Receiving Critical Feedback – A Challenge

feedback-not-for-meIn a previous post I shared the leadership challenge of giving critical feedback in today’s over celebrated and politically correct environment.  I now want to share a few tips on how to receive critical feedback, which is a leadership development must.  If you want to improve you have to be able to receive and process critical feedback.  To be even more clear, I believe you will not significantly improve as a person until you can learn to receive and process feedback that can be challenging to hear.

Here are a few tips when receiving critical feedback:

  1. Feedback isn’t your identity – My identity is in Jesus Christ and whatever feedback I receive I refuse to let it hang on me to change who I am.  Without rooting yourself in who you are you will become what everyone wants you to become instead of who you were made to be.  If feedback is your identity then you will have a fear of criticism and you will search out affirmation from people instead of God.
  2. Discern the personal investment on the feedback you are about the receive – If someone is investing in you and on your future potential you should be completely open to hear and receive their feedback.  Conversely if a complete stranger gives you feedback you have to cautiously determine how and even if you need to adjust or respond.  You don’t need to respond to all criticism!
  3. Receive the feedback with open ears – If your posture becomes immediate defense when someone attempts to give you feedback your potential for improvement declines.
  4. Thank the person who is giving you feedback – There is no reason to do anything but thank the person who gives you the feedback.  It doesn’t mean you agree with them, but assume that they want you to improve.
  5. Consider and Pray about the feedback and how you should change / respond – You don’t have to immediately change.  Likely it took you decades to form your style and your mannerisms.  Changing it overnight can be clunky so be patient.  If you should adjust then adjust.   A big leadership mistake is to receive critical feedback but never do anything about it, even though it was outstanding.



Giving Critical Feedback – A Challenge

feedback-help-professional-developmentI think we are losing the ability to give and receive critical feedback.  I know that is an over-generalization, but with the participation trophy society that we live in, it is becoming more and more challenging for leaders to impart wisdom and advice without being discounted as being overly critical.

When I was growing up I participated in band program and was somewhat musically inclined.  Throughout my teenage years I received A LOT of feedback.   When I inquire with others who participated in sports activities or other extra curricular activities it is a similar story – feedback, even critical feedback, was important to improve.  Throughout my entire working career in the marketplace feedback was exceedingly important to understand how I could improve.

The question was recently asked to me, how do leaders today give feedback without being perceived as negative or overly critical?

As I think through this challenge today here are some tips to consider:

  1. There should be an emotional bank account to dip from – If you are only giving feedback without a relationship you can easily be discounted as always being negative.
  2. Give feedback in a timely manner  – Memories fade quicker than you think.  Giving feedback on something a few weeks ago won’t be as effective as giving feedback on something that happened yesterday.
  3. Share feedback out of a foundation of improvement – Giving feedback should be drafted out of a desire to improve.  Feedback should never be a means to an end, rather a suggestion to help a person be even better than they are now.
  4. Don’t over compliment to bookend critical feedback – Whenever you need to share feedback for improvement don’t fall into the trap of always giving praise before and after the criticism.  You will end up softening the feedback that should be given and could miss the core message you are trying to impart.  Give praise when praise is due, but don’t overpraise just to give criticism.
  5. Go beyond the critical – Don’t just share that “Your performance was terrible”, share what they could have done differently to make it better and be specific!
  6. Follow-up – This is a frequently missed tip!  Follow-up after the feedback in a few days to see if the individual understood or if there are any questions or if they disagree. Many times the time for them to process your feedback generates an even healthier discussion a few days later.

In a follow-up post I will share a few tips on how to receive feedback.

Why I went back to Evernote

unknownWith the recent terms of service communication snafu by Evernote this year I wanted to see if Onenote by Microsoft was a viable alternative.  I’ve been an Evernote user since April 2010 and have paid regularly for their premium offering.   I’ve also used Onenote on a somewhat regular basis through an Office 365 subscription.  I run a MacBook Pro running Sierra O/S and the latest versions of Evernote and OneNote.

When the terms of service were changed I thought it would be a good opportunity to use the new Microsoft Onenote converter tool from Evernote.  I converted a few of my most used notebooks and notes over and for a solid month tried to only use Onenote.  Here are my observations and why I decided to convert back to Evernote.

