“Everyday Leadership and Hope for Humanity” featuring Heidi Brooks

Leading Ideas Talks
Leading Ideas Talks
"Everyday Leadership and Hope for Humanity” featuring Heidi Brooks

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Podcast Episode 149

How can church leaders lead in such a way that is meaningful, sustainable, interesting and makes an impact? We speak with Heidi Brooks, Senior Lecturer in Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management, a leadership and organizational behavior expert about everyday leadership.

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Announcer: Leading Ideas Talks is brought to you by the Lewis Center for Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. Subscribe free to our weekly e-newsletter, Leading Ideas, at churchleadership.com/leadingideas.

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How can church leaders lead in such a way that is meaningful, sustainable, interesting and makes an impact? We discuss everyday leadership with Heidi Brooks, a leadership and organizational behavior expert and Senior Lecturer in Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management.

Jessica Anschutz: Welcome to Leading Ideas Talks, a podcast featuring thought leaders and innovative practitioners. I am Jessica Anschutz, the Assistant Director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, and I am your host for this Leading Ideas Talk. Joining me is Dr. Heidi Brooks, Senior Lecturer in Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management. Her areas of expertise include leadership and organizational behavior. Thank you, Dr. Brooks, for taking the time to speak with me about the subject of one of your most popular classes, everyday leadership.

Heidi Brooks: Sure. Thanks for inviting me in.

Jessica Anschutz: So what is everyday leadership?

Heidi Brooks: Everyday leadership is an acknowledgement that we all can make a difference in the experience of work. In a time, post pandemic, when we’re a little bit more sensitive to: “what is work for?” and, “how do I feel about and at work?” and, “what is the experience of work that really makes me feel like work is meaningful and sustainable and interesting, and has an impact that’s aligned with the kind of legacy that I want to leave?” It’s a time for us to pay attention to what can we each and all do that creates an experience of work for ourselves and others that we actually want to have. So everyday leadership is for all of us, and of course, if you have a kind of positional authority and you wear a “capital L” Leadership title, your everyday leadership impact is particularly important.

Jessica Anschutz: So, what are some of the principles of everyday leadership?

Heidi Brooks: Well part of the idea of everyday leadership is that it comes from everyday impact. So, saying what you are about is insufficient. It’s actually about the impact that you have. So, saying that we are a kind culture without actually people feeling like they’ve been treated kindly is insufficient for everyday leadership. So, we’re interested in impact more than intention, and we’re interested in being able to live into our aspirations from a perspective of what is the actual experience that people are having and closing the gap between our aspirations for who we want to be and how we actually show up and experience work.

Jessica Anschutz: So, our audience is primarily church leaders, clergy, and laity. How would you advise them to think about their impact or to become more aware of their impact?

Heidi Brooks: One of the things to do, I think, is to get curious about what impact do you want to have? What are the values and principles and hopes that you have for your legacy as it lands today, right? So, if you want to be someone whom people feel listened to around, is getting clear about that. Then secondly, getting some information about whether that’s actually happening or not. So, it’s a little bit of a the proof is in the pudding, but you need information. Your leadership is not in your statements about your leadership. It’s actually in people’s experience of it. It involves getting some feedback and engaging in some inquiry about how people experience you. So simple questions like: do people want to be led by you? It’s a simple ask. It’s a hard question to get really engaged in from a place of real transparency and intrigue. It’s a little bit of a provocative way to ask, but it’s at the heart of it. It’s a very important question. Which is that, do people feel drawn to you? Is there something that you’re up to in the way that you open space and create a conversation and invite people to follow you that’s compelling and intriguing? And if so, what is that? Can you do more of that? If not, what’s going on? Get curious about that.

Jessica Anschutz: I appreciate your emphasis on curiosity. How might leaders be more curious?

Heidi Brooks: Well, I think curiosity is based in this, another kind of principle by which I lead and advise and make this work real, is that we follow what we’re interested in. So, a lot of this work is based on a fundamental learning orientation that everyday leadership is in some ways about, “can we learn our way towards and into a future that we’re interested in participating in?” That learning needs to be directed by the stakeholders, you know? So, asking the question of “what am I genuinely interested in? What do I want to pursue?” And letting that interest, that yearning for a future that you’re interested in creating, guide your actions is a fundamental orientation.

