facilitating change

IMGP0641 webChange: heart attitudes, training styles, organizational culture… and the world!

I just returned from a week in Kenya where I greatly enjoyed a transformational time with 50 of our African staff – to help them learn new training paradigms and materials to use with their new staff. Men and women, grandparents and young singles, they came from all over the continent: Ghana, Swaziland, Ethiopia, Niger, Zambia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and more… They spoke English and French, in addition to many national ethnic tongues. They had up to 20 years of training experience or none. They work with students, business professionals, families, athletes and rural communities.

How to help such a diverse group desire, understand and prepare for change? Change is hard. Change is powerful.

We began with vision. Vision for them. Vision for their work. Vision for the organization. Vision for the world. We talked about the value, privilege and responsibility we experience when we invest in others’ lives.

They studied the character of those who are willing to change – humble, teachable, life-long learners, innovators, team players – and evaluated their own…

Our Design Team demonstrated the power of teamwork, adult learning, creative teaching methods, coaching processes and coaching groups, shared leadership, freedom to fail, and growth in community.

We also discussed the challenges and the barriers to change – their own personal internal struggles and the organizational struggles: traditions, aligning others, resources.

We modeled, and then they practiced with new tools… teaching new lessons, coaching each other, leading interactive groups, giving and receiving feedback.

Everyone ate well and slept little; we drank lots of tea; we shared life stories and prayed for each other. We became friends.

Together they decided on action points and next steps.

Our staff have a long road ahead of them. Change does not happen overnight. It does not happen easily. They will face opposition, and they will get tired and frustrated and discouraged in the process.

But I have hope for them. They are deeply committed to their people and their purpose. They serve a great God. They will help each other in a learning community. Change is healthy and necessary for the future.

I feel honored to have been part of the time. I look forward to what will happen in the future.

How do you respond to change? How do you help your people prepare for change?

questions for a destination

Roundabout SignageHave you ever had a conversation with someone that went around and around in circles and ended without any resolution, next steps, or action plan? That might be OK for some informal or ideological discussions, but a coaching relationship helps the client make progress towards a goal.

An effective coaching process begins with the client (or spouse/child/co-worker/friend) choosing a personal or professional goal, and then discussing options and barriers with the help of open and probing questions from the coach. Once the client chooses their best option, it is time to move the conversation towards action steps.

I recently learned three types of questions that the coach can ask to help the client move forward: Direct, Revealing, and Ownership.

DIRECT Questions:

Good direct questions focus and challenge, but do not threaten or judge. They are neutral and inquire without using guilt. They avoid the word “why”. They ask for action or decision and point toward a positive outcome.

“What will you do?” “Do you want to focus on XXX or on XXXX?”
“What investigation have you done?”
“What might you need to do to ensure a good decision?”

REVEALING Questions:

Revealing questions help people “get out of the box” when they feel stuck and unable to move forward. They help the client discover the limitations (physical limitations, finances, fear, priorities, lack of information, etc) they view as unchangeable obstacles and look for creative alternatives.

“What if you thought outside of the normal structure?”
“Who else could help you?” “What could you do differently to free up new resources?” “What if you had four extra hours in your day?”
“If that difficult person wasn’t there, what would you do?

Another option is to help them imagine a new situation without the barrier… “What if you had all the time you needed, what would you do?” “If you couldn’t fail, what would you try?” “How would your perfect job look?”

OWNERSHIP Questions:

Ownership questions help people avoid blaming others and take responsibility for the action. They help take away justification, excuses, and passivity, and instead lead to growth opportunities.

“What might you have done that contributed to the conflict?”
“How can you make things better?” “What might you do differently?”
“Which step do you want to take?” “How do you want to do that?”

A last helpful tip or two… When your client talks about action steps, help them be as specific as possible and include timelines.

Usually, in a coaching situation, the coach is simply helping the client recall or use their own existing information and knowledge. If, as the coach, you feel the situation requires your input, ask permission before you speak!

“Can I challenge you on that?”
“Would you be open to hearing a different perspective?”

These questions can help us get out off of the roundabout and on to our destination!

Which of these questions might be most helpful to you?


Many of these questions and more can be found in Leadership Coaching by Tony Stoltzfus. I highly recommend the book!

do nice girls finish last?

Lean InI am making my way through Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, and chapter three made me stop and think a bit. The chapter is called “Success and Likeability”, and Sandberg starts out with a Harvard Business School case study based on the experience of an entrepreneur named Heidi Roizen. Sandberg writes:

The case described how Roizen became a successful venture capitalist by using her “outgoing personality… and vast personal and professional network [that] included many of the most powerful business leaders in the technology sector”. [The professors] assigned half of the students to read Heidi’s story and gave the other half the same story with just one difference – they changed the name “Heidi” to “Howard”.

