The Enliven! Blog

Helping Harness Human Capacity

Can A Church’s Annual Report Dance?

February is when many churches have their “annual meetings”. These meetings include the passing of the annual budget and the receiving of reports from the various groups in the church. Often these reports are captured in the “annual report book”, which includes write ups by pastoral staff and various committees and groups, such as deacons, missions, Christian education, worship. Also often included represented are organizations the church supports financially, such as schools and colleges, mission organizations, relief organizations, local missions.

I confess that I have to make it a discipline to read through all these reports, (unless I happen to be the author of one of them!) Perhaps others feel the same. Some of these reports have a similar tone or content each year. It can be a challenge to give the respect due this important annual story of the church.

A good question to use to stimulate creativity in addressing any problem is “does it have to be that way?” Another smart question is “What if..”. Applying those questions to the situation where the significant work of the church gets short shrift from members, one could ask “Does the annual reporting process have to be dull, even plodding?” And… “What if a way were found to bring the reporting to life, to make it dance?”

Let me suggest one way to bring life to reporting. I have often heard the phrase “worship and work are one”. That can mean that our work should be one aspect of how we serve God. I think, in the case of the annual reporting process, there could be an even closer connection. What if one were to treat the Annual Report Book as a prompt to prayer and praise? What if the reporting process was to take the form of an actual worship service? Each report would be represented by a person. Each person would bring a symbol representing their report to the front of the church. The pastor might bring a Bible; the Sunday School class which is focusing on peace justice might bring a dove; the deacons might bring a shawl; the relief agency representative might bring a bag of grain, etc.

After the person has brought their symbol to the front, they would be allowed a tweet length verbal statement (or perhaps double tweet for the pastor!). After each report there would be an appropriate prayer and or worship song. The prayer might be formulaic, such as a call and response between worship leader and congregation, e.g. “Lord, for the gift of (name the item being reported on), we give you thanks and praise.” The songs could be chosen to reflect the activity described in the report. Scriptures could also be woven into the service, as well as visuals.

Various additional enrichments to the service could be conceived. Some “lesser known” parts of the work of the church might deserve the opportunity for a story to be told. I am reminded of a mysterious snippet of a story I heard one year from the trustees, who noticed that a certain task at the church was completed without being assigned. And certainly this type of worship service celebrating the work of God through the ministries of the church would go well with a potluck.

The annual meeting and report are important parts of the work of the church. Perhaps the suggestion above would be one way, and surely there are others, to make the annual report dance!

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Surrounded by Smart People… and Loving It

In a cogent column in the November 20, 2010, Winnipeg Free Press, John McFerran addresses the topic “It’s safe to hire people smarter than you.” The article encourages ambitious leaders to select as part of their team people who are “smarter” than they are. The idea is that there is more to be gained than lost by surrounding oneself with good, smart people. Examples are provided of wise leaders who have done this. McFerran is of the opinion that wise is the leader who is able to admit that not all the knowledge of the enterprise, or the reasoning ability, or whatever intelligence is required, needs to reside between the ears of the manager!

This is wise advice indeed, for several reasons. Firstly, it opens up the possibilities that key information and new ideas will flow freely in the organization, regardless of rank. Status or role need not be a barrier to the exchange of intelligent critique, comment and creativity. Secondly, it positions the organization for success. Ann emphasis on developing a smart team will result in a ROI, or return on investment. It will also result in a ROS, return on smarts!

McFerran’s advice is ever timely. Some virus seems to infect the brains of those of us who are in charge of something. That virus affects the wisdom portion of the brain, spreading the false message that we are weak when we admit we need help. Wrong!

I would suggest that the process of finding smart people can be aided by defining “smart”. Following the work of Bob Wiele (not me, though the spelling is very close), intelligence can be categorized into a number of useful descriptors. These categories are recognizable to the naked eye, as well as through scientific measurement.

