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The Virgin Prayer (Richard Rohr)

Love this… thought I’d share it with you…

You must seek to be a blank slate. You must desire to remain unwritten on. No choosing of this or that. Not ‘I am good because.’ Nor ‘I am not good because.’ Neither excitement nor boredom. Remaining Nothing, An unchosen virgin, And unchoosing too, just empty. No story line by which to start the day. No identity enhancers or losses To make yourself valuable or not. Nothing interesting, nothing uninteresting. Neither against, nor for something. Nothing to recall from yesterday. Nothing to look forward to today. Just me, naked, exposed, No self to fix, change, or find, Nothing to judge right or wrong, Important or unimportant, Worthy or unworthy, I stand and wait, neither powerful nor powerless, For You to name me, For You to look upon my face, For You to write my script, For you to give the kiss, In your time and in your way. You always do. And it is always so much better.

 
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Posted by on April 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Ramblings on Ruth…

This morning I was reading a passage in the Revised Common Lectionary (I read it on my iPad using the Lectionary app).  For those who think the Bible is a stiff book with no sense of beauty, they clearly have not read the Old Testament book of Ruth.  I’ve never read through it without being moved greatly and marveling at the grace God extends.

There was a passage in Ruth Chapter 1 (v.6) that especially stuck out to me that I’m thinking through.  It says, “Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had had consideration for His people and given them food.”  What does that mean?  God had consideration for people and had given them food?  What about people in other countries?  Did He not care for all people everywhere?  Did He not provide food for people in other countries?  Were others left to fend for themselves?  What was God up to?  At first glance, it makes my heart race, searching to try to figure out why God helped some but not others.

I’m a firm believer that every line of Scripture is there for a reason (though we may not always know what that is).  It reveals something about God, God’s heartbeat for humanity, and our role within His plan for mankind.  But this is exactly the kind of passage that causes me to think.  And it forces me to acknowledge that I don’t understand everything about God, and I don’t fully understand everything about that great story, and maybe God doesn’t intend for me to know.  It reminds me that for those of us who follow Jesus, it’s okay sometimes to be uncomfortable, to have hard, honest conversations with God, to pour out our hearts and to let Him know that we don’t know why people suffer around the world.  To express our grief that brothers and sisters around the globe go without while we have plenty.  To acknowledge that the problems of humanity seem overwhelming and that we are too small to make a difference.  God is okay with us living in the mess, with questioning, with agonizing, with struggling.  It’s in the struggle that we often find Him, patiently waiting for us to calm and to remember that He alone is God.

I look back at this verse, and marvel- seeing that God in His great compassion reached out and cared for some, though He didn’t have to care for any.  His great compassion is more than I can understand.  And with that, my restless heart finds rest… in the ONE who sees the big picture, who stretches His hand where He chooses… and I ask Him how I may be a part.  Oh that God would use us as a people to be His hands and feet throughout the earth.

My little ramble for today.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Aligning Conversations Pt. 5: Encourage

We’ve been discussing how to have a successful, healthy aligning conversation this week.  You can read the intro, step one, step two, and step three to catch up if you need to.  By way of reminder, we’ve defined an aligning conversation as:

A conversation that serves to nudge or redirect the path of someone you are leading in order to keep them performing in a way that increases organizational effectiveness.

The first step was to CELEBRATE what they are doing well, what their contribution to the organization is, etc.  This is critically important.  The second step was ALIGN.  This is the portion where expectations are set/revisited, and very clear conversation regarding how the person has missed it occurs.  After you’ve made it through the hard part of aligning, you move to the third step, to EQUIP them to succeed and do well.  This is setting them up to be able to meet your expectations and feel that they have what they need to do well in the future.

Today I want to look at the final step in the aligning conversation.

ENCOURAGE

“But didn’t I already do this in the CELEBRATE part of the talk?”  Well, sort of.  You celebrated what they were already doing well.  You celebrated them.  But then you shared some areas of improvement.  You helped build confidence by making sure they were equipped to succeed.  But there’s one more step that really seals the deal: encouraging them on the journey.  Here’s a great sentence we all need to work in to our vocabulary:

“I believe in you.” Has anyone ever told you that?  Did it resonate with you?  Did it give you that little extra umph you needed to persevere?  Telling someone you believe in them goes beyond equipping.  It encourages them to believe that there is someone cheering them on along the way, and that is so important!

There’s a lady I can think of right now at The Orchard who is a master encourager.  She’s constantly encouraging me through kind emails, in person, and even through Twitter.  Knowing there are people that support you and believe in you make you want to do better, to work harder, to give your best.  And those we lead, need us to encourage them, to tell them they are doing good, that things are looking up, that we believe in them, that we believe they can make the necessary shifts, etc.

