It’s so interesting how the body and mind attach to experiences that you have throughout life. As I began writing on this topic, I could see moments in my past where I allowed a defensive posture to overtake me in leadership. I can still access how those moments felt.
There are conversations with parents, leaders, and even other staff members I can replay in my mind like they happened yesterday. If I’m not careful, the replaying of those events can be unhealthy for me as I seek to be a more effective leader. It’s important that I (and you, if you’ve had those moments) replay them to learn from them, and also turn the page to move on from them. I’d like to focus on learning from those experiences, and share some of the things I’ve learned the hard way about defensiveness in leadership.
What is the price of defensiveness?
In order to know why it’s really important to combat defensiveness, it’s vital to examine what a defensive attitude will cost you as a leader.
- Defensiveness keeps you from hearing necessary feedback.
- Defensiveness reveals an area of pride that needs to be dealt with.
- Defensiveness prevents you from being a team player.
There’s a lot more to be said about the price of defensiveness and how it can affect your leadership and the ministry you lead, but I think at this point, we can agree that it’s a costly attitude that needs to be actively combatted. If you’re still reading at this point, you’re already on track to doing the kind of work it takes to examine yourself as a leader.
Here are three ways you can combat defensiveness before it begins:
Appoint a trusted circle.
Appoint a core group of trusted people who will speak fairly and honestly with you from a foundation of love and support. These people are rare, but you can find them. They won’t just tell you what you want to hear, but they will be gracious with things that you need to hear. But don’t just wait to hear from them—let them know they’re in your circle, and invite them to give regular feedback on your leadership.
Leave room to be wrong.
Adopt a posture of leaving room within yourself to be wrong. I know the immediate reaction here might be, “Well, I already do that,” but the reality is that defensiveness often comes from a place where we refuse to be wrong or take a “my way or the highway” type of approach. When we leave room for ourselves to be wrong, we leave room for other people to speak into the ministry, which ultimately makes it better. Allow people to speak into the strategy and execution of what you are leading, and you can avoid defensive reactions when people want to offer their opinions.
Practice reacting slowly.
Defensiveness is often a knee-jerk reaction to something that touches a nerve. You can avoid in-the-moment defensiveness by doing your best not to have a strong reaction during an initial conversation. There will be times when this is unavoidable, but in most situations, you can practice pausing to collect yourself for a few moments or even a few days before resolving the issue.
Here’s a good practice you can implement right away—when someone brings an issue to you on a Sunday or in the middle of some other programming, pause, let the person (or group of people) know you hear their concerns, and offer to set up a meeting with them to resolve it. When issues surface in those settings, your focus is on other things, and you may not be in the right headspace to to deal with conflict in a healthy way. Set a reminder on your phone to schedule a meeting, and follow through on your word. In doing so, you can honor the person wanting to speak with you, and you give yourself the space to process and approach the conversation in a healthy way.
This post was written by Ben Trueblood, Director of Lifeway Students. Ben is passionate about investing in student ministry leaders like you. You can find weekly encouragement from Ben on his YouTube Channel, Student Ministry That Matters.