MULTITASKING & Subtle “switching costs” cut efficiency, raise risk.

Commentary by Prof. B: Butler and Herman, in their widely disseminated research, cite “multitasking” as an attribute of “effective church leadership.” But other research conflicts with this (see the summary of research below), suggesting that multitasking takes a toll on productivity.

This incongruity can be understood by a closer look at Butler and Herman‘s delimiters which seem to indicate that they are describing multitasking in the sense of macro-multitasking: i.e. tackling different tasks over an extended period time (e.g. workday or morning/afternoon) and not with the rapidly that it is common today with the advent of smart phones, computers and multiple communication mediums. The modern attributes of micro-multitasking were probably not in their minds when Butler and Herman undertook their original research. Thus the careful student of Butler and Herman may choose to apply their conclusions to macro-multitasking situations rather than micro-multitasking ones which are increasingly common due to in the rapidity and accessibility of today’s communication modalities.

Micro-multitasking (e.g. switching between tasks within minutes or even seconds) is usually ineffective because of two mental process that occur during the switch between tasks: the “goal shifting” (e.g. “I want to do this now instead of that”) and “rule activation” (e.g. “I’m turning off the rules for that and turning on the rules for this”). These two mental processes take time to complete and thus slow down the leader’s productivity. Read the following article for more insight

“Multitasking: Switching costs” by the editors, American Psychological Association, March 20, 2006.

What the research shows

Doing more than one task at a time, especially more than one complex task, takes a toll on productivity. Although that shouldn’t surprise anyone who has talked on the phone while checking E-mail or talked on a cell phone while driving, the extent of the problem might come as a shock. Psychologists who study what happens to cognition (mental processes) when people try to perform more than one task at a time have found that the mind and brain were not designed for heavy-duty multitasking. Psychologists tend to liken the job to choreography or air-traffic control, noting that in these operations, as in others, mental overload can result in catastrophe.

Multitasking can take place when someone tries to perform two tasks simultaneously, switch . from one task to another, or perform two or more tasks in rapid succession. To determine the costs of this kind of mental “juggling,” psychologists conduct task-switching experiments. By comparing how long it takes for people to get everything done, the psychologists can measure the cost in time for switching tasks. They also assess how different aspects of the tasks, such as complexity or familiarity, affect any extra time cost of switching.

In the mid-1990s, Robert Rogers, PhD, and Stephen Monsell, D.Phil, found that even when people had to switch completely predictably between two tasks every two or four trials, they were still slower on task-switch than on task-repeat trials. Moreover, increasing the time available between trials for preparation reduced but did not eliminate the cost of switching. There thus appear to be two parts to the switch cost — one attributable to the time taken to adjust the mental control settings (which can be done in advance it there is time), and another part due to competition due to carry-over of the control settings from the previous trial (apparently immune to preparation).

Surprisingly, it can be harder to switch to the more habitual of two tasks afforded by a stimulus. For example, Renata Meuter, PhD, and Alan Allport, PhD, reported in 1999 that if people had to name digits in their first or second language, depending on the color of the background, as one might expect they named digits in their second language slower than in their first when the language repeated. But they were slower in their first language when the language changed.

In experiments published in 2001, Joshua Rubinstein, PhD, Jeffrey Evans, PhD, and David Meyer, PhD, conducted four experiments in which young adults switched between different tasks, such as solving math problems or classifying geometric objects. For all tasks, the participants lost time when they had to switch from one task to another. As tasks got more complex, participants lost more time. As a result, people took significantly longer to switch between more complex tasks. Time costs were also greater when the participants switched to tasks that were relatively unfamiliar. They got up to speed faster when they switched to tasks they knew better.

In a 2003 paper, Nick Yeung, Ph.D, and Monsell quantitatively modeled the complex and sometimes surprising experimental interactions between relative task dominance and task switching. The results revealed just some of the complexities involved in understanding the cognitive load imposed by real-life multi-tasking, when in addition to reconfiguring control settings for a new task, there is often the need to remember where you got to in the task to which you are returning and to decide which task to change to, when.

