Newsletter 620 – Shaping Our Own Futures

icf survey 2This week I joined probably thousands of others in filling out a questionnaire as part of the International Coach Federation (ICF) Global Coaching Survey 2015. The survey is being distributed in 9 languages and you are invited to complete one of the questionnaires by going to www.CoachingSurvey2015.com.

One question asks respondents to identify the niches or specialties where we likicf survey 6e to do most of our coaching. Have you noticed how you have fallen into some specialties, perhaps because of how others perceive you or how you identify yourself? For me, that’s helping others go through transitions, finding new life or career directions, adjusting to unanticipated change or making progress in reaching their God-given potential. I’ve been going through some of this personally right now so I appreciate the challenge of shaping the future and not being swept up by the expectations or perspectives of others. How, then, can we help ourselves and our clients shape their futures? Here are some suggestions. I know most of you will think of others.

  • Look to evidence of God’s leading, through Scripture, prayer and other sources.
  • Ask close friends or other respected counselors who know you, listen openly, challenge you, and help you think things through.
  • Take time for reflection. For you that might involve solitude and journaling.
  • Look at the options and be realistic, but also be optimistic.
  • Look for the positives in your situation. They’re always there.
  • Don’t dwell on negative influences or circumstances. These can pull you down.
  • Make a habit of gratitude for what you have, including possibities.
  • Be encouraging with yourself, your clients and others. This lifts everybody up.
  • Rigidly resist bitterness and complaining. Remember that bitter old men and old women start out by being bitter younger people.
  • Same with resisting cynicism. This can be humorous and self-righteous flaunting for a while but it never forms the basis of a healthy future.
  • Honestly accept what you had that might be gone – your health, for example, hoped for opportunities or a trusted relationship.
  • Take an honest look at what you have and what you can do. Build on this.
  • Keep connected with encouragers who lift your spirits. For me that’s often younger, forward-looking people, including students.
  • Always be gracious.
  • Never stop learning. Be proactive in this.
  • Now please take a couple of minutes to comment and tell us what you would add.

Newsletter 619 – What We Can Learn from Michael Hyatt

Hyatt 2I first met Michael Hyatt when he worked for the publisher that produced many of my early books. Later he became CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers, wrote successful books of his own, and continues to distribute free, online blog posts and other materials that usually are insightful and helpful for anyone interested in leadership, blogging or publishing. By following his blog and downloading some of his free ebooks and videos (www.michaelhyatt.com) you can learn a lot about publishing, writing online posts (like this one), speaking more effectively, and leadership.

Of course Michael’s advice is not always free of charge. For example, a $30 monthly fee lets you join his Platform University and get special materials. I’m still evaluating if it’s worth the cost, at least for me. In December I purchased his video course promising the “best year ever” for those who followed its principles. The course was practical, superbly produced and impressively marketed, but it alerted me to issues that are wise to evaluate whenever we use or produce self-help materials.

  • The teacher’s values. Without doubt Michael wants to be helpful, drawing from his experiences in the publishing industry and sharing conclusions that can benefit the rest of us. He also wants to make a lot of money and show others how to do the same often through self-promotion and selling (he calls it “monetizing”) whatever we do. These values are not innately bad and to his credit Michael Hyatt effectively demonstrates what he teaches. But for me monetizing and self-promotion are not what I want to characterize my life or career.
  • The teacher’s beliefs. Geared to secular audiences, Michael demonstrates the humanistic belief that we all have the ability to set our own destinies and reach our own goals. Often these practices can be effective, but life is rarely that simple. At times unexpected illness or accidents intervene. Storms destroy our homes or layoffs disrupt our well-planned careers. Truth is, we are not the masters of our own destinies. Probably Michael agrees but these realities are noticeably absent from his materials.
  • The teacher’s theology. Without discounting Michael Hyatt’s excellent advice, Christians and other believers need to ask about the will of God and biblical values in all of this. After giving a biblical example in the “best year ever” series, Michael quickly reassures listeners that this will not become a Bible study. Why so defensive?

I continue to learn a lot from Michael Hyatt. You can too. But be cautious. Any comments?

