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 641 – How to Be People Builder

In 1976 a book appeared that has sold more than any of the others I‘ve written. How to Be a People Helper was an introduction to counseling written mostly for church people, including pastors, when professional mental health services were less popular and accepted than they are today. The book still sells even thoutwo men 10gh it’s way outdated. The publisher was not interested when I suggested an updated 40th anniversary edition but in many ways my focus has shifted from people helping to people building. This is a focus on walking with those who are going through transitions, decision-making and other life events that are less in need of counseling and better served by friends, encouragers, mentors and trained coaches.

There are few books or courses on people building but, for what it’s worth, here is some of what I’ve learned:

  • If you want to make an impact as a people builder, open your eyes and ask God to show who you might influence. I have connected with many people in my neighborhood, community, church, and classes. One example is a brilliant graduate student who arrived as an undocumented immigrant and checked out our groceries in a supermarket when he was a teenager. Another is a biracial waiter with dreadlocks and a passion to succeed as a pop musician. He was our server in a local coffee shop. There’s also a native Parisian, pastor in Paris, author and specialist in multicultural marriages. We met informally at a conference. Today these are among my closest friends. We build one another.
  • Show a genuine interest in the people you meet. Ask about their backgrounds. Listen to their stories. Expect to be surprised at what develops.
  • Recognize that each of us has a personality and a place where we have been planted. For me, striking up conversations with strangers is easy. I live in an apartment building, still teach, and regularly go to a fitness club. Remember the cliché: bloom where you are planted. Focus on the people who surround you. Let God work through your circumstances and personality.
  • Expect to make a difference. Legacies or resumés don’t interest me but I know what I want to leave after I’m gone: people whose lives and careers I’ve helped to build. Whatever our ages, we still have time to: Be a People Builder!

Please comment about your experiences as a people-builder or about people who spent time building you.

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 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 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 630 – Look-Around Learning

During my years as a public speaker, I got into the habit of listening to preachers and other speakers with two questions in my mind: what were they saying (their message) and how were they communicating (their methods)? I looked at how some speakers connected effectively with the audience and why other speakers rarely connected at all. Later I started doing something similar with writers. Why are some better than others? Maybe you have developed the practice of observing academic, business, political and pastoral leaders in the similar ways. If you want to be better in what you do, open your eyes, look, and learn from what others are doing well–or not so well.

Francis 1Pope Francis is an example. This week a blogger critiqued the Pope’s leadership style as demonstrated on his recent North American trip. Francis had prepared well for his speaking, using illustrations and quoting leaders who would be known and admired by his audiences. Wherever he went, the Pope modeled his stated values. Away from the crowds, Francis apparently maintains a disciplined schedule, takes short rest periods to preserve his strength during each day, resists trying to do everything, and avoids pointless activity that drains his energy. And he’s not afraid to tackle difficult issues even if they are unpopular.

OscarEverybody knows about the Pope but have you heard of Oscar Muñoz? His name appeared in the news last month when he was appointed new CEO of United Airlines. Last week Muñoz was interviewed about his new leadership role. He observed that United employees have become disenchanted, disenfranchised, and disengaged. These “three D’s” need to be acknowledged openly, then fixed. But United customers also need attention because they have been forgotten in a business that claims to be service-oriented. Muñoz added that “the key is not always improvement, which suggests doing things better, but innovation which means doing things altogether differently.” And like Pope Francis, Muñoz seems to be operating in accordance with his values.

Both of these leaders are working to change a culture: one changing the culture of an international church, the other changing an international corporation. Sometimes we learn from reading accounts from or about turn-around leaders like Howard Schultz at Starbucks or Steve Jobs at Apple. But there is much to be learned simply by looking around at leaders in front of our eyes. Please comment on this and share other examples.

Newsletter 629 – The Positive Side of What We Do

Last week’s newsletter (#628) left me unsettled even though I wrote it. Looking back, it seems that the tone was too negative, presenting only one side of the book-publishing story. That newsletter was stimulated by comments in a business magazine that correctly pointed out the small and disappointing payoffs for the time and energy invested by most authors. This extends beyond books and includes the writing of blogs, newsletters, magazine articles and contributions to professional journals. We noted the difficulties of producing writing that is clear, unique and interesting. The newsletter alluded to the challenge of getting one’s written work published, marketed and then purchased.

LISTSBut last week’s newsletter pushed me to re-evaluate my reasons for writing books at all, looking for the positives as well as what’s negative. From there I moved to doing something similar for my coaching and teaching. These were helpful exercises, building on a belief that periodically we all need to look critically at our work and calling. The negatives are easy to remember but a written list of the positives can be good to review whenever we are tired, discouraged, or tempted to quit.

