Die Hard. In this movie, a bunch of bad guys are assaulting a building to cover the tracks of their crime. The good guys came along, saved the building, and saved the day. People had mental models of how that story ended. During 9/11, the good guys didn’t come to save the day. These bewildered people were left without an interpretation for the narrative. Bush spoke an interpretation: “This was a terrorist attack. We are at war.” The act was now understandable. He gave us a story to make sense of what happened. Whether the story was right or wrong, the leader spoke a story into being, and we all adopted the story.
Max DuPree wrote a very memorable first line in one of his books: “The first responsibility of a leader is to [honestly] define reality.” Answer the question, “What’s happening?” What should people be paying attention to? Tell them the story. The 4 P’s of Vermeer are what matter to the Corporation. If you want to make a pitch to the Vermeers, make the pitch around the 4 P’s. Fit your story into their story.
[The 4 P’s are principles, people, products, and profit.]
How do we make sense of “love”? People understand love as a story. Most of you would tell me the characteristics of love. Stories of love make sense to people. When we find ourselves in a situation which doesn’t make sense to us, we glom onto a story which helps us make sense of the situation.
Our brains take us down paths which create stories to fit the data. Your job is to give people the stories that help them make sense of their lives. Some people are walking around with stories that don’t work. That’s why Jesus’ story is so powerful. [Jesus’ story works.]
We have mental models. We have models of things the way they should be. Mental models set expectations. People judge events, people, and objects of life based on what they expect them to be.
What if you had come here and found out that everyone was going to be expected to give blood today? Would that satisfy your expectations? No, that would violate your expectations. Giving blood was well beyond the boundary.
People will judge you and judge God, based on expectations.
We have mental models of “church music.” We have mental models of “preachers.” If the reality doesn’t meet your expectation, it’s “wrong.”
One of the most powerful things you can do is to invite someone into new and different mental models. Make people aware of the options of mental models which are available to them. Too many people are “pulling out” the wrong behaviors.
Jesus tried to change the mental models of others. He had THE MOST authority. He was THE BEST teacher. He tried to change others’ mental models, and that didn’t go well with him on earth with so many people. Mental models are deeply ingrained.
Invite people into stories one-step-at-a-time.
People don’t resist change; they resist loss. It’s not that people don’t like change. They don’t like the loss of the comfort zone. There is a cost to change. There is loss with change. People don’t get change instantly. [Some people get it instantly but don’t want the loss, so they resist the loss of what they have recently known.]
Your work is planting and watering. God brings the increase. You cannot give the increase. You can shape and create environments in which God can bring the increase. The rest is up to God. There are no guarantees.
How do you create an environment where people can thrive?
Plant language in people like Jesus planted language in the hearts and minds of His disciples. Prior to Jesus’ death, the disciples thought a Messiah would not die and live again. They thought he was speaking metaphorically. When he died and rose again, they “got it.”
Past, present, and future often work as a story. Set a trajectory which will help them understand their future.
The best way to change the future is to change the past. [Hook the present to the past and the present to the future.]
Jews were children of Abraham. As such, they “belonged to God.” Paul had to figure a way to change the mental models of Jews. Paul said, Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. Abraham’s seed – his DNA – is not what’s important. The promise of God to Abraham – as a child of God – applies to EVERYONE, because we have Abraham’s faith. If you want a different future, you’ve got to re-interpret the past.
Some churches say, “We’re not broken.” They have false self-identities. Stories become so powerful that they distort reality. These kinds of delusions are mildly okay, but the falsehoods prevent effective ministry. Some churches say one thing, and they act another way; for instance, some churches say they are “family” churches, but they are “family” in the sense that they want anyone who visits to fit their mental model of 1960s family. What’s good enough for “what was” is good enough for “what is.”
Empathize with those who are trapped within [dysfunctional] stories.
What can you do for those people?
Jesus told stories and invited His followers into the stories, so they were living out similar stories.
People are inviting us ministers into false stories of idolatry and evil. How do we get people out of their false stories? You shouldn’t rely too much on authority; otherwise, people will do what you say to your face – to save faith – and then they will walk away and do whatever they like. Compliance is as long as your authority reaches. The reality of Christian ministry is that we don’t have the authority to follow people around [and we can’t change them]. God DOES have the authority to follow people around and to change them.
Some commands are impossible to follow unless you have a different story (mental model) to follow. For instance, how is it that I can truly believe that I will find joy in suffering?!
The respected people of the past hold more authority than the current leaders of the organization. Invoke the revered people of history in an effort to solidify the governing values and vision for the future. Keep telling stories which plant and water the ideas. God gives the increase.
Ideas are not “our” ideas. God gives ideas. We don’t “own” ideas. We plant and water the ideas. God gives the increase.
