Broadening perspective

My son loves school, but every morning it’s like we’re living 50 First Dates. He forgets how much he enjoys learning and playing with his friends until he actually enters the building. He yells at our Amazon Echo when it reminds him that it’s time to get dressed for school. He mopes while he picks out (at an excruciatingly slow speed) his mismatched clothes.

Recently I’ve been using a coaching technique that has helped everyone’s mood. I’ve been taking his complaint and using it to broaden his perspective. Here are a couple of examples:

Example 1

Alexa reminds him to get dressed.

Him: Your reminders are terrible, Alexa!

Me: Are they really that bad? Let’s play a game. We’ll take turn naming things more terrible than Alexa’s reminders. I’ll go first: dropping my ice cream on the ground.

Him: [Thinks.] A monster destroying Ninjago city.

Me: Getting a cold and missing something really fun.

Him: A baby penguin dying. [Yikes.]

After a couple more rounds, he was laughing and we were declaring each other winners of the game. He then got ready without complaint.

Example 2

Child is refusing to put on his school clothes.

Him: I don’t want to go to school today. Today is Saturday. I want every day to be Saturday.

Me: Hmmm. I like Saturdays too. What would you do on your perfect Saturday?

Him: [Lets me dress him while he talks.] I would watch the Ninjago movie and play Legos.

Me: That sounds fun! What would you eat for breakfast on your perfect Saturday?

Him: Fish and krill. [He was a penguin that day.]

By then he was dressed, and he penguin-waddled across the hall to brush his teeth.

In both of these examples, it would have gotten us nowhere for me to keep askyelling for him to get ready. We would have both been grumpy and started our respective days in a terrible headspace. But by taking his lead and using it as prompt for us both to think creatively, he felt heard and reoriented his focus.

I use this approach in my coaching. If a coachee gets stuck in a thought spiral – often around the worry that she is not an effective pastor – I ask a question to help her widen the view: “What’s the best affirmation you’ve received lately?” (Often this is not an explicit “thank you” but a realization that she has been invited into a tender place by a parishioner.) She realizes that she is making a difference in tangible ways. Or, “what is one change you’ve seen in the congregation since your arrival?” One small change opens the door to thinking about several ways the coachee has led the church toward growth.

This can work for clergy in their ministry settings too. Consider the following:

Church member: This [ministry initiative] won’t work.

Minister: Hmm. Ok. Let’s think about everything that could go wrong.

After brainstorming the possible catastrophes, probe why these outcomes are so undesirable. Then name all the potential positive outcomes and discuss, in light of these different visions of the future, what the most faithful next step is. With this approach, you can acknowledge the church member’s resistance, unearth some unspoken – maybe even subconscious – norms and fears, move toward agreement on action, and stop many of the parking lot conversations that sabotage change.

Perspective shifts are invaluable when there is stuckness. Next time you feel mired down, try opening up the conversation with a question, brainstorming prompt, or game.

Photo by Evan Kirby on Unsplash.

For the love of questions

I defied my junior high Sunday School teachers yet again on Sunday night. I went to a rock ‘n roll show, as the kids say. Well, kids of a certain generation, I guess.

My youth leaders specifically warned me about two of the three acts. Don Felder – FORMERLY OF THE EAGLES, as I imagine legal actions require him to clarify – sang “Hotel California,” which my teachers said was about drug use. (I never really understood the objection, since the song seems like more of a cautionary tale than a ringing endorsement.) Styx put on the best concert I’ve ever seen, but did you know that the Styx is a river that leads to Hades? (My Sunday School leaders whispered that “Hades” is another word for hell.)

I hated every millisecond of my Sundays in that too-small room with teachers who saw the world through the lens of fear and divided everything in it into good and bad camps. (I promised myself then that I would crank up and sing along to “Hotel California” every time it came on the radio, and I made myself a mental note to check out Styx, even though it would be another five years until I really got into classic rock.) The worst part of my “formational” experience in that setting, though, was that there was no room for questions. And as a teenager struggling with the difference between what I deeply felt to be true about Jesus and what I was being told at church, I had a lot of ’em.