Newsletter 618 – A Genuinely Fresh New Perspective on Leadership

Team of Teams 2New leadership books appear almost every week. But it’s unique and refreshing to read a new, in-depth voluMcChrystal 3me, based on both experience and research, setting a new paradigm for leadership in the twenty-first century. Such is the new book by General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Co-authored with two former U.S Navy SEAL officers and a very articulate scholar currently at Cambridge University, this book describes how old models of leadership, popular and successful for centuries, have been forced to change in an era of instant Internet communication and terrorist tactics. The book describes how the military has needed to change but demonstrates how these changes must apply equally to corporations, professions like medicine, organizations and anyplace else where leadership occurs.

This book is too rich, innovative and stimulating to summarize in a few sentences. Here is the background: McChrystal was put in command of what undoubtedly was one of the best-trained and disciplined military forces ever assembled. But the enemy terrorists kept winning, manned with relatively untrained individuals and small groups who appeared from nowhere to blow up shopping malls, military installations, schools and other targets. Then these perpetrators would be gone. They had mastered the use of free and accessible technology to communicate instantly before they died or disappeared. Almost overnight the elements of warfare that McChrystal learned in the military academy were largely powerless against a new kind of cyber-sophisticated and connected enemy. Especially irrelevant was the old micromanagement and chain of command that defined the military and still dominates so much of our culture.

As I read I thought of leadership in higher education and adult learning, including ministry and counselor education. So-called leaders still micromanage, set visions and expect others to comply, follow the rigid innovative-squelching guidelines of accrediting agencies, and fail to see that a new technological age requires new methods, skills and leadership. This is reflected in the title of the book by McChrystal and his colleagues: Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. Commands and guidelines from the top of a hierarchy are too slow. Models for counseling, ministry or coaching don’t always work. Individuals, teams and groups of teams throughout the system must be equipped and empowered to make quick decisions on their own. They need a new kind of leadership.

Have any of you read this new book? Even if you have not, please comment.

To hear an interview with General McChrystal go to: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/24529530/TFS_M4_Stanley.mp3

Newsletter 617 – Transition Fatigue: Handling Waves of Change

waves 3It crept up on me, not even noticed at the beginning. Unusual fatigue. A surprising lack of motivation and enthusiasm. Low drive in a guy who normally exudes boundless energy. Blood tests revealed nothing but a close friend was on to something when he mentioned the waves of change that have engulfed me in recent months. We’ve had three major moves, a change in residence, lifestyle, career direction, and transition into a new stage in life. Transition fatigue like this hits almost everybody at times, especially if it comes unexpectedly and calls for difficult changes. Coaches and counselors deal with it frequently in their clients but also in themselves.

But it’s even more widespread. A local church clearly is dysfunctional and dying even as the congregation refuses to make any changes. There are colleges like this (including lots of professors), organizations, businesses, and even whole professions. And consider politicians and government bureaucracies. Thriving and growing in a fast-changing world demands that individuals and groups both change. Do nothing and down goes energy, enthusiasm, effectiveness and even life. But there are ways to move forward.

  • Acknowledge what might be going on, including the start of a new season of life. This often involves loss and grief despite what’s ahead.
  • Admit the negatives in your situation but don’t dwell on these, rehearse them in your mind, or share them with everyone you meet. This can lead to self-pity, depression, cynicism or bitterness.
  • Look for what’s positive without denying what’s realistic. Expect positive outcomes instead of dwelling on worst-case scenarios.
  • Use verbal reframes. Example: “This is a retirement community, not an old peoples’ home.” The language you use can change your whole attitude and perspective.
  • Spend time with people and activities that lift your spirits, encourage and move you in directions where you want to go. Remember that negative people often pull us down.
  • Get extra rest, time away, and opportunities for uplifting diversions.
  • Cut out what you can cut. Set lower expectations for yourself at least temporarily. No one person can or is called to do everything.
  • Write down your observations and thoughts. Journaling lets you set new narratives for your life. Take steps to make these a reality.
  • Never forget the power of prayer and of divine guidance.

This is an off-the-top-of-my-head list that I’ve been applying to myself. Perhaps like me, you or your clients have had these transition times before and come out stronger in the end. What would you add to the list? Please comment.

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.

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