Newsletter 608 – Update on Having a Mentor and Being a Mentor

mentoring 4Do you ever get tired reading or hearing about mentoring? It’s no news that professional organizations, business and academic communities, innumerable churches and countless youth leaders all emphasize mentoring and have mentoring programs. Each knows the value of a person with experience and skill sharing with those who are beginners or less advanced in their life and career journeys.

Harvard Business Review (April, 2015) shows the value of CEOs and other leaders having mentors where age differences are less important than differences in expertise and experience. Earl Creps’ 2008 book Reverse Mentoring expresses what many mature leaders already know: we can mentor younger people but should never underestimate the power of being mentored by next-generation people who can teach us. Consider the kids who teach their elders the intricacies of social media and other technology.

The HBR article discusses mentoring from high profile CEOs but reports research on why these same leaders often need and profit from being mentored by experienced leaders, sometimes including those in a different field of work or with cultural perspectives that differ from their mentees. On occasion someone asks how I seem to keep a younger, forward-looking attitude. Primarily it’s because of the bright, emerging, innovative younger people (students especially) who essentially mentor me even though we rarely use that M-word. Consider this, based in part on the Harvard research:

  •  Why should successful leaders seek to be mentored? Everyone can benefit from fresh perspectives that come from role models of any age and experienced guides who stimulate new approaches, ideas, and perspectives.
  • What are the benefits of being a mentor to others? Research shows that mentors often experience fulfillment, the satisfaction of having a personal impact, and the benefit of learning from their mentees.
  • What seems to be the best and most preferred approach to mentoring? It’s is not working through guidebooks, telling mentees what to do, or even asking good coaching questions. The method preferred by both parties is storytelling; mentors sharing from their own experiences including triumphs and failures. For many years I’ve talked weekly with a younger psychologist-friend who says he has learned most from watching me deal with disappointments and set-backs.

Are you involved in being mentored as well as being a mentor? What are some of your experiences and observations? Do you need or have a mentor? Please comment.

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.

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 597 – More on Setting and Reaching Goals

Goal setting 5This week I read an interesting blog in which the writer asked if we are drifting through life, waiting for “whatever,” or making decisions that help us take action to move toward our goals. Waiting for the winds to blow us in the right direction rarely works. But many people do something similar and drift through life, often with no particular destinations in mind.

During this past month Michael Hyatt has stimulated thousands of people, me included, to rethink their methods of setting goals for the New Year and for their lives and careers. Many of Hyatt’s teachings are practical and helpful but of equal or greater importance are goal-related principles that he downplayed or bypassed:

  • It is worthwhile to plan ahead, but none of us is in complete control of our futures. Unexpected events, including illness, can disrupt even our best intentions, shut us down or blow us off course. Goals and plans must always be held lightly.
  • It is possible for goal accomplishment to be all-consuming and for focus on goals to become potentially harmful compulsive activity. Last month, Mr. Hyatt published advice from experts who wrote about how they plan for a new year. In reading this I thought, “These people are obsessed with their goals.” Could too much focus on goals be as counter productive as no goal focus at all?
  • Since we are not in control of our futures, the setting and working toward goals should not be done alone. Wise King Solomon wrote: “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many counselors bring success” (Proverbs 15:22.) Effective goal setting and planning needs input from others. It is not a solo activity.
  • God must be at the center of this process. “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps…. Commit your work to the Lord, and then your plans will succeed” (Proverbs 16:7,3.) But as one person commented last week, “Sometimes following God’s leading will defy conventional wisdom and require sacrifice.”
  • Evaluate your goals. Ask if each goal is worth pursuing at this time in your life. Is each goal what God wants you to do? Try to keep the list manageable. Remember this old adage: “The hunter who chases more than one rabbit misses them all.”

Some research verifies that after a week or two, most New Year’s resolutions have been broken. Why? What comments would you add to the above?

Newsletter 594 – What Should we do with Advice About Success?

success1Much of what I read and write about in these blogs concerns success, efficiency, productivity, setting and achieving goals, having an impact, and making a difference. I’ve spent a lot of my life striving to live out these values. Many of my friends, colleagues and students are the same, with our life agendas built on these cultural assumptions that are universally accepted at least in developed countries. We can be grateful for people who share their experiences in these areas.

Even so, most success-focused books, articles and or seminar topics seem built on the foundational goals of making money, being known, developing our platforms and promoting ourselves. There is little difference between what is produced by Christians and the success-oriented advice that comes from non-believers. In themselves none of these values is wrong. Maybe they can’t be overlooked if we want to advance our careers and have a maximum impact. But what if they dominate our thinking, actions, and relationships as they do for many among us?

I wonder what he would have said if Jesus had written a blog on success or led seminars? The Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount would be a good place to start searching for our answer. Or we could look at God’s instructions to Joshua.

