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Friday, January 26, 2018

The Art of Mentoring, Part One

I have been asked to provide a workshop on mentoring in the 21st century for an upcoming conference in March, so in I decided to post two simple questions on Facebook in preparation:
Have you been mentored well? 
What were some of the qualities of that mentoring relationship that were most effective?
Frankly, I am surprised that I did this because in the past, I have posted questions on Facebook, and despite having 1,800+ "friends," have received minimal response. (Then again, I get the most likes and commentary for an occasional photo of my cat, so...)  

Nevertheless, I have been greatly encouraged by the depth and quality of feedback these latest questions have prompted. The variety has been wonderful: both men and women responded in equal measure, from fresh college grads to septuagenarians.

Some pithy quotes:
 The person thought me capable of more than I thought I was.

They lived and let me watch them do it.

Vulnerability and authenticity for sure. The ability to be myself. Both encouragement and critique -- always refining what can be better while affirming what I'm doing well. Sometimes I need to be pushed!

Regular quantity and quality time—holistic in nature: we discussed everything (faith, theology, marriage, work, plumbing, gardening, etc).

In this stage of life for me (young kids and plenty of chaos at home) I have seen the “walk along side of me” way become really meaningful.

I enjoyed each and every response, but my greatest takeaway was simple: clearly I had touched a chord. The earnest and beautiful replies demonstrated a great thankfulness and affection for their mentors. It was obvious that the mentoring had met and deep and tangible needs:

  • to be loved unconditionally; 
  • to be known;
  • to be noticed; 
  • to be believed in; 
  • to be challenged;
  • to have mutual vulnerability and exchange;
  • to have a consistent presence.

Having been mentored well myself, and then having had the privilege of mentoring others over three decades, my most pressing questions relate to what is needed now in mentoring (especially with young adults), and what truths remain constant. All too often I see leaders tend to lean on methods and approaches that worked effectively in the past without examining whether current dynamics and contexts require new pathways.

I will save that for another post, as I keep mining the wisdom of others and reflect more on my own experience. Feel free to post your thoughts.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Soif Work Hacks. October 2017

Hey Friends, the gap between now and my last post gives an indication that I have been keeping busy doing something besides blogging! I'm happy to report that I continue to be gainfully employed in a wide variety of ways, all of which are interesting and fulfilling.

I have especially received more opportunities to assist clients with leadership development. What does this look like? Meeting with executives to help them map out their management and leadership more strategically; training younger employees in how to lead teams; partnering with companies in creating smarter structures internally...

I could not have predicted this new trajectory of work, but I'm loving it! In the midst of it all, I am working hard to maintain a bank of useful (as opposed to #wasteoftime or #totallyobvious) articles that touch on many of the topics that come up in my client conversations.

So here are a few articles from that treasure trove. Hope you find one or two useful! If you want to share any feedback or ask follow-up questions, email me at ksleadershipdevelopment@gmail.com. Ciao for now.

These To-Do List Methods Will Help You Finally Get Organized. I got this article from Fast Company magazine and honestly, I should list that as a separate hack! I find this magazine engaging, readable and a great way to keep up on cultural, technological and professional trends (though I'll admit I sometimes don't even understand what they're talking about!) There are not one but NINE different to-do list methods given here... c'mon! How can you go wrong? This is one of the main conversations I have with clients: HOW DO I GET EVERYTHING DONE AND STILL HAVE A LIFE?! Check out this list - I'm a fan of #4 and #6, personally.

Stop Letting Email Control Your Work Day. Yep, I could list Harvard Business Review as another magazine hack. And the best shortcut is hbr.org -- their blogs are actually helpful. As for email, I know, I know... it's a necessary evil in our lives. But let's be honest, I like email better than talking on the phone! So repeat after me: "Email is not evil... Email is my friend." This article breaks it down and helps you get the power back. This sentence says it all: "Clearly, we need to learn to make email work for us and re-frame it as a tool for executing on our priorities."

How to Work from Home When You Have Kids. I work from home and have done so for many years... before it was cool, even. BUT I only have two needy cats, not children! I often encourage clients to look into creating some space at home for concentrated "head down" work, where they won't get interrupted by colleagues popping in or ever-present requests to come to yet another meeting, and many have found it helpful. HOWEVER, if you have children, this requires some strategy. Hope this article provides some pointers.