My parents took my abject misery and my soul’s peril (as I refused to be baptized in this congregation) seriously, and we hopped around until we found a church that was a good fit for our whole family. There I made my pastor, many a youth leader, and my peers uncomfortable with my questions and pushback, but no one tried to shut me up. Bless those kind souls. They are one of the reasons I am in ministry today.

Now, I ask questions for a living. What a dream for a person with so many! I don’t ask these questions on my own behalf in my role as coach. I listen for what is going on in clergy and congregations and make queries that will help them come to their own realizations and reach longed-for goals. I cannot tell you how much I love this work.

Maybe it’s a curiosity mindset that the Eagles were actually referring to: “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.” And why would I want to?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.

 

There’s never been a better time to explore coaching

The new year often brings renewed intentionality around meeting goals and overcoming challenges, whether in our personal or professional lives. If you have big plans for 2018 and need help getting traction with them, coaching might be just what you require to end the year feeling joyful, focused, and accomplished.

Use these questions to gauge whether coaching is a fit for you:

  • Have you thought through what your life would look like if you meet your goals?
  • Do you have a sense of the full range of resources at your disposal?
  • Do you need help viewing a situation from a different perspective?
  • Would you benefit from a thought partner who listens, affirms, and gently challenges you?
  • Could you use an hour on a regular basis that is reserved solely for your processing, planning, and growth?
  • Are you ready to make changes that will bring results?

If you answered in the negative to the first two questions and in the affirmative to the rest, you are in a coachable place. I invite you to join me for a free coaching informational call next Wednesday, January 17, at noon eastern to learn what coaching is all about, how it works, and how it can empower you to get the results you seek. Sign up here.

Course on resilience in ministry coming in 2018

I coach clergywomen around a number of topics: widening the margins in their lives, leading in ways that are true to their gifts and purpose, visioning new ministries, finding a best-fit next call, leaving and starting a position well, navigating conflict, leading change in the church.

I believe from the split ends of my hair down to my non-pedicured toes that each coachee is capable of navigating the issues in front of her. But that doesn’t mean that these clergywomen don’t get tired and anxious, don’t occasionally daydream about 9-5 jobs, or don’t wonder if they can do this pastoring thing for the long term.

It takes resilience – the ability to withstand and even thrive in the midst of stress – to to lead at a high level throughout a ministry career. That’s why in 2018 I am offering Pastoral persistence: cultivating resilience for the long haul. This three-session course will cover three key areas of resilience in ministry: leading with authenticity, dealing with feedback, and tending to joy. Each 1.5-hour video call will include teaching and coaching time. Participants will come away with a clearer understanding of their specific call and leadership style, a plan for setting up helpful feedback systems and learning from criticism, and a strategy for ongoing self-care. The format will be part teaching, part coaching.

Here are the pertinent details:

January 9, January 23, February 6
12:30-2:00 eastern
Zoom platform
$50/person

Space will be limited. Sign up here.

 

Why coaching is the best use of your continuing ed money

Sure, I’m biased. But as someone who was coached long before she became a coach, I can tell you that coaching is the best way to get the biggest bang from your professional development funds. Here’s why:

All of your money goes directly toward learning. You don’t spend a nickel on travel, meals, and all the other hidden costs that come with going to a conference.

The approach is completely tailored to your goals and your learning style. There’s nothing cookie-cutter about coaching. It’s my job to adjust my questions to your needs.

Sessions take place on days and at times convenient for you. You don’t have to move meetings around, get approval for time away, or arrange for pastoral care coverage. And if an emergency conflicts with our call, we simply reschedule.

There are no lectures or workshops during which you’re a passive participant. You won’t wonder why you paid a speaker to tell you something that 1) you already know or 2) is completely irrelevant to your context. We start with your wisdom, your experiences, and your resources, then go from there.

The learning is spread out so that you can implement it a piece at a time. Have you ever come back from a conference with a file full of ideas, only to have those ideas quickly gather dust? In coaching you take a big goal, divide it into bite-sized chunks, and design a few action steps at a time, then come back to reflect, adjust, and build on what you’ve done.

