Rob Cizek on How the Direct Communication Style Can Improve Your Leadership
Rob Cizek is Executive Pastor at Northshore Christian Church, a non-denominational church of 1,500 and Christian academy of 1000 in the Seattle area. He oversees daily operation of the organization and its ministries. In today’s interview he provides some great coaching for church leaders looking to grow in their leadership through the direct communication style. This episode is perfect for the leader looking to improve their management of their people and systems at their church!
Interview Highlights //
00:35 // Rich introduces Rob.
01:16 // Rob tells us about his church, Northshore Christian Church.
01:47 // Rich introduces the podcast topic, conflict resolution.
02:39 // Rich asks why Rob thinks that church leaders are conflict avoidant.
02:45 // Rob explains why church leaders are conflict avoidant and the differences in churches in the west versus churches in the east.
04:17 // Rich and Rob have a laugh about the cultural differences between the east coast and the west coast.
05:02 // Rob explains that because of the directness of people on the east coast he always knew where he stood with them.
06:16 // Rich asks what church leaders can do to directly handle conflict.
06:41// Rob explains that there are two kinds of direct.
07:43 // Rob talks about how Paul addresses his churches with directness and brutal honesty in a kind way.
09:36 // Rob gives a few thoughts on how to handle an example of a problem solved with direct conversation.
13:17 // Rob says we need to speak with people like adults and with respect in order to have a good direct conversation.
13:53 // Rob says we should get right to the point and not put it off, as well as frame the conversation with common sense.
15:42 // Rob explains that laying everything out on the table is important because it shows the person that you care enough to go to that extreme, and lets the person know the air is clear.
18:02 // Rob explains that you have to be as willing to allow your church members and staff to be as direct with you as you’ve been with them.
19:14 // Rob says that being direct takes courage and while it is easier to let it go, it’s worth having those direct conversations.
Lightning Round Highlights
Helpful Tech Tools // Church Community Builder, Google Play, Dropbox, Evernote
Ministries Following // Catalyst and Orange
Influential Book // ‘Discipleshift’ by Jim Putman
Inspiring Leader // Andy Stanley
What does he do for fun? // Kayaking
Interview Transcript //
Rich – Alright well happy Thursday everybody. It’s Rich Birch from the un-seminary podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in. This is the podcast where we try to provide real practical help for church leaders and today it’s our privilege, it’s my privilege to have Rob Cizek on the phone, super excited to have him. He’s from the north, Northshore Community Church, Christian Church, I’m sorry, he’s Christian not Community. So glad to have you.
Rob – We’re both actually.
Rich – Exactly. Rob thanks for being on the show today.
Rob – Well it’s great to be here, Rich, and hello to everybody out on the podcast, glad to be here.
Rich – Rob’s one of those guys that I just love following online, I just count it a privilege today that we get a chance to kind of sit down and chat a little bit. He’s a fantastic guy, will give you some ways for you to get in touch with him a little later in the show, but I really do think he should be on your list of people that you’re following. So Rob, why don’t you tell us a little bit about Northshore, tell us about your church, your context, your ministry?
Rob – [inaudible 01:15] I feel very blessed to be part of our organization. Northshore is a church of about 1,500 and a school of a thousand students during the week. Here in the Seattle area we have a beautiful campus that overlooks Puget Sound and God’s doing some great things here in the northwest. As many of you know it’s a, it’s not the south in terms of Christian culture it can be a little bit challenging and it’s been great to see God at work up here.
Rich – Very cool, now today we’re going to talk about conflict resolution and kind of being conflict avoidant. Which I know I think a lot of us can struggle with, in fact, just this week I was walking one of my leaders through a situation where, you know I said to them I was like: “Listen, we avoided some pain back in April and that pain came to roost here in July.” Because we, you know we should have made a tough call back then and we made what was a “Hey, let’s just try to keep everybody moving along” and it festered until this point and it kind of all blew up all over us this week. And so, so when I knew that this interview was coming up, I was like okay I’m going to, I’ve got my notepad read, I’m looking forward to learn from Rob today; because I think you’re an expert in this. Let’s talk about it. Why is it, do you think, that church leaders are just, they can be conflict avoidant?