I’d encourage you (see how I worked that word in again) to consider not letting the ENCOURAGE portion of your aligning conversation the last time you encourage those you lead.  Spend time writing encouraging emails and notes along the way, and see how much less you have to have aligning conversations.

So there you have it.

4 Steps to a Healthy Aligning Conversation.

  1. CELEBRATE
  2. ALIGN
  3. EQUIP
  4. ENCOURAGE

I hope that’s been helpful to you.  It’s helped me to think through these things and write them down and pick them apart, and it makes me want to work harder at this in my life.  I’d love it if you’d drop me a note and tell me what you think and how I could have made this better.  Just make sure you start with CELEBRATE first!

As I conclude this series, I’ve been thinking a lot about the flip side of this: how to receive an aligning conversation well.  This is something I struggle with some and I’m realizing more and more how my posture when I’m being aligned affects the outcome… so in the near future look for a post talking about how to be aligned well.

 

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Aligning Conversations Pt. 4: Equip

We’ve been discussing aligning conversations this week.  You can read the intro, Pt 1, and Pt 2 if you’re just now tuning in.  I appreciate all the feedback I’ve received.  This is definitely making me want to do better at this myself and I hope it is helpful to you as well!

As we’ve discussed, an aligning conversation is:

A conversation that serves to nudge or redirect the path of someone you are leading in order to keep them performing in a way that increases organizational effectiveness.

I believe there are at least 4 components to a healthy aligning conversation.  So far we’ve looked at the first, CELEBRATE, and the second, ALIGN.  Today, I want to look at the third component to a healthy ALIGNING conversation:

EQUIP

This to me is one of the most important parts of an aligning conversation, and one that is most often missed (behind CELEBRATE/BUILD UP).  This is a critical role for a leader, and one we often fail miserably at.  If you had an aligning conversation but did not equip the person to succeed at what you are asking them to do, you have set them up for failure.  Imagine if you had a nasty habit of running into the curb every time you turned a corner, and you took your car in for an alignment.  Your mechanic asks you some questions, discovers that you have “curbed it up” over and over, and promptly aligns your vehicle.  Then he sends you on your way.  Would he have set you up well for success?  No.  He should have told you, “Stop hitting the curb.  Here’s a book on how to drive properly.”  He armed you with info.  He gave you resources.

Equipping is simply saying, “Here’s what I’m willing to do to help you succeed at this.”  Don’t look at this like holding the hand of the person you’re leading.  It’s a necessary part of leadership.  This is coaching at its best.

Ask yourself, “What tools or resources can I equip them with to help them succeed at what I’m asking them to do?”  Maybe it’s a book to read, a conference to attend, a networking relationship to establish.  This varies greatly, but I believe you need to give them something to see that you’re going to do what you can to help them succeed.  Perhaps it’s an hour of your time per week for a designated period of time.  Perhaps it’s changing their hours or buying that new piece of software.

You won’t always know what it is prior to the conversation, but here are 2 questions you can ask during this part of the conversation that I think will help you and the person you are leading walk away feeling positive and equipped to move forward:

  • Is there anything you need that you don’t have that would help you do what I’m asking you to do?

It might be that they need a software upgrade, or some training, or an assistant, and you might not know those things until you ask that question.  I think this is excellent because it takes the pressure off of you to be the resource king or queen, and brings a level of collaboration to finding the right resources.  This will increase buy-in and ownership on all sides.

  • Is there anything I could personally do to lead you well through this?

Ah, now you’re asking a question that can really open a door to understanding how they’d like to be led.  They may say, “Well, if we could meet every other week and I could run my ideas by you”, or “If you could block out an hour to think through XYZ, that would be helpful.”  I’m not saying you have to do everything they say here, but getting this feedback is important because you might be able to do something small that could have enormous impact.

When you’re sitting down to plan out your conversation, ask yourself: “Am I prepared to equip them to succeed at what I’m asking?”  Celebrating well, giving clear expectations, and equipping them are all key steps (in that order) to having a healthy aligning conversation.  Don’t miss this step- it is what gives the confidence that you’re willing to ensure that it can be done.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the last component of a healthy aligning conversation, and it will help you both walk away from this conversation feeling great about what lay ahead.

 

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Aligning Conversations Pt.3: Align

This week, I’ve been discussing what I call aligning conversations, those sometimes difficult discussions that serve to redirect in small or large ways those we lead in order to increase organizational effectiveness.  We began with an overview of what an aligning conversation is, and yesterday we began looking at the first of 4 components to having a healthy aligning conversation: CELEBRATE.  The conversation begin with CELEBRATE- celebrate what they are doing well.  Take time and show them that they are valued and are in many ways having a positve contribution to the organization. Our staff is journeying through Kouzes & Posner’s new book, The Truth About Leadership, and they sum this up nicely, saying “Leaders make others feel important and are gracious in showing their appreciation.”  Beginning by celebrating gives you the equity to have the difficult aligning portion of the conversation.