  • The importer tool did not convert 100% of the notes I needed.  I had to play with the import tool, export the notes from Evernote and then batch upload my notes.  When I got them in OneNote they didn’t convert flawlessly.  They were in page sections that were listed 1-100, 101-199, etc.  It took about 3 hours to get the layout to the point I could actually functionally use OneNote.
  • I enjoyed the text entry capabilities in OneNote. It felt more like an editor that was viable for everyday use and it mimicked the capabilities in Word more than Evernote.  I really found it great to use from an editing standpoint.
  • I found myself asking “why did it just do that?” frequently with OneNote.  When I was creating a long text document and wanted to put a text box of “ideas” to the right of my main text box.  I found it started to move my content in the main text box.  It was terribly annoying.
  • Even though Evernote and OneNote should help you not print so much paper, the reality is printing is something needed.  OneNote printing on the Mac is an absolute joke.  It doesn’t “fit to page”.  You might as well just not give the option if the output is terrible.
  • There is no ability to sort the pages by date created in OneNote.  Sort is kind of an important thing.
  • OneNote feels like it sits atop multiple Microsoft platforms.  From SharePoint to Word and OneDrive it just feels like it is stacked on top of many Microsoft platforms and it feels bloated.
  • The “experimental”features in OneNote try to mimic the left had format of Evernote, however it is an improvement, but not what I need because it continues to lack sort options. (why is this?)
  • OneNote on the mac crashes or locks about 1x or 2x per week.  Evernote rarely locks or crashes.  Like I cannot remember the last time it was unstable.
  • Tables in Evernote work much better than tables in OneNote – there are more formatting options and it is an important feature in note taking software.
  • The tags in OneNote I thought would be helpful just became annoying.  I’m sure if this was part of your workflow it might be useful, but the only one I used was “todo”.

Even though Evernote has made some bonehead decisions that they have had to change later, the reality is EverNote is still more robust and easier to use than OneNote.  I’m hopeful that EverNote will continue to develop it’s core technology, improve the editing capabilities, become a leader in security in the industry and normalize it’s leadership communication and direction.

When Worlds Collide: Healthcare & Homeless Ministry

12790452674_e7bff6f3d5_oLast night and this morning I was faced with a very frustrating situation in our attempt to help the unsheltered homeless in South Bend.  It’s one thing to write about how fantastic it is trying to do the things Jesus told us to do in Matthew 25 ( For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’), but the reality is that not every interaction ends in joy and celebration.

Last night at our Weather Amnesty shelter an individual arrived who was medically challenged.  I’ll leave off the details to protect privacy, but the individual was in a skilled nursing facility in another town prior to refusing treatment and walking away from that facility and getting a bus ride to South Bend.  Now This isn’t unique to South Bend as it happens all over the country. The individual grew up in South Bend, however no longer has relatives close and no family support system to lean on.  It was the city he knew.  He wanted to be free and to have independence.  He didn’t come to “mooch off the services of the  city”, rather in a passionate move to gain freedom from being constantly cared for, he left his primary care facility to do something he wanted to do.  He refused treatment.

Since being in the city for just a few days he has spent time in the hospital as well as time in our weather amnesty facility.  He is incredibly polite, respectful and has no mental issues that I could determine in the short amount of time that I met with him.  He has a deep desire to have freedom and be more self supportive.  But based on what I saw, that is going to be challenging at best.   I feel like the canary in the coal mine.  I’ve had a conversation with the local hospital and other homeless facilities in town in an effort to coordinate a plan.  I cannot imagine working on situations like this without a coordinated effort. I am beyond blessed to have worked 20 years in healthcare locally and have a fantastic relationship with the other homeless agencies in town, however I’m concerned….

As I recall my time in healthcare administration our guest is likely at risk for being a frequent visitor to expensive emergency hospital care. You cannot make someone receive treatment.  You cannot force a solution on someone who still has the capability to make choices for themselves.  This ends up being incredibly expense and frustrating. You can find countless articles about the expense to a hospital (and community) related to homeless medical expenses. (Here is an example) This was one reason six years ago we starting Project WARM ( to keep the unsheltered homeless in a safe location outside of the local hospital emergency room.  Our goal was to develop a relationship with the unsheltered homeless, share the love of Jesus with them and get them to a next step in their life.  Over the last six years we have seen incredible stories of success, but today’s example is a heartbreaking reality when someone refuses help.

