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 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 585 – The Significance of Millennials

This week I read an interview with Bill Marriott, CEO of the hotel business that carries his family name. Now 82, Marriott is looking ahead, committed to launching a new hotel chain aimed at the so-called millennial generation, (people born in 1980 or after, now ages 18-33). In four years an estimated 60% of Marriott’s business will be geared for Millennials, with room features and amenities largely designed with input from people in the target group.

Millennials 1Scientifically valid research shows that this group is forsaking religious institutions in droves. Young adult Evangelicals, traditional Protestants, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims are all leaving their faith traditions and few seem interested in coming back. The challenge of adapting and connecting across generations applies as well to colleges, professions, counselors, and businesses, including hotels.

Literally for centuries younger generations have been misunderstood and criticized by those who are older. Time magazine once did a cover story on Millennials with the biased headline “Me, Me, Me Generation.” Isn’t that equally true of other generations? Much better is the current issue of CT (July/August 2014) that focuses on how many Millennials are leading the church. Here are randomly-chosen practical conclusions, some from the magazine:

  • Connecting with Millennials takes more than a coffee shop or hip place to hang out. They want involvement and responsibility. Too many who come to churches feel unwanted and not needed .
  • This generation longs for face-to-face interpersonal interaction more because so much of their interaction is online. They value community and spontaneity.
  • Like other generations, Millennials don’t like to be stereotyped. They want to be accepted and appreciated for who they are.
  • Many are spiritually starved but they want in-depth spiritual experiences, knowledge, and opportunity for discussion without being manipulated or forced into some theological or denominational mold.
  • Many Millennials are heavily involved in service to others. Many want to be successful in the arts, technology, business, and other careers. But they are less concerned about money, prominence or power.
  • They are not opposed to interaction with older mentors who respect them as they are and don’t try to imitate or look like them.
  • From a personal perspective, I have several twenty-something close friends. We appreciate, enjoy, accept and learn from each other.

What is your experience with Millennials? Please comment.

Newsletter 583 – Why We Need Heroes

I enjoy reading Relevant magazine with its focus on people in theispider_man_2 3r twenties and early thirties. Many of the articles stretch me, keep me aware of new trends and sometimes surprise me. Consider the cover article on our need for heroes published in the July-August 2014 issue. This was not about mentors or well-known celebrities. It’s about comic-book characters, Batman, Superman, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It describes the appeal of these superheroes, especially among young people looking for their identities. The article shows the biblical origins of many superheroes and what they can teach us about our calling.

As I read, my mind went to the heroes I had as a kid and to some of my biblical heroes. Many are invisibles (see last week’s newsletter) or individuals who make brief appearance in Scripture–people like Caleb, Esther, Barnabas and Gamaliel.

Remember Gamaliel? He appeared as a voice of reason in Acts 5 where the religious leaders were violently jealous, with out-of control anger and determination to murder two apostles. As we read about Gamaliel in this setting we see a genuine leadership hero who was:

  • highly competent–an admired scholar
  • calm and respectful of leaders who probably did not deserve respect
  • sensitive to the emotions in his audience
  • without an attitude of angry confrontation or attempts to manipulate
  • aware of the facts surrounding the current situation
  • articulate and able to present possible outcomes and scenarios
  • willing to step back and let others reach their own decisions without interference.

I once taught in a graduate school where the faculty was known for their sometimes-raucous disagreements. One faculty member would listen silently and then make a comment that set everything in perspective. He never leapt tall buildings or dressed like a comic book character but he became one of my heroes because of the characteristics he modeled. The Relevant article argues that some of today’s “Hollywood marvels” show admirable traits and demonstrate ‘truth in unexpected places.”

It’s a cliché to say that we don’t have many widely-known heroes today. Maybe that’s why people in the movies or video games are so widely followed. But to somebody, each of us is a hero, maybe in the form of a parent, teacher, leader or neighbor. Who looks to you as a superhero and what kind of a hero are you becoming? Please think about this and leave a 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 #544 – Forget about Mentors, Find a Sponsor

I was enthusiastic to learn about the publication of Find-a-SponsorSylvia Ann Hewlett’s book, Forget a Mentor: Find a Sponsor. I pre-ordered the book and started reading when it arrived after its publication in late August. Quickly I discovered that the book is not suggesting that sponsors are “the new mentors” as Fast Company erroneously reported in a blog last week. Instead, Hewlett sees mentoring and sponsorship as two valuable but different channels to success in our lives and careers, and in the lives of those we seek to help. What’s the difference between mentors and sponsors?

