Newsletter 608 – Update on Having a Mentor and Being a Mentor

mentoring 4Do you ever get tired reading or hearing about mentoring? It’s no news that professional organizations, business and academic communities, innumerable churches and countless youth leaders all emphasize mentoring and have mentoring programs. Each knows the value of a person with experience and skill sharing with those who are beginners or less advanced in their life and career journeys.

Harvard Business Review (April, 2015) shows the value of CEOs and other leaders having mentors where age differences are less important than differences in expertise and experience. Earl Creps’ 2008 book Reverse Mentoring expresses what many mature leaders already know: we can mentor younger people but should never underestimate the power of being mentored by next-generation people who can teach us. Consider the kids who teach their elders the intricacies of social media and other technology.

The HBR article discusses mentoring from high profile CEOs but reports research on why these same leaders often need and profit from being mentored by experienced leaders, sometimes including those in a different field of work or with cultural perspectives that differ from their mentees. On occasion someone asks how I seem to keep a younger, forward-looking attitude. Primarily it’s because of the bright, emerging, innovative younger people (students especially) who essentially mentor me even though we rarely use that M-word. Consider this, based in part on the Harvard research:

  •  Why should successful leaders seek to be mentored? Everyone can benefit from fresh perspectives that come from role models of any age and experienced guides who stimulate new approaches, ideas, and perspectives.
  • What are the benefits of being a mentor to others? Research shows that mentors often experience fulfillment, the satisfaction of having a personal impact, and the benefit of learning from their mentees.
  • What seems to be the best and most preferred approach to mentoring? It’s is not working through guidebooks, telling mentees what to do, or even asking good coaching questions. The method preferred by both parties is storytelling; mentors sharing from their own experiences including triumphs and failures. For many years I’ve talked weekly with a younger psychologist-friend who says he has learned most from watching me deal with disappointments and set-backs.

Are you involved in being mentored as well as being a mentor? What are some of your experiences and observations? Do you need or have a mentor? Please comment.

Newsletter 607 – When Life and Goal-setting are Disrupted

Last December I took an on-line seminar that promised to make this my best year ever. The main message was about setting goals for the year along with deadlines and plans for achieving success. There was not much new in the presentations but the information was solid and similar to what coaches, teachers, and counselors urge for others and Detours1try to implement in themselves. Perhaps not surprising, the seminar seemed to assume that each of us is in control of our own lives and careers. Overlooked was the fact that goal-setting can fly out the window when we encounter the crises, unexpected health issues, career disruptions, or other unpredictable detours and roadblocks that are the reality of our lives.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (April 7, 2015) reported research studies showing how physical health and mental well-being are both impacted by the ways we frame life crises and shattered dreams. In one study adults were asked to tell their life stories. Each was evaluated in terms of several themes that emerged and were described with somewhat confusing academic titles. The first of these we might prefer to call sense of control in which subjects felt able to influence and respond to life events. The next, connection means how much people are in contact and association with others. Third, positive perspectives refer to the degree to which we can take negative experiences and find positive sides to our new realities. People with these characteristics had lower levels of depression, higher levels of life satisfaction, and greater psychological and social well-being when compared with those who focused on self-pity, bitterness, and whatever was negative.

This reframing is central to what have been called personal narratives: the stories we tell ourselves and try to live out, especially when our life-plans and goal-setting are barricaded. In addition to the sense of control, connection, and positive perspectives, other research found that personal narratives help most when we:

  • Openly acknowledge what has happened.
  • Accept the new realities,
  • Reframe the ways in which we view life circumstances and events (sometime bad things can have positive outcomes,)
  • Resist dwelling on the negative,
  • Determine to change whatever is changeable, and
  • Believe and live out our new life stories.

Have you or your associates had experiences where this applies? Where does God fit into this analysis? Please comment.

Newsletter 606 – Adult Learning: Seminars, Workshops and Courses

Bored students 7It’s no secret that seminars, workshops, and college modular courses are hugely popular. They give quick access to skills and information, provide continuing education and academic credits for professionals or students, and are convenient for people with other demands on their time. These training sessions can be money-makers for cash-strapped colleges and for many who work in the growing adult-education industry. Brick-and-mortar academic institutions are expensive to maintain; modular courses and distance learning are cheaper and often attractive to potential learners.

I’ve learned a lot from teaching modular courses or leading seminars and workshops. This learning never stops but here some conclusions. For each there is at least some published research to support these observations.

