Enabling Parish Leadership

Affirming and Challenging


Leaders need honest criticism from supervisors who affirm and challenge their work.  Without it, leaders risk the formation of bad habits and isolation from the community.

If you supervise other leaders, you will enable their work with honest comments.  Affirm the good work they do and challenge what is inadequate.  Honest criticism does not mean uncharitable criticism.  It should always be an act of love – never an act of frustration, nor an act of infatuation.

Parish volunteers and staff members deserve a word of appreciation.  They often receive it from people they serve, but they also deserve it from supervisors.  Some supervisors overlook this simple task.  The calendar includes a day for administrative professionals and another day for bosses.  On these days many people express thanks by words or actions.  Church workers should not need the calendar as a reminder to express appreciation, but it is one way to share positive sentiments.

There are other ways.  A supervisor can acknowledge another person’s exceptional performance.  Did someone put in extra hours to coordinate an annual event?  Did someone go the extra mile to tend the less fortunate?  Did someone give a talk, conceive a new idea, or share a talent that made a difference for the life of the parish?  The supervisor should say thanks.  It recognizes the work at the highest level, and therefore – in some mysterious way – at every level.

Even on the most ordinary days, the work of a loyal leader deserves a word of thanks.  It need not be much.  A good supervisor will affirm those who labor hard in the church’s vineyard for no other benefit but the good of the body of Christ.

Supervisors also issue words of challenge.  When you see more potential in someone’s performance, let them know.  Has someone performed a job better in the past than now?  Does another leader seem continuously overworked and stressed out?  Does someone need more information, better networks or a more work-friendly environment?  The supervisor should speak words that challenge.

Words that challenge can be words of hope.  A good supervisor does not rudely say, “You’re doing a bad job.”  Make an observation and point a direction toward a different path.  When you see problems, look for solutions.  If you supervise someone who needs challenge, speak the words, but give direction.  Explain how the job might be done another way, or how you have seen the same person do the work better in the past.

Sometimes there are serious reasons why someone’s performance is lacking.  There could be circumstances unrelated to the job that affect the work: health, family concerns, or even matters of faith.  A good supervisor will realize that when work is inadequate, the reason is as important as the performance.

In all things, parish workers need to demonstrate the charity they preach.  As followers of Christ, we tell others what the message is.  But we need to live the message first in how we affirm and how we challenge.

This article first appeared in ParishWorks: Idea Source for Parish Leaders and Decision Makers 8/1 (January 2005):3.

horizontal rule

Top of page