Newsletter 630 – Look-Around Learning

During my years as a public speaker, I got into the habit of listening to preachers and other speakers with two questions in my mind: what were they saying (their message) and how were they communicating (their methods)? I looked at how some speakers connected effectively with the audience and why other speakers rarely connected at all. Later I started doing something similar with writers. Why are some better than others? Maybe you have developed the practice of observing academic, business, political and pastoral leaders in the similar ways. If you want to be better in what you do, open your eyes, look, and learn from what others are doing well–or not so well.

Francis 1Pope Francis is an example. This week a blogger critiqued the Pope’s leadership style as demonstrated on his recent North American trip. Francis had prepared well for his speaking, using illustrations and quoting leaders who would be known and admired by his audiences. Wherever he went, the Pope modeled his stated values. Away from the crowds, Francis apparently maintains a disciplined schedule, takes short rest periods to preserve his strength during each day, resists trying to do everything, and avoids pointless activity that drains his energy. And he’s not afraid to tackle difficult issues even if they are unpopular.

OscarEverybody knows about the Pope but have you heard of Oscar Muñoz? His name appeared in the news last month when he was appointed new CEO of United Airlines. Last week Muñoz was interviewed about his new leadership role. He observed that United employees have become disenchanted, disenfranchised, and disengaged. These “three D’s” need to be acknowledged openly, then fixed. But United customers also need attention because they have been forgotten in a business that claims to be service-oriented. Muñoz added that “the key is not always improvement, which suggests doing things better, but innovation which means doing things altogether differently.” And like Pope Francis, Muñoz seems to be operating in accordance with his values.

Both of these leaders are working to change a culture: one changing the culture of an international church, the other changing an international corporation. Sometimes we learn from reading accounts from or about turn-around leaders like Howard Schultz at Starbucks or Steve Jobs at Apple. But there is much to be learned simply by looking around at leaders in front of our eyes. Please comment on this and share other examples.

Newsletter 629 – The Positive Side of What We Do

Last week’s newsletter (#628) left me unsettled even though I wrote it. Looking back, it seems that the tone was too negative, presenting only one side of the book-publishing story. That newsletter was stimulated by comments in a business magazine that correctly pointed out the small and disappointing payoffs for the time and energy invested by most authors. This extends beyond books and includes the writing of blogs, newsletters, magazine articles and contributions to professional journals. We noted the difficulties of producing writing that is clear, unique and interesting. The newsletter alluded to the challenge of getting one’s written work published, marketed and then purchased.

LISTSBut last week’s newsletter pushed me to re-evaluate my reasons for writing books at all, looking for the positives as well as what’s negative. From there I moved to doing something similar for my coaching and teaching. These were helpful exercises, building on a belief that periodically we all need to look critically at our work and calling. The negatives are easy to remember but a written list of the positives can be good to review whenever we are tired, discouraged, or tempted to quit.

Here’s a personal example. I continue writing because this:

  • Provides the most effective way for me to impact others and to fulfill my life mission,
  • Is an area of competence for me, a God-given ability, seemingly one of my spiritual gifts,
  • Is one of the best ways for me to keep learning and be able to make decisions,
  • Lets me be innovative and creative,
  • Is something that I feel compelled to do, like some of you who are artists, teachers, or mentors and know in your hearts what you need to be doing.

In contrast to these reasons for writing, my thinking about teaching and coaching is producing different lists. If your work involves counseling, ministry, running a business or leading an organization, your lists would be different. But each list can help you decide whether to stay the course, change direction or refine what you are doing.

There is much in life that can’t or shouldn’t be changed. But reflective re-evaluations can increase our effectiveness and sense of fulfillment as we rethink our motives, abilities, competencies and circumstances. The same applies to our clients. Without ignoring the negatives, what is good about what you do in your life or career? Please leave a comment.

Newsletter 628 – Do You Really Want to Write a Book?

