Our days at the facility for drug abusing, delinquent adolescents would begin with a morning meeting in the Staffing Room. The Staffing Room was located in the windowless heart of the administrative section of our brand new facility. The rectangular space was illuminated by overhead, recessed canister lighting. When the dimmer switches awakened the spot-lights hidden within these canisters, the dark, oblong, mahogany table in the center of the room would reflect their diffuse glow. Even with the lights on, the outer edges of the room remained in relative darkness. This contrast of the yellow glow in the center of the room over the table and chairs, and the darkness encroaching from the perimeter created a kind of “CSI” vibe to our staff meetings. The environmental outlay of this room sent the message, “Serious things happen here.”
In preparation for our morning meetings we “Primary Counselors” would take a trip to “The Unit” where we would read our client’s charts. If trouble was trying to show up, it would generally arrive on the minimally staffed night shift. Our adolescents were not locked into the facility. Practically all of them were given the choice to receive treatment with us, or to go back to jail. They knew that if they chose to walk out, or significantly break our rules, they were on their way back to detention.
It was not unusual for kids in our facility, unaccustomed to much structure in their lives, to choose behavior that resulted in a pilgrimage back to the criminal justice system. Social workers, counselors, and psychologists are in the business of fixing broken things. When a child had lived in our facility for a couple of months, hope and affection would grow within our bleeding hearts. When he or she took a wrong turn that resulted in a discharge back to jail, an equal and opposite valley of despair would replace the hope that had peaked within us. The collective let down would result in a staff meeting on the following morning that would feel like Post-Katrina congressional hearings for the counselor who was in charge of this child’s case.
The questions would take the tone of, “Where did you go wrong?” or “How were you scammed?” or, “Who goofed here?” To make a long story short, in the face of disappointment, this group of highly degreed and trained professionals would turn a critical eye on one another scanning for deficits.
By way of contrast, in this Sunday’s Gospel (Mark 6: 30-34), Jesus gathered his Apostles for a staff meeting following their first mission trip where he had sent them out two-by-two (Mark 6: 7-13). He invited them out to a “deserted place” to “rest awhile” and presumably reflect upon their work experience. This passage invited the reader to imagine the excitement as Peter, James, John, Thomas, Philip, and the rest described the amazing things that took place during their work-week. It is not hard to see the beaming face of the divine Chairman of the Board noticing all of the good that was accomplished in the maiden voyage of his newly trained rookies.
When I juxtapose Jesus’ open air staff meetings with the stifling, windowless gatherings I endured years ago, I am struck by the contrast between a deficit-based approach to leadership exemplified in my old job, and an asset-based methodology presented in the New Testament. Discussing “what went wrong” is a necessary evil so that similar mistakes can be avoided in the future. But spending at least as much time asking the question, “what went right,” and noticing the unique strengths in a person (even in the midst of problems) has a way of unleashing creativity, participation and hope.
In your relationships with self and others, do your eyes tend to scan for problems and deficits, or do you tend to focus upon the strengths and opportunities in situations with yourself or others?
Spiritually Informed Leadership Tips:
- Start by asking for the grace to see the good in any given situation.
- Carve out some time every day to intentionally see the good in yourself and other people.
- In the face of an accomplishment, no matter how small, invite the successful person to reflect with you on their achievement. Ask, “How did you do that?”
- When noticing someone’s achievement, even if it seems small, be very specific (as opposed to general) about what you noticed, and share the effect you see flowing from it. For example, when your son has cleaned the kitchen, don’t just say, “You’re awesome!” Do say, “Not only are the dishes clean, but you washed the counter tops and floors! I can really count on you!”
- Do your best to approach yourself in an asset-focused way. Monitor your inner-dialogue and consciously choose your focus.
- “Catch ‘em being good.” When someone’s behavior approximates what you’re looking for, notice it out loud.
- When a challenge or a snag shows up, ask yourself what you are supposed to learn, and what opportunities may be embedded in this challenging situation.