The reality is our guest this morning needed something deeper.  He desperately desires “meaning” in his life and “independence”.  Two things that even in a skilled nursing facility someone can find, but seemingly were not provided to him.  When he gets placed again (hopefully soon) in a skilled facility, without someone addressing a basic desire of “What’s the meaning of my life” he likely will not be content and could refuse treatment again.

From a ministry standpoint he needs to have a relationship with Jesus.  He needs to know what “love” is – he’s never experienced it in a meaningful way.  He can find meaning in who God made him to be, but that can take time. It is difficult to convey and show the love of Jesus when someone refuses treatment, refuses good advice and is in a emergent homeless situation.

I was able to pray for him this morning and suggest a next step….. But I’m still frustrated….

That frustration reminded me this morning of Matthew 26:11 where Jesus pointed out that  “The poor you will always have with you…”.  Likely this was a reference to Deuteronomy 15:11 “There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land”.

So while I’m frustrated, I’m not giving up.  We are commanded to be openhanded toward the poor.  We are not commanded to be openhanded until you get frustrated and then give up and walk away.  The reality is for every individual who refuses a healthy next step, there are more who take steps to recovery and health.  As I write this I’m reminded of the individual listening to everything going on this morning at our shelter who said that he was looking for a job today and was ready to get off the streets.  I’m reminded of the gentleman last week who told us that he stopped drinking two weeks ago and had been sober longer than he had been in years.   I’m pressing on….

A Clogged Filter

clogged-air-conditioning-filter-phoenix-azHave you ever felt like you needed to filter what you were about to say?  Or maybe you’ve said something and wished you would have filtered it before it came out.  I’ve done that – way too many times.  The problem with a filter is it gets clogged up and the ugliness eventually comes out.  We put to words “how we really feel”, and it comes out in a not very helpful way.

In Matthew 15:18  Jesus says “….the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart”.

You can try to filter what you want to say only so long but what comes out eventually are is deeply implanted thoughts in the heart, our core beliefs and judgements.

The issue isn’t the filter we use, the issue that we even need a filter.

In Matthew 12:36 when it says that “everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken”, I already have enough words I need to give account for I don’t want to add more.  This means that I need to evaluate my heart and my heart reaction, my core belief system and my judgement of others.  I need to view situations and people, no matter how complicated or messy, the way Jesus sees them.

Lord help me live in such a way that my heart is clean and a filter is never needed.

So Dad, what’s the benefit to us of you being a pastor?

img_0695This last weekend my 11 year old son, after a small disagreement regarding a trivial matter on a Sunday, asked a phenomenal question….  “Dad, what benefit is there for us now that you are a pastor”?  Ouch…. that hurt…..  While it sounded like a really selfish question for an 11 year old to ask, it was a great, honest, heartfelt question in the moment.  After a month of pushing hard to get many things done it was a good reminder of my priorities.

Before I dig deeper into that question and my response I need to paint some background.  Over the course of my career in healthcare I tried to carve out time during my busy schedule for my children.  This picture above is what “Work Days” normally looked like.  These were days that I would invite one of my boys to the office for an hour where we would hang out, eat ice cream from the hospital cafeteria and I would try to make them feel important.  I would introduce them to people I worked with, let them draw pictures on my white board and listen intently to them.  I still got work done during the time we spent together – as you can see in the picture I’m on my phone….but I intentionally carved time out of my busy schedule for them.  I would also take them to Notre Dame football games or special events and we would vacation together to fun places.

Now in ministry I find it more difficult for “work days”and financially challenging to take them to larger events like football games or fancy vacations.  My boys go to church on Sunday’s so they are at the place I work, but for a different purpose.  In ministry you also deal with your weekends being much different than they were when I was in the marketplace.  The day I’m off my children are in school or working and it can be challenging to find time to be meaningfully present.

Here are ways in which I try to connect with my children while in ministry, and I’m still working on these:

  • We try to eat together many evenings – this doesn’t happen every night, but we really try hard to do this regularly.
  • Intentional time – I drive my middle son to school almost every day.  It’s 20 minutes together and while we don’t have amazing discussions every day (imagine a 15 year old early in the morning – not the most talkative), it’s time we get together and we do connect.  Finding intentional time with each of my sons is important.
  • Special Events – These take on different meanings because they are likely less frequent in ministry just due to time and financial constraints.  Instead of Notre Dame games or destination vacations we go away and camp or to a state park.
  • Pray Together – Must do more of this!
  • Texting – With my oldest son who now has a full time job and attending a community college texting seems to be a lifeline to connection throughout the week.  From comical tidbits back and forth to serious questions texting is a must.

