Newsletter 616 – How to Keep Newsletters Relevant: Summary of Your Feedback

survey 6Almost every week for over a decade I have been writing this weekly newsletter. Blogs like this can get routine and tired after a while unless they are updated with some frequency. To start this process again I asked for feedback a few weeks ago and promised to give a summary based on the small but much appreciated, definitely non-scientific response that came in. Here’s what I learned:

  • The summaries of contemporary articles and books are appreciated and should continue, especially if each leads to some practical conclusions.
  • Roughly half of the respondents wanted personal perspectives gleaned from my years of experience. Examples include counseling Millennials, dealing with criticism, mentoring across continents, flourishing in the later years, and “Why a global perspective is absolutely essential in today’s world.” At any time you can send additional suggestions. I try to limit using the word “I” in most of the newsletters but apparently the Collins perspective would be valued.
  • Some of the respondents had very good questions but on topics that may have limited interest to a broader readership. I may try to answer some of these privately or fit them into topics of greater reader interest.
  • Nobody asked for more stories but these tend to be popular with writers, speakers and their audiences. Expect a few more.
  • Nobody asked for advertising or a newsletter that blatantly markets my books or myself. For other bloggers this is OK. Don’t expect more here.

Here are things I’ve been learning about blogging. To keep posts relevant, blog writers (this could include you) need to know who their readers are and what they want or need. Decide whether you can provide this information and how. Shorter blogs, especially those with bullet points are more often read than long, dry text. Be consistent in your timing: Sporadic posts rarely get read. Titles matter. So do images, especially photos of people.  Titles and images catch and hold readers who can always click and go elsewhere if the post looks boring.

One more: it’s important to get feedback from readers. That’s you. What would you add, based on your role as a blogger or as a blog reader? Please leave a comment.

Now a postscript on this holiday weekend. Happy Canada Day to you who are Canadians. Happy Independence Day to Americans. Happy both to dual citizens like me. And Happy weekend to everyone.

Newsletter 615 – Are You Leading With the Future in Mind?

Forward Book“Forward leaders rise to lead people to a better future. They are able to lead people further than they would have gone on their own.” With these words a pastor and denominational leader named Ronnie Floyd begins his recent book, Forward: 7 Distinguishing Marks for Future leaders. The title caught my interest but to me the content was not especially engaging, fresh, innovative or practical. Probably written as a basic text designed for Christian readers, the book’s “marks of forward leadership” are worth pondering. Future-directed leaders:

  • Base their lives and leadership on biblical principles and Spirit guidance. These keep us focused and less inclined to drift from our values and mission. Clearly Scripture is a foundation for forward looking Christian leaders but does this mean that non-believers are all at a disadvantage?
  • Are cross-generational. Good leaders know that a prime focus on one’s own generation can be limiting—preventing us from impacting and learning from those who are older and younger.
  • Think about the future, without getting blogged in tradition or inertia. Future leaders challenge people to go further than they would go otherwise. This sounds like good coaching. We might add that forward thinking leaders are aware of trends and contemporary changes that help us think futuristically.
  • Are culturally sensitive. Surely this is more than respecting people who differ from us or going on occasional mission trips cocooned in groups of naïve Americans. Cultural leadership means taking time and effort to interact and build friendships with people of different cultures and subcultures, understanding their mores and views of leadership, recognizing that leadership needs to be culturally adapted. Notice Paul’s approaches in Acts 17.
  • Are teachable. The most effective speakers get to know their audiences. This applies as well to effective leaders, including counselors, pastors and business people who want to relate to their followers or clients. We know that cultures, people and leadership are changing constantly. As a result, long-term leaders need to alter their leadership styles significantly. Surely teachability also includes at least some familiarity with key leadership books, seminars or articles.
  • Are compassionate. They care. The people we lead will respond best when we show sensitivity and compassion as well as competence and confidence.
  • Are driven by something more. This is some bigger goal or compelling mission that drives leaders forward. I wonder if everybody really has or needs this?

What do you think makes a forward-oriented leader? Please comment.

Newsletter 614 – Robot Counseling (with video)

human-looking robot 2Robots have never much influenced me. Of course we’re all aware of the role of robots on assembly lines, in routine cleaning activities, or in search and rescue operations where humans cannot go. Movies built around robot characters have never interested me, but my curiosity was triggered by a series of featured articles in June 2015 Harvard Business Review. Built around the theme of human-machine interaction in business, the articles describe the impact and effectiveness of computers and robots that:

  • learn and utilize basic knowledge and skills with extraordinary speed,
  • replace the need for many skilled workers,
  • often know much more than any one human being could know or remember,
  • “are beginning to make inroads in areas involving creativity, dexterity, and emotional perceptiveness,” and
  • even can be used as employee supervisors (one HBR article is titled “When your Boss Wears Metal Pants.”)

