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 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 637 – Qualities of Creative Leaders

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:

Ogilvy 6 Ogilvy 3The 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:

  1. High standards of personal ethics.
  2. Big people, without pettiness.
  3. Guts under pressure, resilience in defeat.
  4. Brilliant brains — not safe plodders.
  5. A capacity for hard work and midnight oil.
  6. Charisma — charm and persuasiveness.
  7. A streak of unorthodoxy — creative innovators.
  8. The courage to make tough decisions.
  9. Inspiring enthusiasts — with trust and gusto.
  10. 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.

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 635 – Helping People Wherever They Are

Jean-Christophe in robeJean-Christophe Bieselaar is one of my closest friends (shown here with his son Paul). Born, raised and currently living in Paris,  Jean-Christophe is consulting pastor of one Parisian church, Parish Associate at The American Church in Paris, and a chaplain at five hospitals. We kept in contact during the night of the recent terrorist attacks and I was impressed (but not surprised) at how he responded as the events unfolded. The following principles are well known but sometimes forgotten when crises arise in our own environments.

  • Try to remain calm. Jean-Christophe wrote that there was no chaos in the hospitals. The professional staff was “calm, focused and organized”. Calmness in caregivers tends to spread, especially to people who are afraid and agitated.
  • Resist the urge to rush to the location of the crises. Have you heard about counselors, medical people, or church groups who rush to the places of tragedy, including trips overseas in times of national disasters? These people go with good intentions, but they don’t know what is needed and get in the way of local responders who understand the situation better.
  • Be alert to the place where you’ve been planted. Jean-Christophe went to two churches where he normally serves. One is a young adult congregation. “They were all speechless and shocked. They had never faced anything like that. I encouraged them to turn their eyes from TV and their mobile devices. We read some Psalms particularly Ps 121 and I asked them to focus on John 14.1. Then we spent a long time praying. And the peace of God came upon us all like a healing water”. After this, my friend went to the E.R. at a hospital where he is known and works.
  • Notice the recommendation to turn off media broadcasts. Watching endless media reruns or commentary can arouse, rather than reduce anxiety. In addition, media consumption can lead to fear-inspiring addiction. This stuff is fascinating to watch.
  • Do what you do best in the setting where you’ve been planted. Jean-Christophe worked in the places and with the people where he is known. Few of us can do much in Paris right now, but what about the nervous people in our churches or workplaces? Do you have neighbors with friends or relatives in Paris? Could they benefit from your support, encouragement and prayers?
  • Keep focused on the peace and hope that comes from God and on empowerment from the Holy Spirit.

What would you add? Please comment.

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 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.