Posted in Servant Leadership

Being Still: An Important Task for Leaders

Be StillI like to be alone.
I genuinely love people, but my introversion starts screaming pretty early.
I need some quiet, a little time to pause, maybe some rest. Then I’m good to go again.

Leaders, whether introverts or extroverts, need to take time to be still. I’m not talking about what we do after hours or on vacation. Taking time for self-care and leisure is definitely important. However, leading well occasionally requires us to be still, in the midst of responsibilities, demands, and deadlines.

Leaders often go on strategic planning retreats and plot out the organization’s game plan and appropriate steps to get there. Again, this can be a valuable practice, especially if it’s actually followed. But being still is different than the formalized planning get aways.

Being still is informal. It can be scheduled or spontaneous. It’s a posture we must take as often as necessary to keep us fresh, energized, and prepared for the future.

Here are some examples of what that might look like:

  • Sometimes leaders get so consumed reaching toward goals and striving for excellence, we forget why we are doing what we’re doing. Our job becomes nothing more than a way to earn money. We may stop seeing the value of the people we serve. We need to be still to get back in touch with and passionate about our mission. We take time to remember that we are serving the Lord (1 Cor. 10:31), and make heart adjustments.
  • Sometimes leaders face unexpected situations. A staffing problem. A financial shortfall. Negative press. Rocky relationships. A financial blessing. A generous offer we never saw coming. The Lord knows the best way to deal with it all. We need to be still to seek God for His wisdom. We may have experience and education, but don’t rely on those alone. Instead ask the Lord for direction, because He knows the past, present, and future, along with the best decisions to lead to the best outcomes. There are moments I go into my office and close my door. I quiet my heart and mind, because I know the Lord has the best solutions for both the problems and blessings I encounter. “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).
  • Sometimes there are external changes on the horizon that could significantly impact the way we do business. Other times the changes are right on our doorstep. Strategic planning is valuable in moving toward our vision, but it is never set in stone. Leaders periodically need to be still to scan the horizon, and informally assess our organization’s effectiveness. We slow down to listen attentively to others and evaluate their feedback. We cultivate an innovative spirit, and develop flexibility to stay in the game. “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps” (Prov. 16:9).

If you’re anything like me, taking time to be still can feel irresponsible in the midst of great responsibilities and constantly pressing tasks. But it’s not. Being still is actually a part of our job. Leading others requires that we pause in order to learn, grow, and pay attention, so we can invest in a thriving staff and organization. Taking time to be still can help us get there.

Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name (Psalm 86:11).

Prayer:

Lord, thank You, for calling me and equipping me as a leader. Show me when to be busy and when to be still. Teach me to balance my time and organizational priorities. Guide me to make wise decisions, so that my staff and business thrive, and Your work is accomplished well. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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Posted in Personal Development

Learning with Preschoolers

happy-preschool-kids

I just enjoyed a wonderful week of vacation. My husband and I flew to Los Angeles to spend time with our daughter, son-in-law, and twin granddaughters. Almost four years old, my granddaughters are full of energy and creativity. They are joyfully curious, and passionately explore the world around them. Being with my granddaughters is sheer delight. Their zeal for life is contagious. Each moment is filled with learning, either through experience or instruction.

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One moment they learn about the qualities of sand, how to build towers just the right size to support imaginary flags made of leaves.

Another moment they are coached by their mother to face their fears. “Being brave doesn’t mean that you are never afraid. Sometimes it means feeling afraid and doing something any way.”

“Oh, that was good!” I think to myself. “I really needed to hear that.” (How did my daughter become so wise?)

I also got to see my sweet grandson who lives in Seattle with my son and daughter-in-law. At five months old, everything goes from his hands into his mouth. He literally practices “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8, NIV).

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Every time I am with my grandkids, I am reminded to open my mind and heart to discovery. We have all heard that we are never too old to learn, but do we really believe it? Something happens the longer we journey into adulthood. Perhaps we get so engrossed in our routines of “adulting” that we lose sight of life long learning. What can we do to return to the adventure?

