Newsletter 646 – Adjusting to Changing Circumstances

About a year ago my wife and I moved into a “retirement community for active, residents 55 and older.” One of my thirthysomething friends came to help us get settled and made an interesting observation: “This is a nice place but call it what it is. You live in an old peoples’ home.” SoMisfit 2on we learned that the average age is 84, several residents are over 100, and people close to 55 are nowhere to be seen. We had considered our move carefully, wanted to downsize while we could do it ourselves, undoubtedly made the right decision, and have no desire to leave. But the move stimulated our thinking about adjusting to life events and experiences that come at every age and often aren’t what we expected. Here’s part of what we’re learning.

  • Accept what comes to your life, even when you feel like a square peg in a round hole because you don’t fit. Acceptance does not always mean endless frustration or passive submission. We all know people with unanticipated health or career changes who may resist, but who rise to the occasion, accept reality, and mobilize themselves to adapt, thrive, and move on as best they can. God is not surprised at our circumstances. He creates at least some of them, and uses them for good.
  • Develop an attitude of thankfulness. My wife and I are blessed. For example, many of our neighbors have disabilities that we don’t have. We can go places because we have a car. Others do not.
  • Strongly resist complaining, self-pity, cynicism or bitterness. A lot of this starts in high school and college age years (or later), develops over time, and creates bitter old people that nobody likes.
  • Don’t withdraw. Some residents here have different beliefs, values, and attitudes than we do. Many have a backwards-looking perspectiQuotation 1ve. But everyone responds when we show friendliness and genuine interest. So let your light shine where you are. Remember the cliché: bloom where you are planted.
  • Keep fresh. I read broadly. I hang out with younger people, especially students, who are optimistic and like thinking about the future. Respect others, even of they differ from you.

Do you remember Winnie the Pooh? “What time of life is this?” Pooh could have asked. It doesn’t have to be your favorite time. But even tough times can have positive aspects, especially for Christians. What would you add to the above suggestions?

Newsletter 643 – The Art of Building Greatness

Every year, usually in February, I teach a course at Richmond Graduate University in Atlanta. Currently titled “Models of Relating Christianity and Counseling,” the course has two textbooks including Practicing Greatness published by Reggie McNeil back in 2006. The author is not a counselor and the book never mentions what we once called “the integration of psychology and theology.” Instead, McNeil writes that aspiring to greatness is an admirable goal, consistent with humility, and worthy for leaders in every “sector of society,” presumably including mental health professions. With a clear Christian emphasis, McNeil discusses the disciplines of self-awareness, self-management, self-development, mission, decision-making, belonging, and aloneness. My class is built on the assumption that who you are and who you become as a spiritual leader is more important than what you do to combine faith and practice.

Lewis Howes 1A more contemporary book (which is not a textbook for the course I’m teaching) is The School of Greatness by Lewis Howes, a “two-sport all-American athlete and former professional football player.” When a career-ending injury left Howes out of work and sleeping on his sister’s couch he knew that gridiron greatness was impossible. Eventually he rose above his disappointment and became an Olympic gold-mentalist and very successful businessman who received White House recognition as one of the top 100 entrepreneurs in the country under 30. This success was a result of hard work, determination, the development of specific habits, and a concentrated effort to learn from “masters of greatness,” including many whom Howes got to know personally.

For Christmas I gave copies of The School of Greatness to several friends who are facing career decisions. The author does not write from a Christian perspective but he gives a number of practical guidelines, some of which are well accepted but easily forgotten. Illustrated with captivating stories and personal discoveries, the chapters focus on issues such as creating a vision, turning adversity into advantage, cultivating a champion’s mindset, managing your body, practicing positive habits, and living a life of service.

This is a self-help book, “a real-world guide to living bigger, loving deeper, and leaving a legacy.” Self-help books are not all bad. This one is thought provoking, written by a successful young guy who has good insights for readers of any age: maybe including your clients, your parishioners, or even you. Please leave a comment.

Newsletter 641 – How to Be People Builder

In 1976 a book appeared that has sold more than any of the others I‘ve written. How to Be a People Helper was an introduction to counseling written mostly for church people, including pastors, when professional mental health services were less popular and accepted than they are today. The book still sells even thoutwo men 10gh it’s way outdated. The publisher was not interested when I suggested an updated 40th anniversary edition but in many ways my focus has shifted from people helping to people building. This is a focus on walking with those who are going through transitions, decision-making and other life events that are less in need of counseling and better served by friends, encouragers, mentors and trained coaches.