Rob – Well, I think it gets to two things really, one is just the whole vibe of church and the way many of us were raised and I can’t speak to everybody’s church experience but I know on my own that the whole idea of going to church was we would, we literally put on our Sunday best clothes.
Rich – Right.
Rob – We shine up the car, we put on our best behavior. We were just so nice to each other you know because we love Christ, and if we don’t love other then of course then we’re going to nicer than everybody else, right?
Rich – Right.
Rob – I think you have this whole facade of nice that a lot of people have been exposed to. I think that, that in some ways is where it starts. Where I really became aware of this personally was, it’s an east coast west coast thing. I was born on the west coast, I was in southern California and everybody was so nice. They’re so casual, just easy going, never a problem. You know, just this whole vibe but what would end up happening was when there was a problem you just kind of stuffed it down and bit your tongue. You know, maybe, nobody would ever come to your face and say: “Hey, there’s a problem here.” They might cut you up in the parking lot behind your back. But, they wouldn’t come to your face, so you kind of kept this nice facade of nice. Well, I got a job on the east coast, and I moved to the east coast.
Rich – Ah yeah!
Rob – Oh my, was that an experience in directness, alright. I might as well have, my plan might as well have landed in a foreign country as far as it being a cultural difference. I got on the job and almost immediately I felt like nobody liked me. They were coming at me. They were telling me about these problems or telling me what I was doing wrong. I’m like: “Oh man, I’m just not doing well here.” After about a year I came to the conclusion, I realized a couple of things. One, they did like me, it’s just that they were being direct with me. They were telling me the things that I needed to hear. I also realized that on the east coast in general, I always knew where I stood with people. As soon as I realized that I’m like “Oh, people do like me, they’re being direct with me”, and I had this realization, “Oh my gosh, the air is really clear around here.” I love this east coast thing because we’re not carrying around all these offenses and all this baggage and that thing you said about me three years ago and still holding on to it. You know, the east coast was like a graduate school in being direct and I’m so grateful that I had that experience in my life. Since having moved back to the west coast I can definitely confirm that style difference is still alive and well.
Rich – That’s amazing. You know its funny being in New Jersey or in Jersey as they call it around here you know I can see that. You know that there’s almost like a pride in this part of the world of I’m just going to put it all out there. I’m going to be right in your face with what’s going on. Which, it can be, we’ve struggled with people who have come from other parts of the country because they don’t get it, they don’t understand that; and they tend to feel really hurt as opposed to like, “No, no. We’re just trying to be clear.” So, that’s amazing. So what can church leaders do? How do we kind of learn to be direct and to be open and to kind of handle conflict, rather than just stuffing it down?
Rob – Well, this is part of my own journey. I was a, kind of a recovering indirect person I guess, when I landed on the east coast. That really challenged me so okay how do I develop a direct leadership style, and one I had to realize that there really are two kinds of direct; and I think that’s important for people to understand. There’s bad direct and bad direct is what really a lot of people, I’d say 90 percent of people think of when they think of direct; and it’s somebody yelling at them. That’s how most people have experienced; really the west coast people have experienced direct is wow, things really came to a boiling point and the first time I started hearing stuff for real was when somebody is like in my face and yelling at me. This is really uncomfortable and frankly that makes people conflict avoidant, it makes them direct avoidant because it’s uncomfortable.
Then there’s good direct and good direct really is about speaking truth and love. To me, the best example of this came from the apostle Paul. If you read his letters, there is really two things going on. One, is there’s no question that it’s direct, but look at how he does it, alright. He’ll usually start his letters like: “Dear church that I started. Man, I am so glad you’re there. I am so glad that you’re on board with Jesus; I am so glad that you are giving it your best effort. I am just really encouraged by you guys.” He’ll start it out that way and then he’ll spend six chapters talking about hey very directly: “This is what’s going on, I’m not digging this because of this, you guys are doing this. It’s not working because of this.” He is just brutally honest with his churches; and then you get to the last part of Paul’s letters and they close kind of the way they start: “You know guys; I know you’ve got all of these problems but that’s okay. That’s to be expected. Keep up the good fight; man, when I get out of jail I’m coming your way.” You know, and I just I really love that because with Paul one, the relationship was always there. It was never a question about the person. Hey, I’m affirming you; I’m affirming your church. I want to come and hang with you; I want to see you guys. I really do have your best interests at heart and I care about you so much that I’m going to take each of these points directly. I think you know, he just gives us a beautiful way of speaking truth and love to each other, of keeping relationships going when you’re talking directly with people.