Bookwriting2At some time in their lives probably most people dream about writing a book. I’ve gone beyond the dreaming, published some books, and have a couple of partially finished book manuscripts in my computer waiting to be completed. But is further book writing what I really want to do at this stage in my life? A recent article in Inc. Magazine (October, 2015) got me thinking about questions like the following that should be considered before anyone begins working on a book:

  • What’s Your Motive? Good writing results from hard work, discipline, and usually more time than we anticipate. Write for money? Forget it. You won’t earn much from writing unless you are well known, have a big following, or are willing to launch an aggressive book-marketing effort. Self-publishing may even cost money. Write to build your ego or get fame? Inc. suggests that book-writing rarely accomplishes these purposes. Nevertheless, a book can increase credibility, especially for public speakers, academics building their resumés, or professionals looking for clients and business opportunities. Some people primarily write to synthesize ideas or develop something creative and innovative. For this group, fulfillment is in the process of writing, whether or not anybody sees or buys the end product.
  • What’s Your Message? Do you have anything unique and valuable to say? Realistically, would anyone bother to read what you write? If not, writing may be a waste of your time, except for the fun or challenge of doing it.
  • What’s Your Audience? It’s an old cliché that if you write for everybody, you’re unlikely to impact anybody. Clearly identifying your intended readers is at the core of any successful author’s work.
  • What’s Your Expertise? Bluntly stated, some people are not engaging or clear writers, however hard they try. What’s the evidence that you are a good writer? Do you have the energy, determination and time to get through the writing, publishing and marketing process? Currently I’m working through Michael Hyatt’s course on publishing, primarily to tap into Hyatt’s knowledge about how the publishing industry is changing and what this means for writers today.

What’s your reaction to these thoughts? If you are determined to write anyhow, then probably you should. You might ask similar questions about other topics: “Do I really want to teach? Do coaching? Counsel? Go into ministry?” Ask a close friend to walk with you through this. And try to determine God’s will in the process. Please leave a comment.

Newsletter 627 – How Fear Can Derail an Entrepreneur

entrepreneurRecently I completed a newspaper questionnaire promising to reveal my “career type.” Designed by Universum with at a least minimal scientific support, the tool identifies seven types of careers. Each of these is described if you click on comments below. I was identified as an Internationalist, somebody who is enthusiastic about building cross-cultural connections. In addition I would have liked to fall into the Leader or Entrepreneur categories but a Wall Street Journal article (August 24, 2015) shows the one big obstacle that paralyzes entrepreneurs and maybe others who are attracted to creative, innovative entrepreneurial work.

That obstacle is fear. The WSJ report describes research by Phillip K. Berger at University of Bremen in Germany. Here are highlights from Berger’s surveys and interviews with 600 entrepreneurs who talked about their start-up worries:

  • People are less fearful if they have leadership experience.
  • Same applies when there is intrinsic motivation. Fear is lower and perhaps success comes more often when there is a high determination to reach an entrepreneurial goal.
  • Initial fear is seen more often in women, but women and men are equally successful when they move forward and build enterprizes.
  • Cultural differences also play a role. The American culture seems to be more accepting of failure, especially because of the widespread “get up and try again” attitude. In other cultures there is more criticism and less acceptance of entrepreneurs who fail. That increases start-up fears.
  • Fear is lower in people with a very high estimation of their ability to succeed. That might be expected. But these high-confidence entrepreneurs often lack the skills and qualifications to succeed so they’re more likely to fail.
  • As might be expected, fear lessens when potential entrepreneurs can find partners, business professionals or others to join the venture.
  • Fear also goes down when the entrepreneurial project can be broken into smaller steps so failure along the way is less catastrophic.

This was not in the article, but it would seem that fear would decline and confidence could grow when entrepreneurs have social support. Likewise, might fear be less in people, like Joshua in the Old Testament, who believe that their ventures are from God and who trust him to lead? Please click on comment to share your perspectives and experiences.

Newsletter 626 – Youthful Observations About Innovative Leadership

Relevant Magazine 2Some of you may remember that Relevant is one of my favorite magazines. Written mostly for people in their twenties (probably I’m one of their oldest readers), Relevant is described as a publication “on faith, culture and intentional living.” It includes interviews and reviews of music, books, and movies that aren’t part of my world, along with frequently insightful articles about living and contemporary issues. It assumes that its millennial readers are determined to “reject apathy” and make a difference in the world without sitting around waiting for someone else to initiate change.

Consider a two-page article on leadership by a young pastor named Aaron Loy (July/August issue). Simple and basic, the article gives only five traits of innovative leaders. But these are good reminders that apply to any of us:

  1. Learn to follow first. Loy writes that “the idea of leading can sound pretty sexy. Aspiring to lead can play to our pride, but following develops humility…. Learning how to follow is an important part of becoming a leader worth following.” Besides, following is a biblical principle (1 Corinthians 11:1).
  2. Find a mentor. Even the very best leaders at the highest levels of companies or organizations often have coaches and mentors to help them learn and improve. As a side note, the September/October issue of Relevant has an article titled “Why You Need a Mentor” regardless of your age. I have several mentors, all of whom challenge me and speak into my life.
  3. Finish what you start. Creative and passionate people tend to jump from one idea or project to another. This breaks trust with others who expect follow through and do not get it. Good leaders, beginners and old pros, do all they can to complete what they begin.
  4. Decide what you want to be (or do) and act accordingly. In the long run, “you will be who you have decided to be, whether actively or passively… Your life will be a reflection of the decisions you make over time”.
  5. Don’t wait for permission. Get going on your plans as soon as you can. Dreaming and talking about the future can distract many of us from taking steps to get things done.

