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 636 – Practical Perspectives on Applied Coaching

Coaching in Ministry 2I’ve long admired the work of Keith Webb although we’ve met only once. For twenty years he lived in Asia where he adapted and applied coaching to ministry settings in Japan, Indonesia and Singapore. In this he demonstrated what some of my coaching teachers were reluctant to believe: coaching, like counseling and leadership, needs to be adapted culturally if it is to have maximum impact. Recently Keith released his latest book dealing with the application of coaching to Christian ministries.

More than the title, Coaching in Ministry, this is a readable, engaging introduction to coaching in general, coming from somebody who has been in the field for a long time. Whether you are a coaching beginner or a pro, in ministry or not, you might enjoy reading this slim volume with its practical wisdom about coaching and leadership. Here are some slightly edited examples from the book:

  • Part of our problems in leading is the misconception that authority comes with the obligation to be directive… But highly directive supervisors can easily find themselves micromanaging and disempowering others.
  • In contrast, coaching has become a preferred learning tool and method of people development in corporations, nonprofits and churches.
  • What’s the difference between mentors and coaches? Mentoring involves impartation—we are putting in insight, strategy, or methodology giving it into another person. Coaches are drawing out solutions from within, using profound listening and powerful questions that stimulate reflection and creativity in the person being coached…. Coaching is a non-directive conversation in which the coach’s questions prompt a person’s reflection into what God is saying.
  • Advice giving can short-circuit the discovery process and put the coach in the driver’s seat. Coaching encourages discovery, aligning with the words of Proverbs 20:5, ‘though good advice lies deep within a person’s heart, the wise will draw it out.’
  • By helping people discover ways forward instead of telling them what to do, you are building their leadership abilities.
  • Coaching helps people get moving. Here’s a question to help that process: ‘What actions could you take to move forward?
  • Coaching is the missing leadership development ingredient in many organizations, non-profits, and churches

This Christmas I plan to give Keith’s book to several of my friends who are curious about coaching. I’m glad I gave one to myself. Any comments?

Newsletter 632 – The Practical Side of Face-to-Face Contact

 

sisan pinker 2Should you take time to read Susan Pinker’s book The Village Effect: How Face-to-Face Contact Can Make us Healthier, Happier, and Smarter? For me, Pinker’s book isn’t a “must read” but fits the “recommended reading” category if you work with people. Last week’s newsletter (#631) introduced the book but here are several subjectively-selected, potentially-practical conclusions. Like most of the book, each is documented by easily-understood research summaries and the author’s face-to-face interviews.

  • Internet training programs can be useful but contact with a skilled teacher is better. Consider this: “Policy-makers get a lot more from parent and teacher training programs than from investing in expensive—highly perishable—classroom technology.” Does this apply to on-line training or college courses? Surely the best distance learning includes conversations with instructors and peers as opposed to watching video lectures passively. [Personal perspective: I have taught both approaches. The interactive courses involve more engagement, more active participation, and undoubtedly more effective learning for both teacher and student.]
  • “Even though we all need face-to-face contact, one approach does not fit all.” What does this say about church programs that expect everyone to grow equally in identical pre-programed small groups?
  • Live human contact has major business implications. There are benefits to letting employees work from home on individual schedules but this needs to be limited. Without face-to-face interaction at work, productivity and creativity go down. Even Google has designed a headquarters where workers have opportunity to ‘bump into colleagues and have real conversations [because without this] innovation and social cohesion take a hit.”
  • When companies cut costs by reducing the number of employees, eliminating training, paying “basement-level wages,” or blocking benefits and opportunities for advancement, profits can drop and customers often move elsewhere. Same with companies where cost-cutting involves “deploying robots or foreign call centers whose agents know nothing about the business and are paid per call so they try to make it fast by passing you off to someone else.” There’s a price to be paid for replacing human contact.