Today, I want to turn our attention toward the part of the conversation everyone dreads:

ALIGN

This is the part of the conversation that I guarantee will have the most tension, and that is nearly unavoidable… so be ready for it and lead through this part of the conversation well.

The Lead In

So you’ve set the conversation up with a healthy foundation of CELEBRATION.  The transition into the aligning portion is very important.  You wouldn’t sloppily drive your car onto the alignment rack… rather, you’d carefully pull in with some guidance.  I think an excellent way to lead in to the alignment part of the conversation is simply to wrap the celebration of what they are doing well, how they contribute, etc, and use a leading statement like this:

“I’m grateful that those things are going well, aren’t you?  Now, I want to take a few minutes and talk through a few things that I feel like aren’t going as well as I’d like to see, and I’d like to challenge you a bit to step it up in these areas, and I’m going to walk with you through this to make sure you have everything you need to succeed at this.”

Here, we transitioned with letting them know that there will be a discussion of some things to shore up, and the assurance that you will help them navigate through it and succeed.  Now it’s time to dive in and work.

The Nuts and Bolts of Alignment

Here are some key elements to a successful alignment:

  1. Remind them up front that this isn’t personal. I think this is really important so they don’t get defensive.  Starting by celebrating can really let them feel excited about being on the team and excited that you’ve noticed they’ve done some good things, but if they begin thinking this is a personal “attack”, it can undermine the whole effort you made to celebrate them.  Be clear on this.  You can even say something like “Now as we dive in to a few things I think you can do better, I just want to remind you that these are just some tweaks I’d like to see that are important to the mission here at the organization, and in no way is this about you as a person, so let’s get that out of the way up front.  These aren’t about who you are, they are about what you do. Are you ready to move on?”
  2. Be Clear On The Expectation. Make sure you’re clear about what’s expected.  Don’t be ambiguous.  Clearly state what’s expected: “My expectation is that we’d do x and y.”  This is your opportunity to cast vision for what should be in concrete, tangible steps.  This is the plum line, the ideal, the 100% they should be striving for.  It is a great opportunity to discuss why the expectation being met is so important.  If you have failed to give them clear expectations prior to this, apologize and tell them humbly, “I want to apologize in advance… I realize I did not set you up well to succeed.  I expect xyz, and I did not clearly communicate that to you.”
  3. Be Clear on How They Are Missing It. Make sure you’re clear about how they have missed the mark. “My expectation is that you’d do x & y in this way, and you haven’t done that.  I need to see x & y done like this” (or whatever your measurable outcome might be.)  Give concrete examples, but don’t overwhelm them with a bullet list of all the things they did wrong in the last 5 years.  Give them an example of a project or task that they missed the mark on, and give them concrete examples of how they did not live up to your expectation.
  4. Take Time to Understand Their Point of View. This is a great opportunity to pause and get some feedback from them (and to reduce tension).  How are they feeling about what you’ve said?  Do they agree with you?  Why do they feel these slip-ups occurred?  This might be a time you discover a hidden cause for their lack of performance (whether that be stress at home, not having the tools to succeed, not clearly understanding expectations, etc).  You can gather some information regarding their thought process which will give you tremendous insight into how they think and how you can better lead them in the future.  My boss is great at this.  He’ll ask questions like, “Help me understand why you made this decision” or “Help me understand how you thought it would be fine if xyz happened…”  Taking time to let them speak helps reduce tension as well, because it helps feel like a conversation and not a scolding.
  5. Be Clear on How They Can Improve.  Now that you’ve given time for feedback, help set the tone for what’s next.  Use concrete action steps, like “I’d love to see you do x by such and such time.  If you would do xyz consistently (2-3 times/week), that to me would show improvement.”  This is HUGE… they need to walk away understanding that they have missed it, but also understanding very clearly what they need to do to hit the mark.  If you don’t make this clear, they will walk away feeling overwhelmed about how to improve.

I think these are some practical tips that I hope will help you navigate through what can be a tense moment.  Tomorrow, we’ll dive into the 3rd element of a healthy aligning conversation that can build on the foundation you just poured and can give you even greater credibility as a leader.

 

 
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Posted by on February 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Aligning Conversations Pt. 2: Celebrate

Yesterday I began a 5-part conversation about a critical part of leadership (communication) and a specific type of leadership conversation I call Aligning Conversations.  Just to review, I defined an Aligning Conversation as,

A conversation that serves to nudge or redirect the path of someone you are leading in order to keep them performing in a way that increases organizational effectiveness.

