Several months ago a friend introduced me to a blog titled Farnam Street Brain Food: www.Farnamstreetblog.com. This is a weekly posting on diverse topics, many on leadership, education, psychology, books, and unusual Internet commentary all compiled and written by Shane Parrish who lives in Canada (Ottawa Ontario). In his most recent post he mentioned that Farnam Street takes hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars a month to sustain. It is widely read and free of cost, supported by readers who make donations in response to periodic low-key requests for donations. Probably there are many subscribers like me who don’t have the time (or take the time) to read everything but it is worth checking out. There is no Christian emphasis and you won’t agree with everything, but it’s a good way to sample the huge world of blog posts, many of which deal with topics or sources that most of us would not see otherwise. Here are examples:
The November 27, 2015 post listed mini-articles titled “Your Brain is Programmed to Reach False Conclusions,” “The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Art,” and “Ten Qualities of Creative Leaders.” The latter was taken from a well-known advertising executive named David Ogilvy. Sometimes described as “The Father of Advertising,” he never wrote a book although last year his friends and family published The Unpublished David Ogilvy, a collection of Ogilvy comments and lists compiled long after his death in 1999. People who knew him confirmed that Ogilvy personally lived out the succinct list of qualifications that he sought in the creative leaders he hired:
- High standards of personal ethics.
- Big people, without pettiness.
- Guts under pressure, resilience in defeat.
- Brilliant brains — not safe plodders.
- A capacity for hard work and midnight oil.
- Charisma — charm and persuasiveness.
- A streak of unorthodoxy — creative innovators.
- The courage to make tough decisions.
- Inspiring enthusiasts — with trust and gusto.
- A sense of humor.
Be honest with yourself. Which of these do you have? Which do you want? How could you develop these? Please comment on the list or on the Farnam Street blog.
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.
Pope 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.
Everybody 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.
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.
But 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.
Recently 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.
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 one-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.
This 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 like 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.
I 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?