So, unless for some reason you are devoid of all curiosity of all things, which is very unlikely with your group and the people who might be listening to this. You’re interested in things. And so let yourself be interested, not in what you’re “supposed” to be interested in, but what you’re actually interested in. So, follow it. Follow the bouncing ball of your intrigue, even if it’s kind of off plan, because sometimes we’re actually interested in things that are not on the agenda. You know, students find themselves in math class and interested in art, right? So, what do you do, right? We’re not always convenient for our own agenda. So even listening to that, letting yourself be interested in what you’re actually interested in, rather than being on the “should” plan. Breaking some of your own rules. Because, we can sustain interest when we actually are able to listen to our own interests.

Sometimes interest looks like a cognitive “Oh, I’m interested in that.” Sometimes it looks like you’re agitated or bothered by something. That’s actually a sign of interest. Sometimes it’s [that]you’re annoyed by someone’s behavior, right? Why? Because there might be a value or principle behind it that, yes, is agitating you because it’s being breached, but it’s also interesting to you. So, you can flip it and say, if I’m annoyed by disrespect, maybe I’m deeply interested in dignity. So, you can flip the questions and, you know, pet peeves are a great place to look for values because they are the things that are bothering you and that you’re bothered by. Especially when they’re kind of idiosyncratic or a hint about those things that you’re naturally not only most interested in, but perhaps committed to.

So, you know, values that are important enough to you to undergo some sacrifice or discomfort are particularly an indication that you’re interested beyond the kind of mundane every day. That you’re actually willing to pursue at some personal cost is an indication of a personal value, like a deeper interest. So, surface interest might not be sufficient for the level of learning for provocative questions like, do people want to be led by me? Because this work can be challenging, difficult, and kind of in your face when you really get to the heart of it.

Jessica Anschutz: I appreciate you naming pet peeves because I think all people in leadership encounter those and approaching them with a spirit of curiosity rather than a spirit of annoyance can lead to greater productivity for sure.

Heidi Brooks: Yeah, and more, for like deeper yearning. Follow that. See if you can get in touch with what you’re yearning for. Yearning sits right next to learning. Getting involved with your own interest. I really trust humans to be interested in things that are worth following…worth following for hope for humanity. It’s very different than a defensive energy.

Jessica Anschutz: Absolutely. And more life giving.

Heidi Brooks: And more life giving. When I teach the Everyday Leadership course, we start with an invitation to just notice your daily activities and start to do this kind of very bald differentiation of what things were enlivening and what things were depleting and then to understand, why? Were they depleting to you personally, or depleting to some stakeholder group that you care about?

Jessica Anschutz: That’s a great distinction. I’ve heard you talk about moments that matter and how these moments happen in the midst of our everyday lives. How can church leaders approach everyday experiences so that they are moments that matter?

Heidi Brooks: Yeah. So, you asked me to talk about the principles. I’m not doing a very thorough job with that, but we are getting to them so moment by moment, they will reveal themselves. So, we’ve gotten to impact. We’ve gotten to values-based curiosity and yearning. And now we’re starting to talk about micro moments and moments that matter. So, where we tend to think about leadership in large grandiose scope with a capital L, about positional authority. What I’m trying to do with everyday leadership is also talk about moments that matter that are in our everyday. That if we have a tendency to make leadership about legacy, and I do think it’s about legacy. I’ve already talked about legacy. We also need to be about what we’re about in the smaller moments. There are ways in which when we send emails, greet people in the hallways, open a meeting, introduce a person, these are all actually micro moments of leadership.

Why are they micro moments of leadership? Because the way that we build our impact, the way that we build our relationship, the way that we become known, the way that we let ourselves be known, reveals itself not only in the big stage moments when you are “on,” but also in the smaller moments when people are getting to know you. Those moments also matter and accumulate into how people experience your leadership. So, these micro moments, and some of them are typical, like the ones that I just named, and some of them are more idiosyncratic to the way that you lead and the way that your work is shaped and those I consider everyday junctures. So some of those are more particular, people talk about water coolers. I don’t even know if people have water coolers these days. That’s a kind of like everyday juncture where you actually tend to have a lot of interactions. So, what are the everyday junctures? For me, it’s a podium in the classroom. A lot of students wind up talking with me kind of casually before or after a class or in an advisory before we’re really in advisory mode and engaged in the official kind of delivery. Or a kind of formally structured event. There’s a lot of back and forth about how we’re going to act on the aspirations that the client has for themselves. Those are all everyday leadership moments for me. The kind of, the contracting and getting to know each other.

