the BEST of 2013

antique trophy

Where has the time gone? I think I say that every year! It has been an eventful year… events that have brought travel to new places -internationally for work and eternally for beloved family members. I have laughed, and I have cried. I have written about many of the adventures, body and soul, here in these posts.

Thanks so much for accompanying me on my journey. I have loved your feedback, your pushback, and your encouragement along the way. I prefer to do my processing verbally, so your interactions with me make the challenging process of disciplined writing worthwhile.

There are days when I think I am ready to give up this work, but I know it is good for me to write out my thoughts and some of you have expressed that it is helpful for you too, so I think I will give it a go for another year. I hope you will travel the journey with me!

Here are the top-read posts written this year. I hope you will read any you’ve missed or re-read any favorites!

(Each post is available in English and Spanish. Feel free to look around in the archives!)

Most Read English Posts:

2013 top postshow to know yourself better

destroying double standards

when holidays hurt

creating more leaders

a bucket list

Catching Fire leadership


2013 top posts spanMost Read Spanish posts: 

rompiendo las barreras

peleando como un “ezer”

un ogro (grinch) del Día de San Valentín

espiritualidad e integridad para líderes

asombroso pastel de cumpleaños

destruyendo la doble moral

You can also read more about how the blog got started here: About Me  and here:  coffee as a way of life or here: why a blog

And you can check out earlier posts on:  The Best of 2012  🙂

THANKS AGAIN for reading! I really do appreciate you!

What were the biggest happenings in your 2013?

Catching Fire leadership

Catching FireLast night I went to see the premiere of “Catching Fire” in the IMAX theater with my niece and other family members. She was very excited. I had not read the books, and I’m not a big movie fan, but I was there to enjoy the experience with her and make a special memory! Popcorn and candy are always fun!

I admit that I liked the movie more than I expected. I thought it was better than the first film “The Hunger Games”: on-the-edge-of-your-seat action, intertwined relationships, and a battle for the underdog. Except for the futuristic, sci-fi elements (not my favorite film genre), the story grabbed my attention, and I forgot everything about real life for the entire 2 1/2 hours.

This morning when I woke up and my mind went back to my MA courses, I started thinking about some fun connections between the movie and the leadership themes I have been studying. Here are a few of them…

The main protagonist characters, Katniss and Peeta, demonstrate leadership character with courage, sacrifice, loyalty, love and care for others, and convictions that can not be bought or beaten out by corrupt powers. They win the sympathy of many with their integrity, perseverance, and compassion, and become attractive role models for the youth.

The heroes have a compelling vision – They symbolize hope for the future and the belief for many that together they can improve life for themselves and for those who come after them. Katniss and Peeta plan some tactical steps for survival and also prepare for unknown and unexpected circumstances and challenges.

Katniss and Peeta work with an amazing team – Coaches and mentors help with marketing, strategy, spokesperson roles and survival training, providing experience, knowledge, and resources. They know they could never survive the competition without the help of others.

Partners and Alliances are a key part of the survival plan – These partnerships require trust, respect, watching each other’s back, working together, each offering their unique expertise and help from their strength areas. The intense focus on an external enemy allows them to accept and appreciate others who are very different.

These are just some ideas that I thought of quickly as I enjoyed remembering the movie. I’m sure there are many more. If you’ve seen the movie or read the book, what principles do you see?

And… if you are struggling with a type of “The Capital” in your own life or at work, may the odds be ever in your favor! 🙂 The application of some of these leadership principles might help!

doing away with distractions

Authentic listening requires intentional, active, uninterrupted attention. Distractions are a common hindrance to listening well, and they interfere with our desire to communicate and/or coach with care, curiosity, and connection. 

respect listening

I have been very challenged and convicted by all I am learning in my M.A. Counseling and Coaching class. We spent weeks studying listening skills, and I realize how much I still have to learn and improve.