One author once wrote, “Blessed are those who do not have expectations, for they will be satisfied.”
In our lives, we have two sets of expectations: expectations we espouse and the expectations which are rooted in reality.
We leaders too often judge ourselves by our intentions, and we judge others by their actions.
Chris Argyris believes we should treat our expectations as hypotheses, to see if they are grounded in reality. We too often put expectations on people they never agreed to when they “signed up” for the work.
The longer we are in an organization, the more everyone begins thinking like each other over time. How do we unlock ourselves from faulty mental models? Invite outsiders to give perspectives about the mental models.
Look to the places where you complain. Is that telling you something about yourself as a leader? Is that telling me something about them?
What if there is no great patriarch or matriarch to re-visit the founding mission in order to envision a better future? Every organization has stories. Find the best stories, and tell those stories, which lead to a preferred future. Positive stories define what it means to be in positive community. Certain stories need to define the organization – every group of people. Find the stories which claim who you want to be in the future.
What about the people who want to re-live the “glory days” in a time when the glory days are no longer applicable? The “good old days” were simpler. Life is more complex today. It is normal to long for the good old days. Lament for/with the people who long for simpler times; they are lamenting the loss of something/someone. Find out what they really want.
My grandmother is 97. She is the kindest, most loving person in her nursing home. She told me she is ready to die. I reminded her that she still has ministry to the other people in the home. She is still contributing to community. I can’t just say to her, “Look at the bright side.” I point her to her possibilities and purposes in life.
I often ask people, “What is God inviting you to do?” Wherever God has planted you, He will invite you to complete work for Him. You can “retire” from the church [but you can’t retire from “ministry”]. [Jesus still has use for people who have breath in their lungs.]
Who is God calling you today? Every single day, what is God calling you to today?
We’re going to talk about conflict.
No conflict?! No honesty!
No honesty? No community! We must know each other as we are.
You can’t say, “We don’t do conflict.” In too many communities, bringing up conflict is “impolite.” We give the excuse that good people don’t say mean things to one another.
More than one human being brings more than one opinion. God has made us for diversity. God has given us each other. We see things from difference perspectives. We all see the world differently. We need each other to see the whole world as it should be. We cannot agree that we will never disagree. No conflict? No honesty.
You do not have a choice between no conflict and conflict. You have a choice between constructive conflict and destructive conflict.
How do we talk together when we disagree with each other?
Value the dissenter. [Value dissent.]
Do you ever change your mind? Yes. [Why would you hold onto untrue or invalid beliefs, if you would better understand reality?!] You can either believe (1) you are wrong about something, or (2) you are at the apex of Christian history! Someone – many someones – will eventually teach you something and help you remove “wrong” knowledge. If you push away ideas from others, you will sometimes be pushing away something you’re wrong about. Admit, “I’m sure I’m wrong about something.” Let the people know it is safe to be “wrong.” Don’t embarrass people who have wrong understanding. The last line of Psalm 139 is “fix me if I’m wrong.”
Here’s how this connects to evangelism. The “better” Christians are usually “worse” at evangelism. It’s a matter of “strength in weak ties.” The more committed you are to a cause, the less likely you are going to be an evangelist. We live in mostly Christian communities and do not have contact with non-Christians. Our ties to Christianity are so strong – the “strength of strong ties” – that almost everyone we know is already one of us! You get out-of-practice with evangelism when you are not among non-Christians.
We too often look at non-Christians as “projects.” We seek to “make him like one of us.” You’ve got to take the perspective of “what can I learn from him?” rather than “how can I re-make him in our image?”
The Samaritan woman at the well would not have passed a background check for your church nursery, but she was an excellent evangelist!
Can anyone who does not have Abraham’s blood running through their veins become a Christian? YES!
The council at Jerusalem called Peter on the carpet. He was doing what he promised the others he would not do. Peter’s defense? God was responsible for his actions. God baptized non-Jews. So Peter baptized, too. Peter followed what God had already done.
The dissenter will often tell you a story which may not resonate with the people, but it may be a story you desperately need to hear. Peter was a dissenter in this situation. God had given him a vision. He told the story of what God had done in his life.
What happens when someone comes into your congregation and does what has never been done? That person could say, “I am doing what God has already been doing.”
New leaders tell us things we may not want to hear. In my church, I tell our people that we have to be open to ideas that are older than 1972! Don’t just seek people who “want to act like us.” We should not say, “Come and follow our rules, and we will treat you kindly.”
Figure out what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes, so you can see the world from a perspective different than the one shared by everyone else in the community.
Listen long enough to figure out what people need. People have different expectations of the church than decades ago. People expect the church to be judgmental and close-minded today. It’s not safe. They might get “caught” [in their sin] and embarrassed. No one is going to sign up for that! That’s the stereotype people have about church. Defeat the faulty expectations.