Here’s a personal example. I continue writing because this:

  • Provides the most effective way for me to impact others and to fulfill my life mission,
  • Is an area of competence for me, a God-given ability, seemingly one of my spiritual gifts,
  • Is one of the best ways for me to keep learning and be able to make decisions,
  • Lets me be innovative and creative,
  • Is something that I feel compelled to do, like some of you who are artists, teachers, or mentors and know in your hearts what you need to be doing.

In contrast to these reasons for writing, my thinking about teaching and coaching is producing different lists. If your work involves counseling, ministry, running a business or leading an organization, your lists would be different. But each list can help you decide whether to stay the course, change direction or refine what you are doing.

There is much in life that can’t or shouldn’t be changed. But reflective re-evaluations can increase our effectiveness and sense of fulfillment as we rethink our motives, abilities, competencies and circumstances. The same applies to our clients. Without ignoring the negatives, what is good about what you do in your life or career? Please leave a comment.

Newsletter 628 – Do You Really Want to Write a Book?

Bookwriting2At some time in their lives probably most people dream about writing a book. I’ve gone beyond the dreaming, published some books, and have a couple of partially finished book manuscripts in my computer waiting to be completed. But is further book writing what I really want to do at this stage in my life? A recent article in Inc. Magazine (October, 2015) got me thinking about questions like the following that should be considered before anyone begins working on a book:

  • What’s Your Motive? Good writing results from hard work, discipline, and usually more time than we anticipate. Write for money? Forget it. You won’t earn much from writing unless you are well known, have a big following, or are willing to launch an aggressive book-marketing effort. Self-publishing may even cost money. Write to build your ego or get fame? Inc. suggests that book-writing rarely accomplishes these purposes. Nevertheless, a book can increase credibility, especially for public speakers, academics building their resumés, or professionals looking for clients and business opportunities. Some people primarily write to synthesize ideas or develop something creative and innovative. For this group, fulfillment is in the process of writing, whether or not anybody sees or buys the end product.
  • What’s Your Message? Do you have anything unique and valuable to say? Realistically, would anyone bother to read what you write? If not, writing may be a waste of your time, except for the fun or challenge of doing it.
  • What’s Your Audience? It’s an old cliché that if you write for everybody, you’re unlikely to impact anybody. Clearly identifying your intended readers is at the core of any successful author’s work.
  • What’s Your Expertise? Bluntly stated, some people are not engaging or clear writers, however hard they try. What’s the evidence that you are a good writer? Do you have the energy, determination and time to get through the writing, publishing and marketing process? Currently I’m working through Michael Hyatt’s course on publishing, primarily to tap into Hyatt’s knowledge about how the publishing industry is changing and what this means for writers today.

What’s your reaction to these thoughts? If you are determined to write anyhow, then probably you should. You might ask similar questions about other topics: “Do I really want to teach? Do coaching? Counsel? Go into ministry?” Ask a close friend to walk with you through this. And try to determine God’s will in the process. Please leave a comment.

Newsletter 624 – Unexpected Triggers that Disrupt Our Plans and Schedules

It happens to all of us. We set goals, carefully plan a day, or set aside concentrated time to work. Then interruptions get in the way. Marshall Goldsmith calls these triggers in his new book that I mentioned last week (Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming The Person You Want To Be.) A “trigger is any stimulus that impacts our behavior.” Often triggers come from the environment, from unexpected events and crises, or from the behaviors, comments and habits of other people. Triggers also come from within, taking the form of thoughts, anticipations, self-talk, rationalizations, or emotions such as fear. Triggers like these can be unwanted distractions that take us off course. But triggers also can be encouraging or positive, like a child who appears at the door with a big smile, taking us off course temporarily–unless the kid gets annoying. It’s then that “triggers stop behavioral change in the tracks.”

Goldsmith notes that many people are superior planners but inferior doers. Careful preparation and goal setting provide structure to help us follow through with our plans and changes in our behavior. But even well developed goal setting and planning is not enough to bring permanent change. This is because triggers interrupt our planning and focus. They succeed because we have no pre-planned structure to deal with them.

How, then, do we build a structure to reduce the distracting power of triggers? One solution is to realize that triggers are especially powerful when we are tired or depleted from other activities. That’s when we need extra motivation or self-control to resist. A more powerful solution is the habit of asking ourselves a series of questions at least daily or more often than that. Each question starts with the words “Did I do my best to….” (or maybe, “Am I doing my best to…”)

  1. Set clear goals?
  2. Make progress toward my goals?
  3. Find meaning?
  4. Be happy?
  5. Build positive relationships?
  6. To be fully engaged?

These questions keep us aware of what is “what’s going around us,” including the presence and power of triggers. It is then that we can deal with the triggers as they arise, responding “wisely and appropriately” before they distract us. Does this provide structure to deal with triggers?

I’m not so sure but I will know better after I try Goldsmith’s coaching-evidence approach. What do you think of all this? How do you deal with triggers? Please comment.