You get a built-in encourager and accountability partner. I think my clients are amazing, and I tell them so. And while I help coachees create their own accountability networks, knowing that I’ll ask about the action items coming out of our last call often motivates clients to implement them before we talk again.

Let’s set up a time to talk about how you can make your professional funds work for you through a coaching relationship.

Already amazing: young clergy women and pastoral leadership

Last week I had the privilege of facilitating a pastoral leadership workshop at the Young Clergy Women International conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. My goals in that hour and a half were to ask coaching questions that allowed participants to

  • name their strengths and consider how to operate out of them,
  • articulate how they want to show up in their ministry settings,
  • identify the helps for and barriers to showing up in those ways, and
  • begin to make a plan for utilizing the resources and maneuvering around the roadblocks.

I want to share the discussion prompts I offered in that sacred space in the hopes that they might be useful to you as well.

Naming and claiming strengths

  • What energizes you in ministry?
  • When have you felt most like you were living fully into your call? (Responses can include one-off and recurring situations.)
  • What do your responses to these two questions tell you about your strengths?

Showing up authentically

  • How do you want to show up as a pastoral leader in your ministry setting?
  • When have you shown up this way? (If you’re not sure, try to imagine your leadership through the eyes of a congregant, lay leader, or judicatory leader.)
  • What has made showing up this way possible?

Utilizing resources and managing barriers 

  • What tapped and untapped resources do you have for showing up the way you want?
  • How might you best utilize these resources?
  • What keeps you from showing up the way you want?
  • How do you remove the barriers you can control and maneuver around the barriers you can’t control?

Putting it all together

  • Given what you have learned about yourself and your context from your responses to these questions, what is the first step toward living more fully into your pastoral leadership potential? In other words, what is the lowest-hanging fruit for drawing on your strengths, taking into account how you want to show up, maximizing helpful conditions, minimizing obstacles, and putting the tools at your disposal to good use?

While I think these are useful questions, what made them powerful was the workshop participants’ willingness to create spaces for candid conversation. Since there were 25-30 people in the room, I asked them to divide themselves into dyads or triads to respond to the questions. The women shared deeply and offered invaluable observations and encouragement to one another. These questions, then, are good for reflection but much more transformative when used as a discussion guide.

 

Benefits of coaching: dealing with conflict

I sighed deeply, knowing a difficult conversation with a parent was in my near future. A children’s worship leader – one with extraordinary patience and skill in managing rambunctious behavior – had just expressed her concerns about a second grader’s ongoing disruptive and defiant actions during Godly Play.

I needed – I really wanted – to work with the parent on making children’s worship a sacred space for all of the kids, including her son. But I had experienced this mom as not very solution-focused on several occasions. So I tapped my go-to resource: I called my coach.

My coach asked me questions that surfaced my hoped-for outcomes. Her queries prepared me to ask the mother for a meeting in a non-threatening way, have the right people in the room for the conversation itself, voice the interests shared by all involved, name the point at which we’d made as much headway as we were going to, and communicate the results to those who needed to be in the loop. It was a hard meeting, but it went as well as it could because of all that pre-work.

Conflict is inevitable in ministry. And while the word “conflict” may strike terror in many hearts, conflict is actually value-neutral. It is simply a difference of opinion. Conflict done well can build trust and buy-in. Bungled conflict can lead to…well, we all have our horror stories.

I have found coaching invaluable when I’ve stared down the confusion, vulnerability, and fear that come with conflict, and I believe it can help you too. Specifically, a coach can help you:

  • define the conflict and see its potential value
  • separate conflicting ideas from the people who hold them
  • explore the dynamics of the situation and sort out your role (if any)
  • take a step back and see the issue or pastoral care need behind the issue
  • pinpoint what you don’t yet know but need to find out about the conflict
  • prompt you to name and assess options for taking action
  • strategize specific conversations
  • think about resources and partners available to you
  • empower you to say or do difficult but necessary things
  • build in some accountability for following through with your action plan

If you recognize value in these conversation points for your own ministry, let’s talk.

Creative Commons image “Putting The Puzzle Together” by Ken Teegardin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.