There are few books or courses on people building but, for what it’s worth, here is some of what I’ve learned:

  • If you want to make an impact as a people builder, open your eyes and ask God to show who you might influence. I have connected with many people in my neighborhood, community, church, and classes. One example is a brilliant graduate student who arrived as an undocumented immigrant and checked out our groceries in a supermarket when he was a teenager. Another is a biracial waiter with dreadlocks and a passion to succeed as a pop musician. He was our server in a local coffee shop. There’s also a native Parisian, pastor in Paris, author and specialist in multicultural marriages. We met informally at a conference. Today these are among my closest friends. We build one another.
  • Show a genuine interest in the people you meet. Ask about their backgrounds. Listen to their stories. Expect to be surprised at what develops.
  • Recognize that each of us has a personality and a place where we have been planted. For me, striking up conversations with strangers is easy. I live in an apartment building, still teach, and regularly go to a fitness club. Remember the cliché: bloom where you are planted. Focus on the people who surround you. Let God work through your circumstances and personality.
  • Expect to make a difference. Legacies or resumés don’t interest me but I know what I want to leave after I’m gone: people whose lives and careers I’ve helped to build. Whatever our ages, we still have time to: Be a People Builder!

Please comment about your experiences as a people-builder or about people who spent time building you.

Newsletter 636 – Practical Perspectives on Applied Coaching

Coaching in Ministry 2I’ve long admired the work of Keith Webb although we’ve met only once. For twenty years he lived in Asia where he adapted and applied coaching to ministry settings in Japan, Indonesia and Singapore. In this he demonstrated what some of my coaching teachers were reluctant to believe: coaching, like counseling and leadership, needs to be adapted culturally if it is to have maximum impact. Recently Keith released his latest book dealing with the application of coaching to Christian ministries.

More than the title, Coaching in Ministry, this is a readable, engaging introduction to coaching in general, coming from somebody who has been in the field for a long time. Whether you are a coaching beginner or a pro, in ministry or not, you might enjoy reading this slim volume with its practical wisdom about coaching and leadership. Here are some slightly edited examples from the book:

  • Part of our problems in leading is the misconception that authority comes with the obligation to be directive… But highly directive supervisors can easily find themselves micromanaging and disempowering others.
  • In contrast, coaching has become a preferred learning tool and method of people development in corporations, nonprofits and churches.
  • What’s the difference between mentors and coaches? Mentoring involves impartation—we are putting in insight, strategy, or methodology giving it into another person. Coaches are drawing out solutions from within, using profound listening and powerful questions that stimulate reflection and creativity in the person being coached…. Coaching is a non-directive conversation in which the coach’s questions prompt a person’s reflection into what God is saying.
  • Advice giving can short-circuit the discovery process and put the coach in the driver’s seat. Coaching encourages discovery, aligning with the words of Proverbs 20:5, ‘though good advice lies deep within a person’s heart, the wise will draw it out.’
  • By helping people discover ways forward instead of telling them what to do, you are building their leadership abilities.
  • Coaching helps people get moving. Here’s a question to help that process: ‘What actions could you take to move forward?
  • Coaching is the missing leadership development ingredient in many organizations, non-profits, and churches

This Christmas I plan to give Keith’s book to several of my friends who are curious about coaching. I’m glad I gave one to myself. Any comments?

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.

Newsletter 623 – Four Elements for Personal Change

Marshall Goldsmith has been described as the world’s leading executive coach. That sounds like the blurb on a book cover but for Goldsmith there’s evidence to back the claim. He has coached numerous leaders in major corporations worldwide; has been acclaimed as a top executive coach by Inc., Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Wall Street Journal and similar publications; and has written a number of best-selling books on the management of ourselves and others. I read What Got You Here Won’t Get You There when it first appeared and recently have been reading his latest book Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming The Person You Want To Be.

Goldsmith describes four elements for change, especially personal change. He presents these elements to both his individual and corporate clients, asking core questions that need to be addressed. Pondering these questions for myself has been a useful exercise. You might think about these especially if you or your clients are going through transitions or personal changes. Look at your life, career, or organization, then ask:

  • What do I (or we) want to create? These are new goals and actions–both—that can lead to a better future. These can be fun to contemplate. (For me, creating includes completing a book that’s been in my computer half-finished for almost two years)
  • What do I (or we) want to preserve? These are things that serve us well and are worth keeping, sometimes with a little updating. (My list includes mentoring and walking with a few emerging leaders and high-potential, forward-looking people. Few things inspire or invigorate me as much or more)
  • What do I (or we) need to eliminate? Periodically things need to be let go, even if they are still productive and fulfilling. Eliminating is especially needed if we are planning to create or add anything new. Goldsmith wrote that unless he eliminated some of the busywork, he would never create something new. (I want to cut the time-consuming habit of reading other peoples’ blogs without putting time limits on myself)
  • What do I (or we) need to accept? That’s what can’t be changed or what do we know won’t change. (One personal example is my reluctance to accept unalterable changes in my long-established travel, speaking and teaching activities.)

Answering these questions can keep us from stagnation and can move us in better directions in the future. Do you agree? Please comment.

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 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 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.