  1. Keep aware of your audience. All speakers agree but some forget. I interact with the learners, discussing what they want and need to learn. I request their ideas to help in planning the course or seminar. Then I try to include their input. Usually I ask “What will make this training a winner for you?” In these ways the leader and participants are more engaged in planning and learning together.
  1. Keep it interesting and as practical as possible. Avoid dumping information on participants, especially when they can get this easier without you lecturing. Seminars and modular courses can be incredibly dull and I use an image (see above) to show what we don’t want. Try to avoid those old-fashioned bullet points. Remember that stories and images are more engaging (and probably more often remembered) than seeing dull lists on a screen. Ponder Jesus’ teaching style.
  1. Pay attention to evaluation. This can be the hardest part of teaching. Where do we get the idea that all learning can be measured by numbers or that multiple-choice exams test knowledge rather than one’s ability to memorize or to overcome test anxiety? Depending on the experience and maturity level of the group, I often invite participants to set their own course requirements. Of course we need to heed the requirements of accrediting agencies. Those can set standards although they also can kill creativity and stimulate both busywork and boredom.
  1. Focus on follow-up. Before they leave, ask learners to develop a plan for using or applying their learning. Who will hold them accountable? Without a plan, the seminar notes often land on a shelf and are forgotten.

This is a huge topic with potential for controversy. Please comment.

Newsletter 605 – A Psychological Analysis of Encouragement?

Be a People HelperIn terms of sales, my most successful book has been a little volume titled How to Be a People Helper. I wrote it in a week (usually it takes many months or even years) after a series of talks that I gave to seminary students. The book has been translated into a number of languages and still is in print. For years my work centered on people-helping and teaching others to be counselors. But like every other field, counseling has changed over time and the people-helper book and cover artwork have become outdated. The publishing industry also has changed. So have potential readers of this book. So have I.

My interest in people-helping persists but today I’m more focused on people-building, focusing less on counseling and more on coaching and journeying with emerging students and leaders. Encouragement is at the core of this work, and the Bible even describes encouragement as a God-given spiritual gift that some people have in abundance (Romans 12:6, 8).

No such analysis appears in a article titled “The Psychology of Encouragement.” Published in The Counseling Psychologist (February, 2015), the author defines encouragement using psychological terminology: it’s “an expression of affirmation…to instill courage, perseverance, confidence, inspiration or hope within the context of addressing a challenging situation [challenged-focused encouragement], realizing potential, ”or reaching a goal [potential-focused encouragement]. The article describes how encouragement might be measured, related research findings, its diverse manifestations (individual and group encouragement, for example), and proposes something called a Tripartite Encouragement Model that can be used in counseling and in other settings like teaching, family therapy, leadership or coaching.

Analyzes like this can be useful, but might we over-scrutinize something that is such a common way for expressing support? Over-analyzed or not, probably encouragement needs to be a more prominent part of our people-helping and people-building practices.

As a footnote, I apologize for not yet responding to those of you who commented on the previous two newsletters. Thanks for your responses. And can I encourage you to respond again and leave a comment about this post and your experiences with encouragement?

Newsletter 604 – When There’s Nothing to Say

MAN WALKING 1Obviously this image of somebody walking away is not a photo of me, but did anyone wonder if I’d walked away from this newsletter for the past few days? There was no crisis or decision to quit writing. I simply got swamped with other things and decided to let this go for a couple of weeks.

At the beginning I named this a newsletter, determined to give weekly updates on issues that were recent, fresh, and relevant to anyone who might read what I would write. Usually the material for these posts comes from the diversity of things that I read or from the interesting people with whom I interact. But sometimes other things get in the way of this goal, usually the result of one or two obstacles. Probably you encounter these as well.

First obstacle is too much material. This is the information overload problem of being inundated with magazines, newsletters, books, blogs, audio or printed newspapers and floods of media material that we want to read. Wall Street Journal (March 11) reported that three in four surveyed people felt overwhelmed much of the time because of too much information. These people feel they will never catch up despite using various methods for learning “faster and smarter,” including an underwater device that permits listening and swimming at the same time.

Second obstacle is not having anything to say or lacking the time to find something fresh. That was me last week. Why write a newsletter when I did not have any news to share? (What do columnists or pastors do when they have deadlines but nothing worthwhile to communicate?) Often this dearth comes because we stop reading or connecting with people. Take in nothing and there is nothing to give out. Without external input we dry up.