One of the books we are reading is: Leadership Coaching: The Disciplines, Skills and Heart of a Christian Coach by Tony Stoltzfus. I highly recommend it.

listening flattery

This is one of the listening self-evaluations from the chapter on distractions. When I read through these statements, I saw many ways I could improve my listening. I think you might find it helpful also. Reflect on a recent past conversation or coaching appointment you had. Answer the questions, adding or subtracting points as appropriate.

Let me know how you did!

Distracting Environment

-1   Your e-mail or IM program was open in front of you.

-1   Your to-do list was sitting out in front of you where you could read it.

-5   You did e-mail, IM or work on other projects while you were talking/coaching.

-1   You were sitting at your main work desk.

-1   You could hear a noticeable amount of background noise (others talking, a phone ringing, TV, etc).

 -2   Your door was open, the place you were coaching in has no door, or you were in a public place.

-2   You finished another meeting, project or deadline within 10 minutes before the appointment.

-2   You rushed in or worked on other tasks right up to the moment the appointment/conversation started.

-2   There is a fair amount of stress and conflict in your life, or you are emotionally needy.

-1   You were hungry, thirsty, tired or otherwise in a state of physical discomfort.

___   Total

Supportive Environment

+1   You organized your notes/resources for this person/client and kept them easily accessible.

+3   You took at least 10 minutes before this appointment to get centered and review your notes/materials.

+2   You’ve made a serious personal commitment to be all there while you were coaching/talking.

+3   Your desk, screen, and or table/desk were clear, or you had a separate place to talk/coach away from daily work.

+1   You had a phone headset. (If the conversation took place by phone.)

+1   You had a comfortable environment to talk/coach in (correct temperature, good chair, etc.).

+1   You prayed for this person/client this week.

+3   You didn’t have any calls, walk-ins or interruptions while you talked/coached.

+2   You scheduled your appointment at a time of day when you are alert and well rested.

+1   Your connection was clear and totally reliable. You aren’t using a cell phone or voice chat.

___    Total

Distraction + Supportive = ________ Final Total

(**If your final score is negative, may want to change your environment. If you are coaching professionally, the bar should be higher: if your score is less than +7, you may want to make some changes to improve your listening environment.)

Do distractions affect your ability to listen well? What could you change?

___________

Stoltzfus, Tony (2005). Leadership Coaching: The Disciplines, Skills and Heart of a Christian Coach (Kindle Locations 2662-2685).

how are your listening skills?

listening skillsThe most important skill that any people helper/developer can cultivate is to listen.  Listening to people is not a passive activity, but an active one. 

Leadership is about influence. Some leaders use positional power to manipulate behavior, but true leadership is relational. Good communication strengthens relationships, and the first step to good communication is good listening.

I have spent the last few weeks in my M.A. class learning about listening. It has been convicting, challenging, and motivating. I thought I was a pretty good listener until I took time to really evaluate my normal communication tendencies against these listening skills…

Listening with full attention

Sitting calm and centered. No fidgeting. Giving eye contact. Projecting warm curiosity. No distractions.

Listening with acceptance

No judgement. No forming opinions in the back of the mind. No planning a rebuttal.

Listening for understanding

“I hear you saying…” “Can you tell me more about that?”

Listening to hear more

Truly engaged and focused. Allowing for silence; not rushing to fill the quiet spaces. Waiting. Lean in.

Listening for information

Can I learn from what they are sharing? Is there something I need to hear? Not getting defensive. Open to hear more.

One exercise I did for the class was to try to listen to someone else talk for three to five minutes without saying a word – just making good eye contact and using body language to show interest and engagement. It was SO hard to not jump in with a comment, advice, or suggestions. You might want to try this… Let me know how it goes for you!

How are your listening skills? What do you do in order to listen well?

spirituality and integrity for leaders

ID-10010934This week in my M.A. course, we discussed leadership competencies, specifically the need for spirituality and integrity for leaders.

Spirituality was defined as: centered, eternal awareness, moral concern, recognition of the sacred, meaning and purpose.

Integrity was defined as: oneness, wholeness, connectedness, all parts intersect and reflect the whole; you are who you claim to be.