[The Professors] then polled the students about their impressions of Heidi or Howard. The students rated Heidi and Howard as equally competent… their accomplishments were completely identical. Yet while students respected both Heidi and Howard, Howard came across as a more appealing colleague. Heidi, on the other hand, was seen as selfish and not “the type of person you would want to hire or work for.” The same data with a single difference – gender – created vastly different impressions.¹ (emphasis mine)

Sandberg argues that the case study further proves research that,”When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.”² Sandberg explains that from early on, girls learn that intelligence and success are not the path to popularity. In addition, socially acceptable behavior allows men to claim credit for achievements and assertively negotiate for higher salary, whereas a woman is perceived as arrogant and self-serving if she does the same. Women are expected to help without reward, and care and advocate for others.

The ultimate goal is to eventually eliminate different attitudes and treatment based on stereotypes, but until then Sandberg offers a few suggestions for women. I’ve re-written them in my own words here:

1. Pay the price – Women need to accept that there will be unfair biases and criticism. Sandberg suggests that we allow ourselves to feel and work through the emotions generated by the criticism, but then move on and do our job.

2. Play to your strengths – Some of the common “nice” characteristics ascribed to women – caring, communication, community – greatly improve teamwork. As women smile and appreciate others – while focusing on the task – productivity increases.

3. Position yourself communally – Women will have more success in negotiations when they use “we” vocabulary as context for their requests. Petitions couched in common interests and concern for the common good are more readily accepted from women than those that appear self-centered or self-promoting.

4. Purpose to become comfortable with power – It will take concentrated effort to change mindsets and perspectives based on years of habit and feedback, but as women work to become more comfortable with their power, they will also lean in with greater confidence.

Have you ever struggled with the “nice” girl dilemma? What do you think of Sheryl Sandberg’s tips for overcoming that stereotype?

For my men readers… what do you think? Are women held to a different standard than men?


¹ Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In. Chapter 3, para. 2-3. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2013.

² Ibid. Chapter 3, para. 4.

a leader’s power

ID-10089906I stumbled on a post this morning by James Lawther on the Great Leadership blog. The post reviews the Avianca flight 52 from Bogotá to New York that crash-landed on January 25, 1990 outside of New York, killing 73 of the 158 passengers.

Inadequate communication between the flight crew and the tower controllers regarding the urgency of the situation contributed to the tragedy. Lawther claims the communication breakdown was the result of a challenge that is heavy on my heart and common in my experience – high power distance.

High power distance is a phenomenon that we deal with less often in the United States, but it is a big challenge in the cultures of places like Latin America, Asia, or the Middle East. High power distance means that there is an unseen but very real chasm between the leader/boss/director and the team or those who work for the leader. Although the leader is often treated in a superficially friendly and respectful way, they are viewed as  untouchable, unapproachable, un-confrontable authority figures who have the power to make unilateral decisions and carry the ultimate responsibility for their subordinates.

In high power distance cultures, it is difficult to have healthy team relationships, since team members are hesitant to speak honestly and directly with the leader. In some cases, the leader perpetuates the problem by leading in an insulated, controlling, and overbearing manner. In other situations, team members reluctantly agree to plans or avoid discussing problems in a group setting, but then resort to passive-aggressive behaviors or blame-shifting against the leader when failures occur. Personal responsibility and accountability for actions are also weak, since the tendency is to blame the leader for lack of results.

This leadership phenomenon can cause all kinds of challenges and frustrations, but Lawther’s post demonstrates that high power distance can be dangerous – even to the point of physical death. I never experienced that extreme effect, but as a leader in a high power distance culture, I did encounter other consequences: loss of peer friendships, demand for paternalistic care, lack of complete information for decision-making, and gossip and mutiny behind my back.

Since my leadership style is naturally more collaborative and team dependent, I tried to encourage complete and honest communication from my team, repeating frequently my desire and availability to hear their opinions, ideas, concerns, and feedback. I had an open-office policy and often interacted informally with the staff. I had no big office and no receptionist/secretary barrier. With some teammates, I was successful; with others, I never was able to bridge the gap.

This post has once again piqued my sense of urgency regarding the challenge. I hope to learn some principles for breaking down the barriers to effective leadership in high power distance cultures. Maybe you can help…

Have you experienced the high power distance chasm? How do you deal with it? Do you have any ideas about how to close the distance?

do you work in a team or a family?