The book has implications for counseling, leadership, education at all levels, marketing, family therapy, ministry, health, stress management and the ability to recover from disasters. You get the point. “Despite the clear advantages of the Internet, if we want to be happy, healthy, long-lived, [productive] and clever, then we need to find ways to spend more time with each other face-to-face.” How does this apply to you? Please comment.

 

Newsletter 618 – A Genuinely Fresh New Perspective on Leadership

Team of Teams 2New leadership books appear almost every week. But it’s unique and refreshing to read a new, in-depth voluMcChrystal 3me, based on both experience and research, setting a new paradigm for leadership in the twenty-first century. Such is the new book by General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of all American and coalition forces in Afghanistan. Co-authored with two former U.S Navy SEAL officers and a very articulate scholar currently at Cambridge University, this book describes how old models of leadership, popular and successful for centuries, have been forced to change in an era of instant Internet communication and terrorist tactics. The book describes how the military has needed to change but demonstrates how these changes must apply equally to corporations, professions like medicine, organizations and anyplace else where leadership occurs.

This book is too rich, innovative and stimulating to summarize in a few sentences. Here is the background: McChrystal was put in command of what undoubtedly was one of the best-trained and disciplined military forces ever assembled. But the enemy terrorists kept winning, manned with relatively untrained individuals and small groups who appeared from nowhere to blow up shopping malls, military installations, schools and other targets. Then these perpetrators would be gone. They had mastered the use of free and accessible technology to communicate instantly before they died or disappeared. Almost overnight the elements of warfare that McChrystal learned in the military academy were largely powerless against a new kind of cyber-sophisticated and connected enemy. Especially irrelevant was the old micromanagement and chain of command that defined the military and still dominates so much of our culture.

As I read I thought of leadership in higher education and adult learning, including ministry and counselor education. So-called leaders still micromanage, set visions and expect others to comply, follow the rigid innovative-squelching guidelines of accrediting agencies, and fail to see that a new technological age requires new methods, skills and leadership. This is reflected in the title of the book by McChrystal and his colleagues: Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World. Commands and guidelines from the top of a hierarchy are too slow. Models for counseling, ministry or coaching don’t always work. Individuals, teams and groups of teams throughout the system must be equipped and empowered to make quick decisions on their own. They need a new kind of leadership.

Have any of you read this new book? Even if you have not, please comment.

To hear an interview with General McChrystal go to: https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/24529530/TFS_M4_Stanley.mp3

Newsletter 616 – How to Keep Newsletters Relevant: Summary of Your Feedback

survey 6Almost every week for over a decade I have been writing this weekly newsletter. Blogs like this can get routine and tired after a while unless they are updated with some frequency. To start this process again I asked for feedback a few weeks ago and promised to give a summary based on the small but much appreciated, definitely non-scientific response that came in. Here’s what I learned:

  • The summaries of contemporary articles and books are appreciated and should continue, especially if each leads to some practical conclusions.
  • Roughly half of the respondents wanted personal perspectives gleaned from my years of experience. Examples include counseling Millennials, dealing with criticism, mentoring across continents, flourishing in the later years, and “Why a global perspective is absolutely essential in today’s world.” At any time you can send additional suggestions. I try to limit using the word “I” in most of the newsletters but apparently the Collins perspective would be valued.
  • Some of the respondents had very good questions but on topics that may have limited interest to a broader readership. I may try to answer some of these privately or fit them into topics of greater reader interest.
  • Nobody asked for more stories but these tend to be popular with writers, speakers and their audiences. Expect a few more.
  • Nobody asked for advertising or a newsletter that blatantly markets my books or myself. For other bloggers this is OK. Don’t expect more here.

Here are things I’ve been learning about blogging. To keep posts relevant, blog writers (this could include you) need to know who their readers are and what they want or need. Decide whether you can provide this information and how. Shorter blogs, especially those with bullet points are more often read than long, dry text. Be consistent in your timing: Sporadic posts rarely get read. Titles matter. So do images, especially photos of people.  Titles and images catch and hold readers who can always click and go elsewhere if the post looks boring.