I view these competencies as vital character traits and essential practices for an effective leader. I have experienced the negative consequences of leadership that lacked these competencies: spiritual manipulation, pride, selfishness, ego, false pretense, corruption, and debt. Sadly, I admit that sometimes I have been the one who caused those negative consequences.

Why do you think that spirituality and integrity are important for leaders?

On the other hand, a leader with spirituality and integrity competencies displays authenticity, emotional intelligence, and consistency in being, knowing and doing. An authentic leader earns trust; a leader with emotional intelligence builds healthy relationships; a leader with life and work consistency provides a safe and dynamic environment for productive action. In my organization we call this the “heart of the leader”. I want to be a leader known by these characteristics and practices.

How are you growing in spirituality and integrity competency?

Every one of my fellow students agreed that these competencies are crucial for leaders, although many admitted that sometimes our own character weaknesses or external pressures of urgency, cost, ease, etc. make it difficult to actually live this way on a consistent basis.

What pressures make it difficult for you to practice spirituality and integrity?

One of the students reminded us that the most helpful resource for strengthening this competency is vulnerable and honest accountability relationships. We need others in our life who can encourage us to make the right choices even when it is hard, and who confront us when we are making mistakes. Those people rarely just appear magically in my life. I need to take the initiative to seek them out, and then I need to have the openness to allow them to speak freely into my life.

Do you have accountability relationships in your life? 

Do you have other thoughts about spirituality and integrity for leaders? Please add a comment… I’d love to learn more from you!

____

Other resources:

More posts on similar topics: how is my “wake”?, what about results?, working against the tide

More on emotional intelligence: http://www.eiconsortium.org/measures/eqi.html

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?

creating more leaders

“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” – Tom Peters

ID-100162328 foto76 freedigitalphotos.net

New leader training is essential for our organization. During the first year or so, mentors have the privilege of imparting vision, identity DNA, and confidence into our new leaders through a teaching, training, and coaching process. This training sets the attitude, knowledge, and skill foundation for many years ahead.

Every few years our organization revamps our training programs so they are attractive in the current context, relevant for our constantly changing world, and effective at preparing new leaders. Last year, my husband and I were part of a global task force to determine new core desired outcomes for our training programs worldwide. This year, we had the exciting job of helping our area leaders around the globe implement the changes.

“Leaders aren’t born, they are made.
And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.
And that’s the price we’ll have to pay to achieve that goal, or any goal.”

– Vince Lombardi

Change is not easy. Each area contains many countries, each with its own culture, language, human resource, time, and financial challenges. Leaders are very busy, and many priorities and crisis vie for attention. At times the biggest challenges are the attitudes of loyalty to the “old ways” and fear or resistance to change. Sometimes pride gets in the way when a leader was the creator or director of the prior system.

Some area leaders invested a lot of time in the valuable task of aligning others to the new ideas. Communications, visits, and sharing of materials help others to engage and involve in the process. Other leaders gathered a task force together for the project. Working towards change as a group or team shares leadership and ownership of the effort. Many are busy preparing translations for their countries. This is all part of the investment in our future leaders.

“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”
John Fitzgerald Kennedy

One of the best aspects of the process is seeing the leaders get excited about the new paradigms they discover as they work: more interactive learning and creative delivery, more emphasis on coaching, and more sessions focus on the heart, servant leadership, character, and stewardship… As the leaders learn, they become enthusiastic about championing the new materials and methodology in their areas.

“The more seriously you take your growth,
the more seriously your people will take you.”
– John Maxwell

Those who help train and mentor our new leaders are building the future of our organization. They set an example with their lives; their attitudes, words, and actions reflect their values and greatly influence the new leaders. We desperately need trainers and mentors who prioritize the new leaders and invest in their development. Such a privilege. Such a responsibility.

How can you contribute to a culture that creates new leaders?

What can you do to continue learning to improve your leadership?

breaking down barriers

file0001312170283In addition to the external barriers erected by society,
women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves.
Sheryl Sandberg¹

I received a copy of Sandberg’s book, “Lean In“, from a dear friend. I have only started reading it, but I have found connection, empathy, authenticity, grace, and challenge in the first chapters. Sandberg proposes a hypothesis which many of us already know is truth… as women, we are often our own worst enemy.

