Posted in Personal Development

Keep Learning No Matter What

“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” This phrase is generally used as an excuse for being too old to learn a new skill or habit. It may be true for a dog, but it doesn’t have to be true for us. In fact, no matter how old or educated we might be, we should always seek to learn and grow. How sad it is to be around others who are so set in their ways that they refuse to listen to new or different ideas. It isn’t just “the old folks” with this kind of attitude. There are plenty of “young ones” that fit in the closed mindset category, too.

People that thrive in life and as leaders are poised to learn. Learning leads to creativity and the ability to innovate. Being stagnant is draining to relationships. Maintaining the status quo is damaging to business. Growth and vitality come from the willingness and ability to change as needed.

Twenty-five years in non-profit ministry has shown me there isn’t just one right way of doing things. God’s Word remains the same, but there are a varieties of ways to express it. Just when a system is perfected, it’s time to tweak it to address a situation that arises. Thirty years of marriage has taught me that I need to find new ways to connect with my husband to keep our relationship solid. Resting on our laurels will take us to a dangerous place. We can’t just pat ourselves on the back because we’ve gained so much experience. We need to keep moving forward.

Transformation is produced from the consistent, on-going application of knowledge, whether it comes directly from the untarnished truths of God’s Word or from wise principles spoken by others.

We don’t have to go to school in order to learn. I enjoy academics and I love reading. However, I have found people to be the greatest resources for learning and transformation.

Mentors are older than I am or have walked where I want to go. They are farther along the road of life and can share their experiences. I recently had the opportunity to meet a former Executive Director of the organization I currently lead. She resigned 10 years ago. Things have changed remarkably since she was at the helm. However, I listened intently to her stories of how God met financial needs in the midst of difficult times. She inspired me, and showed me a dimension of faith I hadn’t seen before.

Reverse mentors are younger than I am and don’t have the breadth of experience that I have. However, they possess specific skills that I lack (i.e. social media savvy), or they have a particular perspective I want to understand. So they mentor me in an area I want to grow. The majority of people my organization serves are between the ages of 15 – 29. It’s important to connect with our clients. By engaging in conversations with young adults, I learn about their mindset, beliefs, and values. The knowledge helps me serve our clientele better.

Learning from others is enhanced when I glean from people that are different from me. Rather than surrounding myself only with people that agree with my beliefs or point of view, I welcome alternate opinions and ideas. Differences don’t need to create tension or alarm. Instead I try to look for principles that are beneficial. At the very least I come away with deeper understanding of somebody who is incredibly valued and loved by our heavenly Father, whether or not they know Him. As a committed follower of Christ, I took two classes in Eastern religion and philosophy for my undergraduate degree. I enjoyed robust conversations about a worldview quite different than my own. As a result, I emerged better equipped to be a Christian and live out my faith than before.

No matter your age or how much experience you have, remain teachable. Be open to the Lord and expect Him to use many kinds of teachers.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding (Proverbs 4:5-6).

Instruct the wise and they will be wiser still;
teach the righteous and they will add to their learning (Proverbs 9:9).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank You for the gifts of wisdom and knowledge. Help me never feel that I have arrived, but rather seek to learn, improve, and grow. May my ears be open to Your instruction as you use many people along life’s way. May I be transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

So Much to Smile About

Have you heard of the frown-smile? I hadn’t until I had teenagers at home. One of them excitedly shared the discovery. First, you frown. Make sure you have a scowl on your face. Then, smile with your lips only, while keeping the frown expression in tact. We spent some hilarious moments as a family practicing this new-found skill, and spread the joy when visiting friends. Amid the laughter we learned you simply can’t keep a frown when your lips are smiling. Somehow your lips take over, and the smile spreads across your face. A couple of my kids managed to master the frown-smile without laughing, but there was no way to take their frowns seriously.

If you’re around me much, you know that I like to smile. I don’t smile when I’m in deep thought or concentrating. But when others are around me, I try to smile. I have even taken to smiling when I’m alone and I don’t feel like it at first. It’s not that I’m trying to be fake. Smiling is contagious, and I believe it positively influences my attitude and outlook. When I’m tired or feeling down, I smile. Very quickly, the rest of me follows suit. I can actually feel the change inside me.

When I meet new people or encounter situations that are uncomfortable, I bring a smile. It helps to dispel awkwardness and creates a friendly environment. A smile can communicate confidence and warmth during times of uncertainty or anxiety.

This month my husband has been preaching a series on being thankful at our church. He said that Christ-followers should be the most optimistic people on the planet. I agree with him. Even when walking through difficult circumstances, we serve the God of all hope (Romans 15:13). His peace guards our hearts and minds (Philippians 4:7). He gives us joy, and everything else we need (Galatians 5:22-23). This hope and peace and joy must not stay bottled up inside. It should show on our countenance, and burst forth in the form of a smile.