Of course we’re speechless at times because we encounter a disaster or seemingly impossible problem. More often we struggle with unrealistic expectations. It is difficult to apply the principle that no one person can know, learn, read, or develop expertise in every area that seems interesting. Harder is accepting the fact that God never calls one person to do everything or help everybody. We need to set realistic priorities, discern God’s calling and responsibilities for our lives, and sometimes walk away from things that we can leave for a time. Do you agree? Please leave a comment.

Newsletter 603 – The Mindfulness Explosion

Homepage_RotatorI read a number of magazines that expose me to information and trends that may be unfamiliar but that also can have relevance to my interests in counseling, coaching, leadership, ministry and futuristic issues. Psychotherapy Networker is one such publication. The current (January/February, 2015)  issue on mindfulness stretched and disturbed me but the best article is Mary Sykes Wylie’s lengthy overview on the popularity and perils of mindfulness. 

Wylie describes mindfulness as a “kind of stealth Buddhism,” popularized, westernized, and mass-marketed without the “bells, chants, prayers, and terms like dharma and karma.” From modest beginnings, interest in the mindfulness movement has exploded, making extravagant claims about its effectiveness. It permeates the health-care and mental health professions, the US military, numerous corporations, university courses, sports, and even churches. It has captivated and impacted “regular people—teachers, truck drivers, carpenters, business executives, stay-at-home mothers—trying to find the inner stillness beneath the turmoil of their lives.” Mindfulness is relentlessly marketed as a form of personal stress reduction, even though there is no accepted definition of what it is or how it is done.

 One leader defines mindfulness as a form of meditation that involves “paying attention on purpose in the present moment nonjudgmentally.” Thousands of scientific articles have studied mindfulness but one massive review concluded that the research is not very rigorous and gives limited evidence of its effectiveness. And as mindfulness has become a huge business and fad it also has produced a backlash of critics.

 What does this mean for you or me?

Be cautious. Mindfulness is Buddhist based and promotes techniques that may be inconsistent with many elements of Christianity and other non-Eastern ways of thinking. From her secular perspective Wylie writes, ”Mindfulness is an entire worldview and religion… entirely subjective and inherently unfriendly to the necessarily objective methods of empirical science….While it has been acclaimed and sold as a quick, no-risk, easily-mastered technique to achieve just about any desired goal….in fact it is a far-deeper…and less well-understood process than many people realize.”

·      Be open. Many practices are valuable, despite their origins, and consistent with our Christian and professional beliefs. Meditation, for example, is a biblical concept but with a focus that differs from mindfulness meditation.

Wylie’s article is worth reading. What do you think? Please comment.

Newsletter 602 – Decluttering Your Life

clutter 8Over a year ago my wife and I started the process of downsizing, selling our house, and moving to a condominium. We knew this would be stressful but it’s almost over. One of the most difficult tasks was decluttering the house and getting rid of our accumulated stuff. (Does anyone agree with my daughter who says that books do not count as stuff? Sounds good to me!)

With this background I had a special interest in the theme of Leadership Journal (Winter, 2015): “Declutter: Straightening the mess of ministry.” The articles extend beyond ministry and apply to our cluttered lives, schedules and careers. Here are some highlights including a few observations of my own:

  • David Kinnaman cites research about our hyperlinked lives, distracting addictions to cell phones, and compulsions to keep up with everything that comes to our devices.
  • An article on the collapse of Mars Hill Church points to the values and behaviors of people who are driven to make an impact, change the world, grow bigger, become known, or develop impressive resumés. It is easy to forget God in all of this and buckle under the anxiety and overcrowded to-do lists.
  • Drawing on his new book Simplify: Ten Practices to Unclutter Your Soul, Bill Hybels writes about making tough choices to strategically neglect things we aren’t called to do. Hybels states, “if you try to do everything and sustain unsafe levels of speed [or activity] long enough, something terrible is going to happen.” Hybels sits down regularly “with a calendar and a submitted spirit” to determine what he can and cannot or should not do. It’s the old idea of having “don’t-do” lists as well as “to-do” lists.
  • God does not call us to do everything. Decluttering your life of valued activities can be even harder than getting rid of stuff.
  • Of course there are things in life that you can’t dump. But be aware of your calling, passions, gifts and abilities. Try to focus on these. If you don’t know what these are, ask the people who know you best.
  • Schedule time to rest and rejuvenate with whatever brings you replenishment. Don’t pretend that your work or ministry is so important that you can’t pause periodically. Keep pushing and sometimes your body forces you to slow down or declutter.

 

I see myself in much of this. Do you relate? How do you declutter? Please comment.

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