Posted in Teamwork, Vision & Goal Setting

The Benefits of Seeking Advice

My husband and I pray regularly for God to open and close doors in our lives. We ask Him to open the doors He desires us to pursue, and to close the doors we should avoid. Imagine my surprise and delight when I received a job offer for a position for which I had not even applied. I was flattered to be sought out. It seemed to be a good fit in terms of skill and experience and had a great potential for advancement. I could only see the advantages, and there were lots of them. However, I also felt a sense of uneasiness that I could not pinpoint.

As I shared about the opportunity with those closest to me, they expressed support. My uneasiness increased. Only one friend shared reservations which led me to seek the opinion of a trusted authority outside my immediate circle. He asked me questions and pointed out the difficulties with accepting the position. I was shocked at my inability to see the things so readily apparent to him, and I felt grateful for his insights.

As nice as it is to be an independent thinker, there are times when I am simply shortsighted. I need the perspective of others to develop a fuller understanding of the issues at hand.

God’s Word says it like this…

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice (Proverbs 12:15 ESV).

It is harsh to be called a fool. I certainly don’t want to be one. However if I believe that I do not need the input of others and that I can figure things out all by myself, that’s exactly what I am. A wise person listens to advice from trusted advisers.

And again…

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed (Proverbs 15:22 ESV).

I may be gifted at strategic thinking and skilled at developing plans, but my insight alone is limited. Multiple ideas from various angles come from well-rounded teams. Plans succeed with many godly, wise advisers.

What are other benefits of seeking advice?

Objectivity. It is hard to see clearly when we are deeply invested in the situation. Emotions can cloud judgment. Effective advisers stand back to help us see the things we miss.

Feedback. We are not the best gauge of our progress. Advisers instruct us, pointing out areas needing correction. We learn from others as we listen to them.

Encouragement. Even with a good plan, sometimes it is difficult to move it forward. Advisers see where we are and exhort us to keep going. They remind us that there is value in what we desire to achieve.

As a young woman, I thought it was a sign of wisdom and strength to make decisions on my own. Now I firmly believe the opposite is true. Seeking advice is a sign of great wisdom and strength.

Are there areas in your life and leadership where advice would be beneficial? Who do you consider to be your wise, trustworthy advisers?

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Posted in Communication Skills

How to Build a Correction Sandwich

Servant leaders care about the growth and development of the people they lead. Few sectors are as relationship oriented as ministry. The Church is all about reaching people with the Good News and discipling them to become more like Jesus. This requires on-going intensive relationships. Nevertheless, within this relationship-rich setting I have noticed the reluctance of leaders to address areas needing correction.

It’s interesting that 2 Timothy 4:2 states that we are to “correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”  Many of us focus on encouraging; we shy away from correction and rebuke. We hope that by ignoring problems or praying hard they will eventually disappear. Speaking for myself, I dislike conflict and I do not want to hurt people’s feelings. However, over the years I have learned that failing to correct poor performance or address negative attitudes is dangerous, infecting both follower and others around them.

When problematic issues arise, I have found the Correction Sandwich to be an effective tool. As its name suggests, the Correction Sandwich has two “slices” of positive comments with the “filling” of correction. I like this tool for three reasons. First, it addresses a specific behavior rather than personality. Second, it builds relationships in positive ways. Third, it provides opportunity for instruction and learning.

Suppose Sam is on the team you lead. He is a dedicated and hard worker but is habitually late for meetings. Here’s how to build a Correction Sandwich for this situation.

Start with a positive comment. Sam, I would like to talk with you about something. I appreciate your dedication to the team. You are dependable, always attending meetings and contributing positively.

Follow with the behavior needing to be addressed. However, you are consistently late for important meetings. This is a real problem, because we often have to wait for you to arrive before we can start, or we have to fill you in on what you missed when you arrive. It inconveniences the others on the team and is a poor way to manage time.

Dialogue about how to change the behavior.  Ask coaching questions to discover why Sam is consistently late. For example: Think of a recent meeting. What happened that caused you to arrive late? Is there a pattern? What can you do to address this pattern? What support do you need to be successful? If Sam cannot think of options, offer suggestions and then have him identify steps that will work for him.

End with another positive comment. Thanks for discussing this with me. I really value your contributions to the team. You have great ideas and work hard to perform with excellence. Please let me know if I can help you in any way.

I have used the Correction Sandwich with good results at home, with members of my congregation, and with my direct reports. I encourage you to add the Correction Sandwich to your leadership tool box. It works well in any setting where strong relationships are important to success.

Posted in Communication Skills, Faith

Communication With Grace The Colossians Way

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Colossians 4:6, NIV).