Today after an early morning meeting and leaving before my sons got up, I went back home to eat with my youngest son and we discussed some of the benefits of my job to the family.  We talked through his question yesterday and we talked about how our time together was important.  It was the highlight of my day.

While there is a delicate balance between your time in ministry serving others, are you serving your family and your children well?  Do they feel like they are important to you, or are you out of balance?  It took an 11 year old to ask an honest question for me to recalibrate after a busy month of activity….  I appreciated his honesty and I enjoyed my breakfast with him this morning.


Improving Communities – Start With Your Smallest Community

cuu6mjaumaqdsbdI had the opportunity recently to speak with a large health system in Northern Indiana.  They wanted me to speak about “Improving Communities” and left room for me to speak about whatever I felt might be important within that topic.  With such wide boundaries to work within it allowed me to think about the gigantic concept of “community improvement”  and I immediately thought about geographic regions like cities or large portions of populations. When you think about community improvement the natural tendency is to think big, isn’t it?  When you consider improving large populations of hundreds, thousands or millions of people you start to think about what programs to implement, funding decisions and key metrics and it is easy to of a mission to improvement communities to become largely disconnected from someones everyday work.

If you look at the mission statement of health systems around the country it frequently points to community improvement in some way.  When you ask their employee’s how their specific job, at a day to day level, helps to advance the mission (let alone do they know what their mission statement is), they frequently can’t make that link – it becomes an ethereal concept.  How does going to meetings everyday really improve our community?  How does cleaning this patient room improve our community?  If your mission statement isn’t directly linkable to someones everyday work in some way it is difficult to really advance your mission.

If you look at how Jesus dealt with community, he generally dealt with the smallest form of community – changing one person, or a small group of people which then infected the entire community, and the world around him.  It got me thinking….  What if we thought of community as every interaction that we have around us with other people?  Don’t you enter a community every time you enter a patient room – it’s the community of the family in front of you.  You enter a community every time you deliver a meal to a patient room, visit a person at home with a homecare visit, schedule a patient visit, clean a patient room, document a visit in the electronic medical record.  We enter a community when we have a meeting with our co-workers, we enter a community when we give a performance evaluation.  The reality is we are a collection of communities, small and large, and we interact with communities all day long.  If we thought of improving communities as improving the interactions we had every day with groups we work with the mission of “improving our communities” our mission would take a who new meaning.  It would make the ethereal concept of community and make it tangible for every person in the organization.

It is my belief that without the thought of improving communities at the every day interactions with small pop-up communities all around us, an organization will never be able to improve large community populations.

Here are 6 ways in which an organization can start improving communities at the day-to-day level that will more rapidly start to improve larger communities.  Using these you can tap into the potential of thousands of everyday interactions which cumulatively improve the geographic population you live in.   As you read through this list, think through the small communities (interactions) that you have every day.

You can improve community if you….

  1. Realize you are not the most important person/department/organization in the community
  2. Build the community up, don’t tear it apart
  3. Discover and encourage the gifts of other community members
  4. Unlock your own gifts and give your all
  5. Participate in your community with joy
  6. Leave your community better than you found it

These are great lessons from best management reference around….The Bible…. Specifically from Romans 12:3-8

Teaching the Campus to Be a Campus

disconnected-400x250When you launch a multi-site video campus a fair number of individuals may transition from the live campus.  Additionally, when you launch you will have visitors that are not used to video teaching.  This means that you, as a campus leader/pastor, need to help teach the campus, how to be a campus.

For example eight weeks into our launch of our video campus the teaching pastor (on video) invited everyone with a specific issue to stand up during the message.  At the live campus this worked beautifully and connected perfectly in the message, yet at the video campus no one stood up during that prompt.  It created an awkward moment in the room and there was a feeling of being disconnected.  This had nothing to do with the technology, or how poor the video quality was, or what camera shot we were using – we spent a lot on the technology.  The disconnect related to the campus not interacting with the teaching.