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Jessica Anschutz: So, as you think about these everyday moments, how can folks start to be more attentive to those moments and their experiences in those moments?

Heidi Brooks: So, we’ll start to fold back—a kind of stance of curiosity about your impact can now also be applied here. How did that meeting go? One of the things to do is to not just rely on yourself and to have good questions, that’s a thing, but to make it a communal behavior. So that if you can make it a norm that you ask, “what was that meeting like for people?” It helps people to pay attention, so it’s collective curiosity. Curiosity isn’t just an individual phenomenon, but it’s a norm in your group. Then you have socialized behaviors that become more of your organizational culture that both typify your personal leadership, but also become the way that the community expects us to behave. So, it’s the way that we do things around here becomes your culture and your norm—that becomes a little bit more powerful. I tend to think that groups are more powerful than individuals because we’re so social. So, if you can, make what you care about a social norm. A lot of everyday leadership isn’t individual, it’s actually collective. So here we have another kind of invitation to think not only about ourselves, but about our collective leadership.

Jessica Anschutz: And certainly, for church leadership, that ministry is done in community.

Heidi Brooks: Yeah. Yeah. What you might think of at the end of the day, leadership begets leadership. Particularly that’s true, I think, of everyday leadership. I think this is particularly true of a community that’s healthy. It’s a kind of, I think, provocative statement. What does it mean to be a healthy community? I think a healthy community promotes leaders that are good for a set of values that this community wants to lift up. Rather than a kind of very individualistic orientation, a community that really winds up very oriented towards certain individuals. I worry about that, the leadership, the collective leadership vibe in that collection of people. Of course, there are some positional responsibilities that have to be upheld by people just for, at least, for clarity and for division of labor. So, I’m not arguing against structural components, but I am raising up the question of, “what is a healthy and effective collective leadership?” And I think part of what we see is that it raises up and welcomes leadership that works from lots of different quadrants.

Jessica Anschutz: I really appreciate your group approach to leadership, because so often I think leaders view themselves as an individual, which is important, but not also how they relate to the whole.

Heidi Brooks: I think that’s an old paradigm that we need to grow ourselves out of. Leadership is not about the leader. Leadership is actually about the group and it’s about all of us. It comes through the leader, but it’s not about the leader. So, our, very heroic individualistic mindsets really set us in the wrong direction and a lot of our practices and teaching and learning about leadership has been too individualized. Leadership is really about groups and social processes.

Jessica Anschutz: So how might leaders begin to take on more of this sort of group perspective? Are there steps that you would encourage them to take or particular things you would encourage them to focus on?

Heidi Brooks: Curiosity is related to reflection. So, the bigger picture on curiosity is reflective practice. So, are we looking at what we’ve experienced, what we’ve created, what we’ve done, how we’ve behaved, the impact that we’ve had from a place of reflection? And I think that’s most powerfully done as a group practice. So, some collaborative reflection, which has deep origins in a spiritual basis. Can we collaboratively reflect on who we intend to be? And how that’s going? Now, what helps that process tremendously is voice. So really creating an environment where people actually can say what they’ve experienced and that it becomes discussable. Some sense of psychological safety. Amy Edmondson’s been doing, of course, a lot of work in this arena.

That we can not only ask the question, but listen to what people have to say in response in a way that creates a norm of reflecting collaboratively that in itself is a positive experience of our community, right? So, some people think getting feedback is about an anonymous survey, and I guess you can get feedback from an anonymous survey. But I’m really talking about creating a more courageous dynamic in our communities where we can make discussable some of the kind of edgy material that might be 10% out of our collective comfort zone. But our avoidance practices of difficult conversation are only making our worlds smaller and keeping us away from the information that we need to be able to create a future that is more robust and rigorous and responsive to the dilemmas that we have today.

We have to learn our way forward. The kind of existential or, one might say in this audience, kind of spiritual crisis that we have about being human well in a very confusing and confused world needs us to meet it with openness and courage and collective reflection that opens up some possibility of our experimenting and learning our way forward. We may not know the answers, so that’s why we partly need a kind of reflection process that allows us to be curious together and then to experiment together. And very importantly, the next step, to fail together. When we have some failure, that’s worth it because we’re experimenting in the direction of our values. We can hold that kind of failure with dignity and honor because it was worthy failure. It’s like when you innovate, when you’re trying something new, there’s going to be failure as you’re trying new things. So if we cannot let that be fatal, then we might be able to discover what’s possible and the edges of what’s possible.

