Friday, January 13, 2017

Creating New Realities

"You never change things by fighting existing reality. To change something, build a new reality that makes the existing reality obsolete."--R. Buckminster Fuller

Reality is a funny thing.  If the two of us look at the same picture, read the same article, or observe the same interactions between two or more people, each of us might well come away with very different conclusions.  This is because everyone brings his or her own perspective to the situation.  The perspective we carry with us has been developed over many years through various life experiences.   Sometimes our perspective on reality is what keeps us sane.  At the same time, having a certain perspective on reality does not make one’s viewpoint “right.”

For example, I had a conversation with someone after the Presidential election and commented, “I think many people voted based on their fears.”  My friend responded, “No, this was all about power and keeping certain segments of society subjugated.”  We were looking at the same experience and, although we have a lot in common, our backgrounds informed our perspectives.  What if there had been five or six people in the conversation?

The Fuller quote reminds us that each of us has constructed her or his own reality.  No matter how many rational arguments someone comes up with to convince you to change your point of view, you will probably be confident that what you see is reality.   Nothing will change your mind.

If someone is convinced that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is the only appropriate time for worship, you can argue that this expectation has more to do with the agriculture of the 19th century and when we need to milk the cows than with divine edict, but it is unlikely that you will change that person’s opinion.

Someone may argue that the only way for a person to get a theological education is to pack up and move to another city for three or four years and be a full-time student because this was their experience and it is normative to them.  You can make the case that this no longer works for many who have been called to ministry, but your arguments will probably fall on deaf ears.

So what are you to do?  As Fuller says, it is time to create a new reality.  I was part of a church that was discussing the need to provide worship in a different style and a time other than 11 am on Sunday morning. Some argued that the church should just make the change and accept the consequences.  The pastor had enough wisdom to suggest, “Let’s add rather than taking away.”  He suggested offering an alternative service and letting those who preferred the traditional approach to keep their time and style, while offering a choice for others.  Consequently, both approaches continued to have their adherents while, at times, it became clear that each was moving toward some of the characteristics of the other.

In theological education, there will continue to be a place for traditional approaches that require moving out of state and being a full-time student.  My friend Mary, however, is thankful that she could stay where her family was already established, continue to work at her job and serve in her church while completing a Master of Divinity degree that allowed her to fulfill her goal of becoming a hospital chaplain.

Of course, not all alternatives will succeed and even those that do may have to be fine-tuned along the way, but we must remember that there was a time when everything we value as traditional was brand new and untested.  Eventually, new realities emerge and are embraced because they work.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Athletic Coach and Life Coach

In life or leadership coaching, we often make a distinction between our process and that used by athletic coaches.  This may be because the image of coaches who appear driven to succeed at any cost.  For example, the late Vince Lombardi is reported to have said, “Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing.” 

But Lombardi also said, “Leaders are made, they are not born. They are made by hard effort, which is the price which all of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile.”  All types of coaches can agree to that statement.

We can see similarities between the two processions especially if we perceive the role of the athletic coach being to help the athlete reach her or his full potential.  This is what life coaches do as well.

For example, both types of coaches recognize the potential in those with whom they work.  They stand on the side and observe abilities that have not been developed and skills that can be sharpened.  Whether this is passing a football or leading a team, the coach sees what the person can achieve with commitment and practice.

Second, a coach urges a person to the next level.  The Core Competencies of the International
Coach Federation encourage a life coach to stretch and challenge the client and to “stand for” the client.  Sometimes the coach’s role—whether an athletic coach or a life coach—is to say to the person, “Is this a big enough challenge for you?  How can you go further?”

Third, a coach provides constructive feedback.  For the athletic coach, this may involve sharing techniques but often it is in asking questions and providing a new perspective.  Certainly, this is what a life coach does—helping the client to learn from both successes and failures and thus become more effective.

Whether we are athletic coaches or life coaches, our goal is not just our own success but the success of those with whom we work.





Monday, January 09, 2017

How Do You Coach Someone Who Doesn’t Want to be Coached?