I have worked in Latin America for many years. I love the Latin culture – especially the emphasis on relationships: relaxed meal times, fiestas for any occasion, inter-generational activities, inclusion of children at events, incredible friendships and loyalty. These characteristics provide an incredible richness to my life.

However, any strength – at its extreme – can also be a weakness. I was often uncomfortable when our organizational staff claimed that we were a “family”. I knew that, although I cared deeply for many of my co-workers, they were not a real family for me. I also knew that we did not treat each other like we would members of a true family. There was something I didn’t like or agree with that statement, although I couldn’t put it into words.

Today I read a blog post by Mark Miller that clarified this exact issue for me. His post helped me to understand that when we view our team through a family perspective, we often allow performance to suffer. This is a common problem for non-profits and religious organizations. I remember many times when we erroneously did not confront poor behavior, implement consequences, or even ask someone to leave the organization… because we did not want to lose a “family” member. This distorted perspective means that we postpone and avoid crucial decisions that often cause great harm to the individual and to the organization. 

This wise comparison comes directly from Mark Miller’s post:

team or family

Mark clarifies that many of the “family” characteristics are great additions to a healthy and fruitful team environment. Applied correctly, these elements create community, which leads to greater trust, shared responsibility, and performance. A sense of community on a team is beneficial, but as Mark says, “However, unlike in a family, to be a member of the community is conditional.”

Does your team work like a team or a like a family?

*** For excellent content on leadership, follow Mark Miller’s blog, Great Leaders Serve, at: http://greatleadersserve.org/

chocolate, character and community

I love chocolate. Chocolate cake, chocolate cookies, chocolate pie, chocolate brownies, chocolate candy (especially with nuts). I can easily pass on most sweets… but not chocolate. Over the years, my tastes have drawn me to dark chocolate. That is now my unquestionable favorite.

yum webWhen I was recently in Birmingham in the UK, we had the opportunity to tour the Cadbury factory. What a treat! I have always enjoyed learning about how things are made, but chocolate… the best of all worlds! It was a chilly day for walking around… but so worth it! Our first stop included a sample of warm, melted chocolate over our choice of toppings. It was amazingly delicious – as you can tell!

better conditions webWe then moved on to displays that demonstrated a bit of the history and processes. A friend had encouraged us to look for the Human Resource connections in the company foundations, and we were not disappointed. George and Richard Cadbury were men of great character. They obviously cared for people as well as profit… and did not sacrifice quality or integrity to accomplish both goals. There were numerous testimonies and historical evidences of the Cadbury’s commitment to their employees and their families. The Cadbury brothers provided out-of-the-norm housing and education opportunities, dental and medical care, recreation and vacation possibilities for their workers. I have often sensed the tension between people and production, but these men have proven that both can flourish together.

greatest gift horizontal webGeorge and Richard took care of their people by providing community. In 1879, the Cadburys expanded their facilities… and their contributions to Birmingham. The factory, called Bournville, was known as a “factory in a garden” because of the stream, green areas, and gardens all throughout. It is still a very attractive place today. The brothers built homes, schools, hospitals, reading rooms, and gardens for what became known as Bournville village. George and Richard understood that as they invested in individuals, they ensured a society change ROI also. Their example was inspiring to me as I dream about the positive impact that my actions can have in a scope much larger than my own life.

I’ve included a few references below if you’d like to read more about the Cadbury legacy. I suggest that you accompany your study with a Cadbury Milk bar or a Cadbury Egg – for maximum educational benefit!


Have you experienced leaders who are able to combine care for their people and profit/success?



how to form a real team

“One of the problems some teams have is the assumption
they are a team… when they aren’t.”
Mark Miller

IMG_1068I am just home from a 10 day trip to Panama City, Panama. I was part of a Latin America area-wide conference for both Leadership Development/Human Resources (LDHR) and Operations personnel in my organization. It was a historic meeting; we’ve never had that many country representatives for those positions… and we’ve never held a meeting together to emphasize how important partnership is in our work.

I loved the opportunity to mentor and coach the new LDHR leaders. It was thrilling to watch their vision and passion transform into deeper understanding and action steps. I believe there will be a lot of progress in how these important people care and develop the staff and volunteers in their respective countries.

I also enjoyed working with my Latin America Area Team to lead the event, teach the lessons, and consider future next steps. Since we are a virtual team – we all live in different countries and meet usually only by Skype – it was a treat to interact together. Before I left for the trip, I read an article about the difference between work groups and “real teams”. Some of my teammates put these principles of real teams in action while we were together.

