Monday, May 21, 2018

Are You Listening?

Not to be to a show-off, but I traveled the world today.

All before 1:30pm.

I had meetings with clients in Sarajevo, Washington DC, and Chicago.

OK, I'll admit that I didn't leave my house, because those were virtual meetings. But all the same, we collaborated on some interesting projects... We talked about management challenges across cultures, best practices for training new hires, giving leadership in a crisis, and how to invest over time in your direct reports.

All of those topics are worthy of extended discussion and coaching. But every conversation, from Bosnia to Illinois, started with one important ingredient: LISTENING.

Before I tell anyone what I think they need to do, I try to shut up and listen. And rather than simply reiterate the importance of this practice, I want to strongly recommend an article to you from Harvard Business Review titled The Power of Listening in Helping People Change. As the authors say, "our findings suggest that listening seems to make an employee more relaxed, more self-aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses, and more willing to reflect in a non-defensive manner."

Given these positive outcomes, why isn't good listening more prevalent in the average workplace? In others words, "Our findings support existing evidence that managers who listen well are perceived as people leaders, generate more trust, instill higher job satisfaction, and increase their team’s creativity. Yet, if listening is so beneficial for employees and for organizations, why is it not more prevalent in the workplace?" This article gives three convincing reasons why (I'm going to make you look up the article to find out what they are!)

Even better, the authors then six rock-solid ways to improve your listening skills. There are SO MANY articles out there that give super obvious, simplistic, bumper-sticker pointers. This article is a refreshing change. Though brief, it is motivating and challenging.

In one of my meetings today, I listened to a team as much as I could during our 90 minutes together. By the end, I felt ready to give them a heartfelt, specific challenge to press in to something difficult that they were reluctant to face. I believe they felt heard, and thus agreed to stay around the table as I signed off in order to talk things through together. I was encouraged by their receptivity, and heard later from the executive leader that the team bonded well and set a plan to move forward.

I'll finish with wise words from the HBR article:
Listening resembles a muscle. It requires training, persistence, effort, and most importantly, the intention to become a good listener.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Need Coaching, Mentoring, Therapy, Career Counseling? Get the Lowdown Here

I had a friend once tell me that, based on the variety of articles I recommend, I must have very eclectic tastes. I took that as a compliment...

Here are two "eclectic" examples today, at least in terms of sources, but they revolve around the same general theme. The titles speak for themselves.

Mentors, Career Coaches and Therapists: Which One's Best to Help You Get Out of Your Rut? This one comes from an employment website geared for Millennials called The Muse. I found this to be a valuable article, especially given its target audience. If you follow my blog at all, I reflected on an article on April 29 regarding anxiety in today's college students from The Chronicle of Higher Education. In my experience, I see high rates of anxiety among post-college folks as well, so this is a pertinent conversation. I especially appreciate the ways the writer differentiates between the roles that mentors, career coaches and therapists serve.

I have experienced all three a great deal and want to add a couple of additional tips:
  • MENTORING: I've mentored scores of students, young adults, interns, and colleagues who are in their first jobs. One key point she does not mention: it is the responsibility of the "mentee" (can we come up with a better word? I always think of a manatee when I hear mentee) to reach out to the mentor. In fact, I think it would be creepy if someone approached a young professional and said, Hey, can I mentor you? One more thing: while I am sometimes asked about how to address specific situations in mentoring, it is less frequent than coaching, and functions in general at more of a "10,000-20,000 foot" level. In other words, we talk more about large-scale issues, long-term needs and goals, where to get education and training, and so on.
  • COACHING: I heartily wish there was another word for this besides "coaching" (yes, I'm picky about words!). Sometimes people ask me if I'm a life coach and I can't say NO!! fast enough. Rather, I work with people to help them work through professional concerns of supervision, management, hiring and firing, project management, productivity, organization, strategic planning, etc. But we will also get down to ground level by talking through meeting agendas, thinking through conflict resolution, and brainstorming. Coaching happens more frequently than mentoring. And as the article states, "[Coaches] also don’t have any conflicts of interest when they’re hired individually." Keep this in mind: the gold standard for coaches should be their capacity for confidentiality. Clients need a safe space to process.
  • THERAPY: I've been in therapy a few different times in my adult life and I've provided "lay counseling" as a pastor to families and youth for decades. As a result, because of my background, I have had clients contact me beyond coaching and consulting when they have been laid off, experienced marital or parenting difficulties, faced illness or struggled with depression. Since I am not a licensed therapist, I try to function more a "first responder," listening and trying to assist the client in knowing what their options are. This was the weakest part of the article: while it does a good job describing the real-life challenges that people often face in the workplace, it gives very little insight into the most difficult aspect of therapy: finding a good therapist. I seek to maintain an up-to-date referral list, and stay apprised of who to contact for what.  If you think you might need therapy, try your best to ask a wiser colleague or medical professional for a referral. Don't just trust the Google. 
On to the next article...

Counselor or Coach? Remember how I said I draw from an eclectic set of sources? Here's an article on similar issues, but from a rather different source: the Inside Higher Ed newsletter. 

This one is a bit more focused on sorting through career issues than than the first one, but I found the writer's answers somewhat simplistic. It does do a good job explaining the role of a career counselor, and fleshes out a couple of things addressed in the first article.

For the sake of brevity, I will only add two things: resources I found incredibly helpful in my own career transition:
  1. Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer. Though this comes from a faith perspective, it is very general and one can receive wisdom from it regardless of your beliefs. This book was a game-changer for me and I've recommended it to many, many others and received positive feedback.
  2. What Color is Your Parachute? A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard Bolles. This one is updated each year, so purchase the latest edition. It may give you just the shove you need. Very specific and practical.

Thankfully, I'm still mentoring young adults (in fact, I have lunch scheduled with one this week!), and I am currently coaching CEO's, academic leaders, pastors, faculty, denominational leaders, non-profit executive directors, and first-time managers. ALL of them are a delight to work with. Pursuing a career in ANY field in 2018 is tricky, given the dynamism of today's world. All I can say is, Don't go it alone. But seek after voices of expertise and wisdom rather than your friends. Let me know if I can help!

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Lighter Fare 5-3-18

I'm on vacation and enjoying some relaxing reading. Here are two great diversions for you:

Meet Elsie Eiler, the only resident of Monowi, Nebraska. DO NOT MISS this brief BBC Travel documentary about a woman who is the sole resident, mayor, city manager of Monowi, NE. Having done two different projects in small towns (under 10,000) in the Midwest this year, I have spent some time in small-town America. It is another world to me and important for me to keep in mind as I think about our country. It's great storytelling too.

Salvation Army is Opening Cheap Grocery Stores in America's Food Deserts. I'm actively involved in a very under-served neighborhood in my town, where there is only one grocery store for the poorest residents. Such conditions are loosely defined as "food deserts." What does that look like? As for the one I'm familiar with, one entire wall is completely filled with alcohol, prices are predatory, and some products are purchased at Costco and then illegally divided and resold. Thus I was encouraged by the Salvation Army's efforts to address this problem in another state through this experiment. I hope the idea takes hold elsewhere!

Feel free to share other encouraging and interesting stories for posting here.


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