Mentors are encouragers and role models. They have experience, knowledge and the ability to guide protégés and give them advice and direction. Mentoring mostly is a one-way relationship in which the experienced person offers help, empathy, support and sometimes spiritual direction but expects little in return. Mentors are needed and often very helpful.

Sponsors can be helpful too but their role is different. Like mentors, sponsors advise and encourage. But sponsors believe in their protégés, so much that the sponsor sometimes will give brutally honest feedback to help the protégé improve or make a better impression. The sponsor takes risks to promote the protégé, vouch for his or her capabilities and be an active advocate for the protégé’s capabilities and potential. In business terms the protégé carries the sponsor’s brand. In turn, the protégé is expected to live up to the endorsement and demonstrate high performance. If the sponsor advocates and the protégé performs then everybody wins.

Hewlett bases her conclusions on extensive research in business communities around the world. She notes that mentors are more plentiful than sponsors but sponsors ultimately can be more influential because they help protégés, including women and minority people, to advance where they might never go without help. The best mentors have influence in places where the protégé wants to go.

At times, this can sound like somewhat driven business practices that have little relevance to those outside of corporations. But the principles apply broadly, into academia and ministries, for example. If you want to reach your goals try to find a mentor. Meantime, please leave a comment.


Newsletter #503 – Why Care About Culture?

In response to an earlier newsletter, Ruedi Giezendanner referred me to a fascinating article with a long title, “Cross-Cultural Mentoring: A Brief Comparison of Individualistic and Collectivist Cultures.”

The author, Sunny Hong, reminds us of the differences between individualistic cultures that value individual uniqueness, independence and equality, in contrast to collectivistic cultures where group goals are more important and where there are more firmly defined social distinctions and expectations. Of course there are wide differences between people within any one culture but Western countries (especially the United States) are individualistic in comparison to the collectivistic mindset of Eastern countries including Japan, Korea and China.

Hong focuses on mentoring but her conclusions apply equally to coaching, counseling, leadership, teaching, ministry and broader social relationships. These issues were never mentioned (or perhaps never recognized) in my training as a counselor. My coaching instructors insisted that the principles of coaching apply universally, without need for adaptation. But try taking an individualistic mindset into a collectivistic culture and there can be misunderstandings and communication failures. More harm than good can follow when culturally-insensitive business people, diplomats, missionaries, relief workers and mission trip participants go abroad without awareness of cultural perspectives and differences. This applies in work with neighborhood minorities as well as internationally. Mentoring or coaching in an individualistic culture seeks to help others grow professionally by setting goals and developing ways to fulfill personal visions. This is like parenting where children grow up, leave home and don’t seek further parental advice. In collectivistic settings, coaches or mentors are respected and knowledge-filled gurus or teachers who continue to retain authority and provide wise answers on a more permanent basis. Individual initiative and self-motivation are not valued.

According to Hong’s article, when there are differing expectations and assumptions regarding the purpose of mentoring [or coaching], there often is confusion and misunderstanding for both parties. Cross-cultural people-helping also can be unproductive when there are different views about goals, responsibilities, the meaning of success, boundaries, power, privacy, respect for time, transparency, self-disclosure, and feedback, among others. Before you decide to teach, coach, counsel or lead in other cultures, consider reading Hong’s article. And please comment or share your experiences. Is all of this as important as I am suggesting?

Newsletter #499 – Encouraging Kingdom Entrepreneurs

Others may disagree, but for me the brief discussion of kingdom entrepreneurs was among the most stimulating parts of Steve and Cheri Saccone’s book Protégé that was described in last week’s newsletter. Steve works with younger pastors and other emerging leaders. All are committed Christians wanting to serve Christ and reach a younger generation that distrusts religion and sees no relevance in traditional churches.

The book acknowledges that all emerging leaders need to develop a skill set with “structured accountability and performance reviews.” Some younger leaders are traditional and not very innovative. They have a place in many churches but those who make a twenty-first century difference seek to become kingdom entrepreneurs in a way that “aligns uniquely with who they are” as they “reach their full potential of spiritual influence and optimize their kingdom impact.  If we want to build kingdom cultures, we must become kingdom entrepreneurs.”