One of the questions that comes up in coach training is, “How do you coach someone who doesn’t want to be coached?’’  My usual answer is, “You don’t.”  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that you can’t coach someone who does not want to be coached.

The client in a coaching relationship must have a growth mindset; that is, the person must realize that he or she is responsible, creative, and capable.  If a client tells me that he or she is incapable of change, there is no point in continuing the conversation.  I can ask questions, encourage the client to seek clarity, and even push a bit, but I cannot motivate him or her to grow.

There are situations where an employer, a supervisor, or a personnel committee will approach a coaching professional and say, “This person needs a coach and we would like for you to work them.” How does a coach handle this process?

First, ask the initiating person or group the reason for believing the person needs to be coached and the individual’s readiness to accept the relationship.  If they don’t know whether the person is ready or not, the coach can do an “get acquainted” session with the prospective client to assess their feelings about being coached.

Second, develop clarity with whoever is paying the fee about the reporting expectations.  When I do coaching where there is a third-party payer, I use a contract that explains exactly what information the payer will receive and the level of confidentiality with the client.  I usually agree that the payer will receive a report when the client and I meet for coaching, but I will not disclose anything to the payer about the session unless it is specifically approved by the client.  In fact, if the client decides that the payer should receive information that comes of the session, I suggest that client provide this information to the appropriate people.

Third, I make clear to client that he or she is the focus of the coaching conversation.  Although a third party—a church or organization, for example, is footing the bill, the client is doing the work so he or she must be committed to the process. I also make certain that the client understands the confidentiality agreement.

Fourth, if someone in the organization breaches the contract by asking me for additional information, I remind the person of my agreement with the organization.  If they are not willing to abide by that agreement, we can terminate the contract.  If someone in the organization approaches the client for information our sessions, I reaffirm to the client that he or she determines what to disclose.

Fifth, there is always a time limit on these contracts.  If we come to the point of renewal and the organization has not seen the progress they expect on the part of the client, they are free to move on and I will as well. On the other hand, if the client has bought into the process, we celebrate his or her achievements.
I have found that most leaders, when given the opportunity to have a coach, are very appreciative and take full advantage of the experience.  As a coach, however, I must be very open and objective about the relationship and assessing the progress of the client.  On a couple of occasions, I have let a coaching relationship continue past the effectiveness stage, and found myself regretting it.

Honesty with the client, the sponsoring organization, and oneself (while maintaining confidentiality) is essential.


Saturday, January 07, 2017

Learning Leadership: A Review

In the introduction to Learning Leadership, the authors—James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner-- share an anecdote. They typically ask a group of 50 people who have come together for leadership development, “How many of you think of yourself as a leader?”  Usually only about 10 percent raise their hands.  Most participants fail to think of themselves as leaders.  This book is designed to help individuals to break the mythological barrier that leadership is only reserved for a special few.

If you have read the authors’ The Leadership Challenge or Christian Reflections on The Leadership Challenge, you are familiar with their model of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership and their Leadership Practices Inventory (LPI).  There is little new here as far as the model goes, but the purpose of this volume to serve as a self-directed guide to becoming an exemplary leader based on the model. 

Each chapter is short enough to be read in a few minutes, but every chapter concludes with “The Key Message and Action” summary and a “Self-Coaching Action” or exercise.  One of the best of the coaching assignments is the L.I.F.E. exercise at the end of chapter 8 where the reader is asked to project himself or herself into the future ten years and receiving a Leader of the Year award.  The reader is asked to consider the Lessons, Ideals, Feelings, and Expressions that people will say about her or him.  What makes people think of the person as a leader?  As a result, the reader starts to develop a path that might attain that status.

The great strength of the book is that it articulates principles that I think are basic to a coach approach to personal (and leadership) development:

  • Embracing a growth mindset.
  • Clarifying personal values.
  • Commitment to moving forward.
  • Developing support systems.
  • Learning from failure.
  • Embracing meaningful feedback.
  • Recognizing that lasting change takes time.


Learning Leadership will be a helpful resource for personal study or part of a group discussion.




