Tag Archive: empathy

Slowing Down to Minister (literally)

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Think about the pastor in your life who’s had the most profound effect on you.

My hunch is that the person who popped into your brain influenced you not through their accomplishments, but rather, their presence.

Pastors who can exhibit presence, despite all the things going on with them or the church, have a profound influence on people.

How’s your pastoral presence?

In my case as an executive pastor, many people don’t see my role as one where the competency or gift of pastoral presence is greatly needed. But, I’ve learned otherwise. And despite knowing that, I still often choose pastoral production over pastoral presence.

If you’re consistently choosing pastoral production over pastoral presence — you’ll complete stuff, just maybe not the stuff that matters.

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Empathy: A Specific Kind Needed For Leadership


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It’s one thing for a leader to understand another’s feelings (emotional empathy), but a leader who can also sense what others need from them, well, that’s effective leadership and ministry.

In last week’s blog, I wrote about the helpful information regarding the mental side of leadership curated from Daniel’s Goleman’s article for the Harvard Business Review, The Focused Leader.

His article unpacked three kinds of empathy needed to be a good leader. You’ll be familiar with at least one or two kinds of empathy, but the third, at least by name, may be unfamiliar.

This “empathy triad” Goleman presents shows how leaders can provide three distinct kinds of empathy:

Cognitive empathy– the ability to understand another person’s perspective;

Emotional empathy—the ability to feel what someone else feels;

And finally, the one I want to focus on–

Empathetic concern—the ability to sense what another person needs from you.

A good leader will not only discern how people feel, but also discern what a person needs from you. Goleman suggests this is the kind of empathy we want in our doctors, spouse, and yes, our boss.

Most people appreciate when a boss or leader asks: “how can I help you?” or “what do you need from me to be successful?”

Wouldn’t it be great if your boss already knew what you needed because they were in tune with your concern, thus, empathetic concern?

Think of someone you lead. The last time they came to you with a problem to be solved, were you aware of what they needed? While listening, were you able to discern they needed an idea? An answer? Collaboration? Reassurance? A firm directive?

It’s not only about knowing their preferred language, but about what’s happening in their life that might influence their need-factor. Their life’s extenuating circumstances may heavily influence the reasons they’re before you and what they’re actually wanting/needing from you.

A leader who shows ability within the empathy triad will be a trusted leader. A leader people want to follow.

Developing Empathetic Concern requires a leader to:

  • Listen well (to people in varying areas in the organization or church);
  • Seek information;
  • Be emotionally intelligent;
  • And to care about others.

It takes time to develop this skill. But here’s one practical takeaway for everyday church leadership, you can put into action the next time you sit across the table form someone who’s sharing frustration –

Not only listen well and try to feel what they’re feeling (emotional empathy), but ask yourself, “What am I sensing this person might need from me”.


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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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