With the Thanksgiving holiday right around the corner, it’s a great reminder to keep gratitude in focus. It’s a great reminder that we have so much to smile about.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

Learning to Love Mondays

Once a month my husband and I go to Costco to stock up on groceries and other essentials. Usually we find the cashiers to be friendly and cheerful, contributing positively to the shopping experience. However, this is not always the case. On one particularly memorable occasion, I have no doubt our cashier was struggling. She wore her heavy heart on her face. She huffed with exasperation as she scanned the bulky items and slid them to the assistant to load in our cart. My husband and I tried to encourage her, to somehow lighten her emotional load. She shook her head with resignation and declared, “Today is my Monday.”

Even though it was the weekend, we understood what she was saying. Monday—the first day of the work week, the end of relaxation and joy, and the start of another dreaded weekly grind. Monday—where Murphy’s Law is bound to be unleashed. Nothing good can possibly come from Mondays!

I’m not trying to discount the difficulties our cashier was encountering. In this broken world I can imagine some pretty heartbreaking and infuriating scenarios. However, I also know that as leaders—people to whom God has entrusted influence—we are called to a different approach.

In the book, Loving Mondays: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul, John Beckett describes his journey of discovery that transformed his approach to work and leadership from drudgery to meaning and purpose. By integrating faith into leadership he brings an attitude of worship and joy wherever he goes.

Whether you’re called to the marketplace, ministry, your family, or some other place of influence, it is possible to love Mondays.

Here are some tips to get you started on the road to loving Mondays (and any other day of the week).

Start the day with God. This really is where it all begins. You may not be a morning person, but establish a way to connect meaningfully with Jesus. He has given you life and breath and strength today. He abides in you; you abide in Him. Through the power of His Spirit you can declare, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:4).

Search for the good. If your mind is set on finding the negative, that’s what you will see. Fortunately, the reverse is also true. You can find the good in any situation. Consider the perspective of eighteenth-century Bible scholar and preacher Matthew Henry after he had been robbed.

Let me be thankful, first, because I was never robbed before; second, because although
they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was
not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.1

Step out first. As influencers we are also initiators. People look to you and will follow your example. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity or until you feel like it to act. Be the one to initiate kindness. Brighten the day of someone else. Remember “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), and it’s contagious.

Learn to love Mondays, and others in your circle of influence will learn to love Mondays, too.

 

1. James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited: A Topical Collection of Hundreds of Stories, Quotations, & Humor for Speakers, Writers, Pastors, and Teachers, ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 1988), 264.

Posted in Character, Servant Leadership

Wisdom from a Security Officer

 

Federal buildings are not known for their warm and friendly environment, with their tight security and austere atmosphere. Once through the security check, pick a number. Then wait in an overcrowded room, restlessly watching the minutes and hours creep by.

This week during my visit to the Social Security office, I was pleasantly surprised.

A security officer named Mike met my daughter and me at the door, welcoming us as if we were his special guests. He smiled as he checked through our belongings and guided us through the metal detectors. Once cleared, Mike did not stop there. He continued to watch out for our welfare. “Do you know where to pick a number?” he asked, patiently standing next to us to assist if needed. He ushered us into the waiting room and showed us the available seats. We were there almost two hours. During that time, Mike checked in with each person about every 20 minutes, connecting with them as if they were friends.

As my daughter and I left, I thanked Mike for making our experience such a positive and pleasant one. His reply: “We’re all stuck here. I figure we might as well make the best of it.”

We’re all stuck here. I figure we might as well make the best of it.

For Mike “making the best of it” meant spreading kindness and joy. For others (myself included at times) it means “white knuckling it,” impatiently and miserably enduring until the end.

We may be stuck in a difficult job. We may be stuck as the leader of a group that is unreceptive to our vision and plans. We may be stuck in a family where tensions and conflict are high. The scenarios could be endless. We find ourselves in settings we do not like and would never choose.

In the midst of being stuck, our response as servant leaders will make the difference between surviving and thriving. Rather than being a thermometer and simply measuring the temperature around us, we have the power to be a thermostat and actually set the temperature of our environment. The best way to “make the best of it” is to adjust our own attitudes and expectations. Smile to set others at ease. Show interest in them and respond with kindness. Offer forgiveness and encouragement, speaking words of life and hope. More importantly, we must pray for our followers, inviting Jesus to work through us in the midst of the challenges.

I want to be like Mike. Better still, I want to be like Jesus who came not to be served but to serve, ministering to the needs of others, sharing love and hope along the way.

Jesus was stuck here on this earth, but He certainly made the best of it.

In what area(s) do you feel stuck?
What would it look like for you to truly make the best of the situation?
Invite the Lord to empower you to share love and hope with others around you.

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.

Posted in Servant Leadership, Teamwork

Three Traits of the Empowering Leader

“If you want a job done right, do it yourself.” Chances are, as a leader, you have either said this or thought this very loudly. You assigned a task to someone, and they missed the deadline. Perhaps they got it done on time, but the quality was mediocre and you ended up fixing the mistakes. It doesn’t take long before you decide the best way to get the results you want are to do it yourself and to micromanage others as they do their jobs.

