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Church Staff & The Minion Treatment


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There’s a direct correlation between the person who interrupts others and monopolizes conversations, and where they’re placed on the organizational chart. And recent studies have shown that the more leadership responsibilities you have, the more likely you are to become that person.

Daniel Goleman, in article for Harvard Business Review (December 2013) describes how conversation-monopolizers and conversation-interrupters usually increase their poor habits as they move higher on an organizational chart or in social standing.

We’ve all seen this happen. It’s the church member whose family was involved in founding the church… it’s the long tenured staff member… it’s the employee who’s just moved positions and been provided more staff oversight.

Goleman’s article points out that as leaders rise in an organization, their ability to perceive and maintain a personal connection begins to wane.  This is called psychic attrition. He summarizes a Berkeley psychologist who says “higher-ranking individuals consistently focus their gaze less on lower-ranking people and are more likely to interrupt or to monopolize the conversation.”

Sociologists are able to watch the conversational interactions in a workplace and closely map who fits where on their organization chart. Our churches are not exempt from these studies. Could a sociologist come into your ministry area and pinpoint where people fit on an org chart? They’re not measuring who’s leading the meetings they view – they’re measuring who’s being rude to whom.

This is not always true and it doesn’t have to be true of you and me. In fact, I hope if sociologists were to study church staffs, they’d find a gap in their theory. However, I’m a realist and I’ve been around enough church staffs to know we’re not immune.

Bottom line: the higher we rise, the more responsibility we get, the more likely we are to pay less attention or care less deeply for the people below us.

If you’re still reading and haven’t moved on to a different blog site with a bigger title, you still may be thinking this doesn’t apply to you. When you think psychic attrition, you think of your Pastor or chairman of your leadership council – but not yourself. Surely a minister in the church wouldn’t forget or ignore the little people. Right? Wrong. It happens.

How do you fair in psychic attrition? As you’ve moved up on the org chart, gotten bigger titles and more degrees, have your personal connections dropped? Are your conversations with people directly linked to what their position title deserves?

To get the most accurate grading of your psychic attrition, ask a trusted staff person or spouse what they’ve observed – and take their feedback seriously.

Our propensity toward psychic attrition (or as I call it, a “too big for your britches” or “too busy for the little people” mentality) can be corrected. Begin asking God for help. We have the opposite of psychic attrition modeled for us by Jesus, so let’s follow his example. I have a feeling if Goleman’s sociologists were to observe Jesus and His followers, and try to map His leadership style, they’d likely have their org chart inverted.

Fight back against psychic attrition with baby steps:

  1. For a day, commit to not interrupting a single person… hear people out, even if they have meandering explanations or their stories aren’t an efficient use of your time.
  2. Learn the names and stories of people far below you on an org chart, or those who aren’t in your current leadership circles.
  3. Speak less in meetings—don’t monopolize. (I’ve previously blogged about the appropriate amount of talking at meetings.)

Next week, I’ll summarize some more thoughts about empathy amongst leaders, and what Goleman says is a specific type of empathy leaders need to have.

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