Entrepreneurs take initiative to pioneer new things, or at least change what isn’t working. “They are created to cast vision and turn that vision into action…. Kingdom entrepreneurs create environments where religious obstacles get stripped away, so that people searching for God can see him, find him and know him.” Leaders are “created to build teams that focus on a cause and then strategize to pursue the change they desire in the world, or in their church and ministry area.” But younger leaders often encounter resistance from more established leaders including those who are afraid or reluctant to let new ideas and strategies emerge. As a result thousands of emerging leaders, including university and seminary graduates, feel stifled and held back.  I am reminded of my time in graduate school when I recognized the value of structured-skill learning for psychologists but sensed that my creativity and youthful passion were squelched by seemingly archaic university requirements, accrediting agency rules and a few rigid professors or supervisors.

Of course I see the value of regulations and standards. I want to abide by biblical principles. But I also want to encourage and learn from the young kingdom entrepreneurs and others who cross my path and stimulate my growth. What is your perspective on this? Please comment.

Newsletter #498 – Building Next Generation Leaders

When I looked for mentoring books on the Amazon web site, almost 7,000 titles appeared. Undoubtedly most of these are helpful but I wonder if they all say pretty much the same thing. In contrast, Steve Saccone and his wife Cheri bring a fresh approach in their recent book Protégé: Developing Your Next Generation of Church Leaders. Saccone is a pastor who mentors young spiritual leaders but this approach could apply far beyond the international and emerging church leaders who are participants in the Saccones’ pioneering mentoring work.

For example, the book begins with insightful discussions of “the four deadly sins of emerging leaders: envy, self-reliance, foolishness and greed.” Leaders who read these four chapters (coaches, counselors, pastors and professors included) are likely to see variations of these tendencies in themselves. They’re common dangers that can emerge at any age to undermine one’s best leadership efforts. Mentors and protégés also are likely to recognize themselves in the chapters on over-commitment, handing conflict, effective communication, and the need for missional perspectives and entrepreneurial thinking.

Like any teaching relationship, mentors and the people they mentor (the protégés) have unique learning styles and world-views. Some mentoring (and academic training approaches) provide a set formula for growth and expect everyone to go through the same exercises or scripted mentoring programs. Like the younger people with whom he works, Saccone resists this top-down leadership approach and focuses on mentoring as relationship development. “Never make mentoring only about production, tasks and performance,” he writes. Mentoring “must be relational, and people must know you care about them as a person….No one wants to be a target of someone’s agenda…. No one wants to be a project.”

Most of my adult life has involved working with next generation and other leaders but I tend to take an informal approach and talk about “journeying together” rather than about mentoring. I’ve never read a book together with someone who sees me as a mentor or coach. But I might make an exception and suggest that others read and apply the  tested approaches described in this book.

What is your experience as a mentor or protégé? What have you discovered that could be of help to the rest of us? Please comment.

Newsletter #455 – Four Keys to Contemporary Leadership

Last week I led a daylong seminar on leadership trends. Briefly we discussed change, technology, social media, worldviews, globalization, economic issues, contemporary spiritualities, the emerging role of neurobiology, and even the arts and design. But the workshop mainly focused on four keys to effective contemporary leadership. These are old keys, pretty basic, but they keep appearing, at least in the leadership publications that I have been reading and in the leaders that I watch.

  1. Character. Competence, commitment and passion are crucial for good leadership but in times of need and crisis we look for leaders with authenticity, clear values, and courage. We want leaders with character, men and women who have shown they can be trusted. Maybe the importance of character has risen because we’ve seen the fall of so many recent leaders. Often these people have allowed character flaws to take root and grow until they pull down the leaders along with their careers, organizations, and reputations.
  1.  Culture. A culture is a way we view and do things. Cultures include agreed-upon guidelines for acceptable behavior, relationships, and standards of right and wrong. Every country and community has its own cultures (more than one) but so does every family, church, business, office, group and university. Football teams have cultures, as do different factions in political parties, denominations and professions. Each of us lives in a variety of cultures like these. In a world of Internet connectivity and greater awareness of global diversity, every effective leader needs cultural sensitivity and cross-cultural relationship skills.
  1. Coaching and Mentoring.  These are old terms (an article in the October 2011 Harvard Business Review prefers words like sponsors and protégés). Whatever terms are used, there is renewed focus on talent development and building into emerging leaders. Most often these involve one-to-one relationships for developing awareness and skills.
  1. Communication. Recent tributes to Steve Jobs laud his creativity, innovation, courage and competence. But how effective would Jobs have been if he had lacked effective communication skills? Consider this: if you can’t communicate clearly can you be an effective leader?

In my seminar last week what should I have added to my list? Why? Please give your comments.