Connect – “How are you doing?”

Some of my teammates showed true interest in me as a person. They asked questions about how was I doing, comments I made, and my personal life – not just our work. They encouraged me after I taught a session, and they gave sincere feedback about how to improve. They invited me to eat meals with them, to help with some of their tasks, and to give my opinion on projects. We were not just siloed individuals working alone on separate pieces of the job; we were interdependent, and I felt valued and cared for by my teammates who demonstrated this characteristic of “true teams”.

Deepen – “What do we need?”

In some of our conversations, we were talking about emotional, stressful, frustrating or challenging topics. Some of my teammates avoided or tabled the complex and conflicting issues, while others actually initiated the deeper conversations. I really appreciated it when my team mates challenged my attitudes or the way I was dealing with some of my feelings. “True team” members understand that differing perspectives and opinions are a benefit to teamwork, and so they face and resolve misunderstandings and conflict. My teammates built trust when they invested the time to look at the harder, deeper issues with me.

Dream – “Where are we going?”

Besides looking at personal and conflict issues, my “real team” members also took time to dream about the future together with me. Although we are aware of problems and lack of resources and man-power, we also knew that our work and our efforts meant we are making forward progress. I greatly valued the times when we talked about building a caring culture, learning from mistakes, changing old paradigms, and finding new hope. That kind of conversation makes me want to work as part of the “real team”.

Have you experienced working as a “true team”? What elements of “true team” are important to you?

what women add to a team

Business TeamDo you remember that awkward elementary school experience – two scrawny kids choosing the players for their team? There was always a tension between picking a friend because you liked them and picking a “star” because you wanted to win.

Whether it was a debate team or a football team, you needed a variety of players to cover offense and defense. Your choices didn’t always work out as planned. The thick glasses didn’t always guarantee intelligence any more than extra height ensured skill under the basket, but certain general characteristics proved to increase your chances for victory.

I firmly believe that men and women live and work best together in partnership, and I have experienced many times that the best teams are often diverse, not only in gender, but also in age, personality, strengths, and cultural background.

Earlier, I wrote about some of the challenges facing diversity, specifically gender diversity on leadership teams. I mentioned that more information can often facilitate positive change. Here are some ways that women’s participation makes teams healthier and stronger. I have also listed some articles below that support these three points. 

Men and women are like two feet—
they need each other to get ahead.
Helen E. Fisher

Women add integrity.

In my experience, the women on my teams consistently committed to maintaining a high standard of fiscal, legal, and labor integrity. When women participated on the teams, we implemented accountability systems, complied with necessary policies and laws, and quickly investigated decisions that appeared questionable. Financial partners, funding, and the organizational reputation for integrity increased as a result. When women participate on a team, there is great potential to build a strong ethical, moral, and integral foundation. 

Women strengthen collaboration.

On mixed teams, the team members rarely worked alone in siloed responsibilities. Instead, the women facilitated true teamwork by ensuring regular communication and interaction, systematic sharing of ideas, and fostering a healthy feedback culture. They promoted honest personal and productivity evaluations. The women were approachable, quick to ask clarifying questions, reciprocally helpful, and loyally supportive of team decisions. Mixed gender teams often led to better ideas, better decisions, and greater productivity and growth.

Women foster personal development.

The women I worked with prioritized personal and team development, often establishing strong mentoring relationships and coaching. They actively demonstrated concern for team member’s growth and well-being. The women readily participated in 360 evaluations, team building activities, and conflict resolution. They were good listeners, discerning, and keenly aware when alignment was missing. They were often very successful at recruiting, training and empowering their future replacements. Women leaders contribute to the effectiveness of a team’s leadership pipeline. 

I believe that great leadership ultimately depends on character, and that calling, competency and chemistry are also important for successful teamwork. Diverse teams do not ensure automatic success, but in our complex and constantly changing society, I am certain that they are one of our wisest recruiting strategies.

How have you seen women add to your teams?

McKinsey & Company. (2008). Female leadership, a competitive edge for the future. Paris, France.
Zenger, Jack and Folkman, Joseph. “Are women better leaders than men?” blogs.HBR.org. March 15 2012. Web. Jan. 26 2013.

why is diversity so hard?

studying togetherWhy is it so hard?

I often asked this question regarding my children when they couldn’t seem to get along. I have asked it about financial integrity, about exercise discipline, and about conflict resolution. These good goals seem to immediately attract excuses, emotional responses, and resistance as soon as we mention them.