What the research means

According to Meyer, Evans and Rubinstein, converging evidence suggests that the human “executive control” processes have two distinct, complementary stages. They call one stage “goal shifting” (“I want to do this now instead of that”) and the other stage “rule activation” (“I’m turning off the rules for that and turning on the rules for this”). Both of these stages help people to, without awareness, switch between tasks. That’s helpful. Problems arise only when switching costs conflict with environmental demands for productivity and safety.

Although switch costs may be relatively small, sometimes just a few tenths of a second per switch, they can add up to large amounts when people switch repeatedly back and forth between tasks. Thus, multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error. Meyer has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time…

Read more at …

HIRING & 12 Qualities Research Discovered Makes Pastors More Effective #Butler&Herman

Commentary by Prof. B: The following is an introduction (with at the end an opportunity to download the complete article) to Butler and Herman’s seminal research on  behaviors and traits that lead to ministerial effectiveness. I have summarized the results for churches in an article I penned based upon Butler and Herman’s research here: LEADERSHIP TRAITS & Research Offers Alternative List of the 12 Qualities of Effective Leaders. Here is the introduction to the original Butler and Herman research.

Finding Effective Pastors

Introduction by D. Martin Butler, Ph.D.

My doctoral dissertation was written on the topic of ministerial effectiveness. Although the research is now more than a decade old, it still reflects the core values of a post-modern world. Many of the eleven competencies reflect post-modern ideals such as servanthood, shepherding, visioning, multi-talking, etc. The instruments used in the study have continued to be utilized in various leadership situations and continue to show validity for predicting leadership effectiveness. Most notable, the religious instrument used was based upon work done by the Association of Theological Schools. As recently as 2002-2004 the conceptual framework of the Profiles of Ministry was re-visited and the characteristics expected of ministers reflected in that instrument were overwhelmingly endorsed by laity and clergy alike. It is impossible to know if a study made of Nazarene pastors today would yield exactly the same eleven competencies spelled out below, but neither has evidence surfaced from any research that renders the results invalid for the 21st century Church.

I won’t bore you with asking that you read then entire dissertation, but the following is a copyrighted article I co-authored with my research advisor. It was printed in a journal entitled Nonprofit Management and Leadership. I include it below for your educational benefit, but remind you that it is copyrighted by the journal and should not be reproduced.

What you will read below is a summary of my research. The bottom line is that I discovered key laypersons in Nazarene churches were looking for certain leadership competencies in their pastors. Those eleven competencies become the focal point of the remainder of the course. The article is a bit “dry” because it was written for a scholarly publication, but I hope you catch the essence of my research.


Ministers of local congregations are in positions somewhat similar to the chief executives of other local nonprofit organizations, except that ministers are also expected to respond to the specifically religious needs of their congregants. In this research we assess how especially effective ministers in one denomination differ from less effective ministers in both general leadership skills and specifically religious leadership skills.

The especially effective ministers were identified by applying three selection methods, resulting in an unusually careful selection of a sample of especially effective leaders. The results show that the especially effective are more skillful managers, problem solvers, planners, delegaters, change agents, shepherds, inspirers, multi-taskers, students, servants and demonstrate themselves to be persons of integrity…

Read more in the article, Effective Ministerial Leadership,

If you are a Wesley Seminary student, Off Campus Library Services can provide this to you free of charge.

LEADERSHIP TRAITS & Research Offers Alternative List of the 12 Qualities of Effective Leaders

Proven management surveys yield new list of 12 keys to ministerial effectiveness.

by Bob Whitesel, Strategies for Today’s Leader Magazine.

Recently there has been a proliferation of books purporting to help distinguish between highly effective church leaders from those who are less effective. However, most of these books are based on anecdotal observations. In other words, one, two or even a dozen illustrative examples are given to support a certain list of effective leadership skills. While this type of research is helpful, the reader may wonder if it stands up to quantitative verification.