Sandberg explains that women often deeply internalize the negative messages we receive during our life – and quickly undervalue the positive messages that we earn.

I believe that women are essential to making important world changes in society through our relationships, families, and jobs today. To do that, we need support, advocacy, and partnership with the men in our lives, but we also need to believe in ourselves to step confidently into the places that we are created and gifted to fill. 

How can we do that? I’ve started a list here from some of Sandberg’s comments and some of my own experiences:

Gain self-awareness.

Personality profiles, StrengthsFinder, Reflected Best Self Exercise, work preferences, gift tests, feedback from mentors/friends/others… all help to discover and affirm unique value and contribution. The more I learn about myself, the easier it is to choose where to invest my time and my talents with confidence.

Don’t give unnecessary power to gender stereotypes.

“Strong”, “assertive”, “outspoken”, “intelligent” – these words often negatively describe a woman leader, but compliment a man. Words like “sensitive”, “passionate”, “caring”, “transparent” can also be used to disregard a woman’s position, but be considered uncommon and valuable assets for men. The key principle to remember is – no matter what I do or what I am like, I will never please everyone. I need to be comfortable in my own skin.

Get past the fear.

Women sometimes feel afraid… afraid of not knowing enough, afraid of saying something stupid, afraid of failing, afraid of being labeled as a fraud². Fears like these could easily paralyze and cause a step back from opportunities, but so often they are irrational and never actually occur. I am learning to speak up or act with courage in spite of my fears. I am learning that I am needed and because of that, I must “keep my hand up… and sit at the table”³. 

Say a simple “Thank You” for compliments and awards.

Sandberg explains that it is often our insecurity that causes us to scoff, brush off, and negate the achievements and accolades that we receive. I sometimes fail to accept a compliment without explaining or excusing it away with a, “It was nothing”, “I had lots of help”, or “I guess I had them fooled.” I am grateful for those in my life who (first) express their sincere appreciation for my efforts and (second) confront me if I undervalue my contribution. 

How have you been your own worst enemy? What would you add to this list?

¹Sandberg, Sheryl. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2013. p. 8.
²Ibid. p. 28-29.
³Ibid. p.38

let them fly

IMG_0971 crop
My “baby” (just finished her freshman year in college) boarded a plane this morning to take an international flight… all. by. herself. I am a bit nervous. I am anxiously awaiting updates as she makes her way through three flights, three airports, immigration and customs, money changing, and a bus ride to a destination where she will finally connect with friends. I will be counting the hours… minutes… seconds?

I go through second guessing… Is she ready for this? Did I tell her everything she needs to know? Will she get stuck somewhere?

And then I remember… I raised her to do this. I am not an overly protective, micro-managing, hovering type of mother. I want her to be confident, try new things, step out of her comfort zone, take adventures. I want her to figure it out on her own… or be able to ask for help. I want her to make her own (wise) decisions, trust her instincts, lean on her faith, be strong and not afraid of the unknown. 

I want this for all my children… and I want this for those I supervise at work and in ministry. One of the hardest things to do is to let them fly on their own… be in charge, take over, make the decisions. One of the key lessons in leadership is: get. out. of. the. way. Let others lead.

Will they make mistakes? Yes.

Will they make poor decisions? Sometimes.

Will they need help? Sure.

Good training, modeling, and coaching is crucial, but there comes a time when it is really only our pride and our fear that stand in the way. I have seen many leaders that hang on to leadership for too long, wearing too many “hats” of responsibility that could be released to others. I’ve done this myself. But I’ve learned that when we sense a lack of leader candidates, they oftentimes step up only when we are out-of-the-way and there is a real gap to fill.

It’s OK to feel nervous… to worry a bit from the sidelines… even to remain available for a quick touch-point .. but it is not OK to hold them back by our own fear or selfishness.

Let them lead. Let them go. Let them fly.

Is is hard for you to let go? How have you learned to let others lead?

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/