Saturday, October 04, 2008

Miserable in the Second Chair?

Not long after the release of Leading from the Second Chair, I found myself deep in a conversation with a struggling executive pastor. Even though he wasn’t failing, he felt like a failure. He had been very successful in other church staff roles, but he wasn’t sure what success looked like in his new role. When I read Patrick Lencioni’s Three Signs of a Miserable Job, I thought back to this executive pastor and many of the other second chair leaders I have met over the last several years.

Lencioni’s three signs – anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement – are often experienced by executive pastors. Furthermore, for those who have served in other roles in ministry or in business, the trajectory may point in the wrong direction as they make the transition to the second chair. Consider someone who has spent several years as a youth minister. He or she has deep relationships with students and parents, experiences the joy of being part of the students growing in their faith, and can see progress in the ministry over time. In other words, they may suffer from none of the signs of a miserable job.

Fast forward a few years and the same person is serving in an executive pastor role. Because the work is behind the scenes, the opportunities for meaningful relationships are more limited. And because much of their job is managing others, there is little they can point to as the direct result of their ministry. While other staff members are celebrating the success of a program or transformation in someone’s life, this second chair sits in silence. It’s a position that lends itself to anonymity, irrelevance, and immeasurement.

So what should you do if you’re an executive pastor or church business administrator or anyone else who struggles with these circumstances? For starters, realize the ways that you contribute to the overall success of the organization. You may not be able to specifically point to the six teens that were baptized this summer, but you helped hire that youth minister, coached him to succeed, and marshaled the needed resource for his program. And that was just one of the people you managed.

You can also look for new ways to define and measure success. Lencioini’s fable highlights several jobs that would seem to be textbook examples of irrelevance and immeasurement, and he shows that even these roles don’t have to be miserable. The key is to find the right indicators. In your second chair role, what are your unique contributions? How can you track your effectiveness along these dimensions?

Of course, the most powerful solution is to find our reward in the Lord (see my earlier post). But given our human nature, it won’t hurt to acknowledge and address some of the underlying causes of misery.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Three Signs of a Miserable Job

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everything I’ve read from Patrick Lencioni, and have found practical uses for what I’ve learned in each book. But for some reason, his latest book sat in my “waiting to be read” stack for several months. Maybe I was afraid that I’d learn that my job was miserable or that I was making others miserable in the way I managed them! I won’t comment on the misery index for me or them, but I will say that I’m glad that I read Three Signs.

Lencioni addresses the issue of why so many people are unhappy and unfulfilled in their jobs. And more importantly, he asks what managers can do to change this. As in his other books, Lencioni uses a fable to present his concepts. And as in his previous work, the concepts are quite simple but have far-reaching implications.

So what are the three signs? The first is anonymity, which is the absence of someone in the workplace (preferably a “boss”) who takes a personal interest in you. Next is irrelevance, which is the inability to see clearly how the work you do is making a meaningful contribution. And last is “immeasurement,” the result of working without clearly defined targets over which you have some control.

Lencioni makes a compelling argument that even people in low paying or seemingly menial jobs can enjoy work if their manager pays attention to these three factors. He also contends that CEO’s, professional athletes and other highly successful people are often miserable because they lack one or more of these key needs.

The book has huge implications for those of us who manage other people, both paid staff and volunteers. For example, do you really know what is going on in the lives of the staff members and key leaders in your church or do your conversations focus on the task at hand? Does the person doing a seemingly insignificant job – entering data, greeting people at the door, changing a dirty diaper – see how his or her work is an important part of a Kingdom-minded enterprise?

Three Signs also gave me some new insights into the struggles of “second chair leaders,” which I’ll address in my next blog. Even thought I’ve “given away” the three signs, you really should read Lencioni’s book to understand how to apply these principles and make sure that you’re not making other miserable!