“Assuming makes a . . .” (Rule #4)

egg“Assuming makes an . . .” Yes, we have all heard the phrase. And I can attest to its veracity.

With the end of a contentious election season, this particular rule seems to apply more than any other.

Based on what we have seen and heard, there are many assumptions that we can conclude. But are they true?

To avoid the proverbial “egg on your face,” the best path is to test assumptions and inferences that we might make before jumping to conclusions. Ask questions–lots of them. Clarify what the intention is and what the intended outcomes are. Agree on the answers to the questions, the intentions of the actions, and the accountability for the outcomes.

Then start all over again. Our agreements and understandings can quickly turn into assumptions again. Or assumptions about the “next time” or next situation.

Because the truth is, the answers, intentions, and outcomes for each occasion or situation may differ for a variety of reasons, sometimes reasons out of our control. To avoid the potential conflict, keep asking, keep clarifying, and keep reaching agreements.

The energy, especially emotional energy, that you save in testing your assumptions can then be channeled into nurturing successful ministry.

Thwack! (Rule #6)

doorThat’s the sound of the door closing your mind when faced with someone who disagrees with you.

Here’s the key. At least don’t lock the proverbial door.

When we let ourselves maintain a closed mind, we fall into the “we’ve always done it this way” trap. And that trap is particularly dangerous in our amazingly fast changing world and culture.

A few ways to keep yourself open to different perspectives.

  • Surround yourself with people who approach problems and situations differently than you do. It’s the “Abraham Lincoln” approach–keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer (replace “enemies” with anything that refers to people who see the world differently.)
  • Keep a journal where you start with your perspective, and breakdown why others around you are taking a different approach. This approach encourages sympathy which can help breach the gap between differences.
  • Ask yourself what are the potential positive outcomes of a differing perspective.

If you have other ideas, please share them. Staying open takes energy, and it’s a lot easier when we are surrounded by others who are doing the same.

Take a Step Off the Soapbox (Rule #7)

speakerMany ministry professionals find themselves advocating for the needs and concerns of the people with and among whom they serve. Advocacy is incredibly important, especially when it is for those who have no voice or whose voices are not heard.

But advocacy without inquiry can become a blaring horn that eventually fades into background white noise.

And when two individuals advocate from opposing positions, they can almost cancel each other out.

In my young adult years, I had the blessing of teaching at an all-girls’ high school. A new teacher–new to the school, new to teaching–I had ideas, great (!) ideas, on how to improve the faith life of the school. And, as you might expect, no one took me seriously.

“You’re new.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” “This is the way we have always done it.”

Thankfully, my department chair had the soul of a wise man, and listened very carefully to everything, taking in and storing what might have value sometime in the future.

We spent two years of formal and informal meetings talking through my biggest idea–making all-school Masses optional–possible. And all he did was ask me questions. Lots of them.

Question after question. Why optional? How did we expect the students to respond? What issues would the teachers raise? What strategies did we want to propose to address those strategies? What was our mission-based reasoning? Lots of questions.

About midway through my third year, we met with the administration, and made our proposal. This wasn’t the first time that they had heard this proposal from us, and their faces showed it. So we posed the questions that we had identified, and offered the answers that we had discussed. We invited more questions from them, and responded as best we could.

As it turned out, “as best we could” was good enough.

By combining advocacy with inquiry, we had turned the somewhat inevitable “clash” that many of us experience when pushing a particular program or position into a dialogue by building the bridge from advocacy to inquiry. And we demonstrated right from the start that we had questions, too.

In the end, they agreed with our proposal. (And it was very successful, by the way! More than we had anticipated.)

We had moved advocacy away from being a clanging bell that the administration wanted to silence to a starting point for deeper, greater, and shared advocacy. In the end, campus ministry and the administration were partners promoting a Eucharist-based and -rich faith life in the school. A win-win for everyone.

Innovation and Faith

ChurchInnovation is the beating red blood of the American ecosystem. Think about it. In your lifetime, what radical changes have you seen in business and the economy?

The unparalleled success of Apple, first with its user-friendly operating system (true confession: I am a total Windows geek from the days of DOS and the introduction of the personal computer back in 1985) to its i-“anything” devices. Microsoft with Windows and its almost complete hold on the business market. Music moving from vinyl to tape to disc, and back to vinyl even! Electric cars, Airbnb, Uber . . .

Where have you seen innovation in the Church, your parish, your own faith life?

While Vatican II ushered in many changes, many would say that they were not “innovations” because the foundations upon which they were built existed in Scripture and Tradition.

So, where has, does, and can innovation take place? And what is your role as a leader?

One of my fav sources, Harvard Business Review, has a quote in this month’s issue:

The role of leaders is to enable diverse team members to grasp one another’s perspectives and productively share their insights.

Think about the teams that you have assembled. How have you affirmed the diversity of insights and found ways to help them share them?

We’ve probably all sat in too many parish committee meetings, watching ineffective leaders negotiate the battles between different viewpoints, only to see a worthwhile agenda slide into a black hole, never to be retrieved.

My other favorite “wise” source (Real Simple!) gave me a few ideas.

  1. Turn the polar opposite ideas into a brainstorming session. Remember, these are only 2 ideas. Don’t let your team or committee members’ comments become positions that they need to defend. These are only their perspectives, the ideas that they have an interest in, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all.
  2. Repeat what each committee member has said, then ask each to clarify. Then go back to the subject at hand or to another subject, especially if it is clear that you aren’t going to be able to resolve any differences.
  3. Pause. No! Don’t say anything. Let those who were talking know they were heard, and wait. If silence prevails, continue or go forward.

In the end, you want well-managed and negotiated diversity or you may never break out of the patterns that have led you to the present. If you want to change for the future, then change has to start in the present.