Remember him? Moses lead his nation until he died and Joshua took over. God gave the new leader directions, including more information about success that we read anyplace else in the Bible. Consider this when you’re looking for success guidelines:

  • “Be strong and courageous…not afraid or discouraged” because we can believe that God is with us wherever we go (Joshua 1:5, 6, 9)
  • Be familiar with God’s instructions and guidelines, meditating on them consistently (Joshua 1:8)
  • Determine to seek God’s leading and follow through (Joshua1:7, 8, 16, 17)
  • With divine help, trust in God fully. Don’t depend on yourself alone. “Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5).

We can benefit from the guidance of success-oriented writers. Almost always their guidance is well intentioned. But would Jesus or the God of Joshua ever advise us to “build on the foundational goals of making money, being known, developing our platforms, and promoting ourselves?” Probably my career success has been limited because I resist some of the contemporary advice givers who seem unaware of biblical guidelines. Does anyone else have similar struggles? Please comment.

Newsletter 593 – Should You Become an Essentialist?

cover.essentialism-230x345There are two books in my mind that I am passionate about and itching to write. One is roughly half finished. So which one should be done first? Several friends that I don’t want to disappoint, are urging me to go in different directions. Experience has taught me that good writing (including the writing of reports, term papers, and even newsletters) usually takes a lot longer than we expect. Even so I’ve concluded that I don’t need to chose which book to do. I can do both.

Not a good idea, suggests Greg McKeown’s thought-provoking and very practical new book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. McKeown defines the nonessentialist as a person who tries to do everything, acquire as much as possible, and please everybody. Often these people spend unwisely, never throw anything away, rarely say “no,” have a short-term perspective, and live under constant pressure. They feel overworked but underutilized, too often busy but not productive. “When we don’t purposefully and deliberately choose to focus our energies and time, other people will choose for us, and before long we’ll have lost sight of everything that is meaningful and important.” Sound familiar?

In contrast, essentialists learn to be selective in how they spend their time and money. They assume that “less is better,” that they can’t do it all or let others set their life agendas, that they need not accept every invitation or appeal to get involved. McKeown shows how even people with high-maintenance children, difficult bosses, demanding careers and inner insecurities can make wiser choices and choose to be different. At times the book may be a little idealistic and not applicable to everybody but the author intersperses questions that we all might ask ourselves or our clients even when life is mostly about survival. Examples:

  • Is what I am doing or asked to do the most important thing I should be doing with my time and resources right now?
  • What do I feel deeply inspired by?
  • What am I particularly talented at?
  • Of all that is before me, what has potential to meet the most significant need in this world?
  • If I could only do one thing right now what would it be?

As some of you know, every year I pick the most influential book of those I’ve read since January 1. Essentialism is my pick for 2014. Any comments?

Newsletter 590 – The McDonaldization of Our Lives

McDonalds 2Perhaps you are familiar with the term McDonaldization. It was new to me until last week but, as you can imagine, it refers to our widespread values of hurry, convenience, efficiency and the desire for consistency. Franchised fast-food restaurants are controlled from the top with detailed policy manuals. Almost everything is predictable, including the seating, lighting, and color schemes that are designed to discourage lingering. One writer describes McDonalds and Berger King as drive-through calorie-filling stations that are all alike with consumer commodities that are packaged, marketed and sold. Their advertising focuses on meeting needs, immediately and quickly, like “you deserve a break today!”

Surprising, perhaps, this characterization was stimulated by a new book titled Slow Church. The authors, Christopher Smith and John Pattison, write thoughtfully about how the values which led to fast food restaurants have given rise to what one book calls The McDonalization of the Church. Many of us want churches that are efficient, entertaining, convenient, growing (the bigger the better), controlled by one or a few leaders at the top, and all similar. This is especially common in highly controlled denominations and megachurches with their satellite campuses. Too often they become spirituality-filling stations, specializing in quick step methods and convenience with minimal commitment.

Does this one-method-fits-all McDonaldization seep into our professions and academic institutions under the guise of maintaining standards for training, practice and accreditation? Certainly there is a need for guidelines to insure quality and prevent chaos. But do we risk McDonaldization in our work, classrooms and lives because that is what we want and/or because we have little alternative? Where is the place for innovation and creativity?

There are many ways to express our individuality and still abide by the laws of the land and the requirements of our professions. The Smith and Pattison book shows how we can trim down some of our McDonalized ways of doing church and become more biblical. Can something similar be done with our lives and work? Like many of you, I break out of the mold and use lots of innovation in my teaching, writing, and coaching. And, gradually, I am learning to slow down and cut some of the hurry from my spirituality, relationships, work and life.

How are you doing with this? Please comment.