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding (Proverbs 9:10).

Our reverence and awe of the Lord is just the start of wisdom. We are told to “get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding. Cherish her, and she will exalt you; embrace her, and she will honor you (Proverbs 4:7-8). There is so much to discover about the Lord. Though we seek to know Him our entire lives, we will just barely scratch the surface of His glory.

Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Transformation is on-going. Renewing our mind is a continual process.

But the on-going nature of being transformed and becoming who God designed us to be does not need to be drudgery. We can thrive as we seek to grow personally, in our skill levels, in relationships, as leaders, and in faith. Let’s be open for God to teach us through ordinary moments in our daily lives. Let’s follow the lead of the preschoolers and learn with joy.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, I want to learn more about You. As I grow in You, empower me to answer Your call in life and as a leader. Teach me Your ways, and restore the joy of learning. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Posted in Communication Skills, Servant Leadership

How to Offer Constructive Feedback

As a boss I can get too focused on getting the job done. I lose sight of my team and forget to give them constructive feedback. As a wife and mother I can get overwhelmed with the schedule and the myriads of details necessary to keep the household running. I misplace the need to invest in relationship. It seems that this tendency is quite common among leaders.

Numerous surveys reveal that employees are dissatisfied with the amount of feedback they receive from employers. It’s not just positive feedback they desire. They are also looking for constructive criticism, to know how to improve their performance. Another complaint among employees is that feedback about excellent performance does not include how they can repeat it.

So how do we give constructive feedback?

Address specific behavior. It is not helpful to say, “You’re doing a great job!” While the person may feel pleased, he has no idea what specific actions led to the praise. On the flip side, a statement like, “I’m very disappointed in you” is similarly ineffective. The recipient does not know what created the dissatisfaction.

“I really like (specific behavior) the way you handled that dissatisfied customer. You listened to her complaints and worked hard to fix her situation.”

Explain the impact of specific behavior.  This is key, because it attaches the action to a result or consequence.

“I really like the way you handled that dissatisfied customer. You listened to her complaints and worked hard to fix her situation. (The impact) That showed how much we value her.”

Admittedly, it is easier to give positive constructive feedback than negative constructive feedback. We may worry about hurting feelings or stirring up conflict. As a result, we try to figure out how to sugarcoat it or ignore it. However, servant leaders must be devoted to the growth and well-being of their followers even if it feels uncomfortable in the moment.

Offer an alternative response. In the case of correction, share alternatives for handling the situation. It’s frustrating to hear that there is a problem without being offered a solution.

Provide constructive feedback in real time. Address a specific behavior as soon as possible. In the case of negative constructive feedback, wait until your emotions are controlled. Pray for wisdom to speak the truth in a firm and loving manner at the proper time. But don’t wait too long.

As servant leaders, let us be led by God’s Word as we offer feedback to others.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29, NIV).

“Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Timothy 4:2).

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, grant me boldness to share constructive feedback with others. I desire to be an encouraging leader, helping people to grow in what you have called them to do. Teach me to point them to You, and patiently instruct them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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.

Posted in Communication Skills, Faith

It’s Time to Look at the Elephant!

The Board of Directors sat quietly in the conference room, as the CEO reported on the monthly statistics and financials. Each of the six members were half listening, preoccupied with their own thoughts. For the past several months the numbers were down; finances were declining. With this downward trend, perhaps it was time to look for a new CEO, one with the skills and leadership strengths better suited for the position at this particular season.

The thoughts of considering a replacement loomed heavy in the room, as it had in the last three meetings. Even the CEO, behind her cheerful exterior, entertained the need for a change in leadership, but no one dared to vocalize it.

But we really like her.
She is so optimistic and hopeful.
She has such a passion for this non-profit work and has poured her heart and soul into it.

