Newsletter 645 – Reimagining Your Mission

Blake M 1In a previous blog I mentioned TOMS shoes founder Blake Mycoskie who has been described as a visionary, exceptional businessman, philanthropist and outstanding entrepreneur. When it first appeared, his book Start Something That Matters impacted me with its message of inspiring others to turn their passions and dreams into reality. Following his talk at a leadership conference several years ago I saw him sitting on the floor outside the meeting room and I mustered the courage to flop down beside him for a brief conversation.

Blake retells his fascinating story in the January-February (2016) issue of Harvard Business Review. He writes about building a very profitable company but then losing the passion and excitement for what he had been doing. He became disillusioned. His days had become monotonous. “What had once been my reason for being now felt like a job,” he wrote. He felt lost because his company—and maybe his life—had become centered on the process of making things work rather than on it’s purpose. “The excitement and camaraderie of our start-up was beginning to be replaced by a hierarchical culture.” The focus was on what the company was doing and how, with fading interest in why it existed.

So Blake Myscokie took time off from work. He reflected a lot on his life, his gifts, his passions. He looked at his mission in life and began to refine it, “reimagine it,” thinking back to what he did best. He met regularly with a coach, with friends and with leaders that he admired. About that time Blake and his wife had their first child, with the life-realignment that parenthood brings.

This whole story invigorates and encourages me. At various times my career, relationships and productivity have slid to a slow-down. The passion and excitement has faded into a succession of pressures. Quitting has seemed like a good option and sometimes (with support from close friends) that’s what I’ve done. More often I’ve bounced back like Blake, probably like many of you who resonate with these words. My life purpose, my calling or mission, has not changed much. But it’s been refined and the way I live has been updated and rearranged. This is hard work. Blake says nothing about God but I believe the Holy Spirit gives us new direction, strength and ongoing transformation.

How do you get moving again when passion fades and life slows to a crawl? Please comment.

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 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 627 – How Fear Can Derail an Entrepreneur

entrepreneurRecently I completed a newspaper questionnaire promising to reveal my “career type.” Designed by Universum with at a least minimal scientific support, the tool identifies seven types of careers. Each of these is described if you click on comments below. I was identified as an Internationalist, somebody who is enthusiastic about building cross-cultural connections. In addition I would have liked to fall into the Leader or Entrepreneur categories but a Wall Street Journal article (August 24, 2015) shows the one big obstacle that paralyzes entrepreneurs and maybe others who are attracted to creative, innovative entrepreneurial work.

That obstacle is fear. The WSJ report describes research by Phillip K. Berger at University of Bremen in Germany. Here are highlights from Berger’s surveys and interviews with 600 entrepreneurs who talked about their start-up worries:

  • People are less fearful if they have leadership experience.
  • Same applies when there is intrinsic motivation. Fear is lower and perhaps success comes more often when there is a high determination to reach an entrepreneurial goal.
  • Initial fear is seen more often in women, but women and men are equally successful when they move forward and build enterprizes.
  • Cultural differences also play a role. The American culture seems to be more accepting of failure, especially because of the widespread “get up and try again” attitude. In other cultures there is more criticism and less acceptance of entrepreneurs who fail. That increases start-up fears.
  • Fear is lower in people with a very high estimation of their ability to succeed. That might be expected. But these high-confidence entrepreneurs often lack the skills and qualifications to succeed so they’re more likely to fail.
  • As might be expected, fear lessens when potential entrepreneurs can find partners, business professionals or others to join the venture.
  • Fear also goes down when the entrepreneurial project can be broken into smaller steps so failure along the way is less catastrophic.

This was not in the article, but it would seem that fear would decline and confidence could grow when entrepreneurs have social support. Likewise, might fear be less in people, like Joshua in the Old Testament, who believe that their ventures are from God and who trust him to lead? Please click on comment to share your perspectives and experiences.

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 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 613 – New Perspectives on Burnout

burnout 2Can anything fresh be said about burnout? That was my reaction when I saw the May/June, 2015 issue of Psychotherapy Networker magazine. The PT editor calls burnout “that mélange of weariness, depression and apathy, seasoned with a tincture of cynicism [that] has become as persuasive as the common cold.” Originally the term described physical and psychological breakdown that came to counselors and other care-givers who had become overly burdened with the crises and stresses of their clients. Now the term can apply to anyone, including pastors, business people, homemakers, students, performers,  and overworked, overwhelmed people in any field or profession. Sometimes these individuals cling to the “exalted, if never quite admitted” belief in themselves as admirable individuals who never give up, consistently perform superbly, or believe that they have a duty to help everyone who appears with a need.

The proposed remedies tend to be similar, focused on self-care and work-life balance. This means more times for rest, reduced workloads, better time management, and various relaxation and meditation practices. An entire industry of books, videos, and seminars has arisen to help burned-out people do more of some things (like sleep, exercise or time management) and less of others. According to the lead PT article, however, “workplace initiatives on individual self-care and work-life balance are not only doomed to fail, but may make us worse.” Even among believers in such activities “the empirical evidence shows they make no difference” largely because burn out is a reaction to uncontrollable circumstances. Treating the symptoms fails to address burnout’s causes.

What matters most is not how demanding a job is, or the level of responsibility. What matters more is how much personal control and competence one has in performing the work. Research supports the conclusion that when we are fulfilled in our work, committed and able to do it better, we are less likely to burn out.

These observations are not intended to squelch traditional self-care measures. One PT writer argues that self-care does help, especially “targeted micro self-care” that involves mini-practices like short prayers, frequent deep-breathing, and brief exercises.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus never burned out despite the demands of his work and calling? Of course he rested and hung out with friends. But he also had clear purpose, direction, and boundaries that let him stay focused and in control. Do you agree? How have you prevented or handled burnout? Please comment.