How to Harness the Power of TNT

Positive Learning from Negative Feedback

Leaders in all sizes and types of organizations often face negative feedback and criticism – and many have problems dealing with it.

Maybe it’s time to blow criticism away with “TNT”.

Recently I was reading HBR.org and came across a great article by John Butman entitled “The Benefits of Negative Feedback.”

I recently gave a lunchtime “author’s talk” at Children’s Hospital in Boston and, although I thought the talk went well, somebody in the audience didn’t like it at all. On the evaluation form, the person in question wrote a single word in the comment box: CONFUSING.

Thank you, whoever you are. While everybody else gave me good marks and said nice things, which I appreciated, my critic forced me into self-examination. Was he the only one forthright enough to speak up, or was he the only one not paying enough attention to get it? What was confusing? The ideas? The presentation?

His thoughtful suggestions contained in the article on dealing with negative feedback reminded me of a simple but powerful tool that I use whenever I receive criticism.

It’s called TNT, and I learned it over twenty years ago from Sue Mallory, a training instructor for the Leadership Network. I’ve been using it in every shape and form since then.

Are you ready?

The Next Time.

That’s right – once something has been said or done, you can’t do anything about it – for good or bad! Why should you beat yourself up and let it drag you down?

But you can learn from it and apply that learning to The Next Time the situation presents itself.

Here’s a great example: A presentation I gave at a national conference in Dallas TX. I was no stranger to the conference – I’ve been speaking at it for over ten years. The topic was not new to me even though it was the first time I had presented it in its current form. I had prepared adequately – or at least I thought.

As it turns out, I had mistakenly assumed that the attendees of this year’s conference attending my session would be the same as in prior years, and I neglected to gauge the makeup of the audience before I launched into the presentation.

Over half of the session’s attendees were from a technical background, when I had expected most of them to be from a church ministry staff background. The presentation was only 5 minutes old before the quizzical looks and a few responses to my questions made me realize a mid-course correction was required!

Fortunately, I have a background (albeit several decades ago) in the technical production aspect of church ministry, and I was able to shift on the fly to orient the presentation more in that direction. The formal evaluations I received backed up the comments from several attendees following the session, indicating the midstream switch was a success.

Looking back, I could have avoided the situation by noting what other sessions were being offered at the same time (and thus gauging potential attendance) as well as taking a quick audience poll to see who was present (to adjust the presentation at the beginning).

But it happened, and I couldn’t change a thing.

There’s always The Next Time.

What about in your leadership position? How will you use the power of TNT in evaluating an event or lesson or sermon that got some negative feedback in order to provide a positive launching point for improvement in the future?

Don’t let the negatives get you down – instead, blow them away with TNT.

Economics Principles at Your Church

My college experience included four years serving as a student assistant in the office of the chairman of our school’s economics professor. For 10 hours each week I got a healthy dose of Economics – everything from Econ 101 to advanced statistical analysis. Dr. Cho certainly knew his subject matter, and the quizzes, exams, and homework I graded made me appreciate the field of study, even to the point of taking extra classes and obtaining a minor in economics.

Over the 30 years since college, various economic concepts have popped up in my work on a church staff and as a church consultant. The most regular of these has been “The Pareto Principle,” first written about in 1906 by Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto.

You probably know it as the “80/20 Rule.”

John Maxwell recalls learning of it in a college business management course, calling it one of the most profound eureka moments in his life:

The professor was teaching the Pareto Principle, and as he explained its impact, my eyes were opened. He explained that:

  • 80 percent of traffic jams occur on 20 percent of the roads
  • 80 percent of classroom participation comes from 20 percent of students
  • 80 percent of the time you wear 20 percent of your clothes
  • 80 percent of the profits come from only 20 percent of the customers
  • 80 percent of problems are generated by 20 percent of the employees
  • 80 percent of all decisions can be made on 20 percent of the information

What an eye opener! It meant that the best 20 percent of my activities were sixteen times more productive than the remaining 80 percent. (from Leadership Gold, by John Maxwell)

Dozens of books in my Leadership Library refer to the 80/20 rule, most often in terms of resource and time efficiency. In this context, I think it is appropriate, and a very useful rule of thumb. Certain assumptions can follow from this idea – you should focus on your best customers, or your hardest working staff members, or your most profitable selling item – with these you reap the greatest results for the least effort.

In ChurchWorld, a handful of members typically account for most of the effort in the congregations. (A corollary to this principle is that a few members cause most of the headaches, but I’ll save that for another day.)

  • How can you shift more of your church members from sitting to serving, from being spectators to engaging more deeply?
  • Would doing so help more people to grow and develop spiritually?

A classic Leadership Network publication may just be what you are looking for to answer those questions. The Other 80 Percent is a practical guide for church leaders, written by respected researcher Scott Thumma and noted author Warren Bird. The authors draw upon research across a broad range of Protestant churches of all kinds.

I can almost hear Dr. Cho now: “the distribution of your sheep can be shown like this…”

Beginning tomorrow, I would like to invite you to look deeper into The Other 80 Percent and see how you might use it to help move your church forward.