 

Mikki and I worked together at the juvenile department. She was a supervising case worker; I was the front desk receptionist. As the person at the bottom of the command chain, I took orders from everyone, and Mikki seemed to issue them the most. She was impatient and gruff, hardened by years of working with dysfunctional families, along with her own personal disappointments. Throughout her career, she had seen it all. On the other hand, as a young idealistic woman, I approached life with a fresh and hopeful perspective.

It’s sad to say, but the one thing I learned from Mikki was how not to communicate. Many days I would come home from work in tears because of her harsh comments. I would pray, asking God to help me respond with kindness and grace no matter what, that somehow my communication would make a difference.

Today I am grateful for Mikki, because by her negative example she taught me about the importance of leaders communicating with grace.

The verse in Colossians gives us instructions for grace-filled communication.

Let your conversation be always full of grace. In the New Testament, the main word for grace is charis, meaning unmerited favor. Our speech must always reflect value and respect even when it is not deserved or earned. We must grant favor to others with our words. In addition, will others know that we follow Jesus by the way we speak? Our conversations should reference the grace of God through Jesus Christ that is extended to all people.

Seasoned with salt. For thousands of years, salt has played an important role in the preparation and preservation of food. It enhances the flavor, texture, and color causing us to want to eat more. It also makes us thirsty. Whatever the topic, our speech ought to be fresh and inviting. The way we express ourselves must be full of spiritual flavor, causing others to be desirous, hungry, and thirsty to hear and know more.

So that you may know how to answer everyone. Grace-filled communication addresses the needs of others not ourselves. We seek first to understand others and not make assumptions. By identifying and learning about their frame of reference, we can tailor our words and approaches to appropriately meet the occasion.

Years later I ran into Mikki and I hardly recognized her. There was a softness about her that I hadn’t seen before. She shared that shortly after I resigned from the juvenile department, she had given her life to Christ. She couldn’t stop thinking about me. No matter what she had said or how she had treated me, I continued to respond with kindness and respect. Because my conversation was full of grace, she wanted to know more about this Jesus I had talked about.

Wherever we serve, grace-filled communication makes a difference. How can you add more grace to your conversations?

Posted in Communication Skills, Servant Leadership

Three Elements of Empowering Conversation

Have you ever thought of yourself as a detective? Sherlock Holmes is a well loved fictional character known as a mastermind, observing details unnoticed by the untrained eye. What about an explorer? Marco Polo is famous for exploring China and Asia in the late 1200s, discovering practices of the unknown culture. As a leader, you may not see yourself as an adventurer like Holmes or Polo, but every day you have the opportunity to discover important details through empowering conversations.

It is natural to be geared toward solutions and coming up with answers as quickly as possible. However, this often results in solving the wrong problem. This also does not promote deep learning, the kind necessary for sustained change. By engaging in three elements of empowering conversation, you possess the keys to discovery.

Frame problems positively. View them as opportunities to be creative and innovate, not as a threats. Take time to pause and prepare yourself to enter the discovery zone. You and your team have the option to consider new possibilities for the future rather than redesign old versions of the past. Being curious is a great way to elevate energy and mood within your team. James 1:5 states, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (NIV). Have confidence that God will provide the answers you need.

Ask, don’t tell. When facing a challenge, it can be tempting to issue directives. Certainly there are times when it is necessary to make direct statements, such as during a performance evaluation or establishing behavioral boundaries. However, empowering conversations are excellent for developing appropriate attitudes and beliefs, skills, and behavioral practices. An important part of empowering conversations is asking open ended questions. By asking questions, you assist followers in processing ideas and formulating answers. Powerful questions include: “What are we trying to accomplish?” “How else can we think about this?” “What can we learn from this situation?” Consider using double-click questions to encourage conversation. “Tell me more.” “Give me an example of that.” Even when you have a good plan, ask permission to share. “I have an idea. Would you like to hear it?”

Listen to understand. Asking is important; listening is its twin. Effective communication involves active listening–paying full attention to what is said and being fully engaged. Resist the urge to jump in with opinions and advice. Do not assume that you know what is going on. Rather, hear where your followers are coming from; zero in on their experiences and ideas.

When you are communicating with God in prayer, what is He doing most of the time? Is he constantly talking, filling every moment with sage advice and cosmic ideas? Or is He mostly listening? God, who knows our every need before we ask and the answers to all our problems, takes the time to listen to each one of us. To listen is to imitate God.1

Wise instruction comes from James 1:19. “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (NIV). Listening is foundational to understanding. Leaders must be excellent listeners in order to facilitate discovery for growth and change.

1 Tony Stoltzfus, Leadership Coaching (Virginia Beach: Author, 2005), 147.