Aligning Conversations can be difficult conversations you have with someone you lead where you redirect them.   Perhaps they are underperforming, going slightly off direction, or just need a bit of a tune up.  When is the best time to have an aligning conversation?  On a regular basis. If you wait until the wheels are falling off to step in and align, you’ve got bigger problems than an alignment!  It’s in these conversations that you as a leader have a great opportunity to speak truth to those you lead, and you can do it in a way that sharpens them, helps them stay laser-focused on the mission, and allows them to feel not only a sense of dignity, but also a renewed vigor about doing well for the sake of the organization.

With all that being said, I want to share the first of 4 elements that can lead to a successful aligning conversation.  Follow these (and in this order) and watch how positive the outcome can be.

Celebrate

The first step to having healthy aligning conversations is to CELEBRATE.  This step is one of the most critical yet most often the one that is neglected.  This is the part of the conversation where you celebrate the positive things you see in them and what they are doing.  Beginning by celebrating can mean the difference between them receiving what you have to correct and them shutting down (and you getting more frustrated).  And the reality is, most of us do not do a good job of regularly celebrating the good we see in those we are leading (I know I could stand to do this more!).  Suffice it to say, the person who has the greatest ability to influence those you lead through celebrating what they are doing well is you.  You have the ability to add wind to their sails or strip the mast from their ship, and beginning a conversation by celebrating what they are doing well can be so powerful at setting the tone.  So how do you do it?

First, take some time and think through what they are doing well.   It will help you balance your impression of them so that you’re not just focusing on the shortcomings, and that will help you guide the conversation in a healthy way.  Second, begin the conversation with these things in mind, and really set them up to know that you see value in them as a person, in their contribution to the organization, and that you pay attention to more than just their mistakes (they are human, remember!).   Don’t be ambiguous… use concrete statements here (“I’ve noticed that you did a great job on xyz, and I want you to know I appreciate that!  I’ve also seen how you led well on abc, and that’s a win for us because of…”). Third, use positive body language that reinforces what you are saying (try smiling!).  This is not a time to simply gloss over this part to get to the meat of the conversation- this is a time to genuinely show your appreciation for what they are doing well.  Trust me, it will pay off big-time when it’s time to work through the difficult things.

I can promise that if you do a good job of celebrating strengths and successes, people you lead won’t mind being aligned.  They’ll be glad for it, actually.  Having set the tone for the conversation with celebrating, tomorrow we’ll dive into the hard part: aligning.  I’ll give you some helpful tips for getting things back on track in a way that is a win for both you and the person you are leading.

 

 
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Posted by on February 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

Aligning Conversations

It seems like there’s a new leadership book that comes out every second that people rave about.  The 17 Skills of the Effective A- Bloodtype Leader, Create the Greatest Organization in the World in 6 Easy Steps, How to Effectively Lead Between the Ages of 33-35, ad nauseum.  But I rarely see a leadership book that focuses on one of what I believe to be the most important skills as a leader: communication.

The reality is that as a leader, a HUGE part of your success has to do with your ability to communicate well with those you lead.  Take someone with strong leadership skills and pair that with strong communication skills, and you have a great, long-term leader.  Take someone with strong leadership skills and poor communication skills, and you have a poor, not respected leader.

If you want to lead a team, organization, or even your family well, you have to be able to have healthy conversations often. Healthy conversations don’t necessarily mean fun, non-conflict type conversations.  Sometimes healthy conversations involve sharpening one another and making sure each person on each time is aligned properly.  I want to take a few days and unpack a part communication for leaders that can make or break your effectiveness at leading others: what I call an Aligning Conversation.

Aligning Conversation: A conversation that serves to nudge or redirect the path of someone you are leading in order to keep them performing in a way that increases organizational effectiveness.

Just as our cars frequently need alignment for one reason or another, keeping our teams aligned and headed the right direction will determine not only if we reach the correct destination, but also how efficiently we’ll do so.  No matter how gifted people are, they occasionally need to be redirected.  Think about the last conversation you had with someone you led in which you attempted to redirect them for any reason.  How did that go for you?  Did it produce long-term results?

I believe this: the way you handle aligning conversations will largely define the tone for the entire relationship.  It’s that important.

Yet it’s something we all struggle with from time to time.  The good news is this: even if you struggle at having healthy aligning conversations, you can learn to do it well, and you need to learn to do it well.

The great thing about learning how to have healthy aligning conversations is that it is immensely practical.  You can use it in any part of your life, from parenting to management, and you’ll make everyone you have influence with appreciate and respect you even more because of it.

So the next four days, I’m going to share 4 critical elements to a healthy aligning conversation. I’m working to put these into practice in my own conversations, and I hope they are helpful to you as well.

 

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in Uncategorized

 
 
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