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 614 – Robot Counseling (with video)

human-looking robot 2Robots have never much influenced me. Of course we’re all aware of the role of robots on assembly lines, in routine cleaning activities, or in search and rescue operations where humans cannot go. Movies built around robot characters have never interested me, but my curiosity was triggered by a series of featured articles in June 2015 Harvard Business Review. Built around the theme of human-machine interaction in business, the articles describe the impact and effectiveness of computers and robots that:

  • learn and utilize basic knowledge and skills with extraordinary speed,
  • replace the need for many skilled workers,
  • often know much more than any one human being could know or remember,
  • “are beginning to make inroads in areas involving creativity, dexterity, and emotional perceptiveness,” and
  • even can be used as employee supervisors (one HBR article is titled “When your Boss Wears Metal Pants.”)

The magazine shows how robots and people can collaborate and do things that neither could do on their own. And there’s evidence that robots can be more influential and are more trusted when they look like humans (like the robot pictured. To see it move and talk, click the link at the end of this post.) This caused me to wonder how robots – can be used in ministry, management, leadership and even counseling.

Some interesting Internet searches followed. They revealed, among other examples, how robots can be used in guidance counseling, physical therapy, improving mood and quality of life in dementia patients, providing therapy for autistic children,assisting students with learning difficulties and even doing basic marriage counseling and psychotherapy. Robots can be good diagnosticians when they are programmed to pick up verbal and movement cues that can help diagnose different psychological disorders.

Probably none of us is into robot therapy, robot leadership or robot development, but research in these areas may point to interesting and potentially useful alliances between humans and machines. Potential ethical implications of all this will arise when sophisticated machines are used to impact other human beings maybe in destructive, harmful ways. All of this can have potential for care-giving, leading and people-developing. I have wondered if Jesus or the early churches would have cared about this? Should we? Please comment.

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 581 – Are Micromanagers Coachable?

In April, 2014, Harvard Business Review published an article titled “Coaching the Toxic leader.” The author, an executive coach and psychotherapist, discussed “four pathologies that can hobble an executive and bring misery to the workplace.” He described narcissist (the most common and most pathological), manic-depressive, passive-aggressive, and emotionally-detached leaders.

Initially I decided not to mention the article in this newsletter but I did assign it for my coaching students and sent a copy to one of my clients who does executive coaching. Most loved the article and my coaching client described her experiences with all four pathological types. Then she suggested that the most harmful leaders are the micromanagers. These men and women need to be in control. They want to know every detail about the employees or projects they oversee. PuppetStrngsThey watch others closely, want communication or decision making to flow through them, fail to trust others to make good decisions, and are reluctant to let people do their jobs. As employers or supervisors, micromanagers often dictate how subordinates should do their work, whether or not this is the most effective or efficient.

Usually micromanagers feel insecure in their leadership roles, doubting their own competence and overwhelmed by their responsibilities, although they fail to see or admit this. They want to appear capable and decisive but instead they can look like fearful people who won’t let go. They tend to dismiss the opinions of others and sometimes make decisions that are unwise and even destructive. Eventually they lose competent employees or partners who feel squelched, unappreciated and controlled – like puppets on a string.

Micromanagers can be of different types, including the overtly aggressive or the passive-aggressive who ignores or isolates others but then breathes down their necks. But micromanagers are not necessarily pathological. Their numbers even include coaches who control their clients. Often micromanagers are well-intentioned individuals who want to be successful. They resist anyone who criticizes their micromanagement but they need help in learning to trust people, to listen, to let go of the reins and to allow others contribute to their goals. Coaching can help them realize that controlling others is an ineffective leadership style. But are these people even coachable? Some executive coaches believe that micromanagers are too insecure to change, especially when they work in pressured environments.

What do you think? Can micromanagers be coached successfully? Please “comment” with your observations and experiences.

Newsletter 579 – Finding and Growing Talented People

Please consider this tough question: How do you chose an employee, company leader, team member, the best students for a class or academic program, or even a new pastor? Assume you want individuals who have talent and a high likelihood that they will thrive and succeed in their new roles.

Potential 1 To find talented people, most often we look at recommendation letters, past performance, intelligence, experience, test scores, personality traits and demonstrations of competence. All of these have relevance, according to a thought provoking, research based article in Harvard Business Review (June 2014). But no longer is past behavior the best predictor of future behavior. “In a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous environment,” like the cultures where we now live, it’s not enough to have the right experiences, resumés, credentials and skills. More important is having the potential to adapt and learn new skills and competencies.

High potential is not the same as high ability to perform. HBR summarized data from the careers of  “thousands of executives” and identified five indicators of high potential. Measuring these is difficult but possible, according to two decades of research. High potential people possess:

  • Motivation characterized by strong commitment to the pursuit of unselfish goals. This is not a motivation to attain selfish goals. It is motivation that includes deep personal humility and ambition to do something big that will benefit many others, not just oneself.
  • Curiosity that involves “seeking out new experiences, knowledge, candid feedback, and an openness to learning and change.”
  • Insight, meaning the ability to gather and make sense of new information and possibilities.
  • Engagement with others that permits open communication, interpersonal connection and the ability to share a persuasive vision.
  • Determination to fight for difficult goals and to bounce back from adversity or missteps.