The magazine shows how robots and people can collaborate and do things that neither could do on their own. And there’s evidence that robots can be more influential and are more trusted when they look like humans (like the robot pictured. To see it move and talk, click the link at the end of this post.) This caused me to wonder how robots – can be used in ministry, management, leadership and even counseling.

Some interesting Internet searches followed. They revealed, among other examples, how robots can be used in guidance counseling, physical therapy, improving mood and quality of life in dementia patients, providing therapy for autistic children,assisting students with learning difficulties and even doing basic marriage counseling and psychotherapy. Robots can be good diagnosticians when they are programmed to pick up verbal and movement cues that can help diagnose different psychological disorders.

Probably none of us is into robot therapy, robot leadership or robot development, but research in these areas may point to interesting and potentially useful alliances between humans and machines. Potential ethical implications of all this will arise when sophisticated machines are used to impact other human beings maybe in destructive, harmful ways. All of this can have potential for care-giving, leading and people-developing. I have wondered if Jesus or the early churches would have cared about this? Should we? Please comment.

Newsletter 613 – New Perspectives on Burnout

burnout 2Can anything fresh be said about burnout? That was my reaction when I saw the May/June, 2015 issue of Psychotherapy Networker magazine. The PT editor calls burnout “that mélange of weariness, depression and apathy, seasoned with a tincture of cynicism [that] has become as persuasive as the common cold.” Originally the term described physical and psychological breakdown that came to counselors and other care-givers who had become overly burdened with the crises and stresses of their clients. Now the term can apply to anyone, including pastors, business people, homemakers, students, performers,  and overworked, overwhelmed people in any field or profession. Sometimes these individuals cling to the “exalted, if never quite admitted” belief in themselves as admirable individuals who never give up, consistently perform superbly, or believe that they have a duty to help everyone who appears with a need.

The proposed remedies tend to be similar, focused on self-care and work-life balance. This means more times for rest, reduced workloads, better time management, and various relaxation and meditation practices. An entire industry of books, videos, and seminars has arisen to help burned-out people do more of some things (like sleep, exercise or time management) and less of others. According to the lead PT article, however, “workplace initiatives on individual self-care and work-life balance are not only doomed to fail, but may make us worse.” Even among believers in such activities “the empirical evidence shows they make no difference” largely because burn out is a reaction to uncontrollable circumstances. Treating the symptoms fails to address burnout’s causes.

What matters most is not how demanding a job is, or the level of responsibility. What matters more is how much personal control and competence one has in performing the work. Research supports the conclusion that when we are fulfilled in our work, committed and able to do it better, we are less likely to burn out.

These observations are not intended to squelch traditional self-care measures. One PT writer argues that self-care does help, especially “targeted micro self-care” that involves mini-practices like short prayers, frequent deep-breathing, and brief exercises.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus never burned out despite the demands of his work and calling? Of course he rested and hung out with friends. But he also had clear purpose, direction, and boundaries that let him stay focused and in control. Do you agree? How have you prevented or handled burnout? Please comment.

Newsletter 612 – A Fascinating Fable About Coaching

COACHING CONVERSATION 1It is rare for me to read an entire book in one afternoon but that was my experience with the just-released revised edition of Brian Souza’s The Weekly Coaching Conversation: A Business Fable. Most of this is the story about a sales manager’s bar room conversations with a coach. Souza set out to write a story that was great, rather than one that’s merely good. Its main message reduces to this: compare most managers with the world-class leaders of high-performance teams and the difference will not be the leaders’ intelligence, strategic vision, or operational prowess. The fundamental, research-supported difference primarily comes down to the leaders’ approach. They don’t act like managers; they act like coaches.

Souza shows that the best leaders in business (and presumably in education, ministry, and sports) focus as much on developing people as they focus on refining their skills. He stresses that “coaching is not something that you, as a manager, must do. A coach is someone that you, as a leader, must become.”

Recently I’ve been studying the art of good story telling and the power of stories to motivate people and stimulate change. I’ve become fascinated with how good writers or speakers tell their stories and use these to teach lessons that have a lasting impact. Of course nobody has done this better then Jesus. But modern writers like Ken Blanchard, Patrick Lencioni, Donald Miller and others (that you are encouraged to recommend) have the ability to impact even people like me who rarely read fiction.