The warehouse box church feels safe to non-Christians, because it doesn’t look like the place that was “so mean” when people were kids. Point people to Jesus without the culturally-loaded trappings of Jesus. We are Christ’s ambassadors. If you don’t know anyone who is a non-Christian, you won’t be building bridges from non-Christians to Christ.
Too many churches kick out the dissenters. At no point did Jesus allow Christians to vote dissenters off the island. I have a list of annoying people. At the top of someone else’s list of dissenters is me! It’s our job to disagree with each other – to help others see the world differently. One day, I will be the dissenter, and I will appreciate the opportunity to be taken seriously as a dissenter.
You’ve got to teach people how to dissent reasonably. At a time when the culture of your organization is pretty positive, agree on the ground rules when conflict arises; it often takes more than one meeting to reach agreement; you are inviting the leaders to be on a healthy path. Lower the cost of being in conflict. Guarantee that the conflict will not get out-of-hand. Guarantee safety in conflict. Turn down the heat in the room. But ground rules should not be used as clubs to beat one another.
Tell yourself and others in the room – verbally and with your attitude – memorize the statement – “This conflict WILL NOT undo us. Our commitments to one another – the bonds of love that connect us in Christ – are more important than this conflict – and this matter will not result in division. This issue is serious, and we will deal with it without sweeping it under the rug. We are strong enough as a group to learn from this moment, and to grow from it.”
Most people experience conflict as the first step in separation. [They assume separation WILL occur.]
Conflict must not lead to violence.
Cultivate gentleness. Choose gentleness. Be gentle; gentleness is one of the fruit of the Spirit. Remain calm. Speak more slowly and in a softer voice.
At what point did we “learn” selfishness? At what point did you have to teach your children selfishness. [Sin and selfishness is at our core; we did not have to learn it, and we did not have to teach our children to be selfish.]
We learn different approaches to conflict. Each person is different. Some go on offense. Some practice defense. Some ignore it.
Conflict makes 3-year-olds of us all. Our instincts for conflict are formed early in our lives. The more stress we feel, the more likely we will act like 3-year-olds.
How do those principles of conflict apply to the biblical example of Paul and Barnabas taking different paths? Such was not a model of Christian living. Divorce happens. What I believe is it doesn’t have to happen. At least so far as it depends upon us, we should leave peaceably with others. [Make peace. Don’t just keep the peace.]
If the dissenter/s want to keep talking, the others should keep listening. Get the dissent out in the meeting, so it doesn’t occur in the parking lot.
How do you handle conflict which is directed at you, personally? Be a grown-up. Accept anger that is not yours. In leadership, you sign up for anger from others. It can’t be avoided. Feel compassion for the person who is directing ang which should not be directed at you. Their sense of pain and loss manifest themselves in emotional anger.
Five Absolutely Indispensible Skills for Dealing with Conflict (from the book, Getting Past No)
Before engaging the skills, agree upon the best alternative to a negotiated agreement to keep everyone from walking away ON PRINCIPLE. Don’t walk away with righteous indignation, because you could be making an even worse decision.
- Don’t react. Get on the balcony; look to see the patterns you otherwise would not be able to see if you are too close to the situation. Control your instincts. Ask for more information: “Tell me more.” Buy yourself time. Leadership begins with listening. Listen more. Buy time and understanding in listening.
- Don’t argue. Step to their side. Focus on listening. If you are in a sword fight, you are either attacking or retreating. Don’t engage in the fight. Listen. Don’t be formulating what you’re going to say in your head and fail to listen. Hand the sword to the other person; say, “I know I’ll ultimately get an opportunity to speak, but I really want to listen to you now. I really want to understand you, so let me make sure I say what I think you are saying, and if I am missing something [with 2 or 3 sentences, not a speech]; essentially, you are handing the sword to the person and asking him to attack you again [and perhaps again and again and again]. This can take some time. People need to listen to each other.
- Don’t escalate. Educate. Don’t use your “power” to make threats. The harder it is to say no, the harder to say yes. Threats don’t work. The goal is a mutually-agreed-upon solution, not victory.
- Don’t reject. Re-frame.
- Don’t push. Build them a golden bridge to retreat. (from Sun Tzu, The Art of War) Often times, the only thing keeping them from agreement is that agreement will cause them to lose face. It’s especially important to offer concessions when you have backed them into a corner. Help them get something that they want, so they don’t feel they have “lost.” Give others authority over you that they might not otherwise have. You are giving up some control, so the other would have some legitimate control of the situation. Giving up some authority to others actually can increase your authority. It’s about relationships, time, and respect. Let’s go all of the way back to my first point: Leadership begins with listening.
These authors have also written the book, Getting to Yes.
We will make a copy of the conflict handout by e-mail.