Today, however, I ask it about men and women working together with mutual respect, equal opportunity, and sincere appreciation of the varied passions and strengths that both bring to the table.

Why is diversity so hard?

Why haven’t we been able to eliminate the disrespectful jokes and comments? Why don’t we apply the abundant literature that states how important it is to have gender diversity on teams and in leadership in order to increase the health and productivity of our organizations? Why do we continue to make excuses for antiquated policies and “old school” leaders that we know need to change? Why aren’t we willing to have honest and open discussions about moving beyond stereotypical criticisms and moving toward understanding, equity, flexibility, and progress?

I have actually been blessed to work in many situations and on many teams where men and women contributed and collaborated well together as unique individuals, valuing and appreciating variety in gender – as well as culture, age, experience, and expertise. Sadly, I have also worked in settings where people chose sides in constant battles for respect and opportunity.

I don’t believe there is any legitimate reason for such disparity and division between men and women. My faith tells me the root cause is our selfish sin…. thinking more highly of ourselves than we think of others, which leads to lack of respect, competition, insecurity and defensiveness. Maybe that is why this struggle is so entrenched and why it is so hard to defeat.

Although I get weary of the conflicts and I don’t have answers to all the questions, I think this challenge is worth fighting for – just like sibling love, balanced budgets, a strong body, and healthy relationships. Excuses, emotions, and resistance yield to information, open communication, and accountability for positive change. Offenses can transform into advocacy. I’d like to see grand-scale improvement, but many days I accept being content with small steps of progress. I start with changes in my life, and then I move to being an example for others. Maybe it will always be hard… but it can get better.

One day our descendants will think
it incredible that we paid so much attention to things
like the amount of melanin in our skin
or the shape of our eyes or our gender
instead of the unique identities of each of us
as complex human beings.
-Franklin Thomas

What do you do with hard situations? How do you bring about change?

a coaching process you can use

I get my love of sports from my Mom. Actually my Dad also encouraged my individual sports (tennis, skiing, running), but Mom is the one who loves all team sports and watches the games faithfully. I even like sports movies, especially those where the underdog team or player rallies to a miraculous win at the end.

Coach - courtesy of morgueFile free photosIn all of those movies and in real life, the person who inspires, comes alongside, and brings out the player’s best for the unexpected, against-all-odds, fist-pumping success is the coach. A great coach knows the player’s strengths and weaknesses, and they believe that the player can grow and improve. The coach cannot do the hard work for the player, but they can help the player move forward towards their dream.

Even outside of sports, coaching is important. Parenting older children, mentoring friends, and professional job situations all offer opportunities to coach.In our organization we use a coaching process that is transformational for coaching situations. Instead of trying to fix the problem or give advice, this simple process guides a conversation from the present “Where are you now?” to the future “Where do you want to be?”

The first step is to focus the conversation. Ask the person being coached, “What can I help you with today?” or “What would be most helpful for you to discuss today?” or “What is the focus of our appointment?” It may take a while for them to distill their needs or thoughts into a simple answer, but this is important since there is no way to work intentionally on an unclear goal.

Second, explore options. Brainstorm without a commitment to any particular idea at this time. The coach asks, “How do you think you could…?” “What are ways you might…?” “Where could you find…?” “Who could help you with…?”

Third, plan next steps. After brainstorming many options, it is time for the person to choose the best option that surfaced. It is important to ensure that the chosen option is SMART: specific • measureable • achievable • relevant • timely (due date). Help your coachee plan carefully and completely by asking them, “And then…? And then…?”

A crucial, but often neglected, fourth step is to address the obstacles. Good coaches deal with reality. Assuming a simple, clear, unchallenged path to the goal is naive. A really big obstacle might return the conversation to the second step to explore other options; the discussion does not have to be linear.

Last, take time to allow the coachee to review and close. The coach should not do the review. Make sure the person being coached can summarize what they have decided to do and who will hold them accountable for their plan.

A first conversations using this process may feel stiff or unnatural – probably because we usually do a lot more talking and a lot less question-asking – but it will feel more comfortable with practice. You will like the results. As you coach, praying, observing, and listening well are key.

… And don’t forget to celebrate and encourage the “wins”! A good coach knows how to do the vocal-cord-stressing, all-body gyrating, don’t-cares-who-sees-me victory dance along with their players!

Who could you take through this coaching process? How can you improve your coaching skills?

This printable card can help you remember this coaching process. __________________________________

missional women button

(It is a privilege for me to write as a contributor for Missional WomenThis post was originally published there.)