The categories of “smart” are: Creativity, Understanding, Decision Making and Personal Spirit. Starting with the last category, they are defined as follows:

  • Personal Spirit is the ability to view situations, people and problems in a positive light, determined to exercise whatever control is available, resulting in initiatives for positive action. This is as much a skill in thinking as is reasoning or understanding. Think of the benefits to an organization if one or two “personal spirit smarties” were allowed to infiltrate the thought streams of planning, working and implementation.
  • Creativity is the thinking skill used to create new options, whether through brainstorming and problem solving, or through challenging assumptions and visioning. Even the intuitive brain gets put to work, by recognizing that an “aha!’ flash of insight is a form of creativity to be valued.
  • Understanding is the skill set used to understand both information and people. In many organizations, the understanding of people lags behind the processing of information. Do you have a listener on your team, and can your team provide empathy to persons in need of it? Who among you is good at expressing feelings when conflicts cloud judgement and obscure cooperation?
  • Decision making is the preferred activity of many organizations, as it leads to action. If your team members have the skills of finding the root issue, using logic and listening to experience, that is great. All the better if you have people who consult their heart and their values in the choices that are made.

To make your organization more fruitful, spend five minutes underlining the smart skills above which your organization most needs. Then check your observations with others in your group. This will be the start of admitting that you as leader will be happier, smarter and more successful in your mission if you make recruiting of smarts a priority.

Your organization is both smarter than it thinks (has unused assets) and is as smart as it thinks (will act smarter if it intentionally uses these assets)! Sometimes these assets are as easy to find as the person next to you!

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Smarter Winter Concerts

I recently had the opportunity to guest teach music at schools which were preparing for or recovering from their Winter Concerts. I observed the motivation students HAD to learn their parts. I saw the many “extra” hours music teachers logged in coaching soloists, preparing costumes, preparing sets. I heard reports that the concerts were great, that the students did well.

I also heard frustrations from teachers about the parents who attended the concerts. I heard about the parent who sets up a video camera in an inconvenient spot, refusing to move in consideration of the convenience or sight lines of others. I have heard of parents complaining that their child’s class performed only one song, while other classes performed four items. I heard of parents leaving with their child as soon as their child’s portion of the concert was over.

It is easy to be critical of parents for these behaviours. But I gained another perspective when I heard a teacher, who is also a parent, confess that she left her Winter Concert early with her child. She said “Here I am, not having seen my child all day, sitting at the concert, and sensing that my child is not interested in the rest of it. Why would I stay?” This comment sheds light on a problem with Winter Concerts and begs the question as to their real purpose.

So what is the real purpose of these concerts? These concerts are about more than the individual child and his/her family. Schools hope that these concerts will be a community experience. There is a long tradition of Christmas concerts, especially in rural areas, where each child had a part, where the schoolhouse was packed, and where there was a strong sense of community participation. This sense of community is still desirable. How can it be achieved?

A strong sense of community begins with acknowledging community experience it as a goal. As much as one wants musical performances and parent affirmation, the goal of creating a community experience should rise to or near the top for the school. If the students have a sense of being invested in this community experience called “Winter Concert” the parents will follow. And the students will have learned something beyond their notes.

A sense of community can be built by increasing the sense of ownership that the community has in the concert. What would happen if the school consulted the community in planning the theme and content of the concert? Perhaps community members have resources to offer. A sense of community can also be built by creating experiences which involve everyone. What if, for example, the local politician took on the role of Santa Claus and handed out treats to all? What if there was a community sing along at the end of the program, for all the students and all the parents? What if there was a community exchange of inexpensive or used gifts? What if there was a collection for food bank and the results were announce at the end? These elements are more than just a trick to keep everyone to the end. They are a way to build up an expectation of a community experience which touches all. Then perhaps the teacher-parent mentioned above would see her child interested in the concert as a whole.

Once a stronger sense of purpose for the concert is established, school leaders can engage parents cooperation in this key venture. The concert can include clarification of the purpose of the concert and the expectations of parents. The result would be a smarter approach by all to this key venture, and a more positive outlook in both staff room and community.

What are your experiences with Winter concerts?

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Last week I had a number of experiences with the concept of “ownership”. The first of these experiences took place while taking part in board meetings of a national camping organization. There I learned that about 90 of the over 300 children’s camps in Ontario are owned privately. Although I had known there were a few private camps in that province, the fact that so many were owned privately was a shock to me. My experience has been with not for profit camps. I was less surprised to learn of the level of leadership and initiative provided to the camping movement as a whole by private camp owners.

Another aspect of ownership in the camp world has to do with nicknames! My camp background skipped this tradition, but I observed peers who were using nicknames for each other and even for their elders. There is something slightly exclusive about a nickname – after all, who owns the story as to the reason for that name? On the other hand, a nickname is a testament to the love and affection felt by the people who share the secret of the name.

