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 628 – Do You Really Want to Write a Book?

Bookwriting2At some time in their lives probably most people dream about writing a book. I’ve gone beyond the dreaming, published some books, and have a couple of partially finished book manuscripts in my computer waiting to be completed. But is further book writing what I really want to do at this stage in my life? A recent article in Inc. Magazine (October, 2015) got me thinking about questions like the following that should be considered before anyone begins working on a book:

  • What’s Your Motive? Good writing results from hard work, discipline, and usually more time than we anticipate. Write for money? Forget it. You won’t earn much from writing unless you are well known, have a big following, or are willing to launch an aggressive book-marketing effort. Self-publishing may even cost money. Write to build your ego or get fame? Inc. suggests that book-writing rarely accomplishes these purposes. Nevertheless, a book can increase credibility, especially for public speakers, academics building their resumés, or professionals looking for clients and business opportunities. Some people primarily write to synthesize ideas or develop something creative and innovative. For this group, fulfillment is in the process of writing, whether or not anybody sees or buys the end product.
  • What’s Your Message? Do you have anything unique and valuable to say? Realistically, would anyone bother to read what you write? If not, writing may be a waste of your time, except for the fun or challenge of doing it.
  • What’s Your Audience? It’s an old cliché that if you write for everybody, you’re unlikely to impact anybody. Clearly identifying your intended readers is at the core of any successful author’s work.
  • What’s Your Expertise? Bluntly stated, some people are not engaging or clear writers, however hard they try. What’s the evidence that you are a good writer? Do you have the energy, determination and time to get through the writing, publishing and marketing process? Currently I’m working through Michael Hyatt’s course on publishing, primarily to tap into Hyatt’s knowledge about how the publishing industry is changing and what this means for writers today.

What’s your reaction to these thoughts? If you are determined to write anyhow, then probably you should. You might ask similar questions about other topics: “Do I really want to teach? Do coaching? Counsel? Go into ministry?” Ask a close friend to walk with you through this. And try to determine God’s will in the process. Please leave a comment.

Newsletter 625 – Life, Careers, and Sun in September

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 sunset 2one-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.

Newsletter 622 – Two Growing Trends


Podcasts 3
This week I read two articles that describe growing technologies: one newer, the other well established. The first is the subject of the August 17 Time cover story (US Edition) titled “The Surprising Joy of Virtual Reality: And Why It’s [nearly upon us, better than you think… and] About to Change the World.” Put on those increasingly sophisticated virtual reality goggles and our whole perceptions change. This is not just about making video games more dramatic. It can be about treating the effects of trauma, dealing with various psychiatric disorders, and revolutionizing education. I wonder about its potential for changing how we lead, learn about God, or advertise. And are there dangers that we don’t yet see? Apparently we’ll encounter lots more about this come Christmas shopping season.

Much more familiar are podcasts, recently discussed in a Wall Street Journal article (August 8-9.) We’ve all seen podcasts and webinars, some very sophisticated, which move us beyond radio, television or weekly written blogs like this one. Friends have urged me to replace or supplement this Podcast 2newsletter with audio and/or video posts, especially since these tend to be favored by so many people who like to listen or watch rather than to read.

  • A good communicator knows the characteristics of his or her audience. Surely this includes knowing how the audience learns or prefers to get information. Most readers of this newsletter are older, educated, and presumably inclined to learn by reading. Like me. Would a different audience be attracted by a podcast or other non-written, video or audio format? What about using both formats?
  • Experienced bloggers have demonstrated the value of captivating titles, eye-catching images, and succinct introductory sentences. These are more likely to attract and hold readers to the end. Similarly, aren’t most of us grabbed and retained by articulate speakers in attractive settings telling interesting stories with practical implications? Boring podcasts may give us something to hear or watch but they make no more impact than boring blog posts.
  • Podcasts can be produced relatively easily. All you need is a computer with a camera. I have done these with my classes, replacing long lectures with video clips to be watched at leisure.
  • Podcasts and webinars can be produced from anywhere and allow feedback so observers are more involved with the action. Should you be doing this? Should I?

Please comment. Tell us how you have used podcasts, webinars or virtual reality.

Newsletter 604 – When There’s Nothing to Say

MAN WALKING 1Obviously this image of somebody walking away is not a photo of me, but did anyone wonder if I’d walked away from this newsletter for the past few days? There was no crisis or decision to quit writing. I simply got swamped with other things and decided to let this go for a couple of weeks.