A study by Robert Herman, professor of organizational behavior at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, and Martin Butler, professor at Nazarene Bible College in Colorado Springs, looks at the qualities that characterize effective religious leaders (Butler and Herman 1999). Working with leaders, pastors and laypersons within the Church of the Nazarene, Herman and Butler’s research exposed twelve (12) characteristics of effective church leaders.

The study employed two popular leadership questionnaires and a lesser known ministry orientated version. The Managerial Practices Survey (MPS) is well known with strong reliability and validity (Yukl 1990). A second survey, the Leader Behavior Questionnaire (LBQ) is likewise broadly utilized and reliable (Sashkin and Burke 1990). The third is a lesser known survey titled the Ministerial Effectiveness Inventory (MEI) (Malony and Majovsky 1986). It is fairly short adaptation of the “Profiles in Ministry” survey developed by the Association of Theological Schools.

Their research revealed that effective leaders are:

(1) Managers. Sample question: “This minister checks work progress against plans to see if it works.”

(2) Problem solvers. Sample question: “This minister handles church-related problems and crises in a confident and decisive manner.”

(3) Planner. Sample question: “This minister plans in detail how to accomplish a task or project.”

(4) Delegator. Sample question: “The minister presents a policy or strategy in general terms and then asks you to determine specific action steps for implementing it.”

(5) Inspirer. Sample question: “This minister develops enthusiasm for a task or project by appealing to your pride in accomplishing a challenging task or doing something never before done.”

(6) Change agent. Sample question: “This person has been able to help this church adapt to changing conditions.”

(7) Shepherd. Sample question: “This persons shows that he/she really cares about people.”

(8) Communicator. Sample question covers the ability of the leader to clearly state directions and views.

(9) Multi-tasker. Sample question: “This minister uses a style of leadership that is flexible and responsible.”

(10) Student. Sample question: “The minister demonstrates a style of lifelong learning through continual education, research, and study.”

(11) Servant. Sample question: “The minister does not frighten people off with his/her dominating, superior attitude.

(12) A person of integrity. Sample question: “The minister’s lifestyle does not involve illicit sexual activity and/or gambling.”

REALITY IN ACTION: Ministers can be taught to be better planners, delegators, change agents, multitaskers and problem solves. Thus, lay leaders will want to encourage their clergy to read books, attend seminars and peruse periodicals that deal with strengthening these characteristics.

Ministers should also look for mentors who exemplify the above stated characteristics. A good question for a minister to ask him or herself is “who do I know with the following characteristics…?” and then ask oneself the questions stated above. Remember, care for individuals (the shepherding skill), the servant motif, and personal integrity are usually not learned in seminars or books, but by observation and tutorship.

Seminary and ministerial training programs will also want to take into consideration how they are fostering the above skills. And pastoral search committees may also wish to ask some of the above questions to their prospective candidates, or better yet the candidate’s former lay leaders.

Butler and Herman have done the church a great service by clearly delineating some of the key attributes of ministerial effectiveness. By considering these research generated skills we can better asses our leadership development and sharpen our ministerial skills.

Quotes from the above article:

“Often one, two or even a dozen illustrative examples are given to support a certain list of effective leadership skills. While this type of research is helpful, the reader may wonder if it stands up to quantitative verification.”

“Working with leaders, pastors and laypersons within the Church of the Nazarene, Herman and Butler’s research exposed twelve (12) characteristics of effective church leaders.”

“A good question for a minister to ask him or herself is ‘who do I know with the following characteristics…?’ and then ask oneself some of these representative questions.”

D. Martin Butler and Robert D. Herman, “Effective Ministerial Leadership,” Journal of Nonprofit Management and Leadership (1999), 9:229-239.

Download the article here: ARTICLE ©Whitesel STRATEGIES Research Offers Alternative List of the 12 Traits of Effective Leaders

©Bob Whitesel, “Research to Reality: Research Offers Alternative List of the 12 Traits of Effective Leaders,” Strategies for Today’s Leader Magazine (Corunna, IN: The Church Growth Center, 2001), p. 38.