Growing Souls through Fierce Evaluations

by Clarence Bradbury

Christian leadership is about growing souls – first our own, then the souls of those with whom we share the journey.  How then can we practice the fine art of evaluation in ways that add value to people and foster life and ministry transformation?

The title of this article was inspired by the discovery of an article reviewing two fairly recent books entitled Fierce Conversations and Fierce Leadership, both written by Susan Scott (see the article at http://bit.ly/ZpknnT . In Fierce Leadership the author challenges many of today’s celebrated “best practices”.  While best practices have value in themselves, too many leaders have adopted them blindly as a cookie-cutter approach, without considering the uniqueness of their local context.  Wisdom is knowing the difference between “what people say” and what the present moment requires.

Now, let me propose six proven approaches for productive evaluations.  I guess they might be called “best practices”!  but I see them as biblical wisdom for growing leaders.

  1. Be a Faithful Steward.  The practice of evaluation brings us into the sphere of calling – my calling as the evaluator and the calling of the person being evaluated.  Let’s acknowledge the awesome privilege of speaking into the life and leadership of someone who shares with me a common calling. This treasure is contained in “jars of clay”; therefore, our evaluation dialogue is an investment in God’s Kingdom, not mine.  Peter’s reminder is biblical wisdom at its best:  Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Peter 4:10)
  2. 2.       Be Affirming.  It’s a good practice to start and end an evaluation with a strong note of appreciation and affirmation.  Notes of praiseworthy items can be prepared in advance – “Bob’s positive attitude lifts the atmosphere of team meetings”; “Angie’s gentle manner has a way of attracting support”.  Evaluations are opportunities to practice Philippians 4:8, whatever is admirable… think on these things.
  3. Be Honest, but choose words and tone wisely.  When we must deliver an uncomfortable message, it takes all the more effort to prepare adequately.  Instead of being critical or demanding, we can choose a more disarming approach, like, “Frank, I believe that if you made just one change in your management style, you would trigger a major turnaround in your department.  Can we talk about this?”  Ephesians 4:25 is to the point, Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. (The Message) If we want to see constructive change in people, tone of voice is just as important as the words we use while telling the truth.
  4. Be Sincere.  If we desire a positive result from an evaluation, we need to approach the task with pure motives.  If motivation is right, it will become evident in actions and words.  But if motives are mixed and selfish interest prevails, the evaluation process may prove more harmful than helpful, for all concerned. In 2 Corinthians 2:17, the apostle Paul counsels every man or woman in leadership: as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
  5. Be Focused.  Basic improvement – let alone breakthrough – occurs one detail at a time.  If we expect too much of one another, too soon, the results may be too scattered and shallow to be discerned.
  6. Be Inclusive.  Honest self-evaluation aimed at growth and development carries far more weight than the conclusions of others concerning me.  Inviting the input of the person being evaluated will usually lead to the kind of transformational successes we hope to see.  Most Salvation Army performance evaluations provide freedom for those evaluated to complete a blank form in advance.  This puts everyone at a distinct advantage.  Over time, authentic dialogue can occur and focused outcomes can add value to the individuals and ministries we serve.

These approaches may be used for informal and formal evaluation.  Whether the setting is employment related or ministry-based, our behavior will display how our life and leadership values cultivate the very souls of the people we serve.

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Want to improve your evaluation skills?  Check out our resource links this month.  

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