One more: it’s important to get feedback from readers. That’s you. What would you add, based on your role as a blogger or as a blog reader? Please leave a comment.

Now a postscript on this holiday weekend. Happy Canada Day to you who are Canadians. Happy Independence Day to Americans. Happy both to dual citizens like me. And Happy weekend to everyone.

Newsletter 612 – A Fascinating Fable About Coaching

COACHING CONVERSATION 1It is rare for me to read an entire book in one afternoon but that was my experience with the just-released revised edition of Brian Souza’s The Weekly Coaching Conversation: A Business Fable. Most of this is the story about a sales manager’s bar room conversations with a coach. Souza set out to write a story that was great, rather than one that’s merely good. Its main message reduces to this: compare most managers with the world-class leaders of high-performance teams and the difference will not be the leaders’ intelligence, strategic vision, or operational prowess. The fundamental, research-supported difference primarily comes down to the leaders’ approach. They don’t act like managers; they act like coaches.

Souza shows that the best leaders in business (and presumably in education, ministry, and sports) focus as much on developing people as they focus on refining their skills. He stresses that “coaching is not something that you, as a manager, must do. A coach is someone that you, as a leader, must become.”

Recently I’ve been studying the art of good story telling and the power of stories to motivate people and stimulate change. I’ve become fascinated with how good writers or speakers tell their stories and use these to teach lessons that have a lasting impact. Of course nobody has done this better then Jesus. But modern writers like Ken Blanchard, Patrick Lencioni, Donald Miller and others (that you are encouraged to recommend) have the ability to impact even people like me who rarely read fiction.

At one place in his story Brian Souza discusses managers who withhold feedback until the annual employee evaluations. Suppose a football coach (or a fitness trainer) did this only once a year. How effective would this be? If you want to impact and build people there needs to be coaching at least weekly. Research supports much of this. Problem is, most managers and trainers don’t know how to coach effectively. And they have no idea how to turn others into coaches. What a challenge for those among us with a commitment to training others to manage, teach and lead through coaching.

Clearly I would recommend this book. There is nothing Christian in the story but the message is challenging. Become a coach if you want to be a manager or a leader. What is your reaction? Please comment, especially if you have read the Weekly Coaching Conversation book

Newsletter 609 – Can the Blue Like Jazz Guy Impact Us?

Have you read Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz? Probably most of Scary Close 1my friends would answer yes, especially those who are younger. This might be described as an easy-going book on Christian spirituality written by a young guy who definitely was not traditional. I read the book when it first appeared and followed up by reading most of Miller’s subsequent volumes. I gave away copies of his Million Miles in a Thousand Years and most who read it liked it.

Last month when I read Miller’s latest book, Scary Close, it was clear that the now 43-year-old writer had matured. I missed the laid-back nature of Blue Like Jazz but was inspired as the author chronicled the journey leading up to his recent marriage. This is an honest book about one man learning what it means to grow in intimacy. For quotations from the book do an Internet search for Scary close quotes.

Donald MillerIn the midst of my reading I watched a video interview with Donald Miller and discovered that he has become a businessman, running seminars about how to tell good stories and use stories on websites and in business. His web site (www.storylineblog.com) even offers a free ebook titled How to Tell a Story. Miller believes that stories can strengthen whatever work we do and enable us to be better communicators. Recently I’ve been learning that good teaching, counseling, coaching, leading, and probably ministry often are about using stories and helping others to rewrite the stories of their lives. Scary Close really is a book about personal and engaging stories that can have an impact. This author who originally challenged and amused me has changed into more of a teacher who can guide us all. He makes references to the Bible and is not afraid to write about Jesus.

Please tell us how stories have impacted you or your friends. If you’ve read Scary Close or other Miller books please let us know your reactions by leaving a comment.

One last thing: A big thank-you to all who responded to my request for input last week. If you intended to comment and did not, there still is time to shoot me a message. I’ll give a summary later.