At one place in his story Brian Souza discusses managers who withhold feedback until the annual employee evaluations. Suppose a football coach (or a fitness trainer) did this only once a year. How effective would this be? If you want to impact and build people there needs to be coaching at least weekly. Research supports much of this. Problem is, most managers and trainers don’t know how to coach effectively. And they have no idea how to turn others into coaches. What a challenge for those among us with a commitment to training others to manage, teach and lead through coaching.

Clearly I would recommend this book. There is nothing Christian in the story but the message is challenging. Become a coach if you want to be a manager or a leader. What is your reaction? Please comment, especially if you have read the Weekly Coaching Conversation book

Newsletter 611 – Are we Getting Better at What we do?

getting better 1Professional counseling does not occupy any of my time thee days but that’s where I have most training, where I am licensed by the state, and the subject of much of my writing and teaching. Not surprising, then, Psychotherapy Networker (PT) magazine goes to the top of my reading pile whenever it arrives. The articles on therapy have surprising relevance both for mental health professionals and for non-counselors like many who read this newsletter. The March/April issue addresses an issue that we all could consider profitably: We are older as a discipline, profession or individual. But is there any evidence that we are better? Stated differently, “Do our old ways fit the new times?” The PT answer seems to be “not much.”

 

  • First we need to remember that established methods that have worked for years are not necessarily bad just because they are old.
  • At times we all succumb to fads that claim to be revolutionary breakthroughs. (Mindfulness and evidence-based practices are among the most recent.) Therapists aren’t the only ones “succumbing to the allure of novel procedures and fancy theories, particularly those that promise quick and dramatic cures” and changes. In time most fads fade and we rush to something new.
  • Despite all our approaches, methods, theories, and training seminars, this conclusion emerges as “one of the most robust research findings in the psychological literature: all therapies…produce the same level of results, regardless of the particular insights they promulgate.”
  • “We need to embrace what our research tells us: a professional relationship organized around empathy, genuineness, respect, openness, congruence, collaboration, and goal consensus helps people change.”
  • Cultural awareness counts a lot. Mary Piper writes that the main area where “we’re failing right is taking into account the impact of the larger culture on all of us…. The kind of verbal, cognitive, come-and-sit-down-in-an-office [or talk on the telephone or Internet] approach is deeply unsuited to the poor and underserved populations that we’re ignoring.” Overall our work “remains largely a white, upper-middle-class phenomenon.” Often we fail to recognize and understand the growing elderly population or the young emerging generations where we’re not connecting.
  • No one of us can connect with everybody but we must not forget that we work and lead in community.

 

This picture is not limited to mental health professionals. For all of us the question remains. We are getting older but are we getting better? Please comment.

Newsletter 610 – Anticipating the Future by Looking at the Present

future 2King Saul was not the first person to consult a medium or fortune-teller (1 Samuel 28.) Efforts to predict the future using sorcery and fortune-tellers have been around for centuries and even interest some Christians despite the Bible’s condemnation of these practices. In the church where I grew up, visiting preachers would sometimes conduct prophecy conferences where parts of the Bible, Revelation especially, would be interpreted in ways that seemed to mix biblical exegesis with preacher speculation about current and future events.

Today we take a more secular, quasi-scientific approach. We carefully look at trends in the present and make speculations about how these might play out in the future. Often these predictions are wrong, especially in an era of rapid and unpredictable change. But sometimes we can predict accurately enough to plan ahead wisely. Best example is the predicted development of well-studied diseases. Business magazines and newspapers often give predictions like those in the April 27, 2015 Wall Street Journal where experts made predictions on subjects including small business, the economy, mass marketing, retirement, religion, virtual reality gaming, health care and even sex. Here are three examples that might interest you:

  • “The Internet of the future will be everywhere—and the more people who have it, the more important it will become…. Instead of seeking out the Internet, we’ll be surrounded by it. Instead of extracting data from it, we’ll be fed a constant stream of curated, personalized information to help us solve problems and live better.” If we can strike a balance between caution and convenience, the spread of connected devices will have a profound impact on the way we do just about everything.”
  • What about books including textbooks and other printed communication? It’s likely that reading will always remain but the format will be different. Future books will be more on electronic screens than on paper, despite the tastes of maybe dwindling numbers of bibliophiles (people who avidly read, collect and/or have a great love for books.)
  • Education, especially higher education will survive and thrive but it will continue to change dramatically. Information dumps and the “sage on the stage” will fade further. Teaching methods and models will shift to fit our increasingly digital world. Interaction and on-line activities will increase. Universities that thrive will have no alternative except to do teaching online and offer quality courses. What does this say about long sermons by “talking head” preachers?

Surely you have reactions to this. Please comment.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,590 other followers