Jessica Anschutz: And sometimes it’s taking first initial step of taking the risk.

Heidi Brooks: And then staying around for it to clean up, right? So, risk taking and recovery go hand in hand. They’re fundamental, everyday leadership skills, individually and collectively. So, ask hard questions. Ask easy questions, sure. But the easy questions are easy. Asking the hard questions is really where you wind up needing your everyday leadership skills, which have a lot to do with reflection and, driving towards yearning and values and staying around to listen, encouraging voice, listening to people with responsiveness (in terms of the impact of those conversations), and letting it be a process rather than a problem to solve and to check the box.

Jessica Anschutz: I think the reflection piece is really important and something that I found when I was engaged in full time ministry on a regular basis. Churches had their routines, their patterns, their annual events, but there was never any sort of evaluation or reflection about what went well? What didn’t go so well? How might we do this differently in the future? What did we learn in doing this?

Heidi Brooks: It’d be amazing if church leaders could ask those kinds of questions. And then let us have the attendant crises of not getting answers that we want. Because actually I think churches and church leaders actually have, at least conceptually at their fingertips, some of the tools to be able to be imperfect and still pursue a life worth living. 

I get more worried when church leaders need it to look good and/or go with simple solutions. We’re having like pretty fundamental challenges in being human well. We’re just fundamentally confused about, what does this mean? Can the children have enough food and an education? Can we not be at war? It’s getting pretty base here.

Jessica Anschutz: Right.

Heidi Brooks: Can we love thy neighbor? I would say we are failing on really fundamental dimensions and I’m not sure that other leadership disciplines are as well positioned to answer the fundamental existential crisis about what it means to be human well as our church leaders.

We need spiritual leaders to be asking and answering the questions, right now. It’s hard to do that conceptually if the practices of the way that you run your congregations and your gatherings don’t reflect an integrity of the practice. So, it’s not just at the pulpit in sermons, it’s also in the way that you are having everyday interaction with your congregants

Jessica Anschutz: So, if folks aren’t already doing this work, where do they start?

Heidi Brooks: Gosh, it would be amazing if they created some learning circles in their in their spaces, but, and, it’s important to know how to do the work well. I’m a big fan of finding a learning community where you can, if you’re the kind of the leader of this kind of work in your setting. You might need to start by finding an external setting where you can have a powerful experience so that when you try to come back home and implement the practices, you have a practice, a community of practice to go to that pulls out the best of who you are and where you can take your dilemmas. One of the most common questions is well, I behaved differently, and people didn’t know what to do with that. So how do I…they expect me to be the same. So, when I came back talking about reflective practice here and now and getting some feedback, they were so shocked about my behaving differently that I wasn’t quite sure what to do.

So, it’s important to have a community of practice to take your questions and also that anchors you in a place that is inspired by your future self. What do you want for your community, yourself, your people, your family, and let that vision of the future inspire a set of behaviors that will take you in that direction.

People are often inspired by current behaviors or tethered by current behaviors like “I have to be who I have been.” So, it can be difficult to try new things, but actually trying new things is just, it’s just new things. It’s just, we can lighten the burden of it. And so, a community of practice can really help you to experiment in public and to be anchored with a version of your best self and with a, with an aspiration of the future that you can articulate to others. So, I’m a big fan of community of practice and journaling. So many things. But it helps to socialize it with your own learning community.

Jessica Anschutz: So many things that I think our leaders are using in other ways, right? They may be journaling for spiritual reflection, but not on leadership.

Heidi Brooks: Journaling is such a huge partner to the reflection process, so to ask questions of “what is my impact today?” is a great journaling topic.

Maybe choosing three people whom you want to impact. What was their experience and getting curious about it? And of course, journaling is not enough because you have ideas of your impact, but the information about your impact actually lies with the other person. So, a lot of this needs to be interactive. Of course, the other practice of getting information about your impact from other people is part of what we were talking about leadership as social. And so, you need information to the extent that you can actually create conversations where you’re getting that information. It’s another part of the kind of collaborative reflection process.