21st Century Fundraising Realities. Many of my clients are in the non-profit world, where I have spent the bulk of my career. This one's for you ! But to quote Bob Dylan, the times, they are a-changing. As this article states, "Donors appear to want to be more directly involved and many gravitate to smaller groups where it might seem like their dollar goes further." This article highlights many of the new trends in fundraising. Have no fear, there is hope.

How to Manage Someone Who Thinks Everything is Urgent. Hey, I feel your pain. I had a client years ago who described her boss as a "hair-on-fire" sort of leader. She dreaded his emails, texts and meetings. If you have to work with someone like this, there are some good ideas here to help you cope.

Not Good Leadership Material? Good. The World Needs Followers. I totally dig this article! It's written by Susan Cain, who gained some fame in writing a book last year titled "Quiet" about being an introvert. As someone who has spent nearly her entire life trying to understand what "leadership" is all about, from running senior prom to running a private school to training seventy adult volunteers to training interns, I never plumb the depths of all there is to learn about leadership. This article names a very important aspect of leadership: followership! Not only does Cain provide some valuable insights regarding the ways we are all gifted differently, but she also shines a light on our celebrity-obsessed, power-worshipping culture. Don't skip it.

Strengths Finder Frequency. There's a good chance if I've had you as a client that I've talked about Strengths Finder with you. It never fails to provide excellent information on how you work and how others might get things done. This is a fun and useful chart that describes the overall frequency of each of the strengths among the millions who have taken the Strengths Finder assessment. Let me know if you want me to "translate" this chart. Enjoy!

I'll end with this: I'm reading Strength to Love by Martin Luther King, Jr right now. It's a fantastic and humbling collection of his sermons. This quote stopped me cold last night:

Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious.
Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness
to a night already devoid of stars.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Pause. Reflect. Act.

In any given week my clients range across a wonderful spectrum: small business owners, college administrators (presidents, provosts, deans), denominational leaders, executive directors of non-profits, pastors, and sometimes just someone in their mid-thirties trying to navigate a career change. While their contexts vary widely (from the Pacific Northwest, Chicago, St. Louis, Phoenix, all over Southern California), and their responsibilities span from a struggling church of 75 to managing a multi-million dollar budget, invariably I find one thing in common: each person is nearly overwhelmed by the variety of tasks and voices clamoring for their attention. Stress levels are high, imaginary scenarios of quitting everything, buying a van and living off the land are toyed with (#vanlife), and meanwhile email inboxes pile higher every day.

When I come on the scene, I start by spending a great deal of time listening, trying to take in all their concerns and crises, roadblocks and risks, and details and dilemmas. Once that happens, we slowly work together to map a plan forward. Rather than "solve" everything for them, my greater goal is to equip them with some tools for managing the many demands differently. Sure, we do assessments, mind-maps, SWOT analyses, strategic plans and all that, but my job is not finished if I have not had the more important conversation of all: do you have margin in your life? In other words, do you regularly (read, "consistently," "weekly") take time to reflect on your life's purpose, relationships, career and questions?

If this is a whole new concept or things are seriously sideways, I often recommend that a person reads the book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Richard Swenson. It really helps someone sort through the seemingly hopeless tangle of responsibilities and fears surrounding a stressed-out life. 

If reading a book seems like too much to take on, I read an article today that is a great start: Why You Should Make the Time for Self-Reflection (Even If You Hate Doing It) from Harvard Business Review. Here is a thoughtful paragraph that comes early on:

At its simplest, reflection is about careful thought. But the kind of reflection that is really valuable to leaders is more nuanced than that. The most useful reflection involves the conscious consideration and analysis of beliefs and actions for the purpose of learning. Reflection gives the brain an opportunity to pause amidst the chaos, untangle and sort through observations and experiences, consider multiple possible interpretations, and create meaning. This meaning becomes learning, which can then inform future mindsets and actions. For leaders, this “meaning making” is crucial to their ongoing growth and development.

I am hoping this has won you over into reading the article because it's good (and did I mention it's brief?!). But if you're still coming up with evasive excuses like, "I don't run my own business," or "I'm not really a leader..." I want to stop you up short by slightly modifying the author's list of ways to inch into habits of reflection. Use these questions to start:

What are you avoiding?
How are you helping your friends/family achieve their goals?
How are you not helping or even hindering their progress?
How might you be contributing to your least enjoyable relationship?
How could you have been more clear in a recent conversation/argument?

We live in a noisy world where we can be over-stimulated, distracted, and bored all at the same time. One of the great tragedies of this is that a person is left not even knowing what they think or feel. So before I try to "fix" whatever problem my clients are having, I know it is far better to ask them how they are doing and how we might work together to help them build some self-awareness, self-discipline and self-care. 