Rich – Can you give me an example of how that might work? So let’s say, let’s take the example, this wasn’t the example of what happened at our church this week. But you know say you’re an executive pastor. A lot of people that listen to this podcast are executive pastors, senior pastors; and let’s say that the student guy or student gal just did something wrong. Now, this is just theoretical that just could never happen but, let’s say they you know, they had an event where just, you know the senior pastor heard something was like: “I heard you did this crazy thing.” How would you suggest applying that kind of approach to you know, trying to be not, to not just avoid the conflict?
Rob – Sure, sure let me just let me give you a few thoughts on how to handle that and you develop your own style. One, a good direct conversation starts with intent and that actually starts before the conversation. If people know that you have their best interests and the best interests of the organization at heart, they’re grownups. People sense it they get it. They’re much more willing to accept what you have to say to them. So, make sure that in all of your dealings with people in advance they know what your intent is. Also make sure that you have relationships with them. Every conversation, every interaction or exchange that we have with somebody, you’re either putting a deposit into that relationship or you’re taking a withdrawal and that’s everybody every day.
Rich – So true, so true.
Rob – And before you go in and have that conversation with that minister who’s maybe a little bit challenged, make sure that you’ve helped them solve a problem. Make sure that you’ve asked about their family. Make sure that you’ve cared for them in some way so that you’ve put the deposits in that relationship so that when you have to sit down and have that difficult conversation, speaking with them directly. If that’s a withdrawal for them, you’re still in a positive relational balance. Watch your tone. You realize that as a leader I think it’s easy for us to forget this sometimes. Our words carry a ton of weight.
Rich – So true.
Rob – I mean, you know we don’t have to yell, we don’t have to stand up on chairs. We don’t have to wave our arms around, okay. Just us saying something carries a ton of weight. So, have a calm, friendly, professional, approachable tone. When you’re sitting down to speak with that person who you know, may not be doing everything just the way you wanted to do. Preface your comments, okay, start by saying like Paul does: “I really appreciate your work and I know that you’re on board because you tried that new thing in student ministry; and I, man that’s innovative I really appreciate it. But I’ve got a couple of concerns. Would it be alright if I shared those concerns with you?”
Rich – I love that, I love that. I love what you’ve done there. I just want to point that out. You’ve started with base lining. “Hey I really appreciate what you’re doing in the ministry.” And that’s not, you’re not just trying to butter people up, you’re trying to say, “This is what I actually believe. This is the foundation of what I believe.” Then you asked for permission to share, I love that. Why would you do that? Why is that important?
Rob – Well, again, I. People, it’s really funny, when I started on my career I was you know a line person and I had friends with the line people and it was absolutely amazing how intelligent all of the people at the line level were and then I got into management and I’m not sure what happened. It felt like everybody on the wine level, “What are they doing this is crazy?” You know these aren’t the same people that I knew. It was just my perspective that had shifted and I share that with you because remember, those line people, the people that you’re dealing with, they’re smart, they get it, they’re emotionally intelligent and I think sometimes as a leader because we just see so many kind of the dumb things we start, “Aww man these people really aren’t you know. Nobody can be that relationally intelligent and be making mistakes like that.”
That’s simply not the case. People are smart, they get it and, sorry I’ve got a little thing on the screen here. They get it so you need to speak with people like adults, like grownups, with respect. They are intelligent; people get it if you’re talking down to them so you set the conversation up that way because it immediately says: “Hey, I know you’re smart, I know you get it, I know you have the best will of this organization at heart. I recognize that there’s a problem, but this isn’t a problem with you. I’m going to respect you as an adult.” When you do that you tend to get a very grown up answer back. So that’s why you set it up that way. I think there’s a couple of other things that you can do when having that conversation. Get right to it. Sometimes because we’re nice people we sit around over a cup of coffee and we talk about the dog and we talk about the kids and we talk about you know, what was on 24 last night or whatever; but we don’t get right to it and that drives people crazy.
