Tis the season…of job reviews, feedback and reactions


by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

Receiving feedback is a skill essential for adaptive leadership. Before you cringe with disgust, pain or boredom, consider this:

Accepting feedback at work is important,
but in families, it’s vital.
– Bruce Feiler, New York Times columnist and author 

The book Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen is the go-to resource for upping your leadership game as you grow through feedback from others. Learning to take a few steps back from the ledge of your own triggered reactions to feedback will shape your identity as a leader in ways that affirmation never will. This is one of the most important leadership practices and gifts you can share with others.

Here are three reasons why:

  1. Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Understanding that the brain is constantly under construction can help us navigate feedback. One of the brain’s primary survival functions is to manage approach and withdrawal. We tend to move toward things that are pleasurable and withdraw from things that are painful. Like sex, drugs, food, and exercise, feedback boggles the brain and mucks up the approach-withdrawal system. Doing what feels good now may be costly in the long run. What is healthy in the long run, may feel painful now. Think about this:

We all have a baseline. This is our default way of managing our emotions. We are not blown in completely new directions by each gust of wind that comes our way because we have an established way of navigating life.

We all have a swing. This is how far up or down we go when confronted by input from others. While this is prewired from infancy, it can be altered. (Keep reading!)

We all have to recover. This is how long it takes to return to baseline after good or bad news. Some of us recover quickly. Others get stuck for extended periods of time as they spin on the information received. Researcher Richard Davidson has found that recovery time can differ by as much as 3,000 percent between individuals.

Practices such as meditation, prayer, serving others, worship and exercise can raise your baseline over time. Life events that involve trauma or depression can have a profound impact on your baseline as well. Being engaged in a deep, relational community (like a congregation at its best) can rewire our brains to manage feedback in a positive way and raise our baseline.

  1. Implicit Rules Can Be Roadblocks: Understanding that the culture of our work environment (or our family culture) is filled with the implicit rules of “how we do things around here” is important to managing feedback. Discovering how we come across helps us increase our positive impact on others within a culture that operates differently from our own. This is more complex than saying one way is right (your way) and one way is wrong (their way). Feedback on how we are operating outside of a given cultural norm is gold, helping us lead within the context of a different worldview. By understanding more about the culture, even if we don’t like it, we can be more effective in influencing the future.
  1. Impact vs. Intent Matters: Feedback helps us see the gap between how we believe we come across and how we are actually received. Our own hopes and good intentions contribute to the story we tell ourselves, but they aren’t part of the stories others hear. Instead of immediately reacting to what we learn about how others experience our leadership, take a step back, take a deep breath, and learn from the new mirror offered to us. This mirror will show you your best self and, at the same time, provide a picture that may not be what you intend to communicate. The gap between the two is something you can only close if you are aware it exists. Here are a few examples from Stone and Heen:

Rather than immediately reacting to contradictory feedback, take a breath and consider how the same behavior is being described in different ways. It could be that others misunderstood you or it may be that you are unaware of your impact. Either way, when you hear feedback that catches you off guard, you can use it to learn about how you come across. You can ask yourself, “Do I have a blind spot in this area?” We all have them, so take another deep breath and love yourself enough to invest in personal growth.

The role of a faith community is huge in helping people navigate feedback. Don’t miss the point made earlier: a person’s baseline reaction to feedback can be altered in a positive way by meditation, prayer and service to others. We can use this for our own benefit and we can offer this to our congregation as a quiet way of loving them as we love ourselves.

When Caring Is Killing Us

by Peggy Hahn, LEAD Executive Director

At my doctor’s appointment this week, I notice my doctor looks worse than I do.

Doc: How are you?

Me: Exhausted. How are you?

Doc: Exhausted.

We give each other a knowing smile. But is that ok? Living exhausted will kill you. So, I push her, as she looks up my chart on the computer.

Me: So, what’s going on with you?

Doc: I haven’t had a vacation yet this year. I realized I have 3 hours a day where I am not working and that is just enough time to work out, shower, eat and wash a load of clothes. I love my job but this is not sustainable.

Me: What can you do about this?

Doc: I’m working on it.

Me: Me too. I’ve been focusing on how to work smarter. A big key for me is sharing the work and the responsibility for the workwith my very capable team.

If you are exhausted too, do yourself a favor right now and keep reading.


The practice of adaptive leadership* requires us to go up to the balcony. We need to drag ourselves up the stairs to look over our own lives, then take concrete steps to DO something.

Here are the next steps I’m making space for in my own life:

  • Confidants: (beyond your partner/spouse): get a coach, spiritual guide, therapist, peer group to talk with outside the people you work with every day. Do this now.
  • Sanctuaries: make time in your life to create, exercise, garden, read, worship, pray, study… whatever it is that renews your soul. Get disciplined about this. Do this tomorrow.
  • Learn: get a continuing ed plan cooking. What do you want to learn? Get out of the conference world and into more transformative learning. Go on a pilgrimage by digging deeply into something you love. It doesn’t have to be church related. Do this as often as you can.
  • Gratitude: practice optimism and realism with a grateful heart. Hold these together no matter what. Do this every day.


My doctor is amazing. That is her problem. She is really good at her job and the job is exponentially growing. Exhaustion from answering your call is still exhaustion.

As my friend and partner in ministry, Bishop Mike Rinehart, always says, “when you are burning the candle at both ends, ask yourself who’s holding the match?”

Compassion fatigue is real, and it is not just related to natural disasters. It is part of the lives of people who serve others 24-7. We need a personal compassion plan to love ourselves too.

*The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Ronald A. Heifetz, Marty Linsky and Alexander Grashow

Is it hot enough for you?

by Peggy Hahn, Executive Director, LEAD

As leaders, we have our hands on the thermostat when it comes to leading change in our circles of influence and managing the heat may be our number one work.

The perfect temperature is right before the pot starts to boil! (That sweet spot between simmering and boiling over.)

Managing the heat is the practice of adaptive leadership.
And to do this, you need to check the temperature sooner than later.

If your congregation feels complacent or apathetic, chances are there’s not enough heat in the system. A lack of urgency, energy or commitment is a good indicator that it is time to set a stretch goal that engages the heart, encouraging new questions and faith imagination. Congregational systems will always prefer stability but too much stability is more dangerous than too much disequilibrium. In these cases, it is the role of the staff and the council to turn up the heat. A comfortable leadership system is a sign of decline.

If your congregation is racing around and reacting in every direction, it could be time to turn down the heat. Leaders who dig in their heels and insist on their own way, regardless of the cost, usually get burned.

When it gets too hot, leaders forget that people don’t resist change, they resist loss. If the loss is too great or happening too fast, the grief will show up in all kinds of negative ways. This is a pretty good indicator that it is time to cool things off for a while – but not so long that passions grow completely cold (and turn inward).

There is an art to managing the heat and The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Heifiz, Grashow and Linsky can be a really helpful field guide. LEAD coaches are skilled at helping congregational staff discover the best temperature for their congregations, and great at helping them get things warmed up after a cold spell.

The worst thing we can do as leaders is to do nothing at all. Don’t do this alone. Gather a team. Ask for outside support.

Build a coalition of the willing and incrementally crank up the heat. Another resource that may be helpful to you: Leading Through Change: The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Rev. Sue Phillips.