Unfortunately in the organizational world of today, where team work and collaboration are valued, that approach usually doesn’t work well. Some leaders are able to successfully lead this way. However, by and large, empowering leaders enjoy greater success.

Empowering leaders relate to followers as fellow members in the cause, and focus on facilitating the accomplishments of goals. They possess three traits that empower others through shared leadership.

1. Empowering leaders are self-aware and secure. They understand how God has wired them, possessing a good picture of their personality, communication preferences, leadership strengths, and spiritual gifts. As a result, they are comfortable with who they are, but not satisfied to remain there. Personal and spiritual growth are important to them. Empowering leaders also believe God has given them their positions, and He will provide the necessary wisdom and strength. Therefore, they do not hold tightly to power, knowing it is a gift of influence that must be faithfully stewarded. They are not driven by insecurity or the need for the spotlight. They focus on what they do well, and share responsibilities with others in their areas of strengths. The empowering leader is “one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it” (Theodore Roosevelt).

2. Empowering leaders trust their followers. They move away from control and allow others to do what they do with excellence. They promote a culture of respect and acceptance, encouraging input from everyone. Cooperation and team ownership are emphasized in order to accomplish work. Empowering leaders believe that, when given the proper tools and resources, followers will do their best to succeed for the good of the team. In Luke Chapter 10, Jesus Christ demonstrated trust in seventy-two disciples when He “sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places He planned to visit” (vs. 1, NLT). This was a massive regional effort to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Jesus provided His followers with important instructions and then released them. Even though these disciples were not as experienced and equipped as Jesus Himself, He entrusted the work to them and shared some of His authority. “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!” (Luke 10:18)

3. Empowering leaders know their followers. They spend time understanding their followers’ unique personalities and strengths. By studying their followers, empowering leaders discover how to motivate them. They resist using generic motivational approaches. Rather effective motivation is applied personally and consistently.  Empowering leaders are able to match the right abilities and talents with the appropriate tasks. They provide the necessary instructions, resources, and communication for follower success. They equip followers in order to gain competence in their positions, providing opportunities for growth and satisfaction.

Look at the three traits listed above. On a 1 to 10 scale (1 being lowest, 10 being highest), rate yourself on each trait. Which one do you need to develop the most? What will you do to develop it?

Posted in Character, Faith, Servant Leadership

Exhausted or Empowered Leader? Part Three

The last two weeks, we have focused on healthy approaches to our leadership relationships. By making three simple adjustments, we can go from exhausted to empowered leadership.

The third concept that liberated me as a leader is “Caring” versus “Carrying.”

This is really another variation of taking proper responsibility. However, it provides a powerful picture. I believe the Lord showed it to me as an illustration while I was on a journey of healing, and I use it often with people who take ownership of others’ choices.

God has called us to care about others. He asks us to reach out in empathy, and serve with compassion. It is a good thing to minister with our hearts. Jesus’ ministry was marked by compassion. He had compassion on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and He taught them. He had compassion on them and healed them. He had compassion on them and provided miraculous fish and bread. Our Lord cared deeply about people, and we follow His example. Caring is good. It is what we were made to do. However, we were not made to carry people. It is God’s job to carry, not ours. When we are carrying, it gets too heavy. We get weighed down by this person’s bad choice, that person’s failure, this person’s poor attitude, that person’s family crisis. We become frustrated, angry, bitter, resentful, and eventually cannot move.

Rosemarie Kowalski tells a story which Joanna Weaver adapted in her book, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. It’s about a man who willingly receives an assignment from the Lord to pull three stones in a wagon up the hill. As his journey progresses, in an attempt to help others, he adds more and more to his wagon–other people’s rocks, pebbles, and stones–until the weight is too heavy to bear. He can go no further.

“Let others shoulder their own belongings,” God said gently. “I know you were trying to help, but when you are weighed down with all these cares, you cannot do what I have asked of you.”

The man jumped to his feet, suddenly realizing the freedom God was offering. “You mean I only have to take the three stones after all?” he asked.

“That is what I asked you to do.” God smiled. “My yoke is easy and my burden is light. I will never ask you to carry more than you can bear.”

We often carry others because we care. But Jesus hasn’t asked us to carry them. Thankfully we can go to Jesus. He will unsaddle us from the weight of carrying. Then we will be free to care again.

A simple adjustment in perspective makes such a powerful difference!

Do you struggle with carrying others?

If so, identify some people you are carrying.

In what ways will your relationships change when you care about them rather than carry them?

To recap the last three weeks:

  • A goal is solely under your control; a desire is not. Goals for self; desires for others.
  • You are responsible to others, not for others.
  • God has asked you to care about others, not carry them.

May our Lord Jesus Christ fill you with His wisdom and knowledge to approach your relationships in healthy ways. May you walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and lead others from a sincere heart of love.

Joanna Weaver, Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World (Colorado Springs, Waterbrook Press, 2002) 48-51.