After high potential people are selected, they thrive and develop when they are treated well and given challenges that stimulate growth.

I wonder if we are using outdated criteria to select and grow high potential leaders. Please click on the comment button and leave your perspective.

Newsletter 575 – Turning Mission and Purpose into Reality

Have you ever seen a company or church mission statement, beautifully framed, hanging on a wall, and ignored by all who walk by? My first coach urgedMission-Statement 3 me to write a mission statement for my life and my career. That was not easy but I got it done and then forgot about it. In an article titled “From Purpose to Impact,” two authors in Harvard Business Review (May, 2014) describe how we can turn our mission statements and purpose-driven goals into reality. “Purpose is increasingly seen as the key to navigating the complex world we face today,” the authors wrote. But “few leaders have a strong sense of their own leadership purpose or a clear plan for translating this into action. As a result, they often fail to achieve their most ambitious professional or personal goals.”

This HBR article is a good description of how coaching can apply in business settings and lead to real change. As you read what follows think how this might apply to churches and their leaders, or to individual career or life directions:

  • Take time to ponder and clarify your purpose. “Your purpose is who you are and what makes you distinctive.” Write down your purpose. It keeps you focused and lets you avoid distractions.
  • Consider why you believe this is your passion, purpose or mission.
  • Set some three to five year goals. Decide how you will reach them. Without this step you keep hovering around your purpose statement and doing nothing.
  • Work backwards. Determine what you want to accomplish after three years, two years, one year. What will be objective evidence that you have succeeded in reaching each of these stages?
  • What are the critical next steps in moving forward in the immediate future – like what you do this week?
  • What are the key relationships you need to work this plan?
  • When you are frustrated or stalled, pull out this plan to remind yourself about where you’re going.
  • Hold this plan lightly. Circumstances beyond our control can intervene. Remember that ultimately the future is in God’s hands

Is this too simple or too obvious? Is it doable for you or your organization? If not, why not? Please comment.

Newsletter 571 – How Does Creativity Apply to You?

innovation and creativity 3Innovation and creativity are popular topics in the publications I read, especially the business magazines (like Inc., Fast Company and Harvard Business Review). I’ve also noticed these words in national newspapers, regular blog posts, and conference programs. Why is this so important among people who value progress, relevance and future trends?

Like it or not, most of us live in a fast-paced, competitive culture that includes churches and other Christian institutions. To thrive, and sometimes simply to survive, we may need to be appealing, attractive, fresh and “cutting edge.” In addition, many of us are invigorated by the process of discovering or creating new experiences, beauty, art, and even practical gimmicks that make our lives and products more fulfilling and useful. Think of the counseling, coaching or teaching that involve many of us. We want to encourage and bring positive change in the people with whom we work. We’re delighted if innovation and creativity make their lives better.

It is impossible to summarize the massive writings and research about creativity but here are some observations:

  • Despite the creations of innovators and inventors who work alone, there is value in creative people working together. In the Fast Company issue that focuses on creativity (April, 2014), editor Robert Safian writes that building on the ideas of one person can lead to thinking that is “narrow, predictable and boring….Collective creativity is far richer than any single source can provide.”
  • But corporate bureaucracy and rules also can deaden creative impact. Consider the churches, accrediting agencies, governments and individuals that are stalled in rigidity and unwilling or unable to move forward.
  • Any of us can shut off creativity and stay mired in the status quo, sometimes because this is personally beneficial or easier.
  • In contrast, creativity can be cultivated. A good starting place is to look at the creative efforts of others, to try new things, to take new risks. Creative people and ideas stimulate more of the same.
  • That said, there seems to be something innate in this. Some people are naturally less creative than others. Their personalities and background experiences limit their ability or desire to innovate. These people are very much needed to bring stability and grounding to our lives, society, churches and professions.

What have you learned about creativity? Please comment.

Newsletter 570 – Manage Your Work, Manage Your Life


HBR Cover Balance 1
Can anything fresh be said about balancing the challenges of work and life – and thriving in the process? Apparently the Harvard Business Review editors think this is worth the several cover stories in the March 2014 issue. Maybe the cover is a tip-off to what follows. The image of an elephant balancing on a ball is above the words “Forget about balance – you have to make choices.”This reminds me of the (easily retrieved) Balance - ElephantInternet image of an elephant balancing on a small ball above the words “Balance is the Key to Life!” Do you agree?