Friday, January 06, 2017

Exemplars: Deacons as Servants and Spiritual Leaders—A Review

My friend is chair of the Deacon body in her Baptist church in a neighboring state.  She shared with me the struggle they were experiencing over clarifying the role of deacons in the church.  Is it one of administration and authority or service and spiritual guidance?  I recommended that she obtain a copy of Exemplars:  Deacons as Servants and Spiritual Leaders.  I think she will find it a valuable resource for illumination and discussion.

Although described in the introductory chapter as a “workbook,” I would rather call this book a resource for personal and group development.  The content is rich in information and each chapter includes questions for individual reflection and group conversation.

The book is built upon three pillars.  First, who do deacons need to be?  Deacons—like all believers--are unique creations of God, recipients of God’s grace, and spiritually gifted servants.  These chapters are a reminder of one’s identity and calling.

Second, what do deacons need to know?  The content here deals with the appreciation and interpretation of scripture, understanding Christian history, and thinking theologically.  The writing style is interesting and engaging even for those who habitually avoid these topics.

Third, what do deacons need to do?  This section deals with public and private worship, being part of God’s mission in the world, and practicing creative and generous stewardship.

Like most volumes written by committee, the reader must get used to the various styles of the authors, but there is value in bringing multiple perspectives to the work. 

The most important feature of the book is its broad appeal to various expressions of Baptist church life.  The writers have adopted what I call a “generous” perspective, recognizing that each church will do certain things in its own way, but appealing to the things we hold in common.

Moderate Baptists have needed this type of gender-inclusive, flexible resource for some time. 
Thanks to those who undertook this project at “a labor of love” for their fellow Baptists.



Leadership as Politics

The Merriman-Webster Dictionary defines “politics” as “the art or science of government.”  A friend and mentor once explained to me, “Politics is simply who gets what and when they get it.”

My friend’s definition is much closer to what we find in an expanded definition on Wikipedia:

Politics (from Greek: πολιτικός politikos, definition "of, for, or relating to citizens") is the process of making decisions applying to all members of each group. More narrowly, it refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance — organized control over a human community, particularly a state. Furthermore, politics is the study or practice of the distribution of power and resources within a given community (a usually hierarchically organized population) as well as the interrelationship(s) between communities.

I bring this up not to rehash the Presidential election but to consider politics as part of leadership. Politics is not in itself a bad thing.  We usually think of politics as negative when we are on the losing side of a decision or find ourselves having to live with an unpopular decision.  Most of us have been in that situation as some point.

Whether one is a pastor, a judicatory official, a not-for-profit CEO, or the leader of a committee or team, she or he should be able to be political.  In other words, a leader must know how to work with people to achieve a desired result.

Although I am certainly not on expert on the process of politics, it seems clear that a leader must be able to do several things to be an effective politician and help determine “who gets what and when.”

First, the leader needs to know those he or she leads.  This means knowing their needs, aspirations, values, and goals.  To do this effectively, the leader must put aside his or her own presuppositions and goals, be a good listener, and develop rapport that is more than superficial.  In doing this, the leader not only comes to understand what people want but their aspirations and dreams.  The leader taps not only into the self-interest of people but their altruistic inclinations as well.

Second, the leader must understand how her or his goals line up with those of constituents or of those who will make the ultimate decision. Is there common ground?  If not, is the leader willing to invest the time and energy to educate or persuade others to come around to the leader’s point of view?  On the other hand, if the investment of time and energy to bring someone on board is too great, how flexible can the leader be in adapting to the situation?

Third, is the leader willing to learn and accept failure without bitterness and see this as a learning experience?  Good leaders fail and learn from their failures.  For example, Dr. Seuss had his first book rejected by 27 different publishers.  Most successful elected leaders have lost at least one election.  Part of being a good politician is knowing what to do with failure.

Fourth, the ultimate question for a leader, especially one who embraces a faith perspective, is, “Am I doing this for myself or for a greater good?”  Sometimes we convince ourselves that a goal is good because it seems right to us when it is only self-serving.  This is where the perspective of others—family, friends, and trusted advisors—can move us beyond our own desires to perceive the greater good.

Politics is about people.  For leaders, people must be a primary concern.