What do you think of this list, written for young adults? Does it apply to you like it does to me? What would you add? Please comment.

Newsletter 625 – Life, Careers, and Sun in September

Mary Pipher is a clinical psychologist, best known for her writings. I have profited from many of her books, especially The Middle of Everywhere that chronicles her work with immigrants adjusting to life in America, and Writing to Change the World with its practical implications for established and aspiring writers who want to impact others. With this background, I eagerly read Piper’s recent article in Psychotherapy Networker (July/August, 2015.)

Piper describes a September trip to the Oregon coast with her husband. As a sunset 2one-time Oregon resident and husband of a native Oregonian, I relished Piper’s descriptions but I was especially interested in her perspectives as she approaches the end of her career. Now almost 70, she has no plans for the future. Instead she tries to be “present for my life every day.” Quoting two poets she writes, “I’ve been where I’m going…. I’ve got a tiny future and a great big past.” Piper concludes that being her age is “a place to rest in the September sun before the cold and darkness come.”

In these times when everybody seems to be rushing, there is value and great peace in resting by an ocean at sunset. But doesn’t it sound empty and hopeless, sitting around waiting for the cold and darkness to come, with no thought to the years ahead? How different from 90 year-old Jimmy Carter’s press conference last month announcing his brain cancer. “I’ve had a wonderful life,” he said. “I am completely at ease…. I’m ready for anything and looking forward to new adventure. It is in the hands of God whom I worship.”

These are age related stories, for what Pipher calls “the September afternoons of life,” but there are principles here that apply broadly—to ourselves and to the people we work with regardless of age. Ask yourself what you might have said had you been on the beach with Dr. Piper. Here’s my answer: “I applaud your desire to pause and take stock when you face choice points in life. You’re right, things may get more difficult, but think about new adventures that might be over that horizon. Set goals and make some plans that might fulfill you and impact others. Trust God to lead as you set sail into the next stage of life. Don’t ignore your future. It could be better than your past.”

Please comment. Tell us what you might have said on that beach.

Newsletter 624 – Unexpected Triggers that Disrupt Our Plans and Schedules

It happens to all of us. We set goals, carefully plan a day, or set aside concentrated time to work. Then interruptions get in the way. Marshall Goldsmith calls these triggers in his new book that I mentioned last week (Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming The Person You Want To Be.) A “trigger is any stimulus that impacts our behavior.” Often triggers come from the environment, from unexpected events and crises, or from the behaviors, comments and habits of other people. Triggers also come from within, taking the form of thoughts, anticipations, self-talk, rationalizations, or emotions such as fear. Triggers like these can be unwanted distractions that take us off course. But triggers also can be encouraging or positive, like a child who appears at the door with a big smile, taking us off course temporarily–unless the kid gets annoying. It’s then that “triggers stop behavioral change in the tracks.”

Goldsmith notes that many people are superior planners but inferior doers. Careful preparation and goal setting provide structure to help us follow through with our plans and changes in our behavior. But even well developed goal setting and planning is not enough to bring permanent change. This is because triggers interrupt our planning and focus. They succeed because we have no pre-planned structure to deal with them.

How, then, do we build a structure to reduce the distracting power of triggers? One solution is to realize that triggers are especially powerful when we are tired or depleted from other activities. That’s when we need extra motivation or self-control to resist. A more powerful solution is the habit of asking ourselves a series of questions at least daily or more often than that. Each question starts with the words “Did I do my best to….” (or maybe, “Am I doing my best to…”)

  1. Set clear goals?
  2. Make progress toward my goals?
  3. Find meaning?
  4. Be happy?
  5. Build positive relationships?
  6. To be fully engaged?

These questions keep us aware of what is “what’s going around us,” including the presence and power of triggers. It is then that we can deal with the triggers as they arise, responding “wisely and appropriately” before they distract us. Does this provide structure to deal with triggers?

I’m not so sure but I will know better after I try Goldsmith’s coaching-evidence approach. What do you think of all this? How do you deal with triggers? Please comment.


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