They know they’re in, they know they’re having this conversation for a reason. Guys, just get to it, okay; and frame the conversation when you’re having it with common sense. This is something that everybody can relate to: “Hey, you went out there and spent all of that money on student ministry and I understand why you did it, you wanted to create a special interest but, how would we feel if that figure was published in the church bulletin? We’ve got a minister that spent all this money this way, I mean what do you guys think did you, you know.” And the “Oh, well that kind of makes sense.” It’s kind of a common sense thing there. I always kind of bring it back around to the organization, the organization’s mission, why other people might see it differently, and the lights tend to come on. The last thing I would say about having that difficult direct conversation is say everything.
Bill Hybels has a great way of explaining this he says: Have the last, the conversation, to the last two percent. It’s always you know 50 percent of the stuff is easy to talk about, another 40 percent of this stuff is challenging but most people are up for it. It’s that last two percent, it’s that thing that’s just driving you crazy, probably driving them crazy to that we’re most afraid to talk about. Have it, the conversation it’s there, the ball is teed up the person is in front of you. You’ve had 98 percent of this conversation; don’t chicken out on that last two percent. Okay, the last two percent is important because what it says to the individual is one, I love you enough that we’re going to go there; and we’re going to go all the way there, and the other thing is when the person walks out of your office after having that conversation, they know this thing has been discussed. There isn’t another little segment of this that I’m worried is going to come up in another three weeks.
The air is clear when you do the hundred percent of the conversation, it clears the air. It has amazing impacts on your relationship with the individual. You know the real funny thing about being a direct is we want to be indirect because we want to spare people’s feelings. But what’s odd is it creates grudges. People are holding onto things. When you’re direct with somebody it seems intuitively that you’re going to tick them off, but there’s many times the opposite effect and that is: “Wow, this guy loves me enough to go 100 percent of the way, clear the air, now I’ve got short accounts with this guy. I know I’m good with this guy, I know where I’m going and now I’m confident.” You have these kinds of relationships with people, one as a leader; it’s a great way to be. It strengthens your position as a leader; it really promotes relationships with your team. Lastly if you do this with a bunch of people it has a cumulative effect in the organization, it really, it frees other people up to be direct with each other. It really kind of clears the air. If I’ve got a problem I can go and I can talk to Rich about it and everything is going to be fine. It has a great cumulative effect on the organization.
Rich – Yeah we’ve kind of adopted that particularly that last two percent in our organization where when there is a conflict situation, often you’ll hear people say like, “Is there another two percent? Is there anything else that’s on the table? Let’s get it out now.” Which does have a, I’ve been in those situations where it really does clear the air and you’re like “No, I’ve said everything there is, there isn’t, I don’t have this one last thing that I’m holding on to.” Which can make a huge difference. Rob, comment, what about, or a question, What if the situation is reversed? Let’s say I’m the person that’s being supervised and my supervisor you know, they did something that was a bit boneheaded. How does this change or modify; how do you try to be direct with that person? How have you experienced that in your environment?
Rob – Well, what I’ve found is you have to be as willing to take it as you are to give it. You have to set the table to allow your folks to be as direct with you as you have been with them. Some of that’s implicit, if you’re modeling directness they may have an easier time coming at you. I think as a leader you need to invite it and a lot of times in a regular meeting, you know, monthly meeting I might have with a staff member I might say, “Hey listen, what can I do to help? Is there anything that I could be doing better for you? Do you have any feedback for me?” I try to invite that and then when they are direct with me, even if it does kind of cut; and sometimes it does. I’ll just thank the person for letting me know where they’re at and this, that the permission dynamic that you’re talking about is something that is just built up over months and years. Make sure that you’re as willing to take it as give it and invite your people to do it, and eventually they’ll feel safe and be willing to do it with you.
Rich – Very cool. Anything else you would love to share with people before we jump into the lightening round?
Rob – Well, just one last thought. This stuff takes courage. It is so much easier just to let something ride, you know talking about it earlier; let’s just kind of let it ride. You know maybe they’ll get it on their own or maybe someone else will say something to them. No, not going to happen you know, guys have the courage to have those direct conversations it’s very much worth it.