  • Balance is impossible if we mean consistently planned and preprogrammed time slots at work and apart from our jobs. We all know that life can be surprising and disruptive. Sometimes family crises demand attention, as do deadline-controlled periods at work. The goal is balance over weeks, months or years, not on a daily basis.
  • Home life and work life can each benefit the other. Partners at work and spouses or friends elsewhere can both bring emotional support, encouragement and fresh perspectives.
  • One large survey found that “leaders with strong family lives spoke again and again of needing a shared vision of success for everyone at home.”
  • Neither of these two domains (work and non-work activity) should be allowed to dominate the other. “Mixing these spheres too much leads to confusion and mistakes.”
  • Watch out for the destructive power of always being plugged in to communication technology including cell phones and computers. Twenty-four hour availability can hamper initiative and erode performance in individuals and in organizations.
  • The HBR articles only discuss life at work and life away. But how much of this applies to people, maybe in the millions, who have successful careers but who also are devoted to writing novels, making music, or fulfilling other avocational pursuits? How do I help a friend who has a relatively successful career but longs to spend more time working on a fulfilling hobby? Where do these fit into the balance mix?
  • Perhaps the overarching conclusion is to set realistic boundaries and keep flexible.

What do you think? How do you find balance or help others do the same? Please comment.

Newsletter 567 – Should You Care About Mindfulness?

If I tried choosing the two hottest emerging topics among mental health professionals these days, probably I’d select the focus on how the brain works (see last week’s newsletter) and the fascination with mindfulness. Two very different publications recently featured articles on Mindfulness. Time (February 3, 2014) suggests that “we’re in the midst of a popular obsession with mindfulness as the secret to health and happiness.” Harvard Business Review (March , 2014) describes “mindfulness in the age of complexity,” then shows that “by paying attention to what’s going on around us, instead of operating on autopilot, we can reduce stress, unlock creativity, and boost performance. Neither article has much depth but they show how mindfulness has become something of a fad in the places where we live, work, lead, teach and seek to impact others. Even the U.S. Air Force has a recruiting advertisement for clinical psychologists with these prominent words: Meditation, Relaxation. Deep Breathing. Your Arsenal is More Powerful than you Think. That suggests mindfulness. (American Psychologist, March-April, 2014, Back cover.)

Mindfulness 1Mindfulness is the process of focusing on the present moment, giving full attention to what you are doing in the present and being less caught up in what happened earlier or what’s to come. The HBR article mostly is a listing of all the magical implications and effects of meditation and other mindfulness methods. Time suggests that the popularity comes, in part, from those who promote and market the mindfulness revolution. But the movement keeps growing because an increasing body of respectable research, including studies of the brain, gives evidence that mindfulness does, indeed, live up to many of its claims.

Initially I shied away from mindfulness because of it’s Buddhist roots but then I thought of other apparently useful fields and methodologies that spring from humanism, secular research, and other foundations that in no way are Christian. Some of the mindfulness commentary on meditation sounds like biblical commands to meditate. But biblical writers tell us to meditate on God and his word whereas secular approaches have a different focus. We can use secular based approaches providing we keep aware of the reasons we use them. What are the Christian implications of all this, especially relating to counseling and to leadership? Please comment, including your recommendations for further study or reading.

Newsletter 565 – The Perils of Self-Promotion

self promotion 4I am not a self-promoter. These newsletters have never been used to promote my books, speaking engagements or accomplishments. I’ve kept my resumé simple, short and unencumbered with lists of what I’ve published or done. In contrast, many of my colleagues and students have an opposite perspective. Sometimes encouraged by their professors, they seem driven to build their vitas, get their names on publications, and push to get noticed. It may come to them as a surprise to learn that a Harvard Business Review editor, Sarah Green, argues that self-promotion has potential to be harmful (see HBR, January-February, 2014).

Green acknowledges the times when “a bit of self-promotion” is necessary—for example when you’re applying for a job or trying to recover from a negative performance review. But she quotes from business psychologist Thomas Chamorrow-Premuzic who writes: “studies show that being perceived as modest is associated with a wide range of positive outcomes…People do not value confidence unless it is accompanied by competence—and even then, they prefer to see as little confidence surplus as possible.” Would you agree that people who push themselves too much, often alienate others in the process? To paraphrase Green, in a super-confident world “I’d prefer less focus on getting ahead and promoting oneself and greater emphasis on getting better.”

But is there place for a person like me who is driven to be competent and reluctant to promote myself at all? After much hesitation, I decided to use this newsletter (see # 560) to announce that I’m available for new coaching clients. But I was so concerned about coming across as self-promoting that I ended up sending a confusing message. Those who responded assumed that I was offering my time and services for free. My business consultant suggested that I should have been upfront and said, “I am looking to replace some of my teaching with a handful of coaching clients, especially those who want to revive their careers. To learn more, including details and fees, please contact coachingwithgary@gmail.com.” That offer is still open.

And I learned a good lesson. In moderation, there is nothing wrong with marketing and even self-promotion if this is backed by a product or service of proven quality. What do you think? Please comment.