Yeah, I'll admit it: that's a lot of "self's." But for me it's analogous to the safety drill on the airplane. (You know where this is going...) Please put the mask on yourself before you try to be everyone else's hero. As the HBR article concludes:

Ask for help. For most leaders, a lack of desire, time, experience, or skill can get in the way of reflection.  Consider working with a colleague, therapist, or coach to help you make the time, listen carefully, be a thought partner, and hold you accountable.

I agree. Turn off your device right now and go do it....

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Treasure Hidden in the Field

For this summer, one of my main tasks has been to do some reading, research and long-term planning related to strategic initiatives in youth ministry and education with the Free Methodist Church in Southern California. Last week I read a book titled Bonhoeffer as Youthworker and it fed me in a multitude of ways. The first section (the majority of the book, really) is a fascinating, very readable biography of Bonhoeffer that especially focuses on the fact that he worked with young people for the majority of his career, and how that shaped his writing and calling.

What I was reminded of so powerfully throughout was Bonhoeffer's classic teaching from Cost of Discipleship, a book I first read in my impressionable 20's. So I am slowly going back and reviewing some of his writing (Life Together as well), which are having new meaning for me as I pray about reformation in the church (especially in the US) as we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on Oct 31, 2017.

Rather than wax pathetically on all this, I will simply invite you to cook on Bonhoeffer's words yourself. Allow yourself some time to let them sink in, stir the pot, perhaps trouble you. They certainly have had that effect on me.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?... 

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. 

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him. 

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. 

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. 

When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.

Side note: in more than one conversation, friends and clients have commented on the struggle to make time to read. I am with you on this. Here's a practical article on how to make it happen.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

At Home in This Life ~ Some Thoughts

Occasionally I receive books to review, and to be honest, some go directly into the gift-giving pile. Perhaps their title doesn't grab me, I am already neck-deep in three other books, or the blurb on the back makes no sense to me...

A candidate for the gift-giving pile arrived earlier this week. The title didn't connect for me: At Home in This Life. It looked vaguely like something for stay-at-home moms, which I am not. The subtitle, "Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises" sounded like a line from Lifetime television. Bleah.

But something stopped me: the book felt really good in my hands. I can't quite describe it, but the paper and the heft of it sort of reminded me of the old Sears-Roebuck catalog we got when we were kids. And those invited me to look inside, so last Saturday night I opted to give a test-drive to this book rather than zone out on a movie from Apple TV.

I'm not gonna lie, I nearly put it down a couple of times at the start. I was encouraged by an opening quote by St. Teresa of Avila, but then she starts whining about wanting a house in the country and I rolled my eyes and thought, Not another mommy blogger with first-world problems... I find these books predictable: lots of sentences that pair high contrast words like "beauty" and "mess," "disaster" and "delight," and so on. Then they go on and on about the wonder of life and yet all their struggles, which seem like not-struggles to me but instead are just part and parcel of being an actual grown-up.

Nevertheless, the book kept feeling good in my hands. And when she quoted Phyllis Tickle, the Book of Jeremiah, and St. Benedict, I rallied. By page 49, I was in. In fact, Chapter Seven kicked my butt and challenged me hard. Overall, the book is an interesting balance of simple examples from her life that many women might find easy to connect with, coupled with a rich library of references and quotes from outstanding contemplative and mystical authors, spanning centuries. (The Notes in the back, pages 183-187, list all of those resources and it is an abundant reading list for anyone wanting to learn more about spiritual disciplines and contemplation.

My conclusion overall? I grew somewhat tired of her many examples from her own life (some of which seemed a little contrived and corny), but this was offset by some really good stuff to chew on. One sentence in particular, from a chapter regarding the slow and steady work required for God to heal and transform us, is staying with me:

"Take the vow of Conversion is a fancy monastic way of saying: I now agree to cooperate with God in my own transformation, doing the work set in front of me."

Immediately I thought, "Guilty as charged." All too often I insist on God doing 95% of the work and me stepping in with that reluctant, final 5%. How much better things would be if I would move from arm-wrestling with God to a deeper, reciprocal, interdependent relationship, where I am looking for him everywhere and in everything, choosing to join in what he is up to rather than sticking with my safe and unimaginative agenda. Yeah.

If you are looking for a book that is easy to read and yet pushes you to pause and think about how you are walking through your day-to-day life, this one just might do the trick.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Have Mercy on Me!

