Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Leadership Burnout in the Orthodox Church (Part II)

In a previous posting (Leadership Burnout in the Orthodox Church, Part I) I discussed what I saw as three central causes of burnout among Orthodox Christian clergy and lay leadership. These are:

(1) An institutional lack of recognition of personal and professional achievement.

(2) Unhealthy limiting of personal and professional autonomy.

(3) A systemic neglect of the work of fostering justice relationships among ourselves.

While the term “burnout” is somewhat overused and admits to a variety of definitions, I think the best description of the experience is offered by Adolf Guggenbuhl-Craig in his book Power in the Helping Professions. He writes about a therapist, late in his career and well respected in his profession, who nevertheless (for all his technical proficiency) has become closed to the mystery of being. For this man, all his relationships are at their foundation, professional relationship—everything he does and every conversation he has is a professional in nature.

Something very much like this can, and often does, happen to those who take on leadership roles in the Church. There is the parish council member who is busy with “council business” during Sunday Liturgy. Or, there is the man or woman on the “Welcoming Committee” or “Hospitality and Outreach Committee” who is so busy welcoming Christ in the guise of visitors that he or she neglects to welcome Him in the Scriptures or Holy Communion.

There is likewise the priest who runs from one pastoral obligation to another and yet fails to spend anytime in quiet prayer and who never seems to have time to read the Scriptures or do the studying that is essential for his own personal and pastoral development. Ironically, it is often this same man who is so busy caring for other people that he fails not only to care for his own non-negotiable physical needs for proper food, adequate rest and exercise. And the circle of failure will even extend beyond his spiritual and physical health and erode his other relationships so that he neglects his wife and children and friends.

In there own way, bishops are as prone to the same aberrations that we see among the laity and the clergy. Many (I dare say most) bishops simply neglect their own monastic profession, living less as monks and more a bachelors or (worse) princes or middle level executives. Often they view his brother clergy not as fellow workers, but (at best) as employees or worse competitors.

As I mentioned in another post, especially dangerous here is the bishop or priest or lay leader for that matter who adopts a remote style of leadership that actively works to obstruct anything that resembles a collaborative style of leadership. As Guggenbuhl-Craig work suggests this happens as a result of a narrow for vision. As the article summarizing Ramarajan and Barsade’s research puts it, burnout is most likely when we fail to see the broader context of our work.

It is important that “Employers can also highlight to their employees how important their work is to society as a whole, Barsade adds. ‘Very often, caretaking work is not all that valued, but if employees in a daycare center, for example, understand that they are involved in early childhood education,’ this puts their work in a broader context. In addition, she suggests that for people in jobs that don't pay very well (and won't in the future), managers can at least compliment employees, hold awards dinners and so forth, ‘just so long as these shows of respect are authentic.’" For many Orthodox Christian leaders what is missing is a healthy, more biblically and anthropologically sound broader context of ministry.

In the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese the Greek ethnic community often provides this broader context. With converts, especially in the Antiochian Archdiocese and the Orthodox Church in America, this broader context is the rejection of the “West.” In both cases however the broader context is often more imaginary then it is empirical. We too often situation the ministry of the Church with a context that is really only a sentimental longing for Byzantium or Holy Russia or the “Old Country” or (what is underneath in all) a rarefied “Eastern mindset."

Orthodox Christians certainly cannot divorce ourselves from our own past, theological or ethnic. We have obviously come from somewhere. But, the only way to be faithful to our past is to faithful to our current situation. What we fail to do, and what we must do, is actively engage in a creative and appreciative critical dialogue with not only the culture around us, but also our own past.

At the heart of this dialogue is not a mechanical preservation of the past, but a willingness (like the wise steward) to draw from the treasury house of tradition those riches that make it possible for us to be “yeast in the dough” of the contemporary world. Our goal, in other words, is not so much preservation of the past as transformation of the present.

In answering the charge that Christians were harmful to the health of the Roman Empire, St Augustine argued that that as the soul is to the body, so the Christian is to the world. Jesus tells us that we “are the light of the world.” If we see the world around us as shrouded in darkness or trapped by the powers of sin and death, then we are called by Christ to respond by proclaiming the Gospel to the fallen world.

The burnout, the unjust practices, and the just plain sloppiness in the Church’s life reflect I think the lost of an evangelical vision for the Church’s life. We have become more concerned with preservation—cultural, theological, and liturgical—then transformation. But it is precisely working for transformation, our own and the world’s, which is at the heart of the Church’s vocation and (in a practical fashion) the way out of the narrowing of vision that afflicts us.

In neglecting the evangelical vocation of the Church we have fallen back on ourselves and brought about an increasingly narrow vision of the Church's life. It is not, and I cannot emphasizes this enough, a narrowness of vision that cause us to neglect evangelism, but our neglect of evangelism that narrows our hearts. Or maybe more accurately, evangelism is part and parcel of how God in Jesus Christ heals our constricted heart. We learn to love by loving, we learn what is really essential in the Christian life by introducing others to Christ and taking seriously their struggles.

I know in my own life, having to respond to those who do not believe has taught me what is of primary and what is of secondary importance in the Christian life. Add to that the undeniable limitations that mission work imposes which has the delightful effect of bring about and a certain clarity of vision, often whether I want that clarity or not.

"Let us," as we sing in the Cherubic Hymn, "lay aside all earthly cares and welcome the King of All, invisibly escorted by angelic hosts." This is the heart of the evangelic life and it is the key to the transformation and revival of the Church.

The effectiveness of self-imposed deadlines on procrastination

This just in from our eclectic social scientific friends at Tasty Research:

I often hear of graduate students postponing their research to do other things: play Tetris, read comments on Slashdot, or write a blog. We defer doing something “more important” to do something else and feel guilty and pleased at the same time.

How sweet is it not to do work? Apparently, sweet enough to abate the heavy and bitter costs of procrastinating. Late fines and extra work for missing a deadline seem distant when you can chat online for another 20 minutes right now.

Why do people procrastinate? This is an effect psychologists attribute to “hyperbolic time discounting”: the immediate rewards are disproportionally more compelling than the greater delayed costs. In other words, Procrastination itself is the reward.

However, the eventual cost of neglecting a task has such an impact on people that they learn to impose deadlines on themselves to restrict their own behavior. At what lengths do people do this? This article looks at three questions:

  1. Do people self-impose costly deadlines on tasks in which procrastination may impede performance?
  2. Are self-imposed deadlines effective in improving task performance?
  3. Do people set their deadlines optimally, for maximum performance enhancement?
A few studies are reported in this paper, where students had the opportunity to choose their own deadlines for three tasks they needed to do (write or proofread papers). They were allowed to set separate deadlines for each paper, but they would be binded to the deadlines and be assessed penalties if the papers were submitted late. Logically, the best solution would be to set all the deadlines to be the last day, which would give them the most flexibility and time to work on the three tasks.

However, only 27% of the students chose to submit all three papers on the last day of class. This answers the first question — people are aware of their own procrastination and give themselves earlier deadlines to counter it. The studies show that these deadlines do improve performance over only having deadlines at the very end. Unfortunately, they are still suboptimal because the subjects who were given equally spaced deadlines performed better, thus supporting question two but rejecting question three.

Procrastination Study

But hey, I’ll push myself to start my taxes earlier, but after a round or two of Winterbells.

Ariely, D. & Wertenbroch, K. Procrastination, deadlines, and performance: Self-control by precommitment. Psychological Science, 13(3), 219-224. [PDF]