What I teach and part of what I’m doing at Yale is setting up these learning environments that raise up a more courageous community where more of these everyday interactive dynamics become normative. Of course, groups have to learn to do this together. They have to learn to make it okay to create enough sense of connection and collective shared purpose and ways of enacting it for a courageous community to have enough psychological safety and commitment to that purpose to pursue awkward conversations. It’s not like hard conversations become not hard, you just become more skilled at holding them collectively. Then what would be a hard conversation elsewhere becomes less difficult because the community is more skilled and more courageous and more committed to shared learning and knows how to help each other through.

Jessica Anschutz: Are there resources that you would recommend for folks? Who want to engage in these hard conversations.

Heidi Brooks: I’m hoping that my podcast, which is called Learning Through Experience, is a resource. Been interested in revealing some of the methodologies behind learning through and from our everyday experience and how a learning orientation, which I hope is coming through as a real foundational principle in everyday leadership. How learning itself is an approach to leading in confusing and overwhelming times that we do not know the answer to our future. We’ve got to have a learning orientation to be able to discover what we really want and how to practice into it.

I think I’m a real fan of some particular work. I’ve already mentioned the name of Amy Edmondson and so her most recent book on intelligent failure. I think it’s highly relevant to what we’re what we’re talking about.

There’s just so many things out there that you’ve already mentioned. Journaling as a, as an individual practice. Being able to be part of a group that actually encourages thought and encourages collaborative reflection. I would love to see church leaders start these things up. You can come and do some learning at Yale in the programs that I teach. We have a facilitator community that people can apply to be part of and hopefully some more things on the way. So, keep an eye out for what we’re doing and what I’m doing at Yale and the program that I lead.

Jessica Anschutz: I am so grateful for this time today and for the work that you’re doing and your willingness to share your work with our leaders. As we wrap up our time together, what would your hope be for folks who are listening to this podcast?

Heidi Brooks: I hope that people are hearing what I think is actually one of the best things about leading, which is to find other leaders who share your aspirations for learning our way into a world that’s more enlivening for each of us and for all of us and how actually finding those other leaders and sharing with them a process of learning about how to lead in a confused and overwhelmed world is in itself pretty enlivening for people who really care about this. I think we need company on the journey. We need to normalize our own learning and striving process. We need for that learning process in itself to not only be accompanied by relevant others, but to encourage us, embolden us to take the work back home and see if we can spread the magic, which is really paradigm shifting and work of great courage.

I don’t see how we’re possibly going to make our way into a more a livable world with less war and less strife where we can actually feed the children with bigger hearts and broader minds without our being able to make that true right here in our own environments, in our own hearts and minds, in our own communities, and here in our own congregations. Make it real in your world. Invite yourself to be part of a more courageous community that’s about learning for you. If you can do that with other, with others, then it’s more possible that you can do that in your formal and positional authority in your in your congregation, your church, the way that you gather people.

Jessica Anschutz: Wonderful. Thank you so much, Dr. Brooks.

Heidi Brooks: You’re so welcome. Thanks for inviting me in Jessica.

Announcer:Thank you for joining us for Leading Ideas Talks.

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About Author

Heidi Brooks

Heidi Brooks teaches and advises on the subject of everyday leadership: the everyday micro-moments of impact that shape our lived experiences. Dr. Brooks specializes in large-scale culture change projects focused on individual and collective leadership effectiveness in organizations. Interpersonal Dynamics, the MBA elective she has taught for 15 years, is one of the courses most in demand at Yale School of Management. Recently, Dr. Brooks pioneered the Everyday Leadership course at SOM. She has also taught Emotional Intelligence, Power & Politics, Managing Groups & Teams, and Coaching Skills for Managers. Dr. Brooks received her Doctorate in psychology from the University of California at Berkeley and a Bachelor’s degree from Brown University. She is a lifelong experiential learner; you can find her as a student in classrooms as far-ranging as improvisational theater and immersion language lessons. Her podcast is "Learning Through Experience."

Dr. Jessica Anschutz

Jessica L. Anschutz is the Assistant Director of the Lewis Center and co-editor of Leading Ideas. She teaches in the Doctor of Ministry program at Wesley Theological Seminary and is an elder in the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. Jessica participated in the Lewis Fellows program, the Lewis Center's leadership development program for young clergy. She is also the co-editor with Doug Powe of Healing Fractured Communities (Palmetto, 2024).