At the beginning I named this a newsletter, determined to give weekly updates on issues that were recent, fresh, and relevant to anyone who might read what I would write. Usually the material for these posts comes from the diversity of things that I read or from the interesting people with whom I interact. But sometimes other things get in the way of this goal, usually the result of one or two obstacles. Probably you encounter these as well.

First obstacle is too much material. This is the information overload problem of being inundated with magazines, newsletters, books, blogs, audio or printed newspapers and floods of media material that we want to read. Wall Street Journal (March 11) reported that three in four surveyed people felt overwhelmed much of the time because of too much information. These people feel they will never catch up despite using various methods for learning “faster and smarter,” including an underwater device that permits listening and swimming at the same time.

Second obstacle is not having anything to say or lacking the time to find something fresh. That was me last week. Why write a newsletter when I did not have any news to share? (What do columnists or pastors do when they have deadlines but nothing worthwhile to communicate?) Often this dearth comes because we stop reading or connecting with people. Take in nothing and there is nothing to give out. Without external input we dry up.

Of course we’re speechless at times because we encounter a disaster or seemingly impossible problem. More often we struggle with unrealistic expectations. It is difficult to apply the principle that no one person can know, learn, read, or develop expertise in every area that seems interesting. Harder is accepting the fact that God never calls one person to do everything or help everybody. We need to set realistic priorities, discern God’s calling and responsibilities for our lives, and sometimes walk away from things that we can leave for a time. Do you agree? Please leave a comment.

Newsletter 601 – Six Hundred Newsletters

blog 3About 13 years ago I wrote a newsletter about coaching and counseling trends and sent it to people with email addresses in my inbox. It never was my intention to continue this for years and neither did I plan to comment when we reached newsletter number 600 last week. But a friend urged me to share some of what I’ve learned about writing newsletter/blogs for so long. So here goes: 

  • Getting started. When this began I was no longer teaching or heading a counseling organization but I wanted a platform to let a few friends share what I was learning. Sometimes lasting things begin for no great reasons.
  • Setting parameters. Most blogs show the writer’s values. I wanted to be practical, relevant, up-to-date, culturally sensitive, and futuristic. These posts are not about self-promotion, selling my books, or (apart from this week) sharing what I’ve learned from a long career. I build on Christian values but try using a tone that is low-key, never preachy nor manipulative.
  • Purpose. These posts share observations about helping and building people, drawn most weeks from contemporary publications in business, education, ministry, coaching, therapy, or leadership.
  • Finding readers. This is mostly by word of mouth. Our audience is relatively small, multinational, older, and people involved in helping others. Many are long-time friends. In addition to these, I’d like to have more academics, students, and emerging professional care-givers and leaders. Probably I should be more focused.
  • Motivation. Why do I keep going? Who am I writing for? This answer is not very noble or spiritual but mostly I write for myself. Producing this newsletter forces me to keep learning, keep relevant, and keep synthesizing what I am learning in 400 words or less. One goal is to keep this engaging and interesting.
  • Coming up with new materials. I never stop looking for new ideas or perspectives so this weekly post shares what I’m learning. If anyone reads, reflects or takes in a lot, fresh ideas rarely are lacking.
  • Quitting. This will happen when I get bored or unable to keep going. Maybe we can reach newsletter 1000. That would come around in-mid 2023. Are any of you planning you to stick with me?

Would fellow-bloggers or blog readers add anything that may be helpful to others? Please share your comments.

Newsletter 592 – Beware of Publishing a Book

Bookwriting7Many years have passed since I first met Michael Hyatt. He was with Word Books when I was involved there in a major publishing project. Since then, I’ve watched Michael’s career evolve to his present role as an astute observer of the publishing industry and dispenser of helpful guidelines for any who want to get published and/or known professionally. I don’t read all of Michael’s blogs and I disagree with some of his self-marketing values. But much of what he writes is excellent and very practical including his recent podcast on publishing (http://www.michaelhyatt.com – November 26, 2014.) You can learn from this even if you never plan to write, but want to market your ideas and services.

