Newsletter 638 – Avoiding Holiday Death Spirals

Are you in the midst of a holiday death spiral? This is a new concept for me, coming from a post last week by author Donald Miller. Perhaps Miller coined this term (and named it HDS). He defines this as a “deadly infestation of lies that hits us in the holidays where we start thinking calories don’t count and budgets don’t matter. The spiral usually has us thinking we can do anything we want during the holidays because we will correct it in the new year.” In January we castigate ourselves for this unwise thinking and face often-painful steps to undo the damage.

Spirals arise when some behavior or way of thinking gets bigger and bigger until it is out of control aspiral 1nd potentially destructive. A little lie is covered with deceptions that keep getting larger until everything becomes public with devastating consequences. Addicts of all kinds start small and then keep adding more (more alcohol, drugs, pornography, gambling) until stopping becomes extremely difficult. A little deviation from a diet or from a plan of action enlarges into deviations that are bigger until everything spins faster and leads to collapse. All of this is aided with mental rationalizations or excuses intended to justify our actions. Other people often encourage our spirals or become enablers who protect us from the consequences of our own out-of-control thinking. Even conspiracy theories or fantasies get bigger and bigger, fed by half-truths and selective perceptions. Of course these different examples don’t always lead to death but the consequences can be damaging nevertheless.

The first step in avoiding spirals is to recognize their power and to resist the temptations that lead to their growth. Goal-setting and determination to change can help protect or get us back on track. But the more we are into the spiral, the less we can stop ourselves. In part this is because our brains change as we spiral so stopping is tougher. A crucial help in avoiding or stopping spirals is the presence of other people like accountability partners who are available and who respect us enough to be tough when we waver. Prayer is a huge part of this, especially when we are supported by others.

So go back to HDS. What are you or your clients doing to experience a holiday season that will not be regretted later? What have I missed in this post? Please comment.

Newsletter 633 – Practical Tactics for Working Simply

Work SimplyWork Simply is a great book title. It is short, understandable, easily remembered, and hinting at a solution to the busyness that rules so many of our lives. Author Carson Tate is sensitive to the needs and frustrations of her readers, self-revealing, and consistently practical. She summarizes the essence of her book: as “an array of tools and strategies related to every aspect of your life.”

The author avoids the hype and unproven generalizations of many self-help books. In addition to writing well, Tate serves as a consultant, coach, and executive trainer for various Fortune 500 companies. She is familiar with published research, including basic brain physiology, relating to driven, productivity-focused lifestyles. She points to Internet tools and shares other aids for helping overwhelmed people control their busy lives.

Often we “try popular productivity solutions and tools only to find ourselves falling further behind and more frustrated than ever. We end up spending more time managing our calendars and to-do lists than doing actual work.” This failure of time management and other programs is because their authors assume that all brains are the same and that one approach fits all. In contrast, Tate proposes an assessment device that helps people discover their individual productivity styles as Prioritizers, Planners, Arrangers or Visualizers. Some research shows that work and lifestyle management is most effective when we adapt the programs to the style that fits us best. I took the test and scored about equally in each of the categories so this didn’t help. But the book was useful in other ways.

For example, Tate describes how to tame your inbox, control your to-do list, and lead better meetings. Also:

  • Carefully determine and clear away whatever clouds your vision or holds you back. These hurdles include fuzziness about what you want to accomplish, distractions that sidetrack you, or uncontrolled beliefs about what you should be doing. Shoulds lead us to overcommit–then the quality and impact of work suffers.
  • At any time, decide what to work at by considering three issues: how much time do I need and have at present for an item in the to-do list, what resources are available, and what is my current energy level? Avoid the magnetic pull of email unless or until responding is a top priority.

Tate’s book can be overwhelming in spots but it’s worth checking out. How do you tame your busyness? Please comment.

Newsletter 630 – Look-Around Learning

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.

Francis 1Pope 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.

OscarEverybody 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.

Newsletter 629 – The Positive Side of What We Do

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.

LISTSBut 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.

Newsletter 626 – Youthful Observations About Innovative Leadership

Relevant Magazine 2Some of you may remember that Relevant is one of my favorite magazines. Written mostly for people in their twenties (probably I’m one of their oldest readers), Relevant is described as a publication “on faith, culture and intentional living.” It includes interviews and reviews of music, books, and movies that aren’t part of my world, along with frequently insightful articles about living and contemporary issues. It assumes that its millennial readers are determined to “reject apathy” and make a difference in the world without sitting around waiting for someone else to initiate change.

Consider a two-page article on leadership by a young pastor named Aaron Loy (July/August issue). Simple and basic, the article gives only five traits of innovative leaders. But these are good reminders that apply to any of us:

  1. Learn to follow first. Loy writes that “the idea of leading can sound pretty sexy. Aspiring to lead can play to our pride, but following develops humility…. Learning how to follow is an important part of becoming a leader worth following.” Besides, following is a biblical principle (1 Corinthians 11:1).
  2. Find a mentor. Even the very best leaders at the highest levels of companies or organizations often have coaches and mentors to help them learn and improve. As a side note, the September/October issue of Relevant has an article titled “Why You Need a Mentor” regardless of your age. I have several mentors, all of whom challenge me and speak into my life.
  3. Finish what you start. Creative and passionate people tend to jump from one idea or project to another. This breaks trust with others who expect follow through and do not get it. Good leaders, beginners and old pros, do all they can to complete what they begin.
  4. Decide what you want to be (or do) and act accordingly. In the long run, “you will be who you have decided to be, whether actively or passively… Your life will be a reflection of the decisions you make over time”.
  5. Don’t wait for permission. Get going on your plans as soon as you can. Dreaming and talking about the future can distract many of us from taking steps to get things done.

What do you think of this list, written for young adults? Does it apply to you like it does to me? What would you add? 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.