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 639 – New Year’s Attitudes

Quotation 7We all know this. The week around New Year’s Day is about reflecting on events of the year that is passing and thinking about the year that’s ahead. New years’ resolutions, goal setting, plans and expectations all come to our attention. They concern individuals, families and careers. Often they are a focus of companies, ministries, and organizations. These reflections and resolutions are not bad. They motivate us to action but there is research evidence that they rarely work very well to bring permanent change. Many involve trying to eliminate long-engrained habits that have lodged in the synapses and neural pathways of of our brains.

In case you are wondering, I rarely make resolutions. But I do spend time reflecting, setting goals for the year ahead, and initiating behavior changes that hopefully will stick. All of this is taken seriously but I plan the future lightly, aware that unforeseen circumstances can disrupt our best developed plans and recognizing that God alone knows what’s ahead.

During this past year, I’ve thought increasingly about the attitudes that influence so much of what we do. Most of us know people who seem super bitter, cynical, critical or engulfed in similar sour mindsets. These ways of thinking rarely accomplish anything. They can pull us into discouragement, perpetual anger, and sometimes hopelessness or despair. And they alienate everyone who hears the complaining.

Quotation 3When I was in graduate school a few of us spent a day with Victor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist to survived a Nazi prison camp. He watched fellow prisoners die because they had no hope. In contrast, those who survived had found meaning, despite their circumstances. (The quotation on the left comes from Frankl). Whatever comes in the new year will be met with some kind of attitude. Perhaps a positive perspective should be part of our new year’s plans and resolutions. That’s especially true for those of us who live with awareness of God’s ultimate control, care, and reason for hope

What do you think? Please comment.

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 634 – Wisdom from a 40-Year-Old Seminarian

Josh_Harris_4

The current issue of Leadership Journal (Fall, 2015) includes a short article by Josh Harris. Well-known as an author and megachurch pastor, Harris recently left his thriving ministry and went to seminary for the first time at age 40.

“I think Jesus still calls people, even pastors, to drop their nets and follow him,” Harris wrote. But why did he move his family across the continent to attend a trans denominational seminary focused on more than “merely churning out pastors.” His answers will not apply to every leader but they’re worth considering. The following words in italics are quotations from the Harris article.

  • It’s hard to evaluate and change while you’re leading. It’s hard to step back and ask questions when you’re supposed to be the guy with the answers. Can we be fresh and relevant when we’ve spent years in the same company, teaching role, retirement community, or church? We need to get outside of our bubbles, at least on occasion, to get our thinking and perspectives stretched.
  • I needed significant retooling and recalibration. Time to stop talking and to listen. Time to relearn how to abide with Jesus. Time to unlearn professional busyness…. a place to discover who you are apart from what you do. Pulling away is not available to everybody, but we can get some recharging from what we read and from the people we spend time with. My closest friends are younger than me, multicultural,  and some in professions different from mine.
  • Everything I’d learned about leadership and pastoral ministry had been in one context. While I’m grateful for many aspects of that, there are things that need to be evaluated and changed. Recently I (Gary) have realized that one way of thinking has shaped my views about leadership and building people. I devour what I can about setting goals, career planning, business leadership or getting through transitions. This can be valuable but most is very secular, focused on what we do ourselves, and ignoring how God leads when we let him show the way. The Bible affirms planning for the future. But this also can be addictive and completely deaf to divine guidance. In seminary I hope Josh Harris finds time to escape the academic busywork, getting opportunities to be still and to let God show the way.

I’ve learned a lot from students and from others who remind me to listen to Jesus. You too? Please comment.

Newsletter 632 – The Practical Side of Face-to-Face Contact

 

sisan pinker 2Should you take time to read Susan Pinker’s book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter? For me, Pinker’s book isn’t a “must read” but fits the “recommended reading” category if you work with people. Last week’s newsletter (#631) introduced the book but here are several subjectively-selected, potentially-practical conclusions. Like most of the book, each is documented by easily-understood research summaries and the author’s face-to-face interviews.

  • Internet training programs can be useful but contact with a skilled teacher is better. Consider this: “Policy-makers get a lot more from parent and teacher training programs than from investing in expensive—highly perishable—classroom technology.” Does this apply to on-line training or college courses? Surely the best distance learning includes conversations with instructors and peers as opposed to watching video lectures passively. [Personal perspective: I have taught both approaches. The interactive courses involve more engagement, more active participation, and undoubtedly more effective learning for both teacher and student.]
  • “Even though we all need face-to-face contact, one approach does not fit all.” What does this say about church programs that expect everyone to grow equally in identical pre-programed small groups?
  • Live human contact has major business implications. There are benefits to letting employees work from home on individual schedules but this needs to be limited. Without face-to-face interaction at work, productivity and creativity go down. Even Google has designed a headquarters where workers have opportunity to ‘bump into colleagues and have real conversations [because without this] innovation and social cohesion take a hit.”
  • When companies cut costs by reducing the number of employees, eliminating training, paying “basement-level wages,” or blocking benefits and opportunities for advancement, profits can drop and customers often move elsewhere. Same with companies where cost-cutting involves “deploying robots or foreign call centers whose agents know nothing about the business and are paid per call so they try to make it fast by passing you off to someone else.” There’s a price to be paid for replacing human contact.

The book has implications for counseling, leadership, education at all levels, marketing, family therapy, ministry, health, stress management and the ability to recover from disasters. You get the point. “Despite the clear advantages of the Internet, if we want to be happy, healthy, long-lived, [productive] and clever, then we need to find ways to spend more time with each other face-to-face.” How does this apply to you? 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 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 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 609 – Can the Blue Like Jazz Guy Impact Us?

Have you read Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz? Probably most of Scary Close 1my friends would answer yes, especially those who are younger. This might be described as an easy-going book on Christian spirituality written by a young guy who definitely was not traditional. I read the book when it first appeared and followed up by reading most of Miller’s subsequent volumes. I gave away copies of his Million Miles in a Thousand Years and most who read it liked it.

Last month when I read Miller’s latest book, Scary Close, it was clear that the now 43-year-old writer had matured. I missed the laid-back nature of Blue Like Jazz but was inspired as the author chronicled the journey leading up to his recent marriage. This is an honest book about one man learning what it means to grow in intimacy. For quotations from the book do an Internet search for Scary close quotes.

Donald MillerIn the midst of my reading I watched a video interview with Donald Miller and discovered that he has become a businessman, running seminars about how to tell good stories and use stories on websites and in business. His web site (www.storylineblog.com) even offers a free ebook titled How to Tell a Story. Miller believes that stories can strengthen whatever work we do and enable us to be better communicators. Recently I’ve been learning that good teaching, counseling, coaching, leading, and probably ministry often are about using stories and helping others to rewrite the stories of their lives. Scary Close really is a book about personal and engaging stories that can have an impact. This author who originally challenged and amused me has changed into more of a teacher who can guide us all. He makes references to the Bible and is not afraid to write about Jesus.

Please tell us how stories have impacted you or your friends. If you’ve read Scary Close or other Miller books please let us know your reactions by leaving a comment.

One last thing: A big thank-you to all who responded to my request for input last week. If you intended to comment and did not, there still is time to shoot me a message. I’ll give a summary later.

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.