  • Hyatt states, “There’s never been a better time to get published. Changes in the market have conspired in the author’s favor.” But the publishing industry keeps changing. Sending a manuscript or proposal to a publisher almost never works. If you are unknown, it’s too risky for a publisher to produce your manuscript. Life stories or books on mental health issues seem especially unlikely to sell. The potential market is too small.
  • The best authors have innate ability but even more, they are skilled practitioners who consistently refine their craft. They write almost every day. Most are avid readers. They know that writing is hard work.
  • Successful writers (or private practice coaches) are effective marketers. Unless you are famous, a successful writer, and/or have a big platform like a major radio program, few publishers will advertise your work. It’s not worth the cost, risk, and effort. You need to do ma yourself.
  • Digital publishing opens huge new possibilities. Currently about two-thirds of books published in the United States are digital. This “gives the opportunity to get your book out there…. [but] it’s not going to mean people are going to beat your door down to get your book, because if they don’t know who you are or have a relationship with you, that’s not going to happen.”
  • Here’s another critical issue that sometimes we forget: No one person – writer, speaker, counselor, coach, leader – is likely to reach everybody. Decide on your audience. Know your audience well. Then focus on that group.

Is this discouraging? It’s realistic but not hopeless. Take time to learn about publishing. Sometimes a coach or friend can help. Then apply what you learn. What do you think? Please comment.

Newsletter 568 – Should You Care About Biographies and Novels?

Vernon Grounds BookHave you ever heard of Vernon Grounds? He was a theologian, dynamic speaker and (Denver) seminary president. Born in 1914, he died four years ago but only last month did I read Bruce Shelley’s biography subtitled The Vernon Grounds Story. Vernon wrote a PhD dissertation on Freud’s view of love, spent much of his life counseling and mentoring younger leaders and professionals, and was a leader in the early debates about theology vs. psychology. It seems that everyone he met admired him and he profoundly influenced countless lives and careers, including mine.

12 years a SlaveI rarely read biographies and probably have only read eight or ten novels in my whole life. But should mental health professionals, pastors, leaders and others be learning from stories, real and imaginary? Surely these can teach us about life, leadership and helping in ways that no formal journal article or bullet point presentation can do. All except one of last week’s Academy Awards best picture nominees were stories of real people’s lives. Last month Relevant Magazine published a list of eight recommended biographies (for the list, click here) and I have committed to reading all eight. This includes Solomon Northup’s autobiography 12 Years a Slave, which was made into this year’s best picture Oscar winner. I’m reading Northrup’s book now. The March 2014  APA Monitor published an article on psychologists and novelists. Titled “Fascinated by People, On and Off the Page,” the article interviews four psychologist-novelists including one who has done research showing that reading fiction can impact readers’ personalities, increasing their empathy and social skills.

In addition to this is the recent fascination with narrative therapy in its various forms. This can include helping counseling and coaching clients, among others, imagine and seek to live out their hoped-for new life stories. Much older is the use of bibliotherapy in which appropriate books and other written materials, fiction and biographies included, can supplement leadership and care-giving.

Are any of you writers, users of narrative therapy or recommenders of biographies and fiction? Please comment. Also, what is the best biography that you would recommend? Click on Comment to let us know.

 

Newsletter 561 – Keeping a Bigger Perspective

Near the end of every year I look back over what I’ve read and select the book that impacted me most. Then copies of these are purchased and sent as Christmas gifts to three or four close friends. Usually these are books on leadership, career development or business but occasionally something unusual rises to the top of my list. 2013 was an example.

 Stearns Devotional 2Probably nobody was surprised to get a copy of Kevin DeYoung’s little book Crazy Busy. (Please see Newsletter 554). Like me, most of my friends are in overdrive and can use something readable, short and practical. This time, however, my Christmas package also included something unusual: a devotional book. He Walks Among Us was written by Richard and Reneé Stearns, the president of World Vision and his wife. (The book was mentioned in passing in Newsletter 552). Here are my reasons for thinking that this also would be useful for the counselors, coaches, people-builders, leaders and students who read these words:

  • The book illustrates trends in publishing that many writers overlook. There are short chapters, captivating stories, clear writing styles, and concise, practical applications. Certainly not all books or presentations can fit this style without “dumbing down” depth of thought or detailed discussion. But many best sellers take this newer format.
  • The book includes incredible photographs by photographer John Warren. Photos and other visual images are difficult to find and expensive to reproduce but never underestimate the ability of images to communicate or to supplement words.
  • More important, the book gives a broader perspective on the world where we live and work. Many of our lives, including the books we read and the churches we attend focus a lot on performance, innovation, success, efficiency, career-building and making an impact. Innately none of this is bad but consider the lifestyle that Jesus lived and the messages he proclaimed. According to the Stearns book if you earn more than $13,000 annually you are wealthier than 90% of the world’s population; you’re in the upper one percent if your salary tops $40,000.
  • This book gently challenges us to rethink our values, revisit the relevance of Scripture, and maybe realign some of the priorities in our lives.

Please leave a comment.