Luke 18: 35 As he approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard a crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” 38 Then he shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 39 Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet; but he shouted even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 40 Jesus stood still and ordered the man to be brought to him; and when he came near, he asked him, 41 “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me see again.” 42 Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.” 43 Immediately he regained his sight and followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God.

In this gospel account, we see a blind man who actually sees the truth better than those around him. The crowds surrounding Jesus are drawn in by curiosity and the excitement of celebrity. But the blind man (named as Bartimaeus in the parallel account given in Mark 10) is vulnerable and desperate, boldly willing to cry out for mercy.

We live in a country now where the federal government wants to silence the suffering, telling them to "go back to your country where you belong" rather than welcome and comfort them in their pain and loss. But here we see Jesus stopping and listening. He does not order the blind man to be quiet, as those do around him. He stops and asks what he can do.

In Philippians 2:5 we are told "You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had." May we not slam the door on those who need and want mercy, regardless of where they come from. May we do that not out of political affiliation or human pity; rather, may we simply do what our Lord would do. This is not complicated!

And let us not forget that once our friend Bartimaeus received his sight, he saw Jesus in his fullness and "followed him, glorifying God; and all the people, when they saw it, praised God." The American church wonders why her numbers are in decline... we would do well to go back to the gospels and be reminded what we are called to do. If we call ourselves Christ-followers, we must live as Jesus did, with loving, welcoming, merciful arms wide open.

On October 31, 2017 we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Luther's posting of the 95 Theses, which rocked the church, and soon, the world. Join me in praying for a new reformation, where the church gets back on the path toward the kingdom of God rather than empire. I believe God will grant this prayer if our eyes our open and looking for it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Books, Balconies and Best Practices 4-19-17

Egads!! I haven't had one post in 2017 yet. I won't even bother with excuses, but let's just say I've certainly stayed occupied since my last post. Travels to Illinois, Kentucky, and a few times to So Cal have kept me on my toes, and I never tire of learning from everything I do. As a result, I've also used a bunch of useful resources in that time and want to share a few with you...

8 Ways to Read a Lot More Books This Year While it would be stretching the truth to pretend that I have not posted in 4 months because I've been too busy reading books, I will say that this article got me motivated to get more strategic in my plans to read. I've read three books so far in 2017 and am currently working through two other books. I won't ask for a show of hands for those whose ambitions to read outpace their actual accomplishments in this regard (guilty as charged!) but I did find that applying even a couple of pointers from this article was helpful... and I'll add another one he didn't mention: seek out friends who are equally motivated to read and keep each other posted on how things are going. Sure, this can get weirdly competitive if you're not careful, but so far I find myself motivated by my friends who tell me about what they're reading, and I do the same. Let's do this and prevent our brains from turning into mush!

(PS Those three books I have read so far have been The Road to Character by David Brooks, Longing for Spring by Elaine Heath and Scott Kisker, and To Know as We are Known by Parker Palmer)

How to Establish a Meeting-Free Day Each Week Maybe your work life is like mine: a strange balance of focused deskwork, endless (ENDLESS) emails, and face-to-face meetings. The emails are always screaming at me, the meetings come and go, but I sometimes stumble in really carving out that ever-elusive "balcony time" for big-picture, strategic thinking. This article helps jump start that process if you feel stuck.

5 Questions Leaders Should Be Asking All the Time I also heard this guy interviewed on this topic, and I liked the simplicity and clarity of his approach. Leadership is not always about leading the charge -- often it's the mundane but utterly necessary task of getting everyone on the same page and working together. To be a good leader is to be a good listener... These questions help to take the conversation in that regard.

6 Things Every Mentor Should Do Last numbered list for today, I promise! One of my main gigs is directing intern programs. I have had interns since 1986 (gulp!) and have formally run intern programs since the mid-nineties. In all of that time, one thing has become very clear for me: the internship experience is only as good as the excellence of the MENTOR who trains the intern. All too often I have had supervisors who treat their interns as indentured servants, or merely want them around to observe rather than actually do anything. Though a little simplistic, this article helps clarify priorities and puts the responsibility where it should be. I plan on using this to set expectations with my next round of intern mentors.

Final thoughts...
I'm slowly working through a book of quotes by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr as a way to maintain a long-term vision for justice and healing of the deep divisions in our world. This quote really hit me the other day:

“The nonviolent approach does not immediately change the heart of the oppressor. It first does something to the hearts and souls of those committed to it. It gives them new self-respect; it calls up resources of strength and courage they did not know they had.” 

(Martin Luther King, Jr)