There are two approaches to fixing this type of disconnection.  First we could have implemented a “no teaching pastor can call out an action in the room” which can create a sterile message and minimizes campus interaction during the message, which is not ideal.  Alternatively the campus pastor can help facilitate that interaction.  The campus pastor normally is watching what is going on in the room and could jump in, while the teaching occurs, and underscore who at the video campus should be standing.  Additionally the campus pastor could let a few individuals know beforehand that there is a callout to stand for a particular opportunity and encourage those to stand if they feel led to.

Anything the campus pastor can do to interact within the campus with the video teaching can help support the interaction during the message and help eliminate the disconnect feeling.  Interactions like clapping when the teaching pastor welcomes the campus, or laughing during jokes during the message help model how the campus attendees can feel included.

Our first permanent video campus took around six months to feel like the campus knew how to interact with the video message and no longer needs as many prompts or reminders.  Once the campus feels comfortable with that interaction newcomers see the behavior modeled and disconnects become less noticeable.

Perhaps the Lord – Giving God Room

YmQFmoTjAfter hearing a great message in the fall and while praying about some major initiatives recently I have become more aware of the importance of giving God room to move.  While God can certainly move any direction He wants in any situation, what I believe He has shown me is that our prayers and our expectations of what He can do are woefully inadequate.  If we believe God can provide the BEST answer, are we asking Him for things that are miles too short of what he could provide?

In 2Samuel 14:6, Jonathan leads his armor bearer to an interesting journey and says to his young armor bearer  “Perhaps the Lord will act on our behalf.”  Are we leaning in to situations and giving God room to show up?  Are we praying prayers that, if He answered, would ONLY give glory to Him because it would be impossible to accomplish in your own strength?  Are we trying to get a glimpse of what God may want to happen, stepping in to that and asking Perhaps the Lord….?

This has substantially changed my prayer life and I now encourage:

  • Pray instead of act toward my desired outcome – There are times that I act first to get the outcome that I desire, hoping or assuming that God will agree with me.  I’m learning to pray and give God room to move.  I’ve seen more answer to prayer because I’m giving God space where I used to jump out of my own effort.
  • Pray and ask for a timeframe – I don’t do this to test God, but perhaps the Lord will answer my prayer instead of putting an open ended ask.  It builds expectation.
  • Pray the crazy prayers – When we were looking for a new church property for a campus we prayed some crazy wild prayers.  Looking back it allowed us to see God in the process more clearly.  We saw things that only God could have done in response to those prayers.
  • Pray with expectation that it will be answered – If you are going to pray it, then test it.  If you pray for healing, check it out right away.  If you want an answer to a question, have paper and pencil in hand expecting an answer.

Perhaps the Lord…..

Immediately Recognizable vs. Replicated – Keeping the Culture Alive at Multi-Sites

do-not-duplicate-page-nameWhen your church decides to go “multi-site” the first step is to develop a great set of overall guidelines that will provide guard rails for your off site locations.  There are many great examples of these guidelines that are a good Google search away.  What I’ve found is needed beyond the overall guidelines is a way to help multi-site locations extend the core culture to those sites.

When you develop your multi-site strategy, instead of replicating the central locations culture and feel you should shoot for a culture that is immediately recognizable instead of duplicated.  I’ve been to a multi-site location that attempted to replicate the feel of the central location and it felt….wrong.  The sound system, lights and volume were way overdone.  They attempted to replicate the experience and it felt disconnected and off.

We developed what we referred to as Campus Culture Guidelines.  These guidelines were developed by the champions or owners of ministry areas and they documented a short list of 10 or fewer  items that fostered the culture we wanted at any of our locations. Along with the culture items they explained why those were important to the culture we wanted. They didn’t dictate a specific thing to purchase, rather it outlines practices that have become fairly standard in our culture.

Ministry areas that helped form this include home groups, outreach, technology, worship, weekend celebrations, first impressions, hospitality, spiritual development and business operations.

As an example here are a few culture items that we want to be immediately recognizable at any of our sites: volunteers parking at the furthest spaces from the door, a name tag table, free “good” coffee for all, creating an atmosphere that is newcomer aware (with 5 items that should be done at every campus to ensure that), leaving no question unanswered at the welcome desk, etc.

With this packet of information the campus leaders can help develop a culture and feel that is immediately recognizable and not replicated.  While the distinction sounds trivial, in practice it is critically important to allow your multi-site locations the autonomy to implement the desired culture in their own context which will be much more successful than trying to replicate copies of one site out of context in other locations.