Other stories about ownership in the wider camp setting were in the news recently. Ownership issues caused a clash of wills and actions when a multi site camping organization was forced by financial realities to close and sell some its sites, much to the chagrin and protest of local volunteers. Passions ran high and tempers flared as ownership was questioned, threatened and even revoked.

I also observed ownership in a positive sense in recent conversations with a number of small, often remote camps. The picture that was painted for me from several different locations was of a happy, harmonious, hard working board which supported the camp mission generously with their time and effort. There have been many other times when I have observed the dedication of a group of volunteers who tie up the camp in their heartstrings, and go to great lengths to see it prosper.

One aspect of ownership in the camp setting which has often given me first a chuckle, and then a bit of heartburn, is the ownership young camp staff express. There is no more traditional person than a 17- year old camp staff who, having painstakingly learned the ways of the camp, is now presented with an innovation or change. The words “ that’s not the way we do it here” or “that will never work” sound strange at first from a young person. When one hears these words in the context of the deep ownership of that person for their treasured camp experience, they don’t sound strange anymore.

Ownership is a wonderful thing, and it is a threat as well. I think camp operators and other leaders should promote healthy ownership. This means finding passionate people to join their cause; inviting board members and stakeholders to give generously of time, effort and money; learning and honouring the story of the camp and its champions; and involving people of a broad range of ages and backgrounds in the process of generating vision for the camp. At the same time, let camp operators beware of the dangers of owning so tightly that new ideas are spurned, that new faces are given the cold shoulder, and that persons who draw healthy boundaries around their volunteer commitments are disdained.

In the end, ownership is a spiritual question. A passion to serve, whether at camp or elsewhere, is a gift from God, placed into our hands for action. We use it best when we hold it lightly, giving it back at the end of the day to the One who gave it to us.

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Shifting Gears

When I was a young person, I was intrigued with learning to drive a car which required shifting gears manually. In my world, shifting gears was required on more vehicles than not. Those who could shift gears smoothly gained my admiration! As I learned the skill, I found that there was a certain rhythm in shifting into one gear, accelerating, then moving into the next gear. Each gear had its characteristic transition point, its characteristic sound, and its characteristic speed.

Our mental and emotional activity in life and work can also be compared to shifting gears manually. It takes a deliberate effort to move between different types of activities. Imagine, for example, the effort required by these transitions:

  • From writing a report to listening to a colleague’s problems
  • From gathering data to making a decision
  • From having a creative insight to structuring an action plan

Many will find at least one of these shifts distressing. (I would like to hear about your distress, or joy!)

The reticence to shift gears can be costly, even punishing. I recall hearing of an eccentric radio host who was angry with his car, so he punished it by driving it all the way across town in first gear! That meant the car whined all the way, and that his speed was limited! Similarly, we punish ourselves when we stay stuck in one gear. When we get stuck in a comfort zone, and resist shifting, we can fail to accomplish that which is ours to do. For example, a person who loves to structure and organize might avoid the decision that will create a new opportunity. The decision maker may so dislike brainstorming that her decisions are made with limited options.

How do we, then, learn to shift gears? Part of it is an energy question. Shifting into a less than favourite, but valuable, activity, is easier if there is an energy burst to go with the shift. I recently heard of a presenter at a teacher’s seminar who used the energy principle. As a choreographer, he well knew the discipline of putting energy into every motion. When he saw his group of teachers get up, slowly, to participate in the next activity in his workshop, he chided them with words to the effect of “Some of you look half dead! Put some life into your step and you will feel better!”

Shifting is aided by an energetic cheer leader, but sometimes we are on our own. Then it is valuable to identify those particular shifts which are difficult for us. We can name our difficulty and screw up our intention to the “sticking point” so that we make a successful transition. We can also tell ourselves that this shift is within our power to accomplish. We can remind ourselves of previous times we made the shift and of how this has benefited us. We can picture others who are good at the activity we are shifting into.

It is also helpful to identify the “sound” of the gear we are shifting to. Just what, exactly, do we mean by decision making, or creating ideas, or organizing? If we know the characteristics of that activity, we are more likely to engage in it.

And we should surely congratulate ourselves when we achieve a successful shift. I congratulate myself for knowing how to shift gears manually each time I hear the statistics on car theft! Fewer manual transmissions are stolen, because few thieves know how to shift gears. By learning to better shift gears, our time and energy are not hijacked, but used for the purposes we most deeply intend!

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