Giving and receiving feedback - Part 1
It won’t have escaped your attention that everyone in your church has an opinion about your youth and children’s ministry. But it's how you respond that sets you apart as a good leader.
Everyone has an opinion! Your senior leaders have an opinion, your young people have an opinion, the parents of your young people have an opinion, your spouse definitely has an opinion… and very often those opinions are “suggestions” for how you might do things differently! And on the occasions where those suggestions become criticisms, you are faced with three options as to how you will respond…
OPTION 1: THE WASP
Whenever anyone shares an alternative view, you are quickly provoked and strike back. You go on the defensive, giving an immediate retort; a long list of reasons as to why you do it this way and why it still remains the best way. In this instance, instead of listening you are defending your process, method, programme and so on.
OPTION 2: THE HEDGEHOG
You curl up in a ball and hide from it. Unlike the wasp, you don’t lash back with a retort and thus give the impression you’re listening, but in reality, you are figuratively putting your fingers in your ears, because you have confused a critique about what you do with a personal slight about who you are. And so to avoid feeling hurt you try to let it bounce off you and forget about it as soon as possible.
OPTION 3: THE SPONGE
You soak it up. Your posture is hands open rather than arms crossed. You are wise enough to receive feedback from every angle, even those who may be significantly less experienced and knowledgeable in your field. You are discerning enough to know that in almost every criticism there exists a kernel of truth if you would be humble enough to seek it out. And because you are always listening, you are always learning.
That’s why the wise King Solomon once said, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel.” (Proverbs 12:15) But the moment you put your fingers in your ears you put a ceiling on your growth.
In his book Leadership Axioms, Bill Hybels affirms this principle: “A very wise man once told me that tucked inside every critic’s attack is usually at least a tiny kernel of truth. And rather than reflexively lashing back at a critic, [The Wasp!] he advised, I should spend my energy figuring out what it is [The Sponge!]. “If you can identify it,” he said, “you’re likely to grow from it instead of devolving into defensiveness.”
The level to which you limit feedback is the level to which you limit growth. So how can you gather constructive feedback?
360 DEGREE FEEDBACK
Imagine a compass with you in the middle. In your role as a youth worker, you will have leadership relationships with people at every degree on the compass. North are your senior leaders. East and West are your peers, perhaps other staff members at your church or the parents of your young people. And south are the young people and team members you lead.
And because each of these groups sees you from a different angle, they each have a different perspective, and thus a uniquely valuable perspective. 360-degree feedback is the art of seeking out the thoughts of people from every angle…
NORTH: This may take the form of a weekly meeting with your senior leaders and a more in-depth annual performance review. If you don’t have either of these things, ask for them! Take the initiative. Invite your senior leaders to come and observe your youth group on a Friday night. Ask them to watch how you lead your team, preach your message and engage with your young people. They may not be youth workers, but they will have a unique perspective which, if you seek it out, could be a catalyst for growth.
EAST / WEST: What do the parents of your children and young people think? What do their children feedback to them after a night out at youth? Have they managed to internalise the message of the night? Did they have a good time? This is a perspective that only the parents will have, and will remain elusive to you unless you actively seek it out.
SOUTH: The best people to speak into your youth ministry are your young people! But are you listening? At the youth group I lead in Malvern, we’ve made it a priority to listen to those we lead. We will consult our young people about the content of our sessions and the trips we go on together.
At the end of the last academic year, we even asked all of our young people to fill out a feedback form with questions like, ‘Do you feel welcome an valued? Do you feel free to be yourself? Do you feel more open to God than when you started coming? What is one thing you would change?’ and so on. Perhaps that sounds boring, but it demonstrates to your young people that you value them enough to care about their opinion.
Remember, the moment you put your fingers in your ears you put a ceiling on your growth. So don’t be a wasp or a hedgehog, be a sponge! Actively go in search of constructive feedback from every angle and soak it up! Listen. Respond. Grow.
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