The group concluded their business, avoiding the awkward and painful topic.

Maybe things will look better next month.

It can happen to us in relationships and our places of business. An elephant—an uncomfortable issue that needs to be addressed—visits us. The elephant is enormous and obvious, taking up attention and resources. Yet, no one wants to acknowledge him.

Doesn’t anyone else see this elephant?
Maybe if I ignore him long enough, he will go away.
I’ll wait for someone else to bring it up first.
I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

So we continue to avoid the elephant. It takes increasing amounts of energy to ignore him. He grows and grows, and starts to smell, but we continue to pretend he does not exist.

In order to thrive in life and as a leader, we must look at the elephant and begin to dialogue.

We must…

be willing to be the one to break the silence.
have the courage to engage in difficult conversations.
ask questions to promote the sharing of ideas.
be open to others’ ideas.
speak the truth in love.

Think about the different areas of your life. Is there an elephant that needs to be looked at? What prevents you from doing so?

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone (James 1:5-6a, NLT).

This is my command–be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

Prayer:
Heavenly Father, I acknowledge the elephant in (name where it is). I need Your help to deal with this situation. Thank You for the wisdom that comes from You, for the courage to look at this situation for what it is, and for the grace to walk this out with others. In Jesus’ name.

Posted in Vision & Goal Setting

Six Questions to Ask About Your Goals

Welcome to March! The third month of 2014 has officially begun. Remember those goals you set at the beginning of the year? How is it going? With two months behind you, this is a great time to pause and reflect on your progress. Gain more clarity and momentum for achieving your goals by answering some important questions.

Are my goals written?
If your answer is “no,” write them down. Whenever I go to the grocery store, even for a couple items, I need a shopping list. I admit, sometimes I lose it before I get there. Whenever this happens, I get distracted by all the bargains. I wander down the aisles, trying to remember what I came for. I end up wasting money, because I buy things I don’t need (after all, it was all on sale), or I waste time because I have to go back for the things I forgot. In a similar way, without written goals it is easy to get distracted. It may even cost you time and money before you get back on track.

Writing down your goals does a number of things.

  • It helps you remember them.
  • It reinforces your commitment to them.
  • It makes you accountable.
  • It gives you focus.

How often should I revisit my goals?
Having a written plan is important, but the power lies in keeping the plan continually before you. Some people begin each day by reviewing their goals. Others review their goals once a week. Decide the frequency that works best for you.

Only a small percentage of businesses that invest in the strategic planning process actually accomplish them. By far, the biggest reason is that, once created, the plan simply sits on the shelf. They continue doing business as usual without referring to their well designed plan.

Next, take a look at each of your goals and re-evaluate them with these questions.

Is this a goal I believe God wants me to pursue?
This really is the bottom line. Does the goal honor the Lord? Does the goal align with the teachings in God’s Word? Would this goal be approved by trusted, mature believers? If you answer “no” to any of these questions, you have a goal that is not worth pursuing. If the Lord has indeed put the goal in your heart, He will help you accomplish it.

Is this a goal I am committed to?
It’s important to be honest with yourself. Goals are successfully accomplished through commitment. If you aren’t willing to persevere during challenges, your commitment level is low. In this case, it is better to change your goal to a good idea and focus on something else to which you will commit.

What obstacles am I facing in achieving my goal?
You’re committed to the goal, but you’re still having difficulty. Step back and objectively look at the situation. Identify the obstacles and problems. You may need to enlist support from a coach to ask questions to prompt discovery and learning.

What adjustments do I need to make?
In light of the obstacles, you may need to tweak your plan. You may need to change your time line. You may need to change your approach or take a detour. Ask God for His wisdom. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT).

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
If you can’t fly, then run.
If you can’t run, they walk.
If you can’t walk, them crawl.
But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.

Every choice you make is either bringing you closer to or farther away from achieving your goals. Choose wisely, and keep moving forward.