Networking that doesn’t feel icky

The last semester of seminary was an anxious time for me. Every day I felt more unemployable as my classmates were appointed or called to their post-graduation churches. Meanwhile, I went on interview after interview, breaking the top two or three several times before hearing the “no” that every minister in a search process dreads.

A big factor in my failed searches was that I didn’t know a lot of people. I was a name on a page, with too little experience to make search teams want to find out more about me. One reason for my small network was that I simply had not met a lot of people. I had only recently found my way to the progressive Baptist world, which was where I wanted to serve, yet as a Candler student most of my friends and professors were United Methodist. But there was also the side of me that rejected networking as I understood it: schmoozing and getting ahead based on the connections I had, not the work I had done or the skills I possessed.

In time I realized that “networking” is one of those words that needs to be re-claimed, like evangelism. Good, healthy networking is not about ladder-climbing. It’s about showing interest in other people and their work. It’s about learning from and sharing wisdom with others. It’s about, in short, understanding our interdependence and strengthening relationships such that both parties can more fully inhabit their personhood and their call.

Putting on a Murphy Brown suit and making it rain business cards won’t accomplish those ends. But in his WorkLife podcast, organizational psychologist Adam Grant recently offered up ways to network that do build genuine bonds:

Build your skills. As you learn, you not only increase your range and expertise, you meet people in the areas where those skills are needed, some of whom are regularly contacted by organizations looking for those talents. So in the world of ministry, seek out parachurch trainings about how to be a head of staff or mediate conflict or navigate the interim time between settled pastors. Attend continuing education events offered by seminaries. Get coached. Go to denominational gatherings that offer practical workshops.

Give help. Want to learn how to do something new and show your willingness to be a team player? Offer to pitch in. Take on a project at the middle judicatory level. Mentor a new minister. Offer your expertise in a consultant-type role. Lead a retreat. Tread with intentionality, though, making sure you aren’t just accumulating tasks that no one else wants or that others expect women to do.

Ask for advice. Not everyone loves to be asked for help. That can, at times, feel like a burden. But who doesn’t like to be asked for their wisdom? Contact someone who is doing something you’d like to do and ask a few brief questions about how that person got there. If you want to serve a big-steeple church, reach out to a large-church pastor you admire. The same goes if you’re feeling called to be a CPE supervisor, judicatory or denominational leader, or any other role. The veteran will feel recognized for work well done, and you will gain knowledge and plant your name in that person’s memory.

The key in all of these types of network is to be sincere in your interactions. Truly be interested, and you will likely be amazed at the doors that will open for you.

Photo by Alina Grubnyak on Unsplash.

My commitment to keep growing as a coach

I recently celebrated five years as a coach. I have felt more creative, productive, and impactful doing this work than at any other time in my ministry. I love what I do, and I want to get better at it every day. That’s why I follow a five-pronged approach to my professional development:

I learn about coaching. Each month I attend – at minimum – two hours of continuing education online in the form of learning labs and webinars. I listen to a coaching podcast weekly, and I read books about coaching. Once or twice per year I take a 16-hour training around a particular aspect of coaching. These learning opportunities help me expand my understanding of coaching.

I watch coaching. A couple of the organizations I’m affiliated with occasionally offer live demonstrations by master coaches. I tune in to see how those who have been in the field longer than me facilitate new awareness in their clients. These demos give me a picture of excellence in coaching to strive toward.

I coach. I can’t grow in my ministry – and what would be the point? – if I don’t actually coach! And so I do, happily, four days per week. After each session, I sit and reflect for a few minutes on what went well and in what areas I’d like to improve. These coaching sessions and post-call analyses allow me to inhabit the role of a coach better.

I seek feedback about my coaching. At the end of every first session, I ask new coachees what about my approach was helpful and what I can do on the next call to be more helpful. I emphasize that feedback is welcome throughout the coaching relationship, since my goal is to support coachees in reaching their hoped-for results. I have also created a form for those whose coaching packages have concluded to evaluate the process, my competence, and my adaptability. This feedback gives me other perspectives on my coaching, pointing me to areas that need additional attention.

I get coached. I believe in the coaching process, which necessarily means that I pursue coaching for myself. I meet several times per year with a mentor coach who helps me work through challenges in my role as a coach and as the sole proprietor of a coaching practice. Being coached helps me put myself in the shoes of my coachees and remember what it’s like to be the one bringing the agenda, with all the excitement and hesitancy that entails.

I strive to be the best possible coach so that I can fulfill my call faithfully and serve my coachees well. I pursue professional development eagerly so that I can meet both of these goals and thereby promote well-being in clergy and the congregations they lead.

Photo by Nikola Jovanovic on Unsplash.

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.

Coaching and the … THREE brains?

Creative Commons "Internal Organs of the Human Body from The Household Physician, 1905" by WIlliam Creswell is licensed under CC BY 2.0>
Creative Commons “Internal Organs of the Human Body from The Household Physician, 1905” by William Creswell is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Brain science has proven that the body contains not one but three brains – neural networks in the head, heart, and gut. The head uses logic to make meaning. The heart processes feelings, core values, and relationships. And the gut is grounded in our identity and self-preservation instincts. It is also the nurturer of courage.

The most effective coaching will help clients access all three brains. For example, my default is to think a problem to death. I need a coach who will help me get out of my head and tap into my emotions and sense of self. On the other hand, a person who tends to go immediately to the heart may need coaching prompts to think through the logistics of a particular goal.

Many coaches move between these brains intuitively, and my coaching and the brain class has helped me clarify the distinctions between them. This knowledge will enable me to pinpoint better where coachees are coming from and where they might need to be challenged to go. I look forward to implementing this new understanding to help my clients!

“Go make a ruckus”

For the last several months I have been working my way through Seth Godin’s freelancer course on the web-based learning platform Udemy. The decision to take advantage of this opportunity was an easy one. I subscribe to Godin’s blog, which is full of insights about community and human nature that are as applicable to ministry as they are to business. The course is just as meaty.

I could tease out several threads that ran throughout the lessons and reflect on them. But I was most struck by Godin’s last line in his final lecture: “Go make a ruckus.” It was an invitation, an encouragement, to tell my story. To push against expectations. To infuse the world with beauty. To give a hand up to others who are carving out their vocational niches.

I love the thought of empowering others to “go make a ruckus.” Fellow ministers. Lay leaders. Congregation members. Community activists. Young people. Old people. Introverts. Extroverts. We live in a time that begs for questioning and creativity and connection.

Where, then, is God prompting you to make a ruckus?

Making connections

In school I was a great test-taker. I studied, I regurgitated…and then I promptly lost most of that hard work. This is why I made a 5 on the AP Calculus exam but can’t do basic algebra now.

Creative Commons "The Bermuda Triangle" by NOAA's National Ocean Service's photostream is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Creative Commons “The Bermuda Triangle” by NOAA’s National Ocean Service’s photostream is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

This week I learned in my “coaching and the brain” class what created this mental Bermuda Triangle. By preparing myself to respond to test-type questions – for which I was supposed to know the (one) right answer – I was taking in isolated bits of information and not connecting them well to concepts that were already in my longer-term memory. That meant the knowledge never got fully assimilated.

Coaches, however, ask discovery-type questions. These queries are open-ended. They are designed to help the respondent comb his/her memory for various pieces of information and then build bridges between them to create new ideas. That’s what (ideally) leads to “aha!” moments.

No matter how life-changing these new ideas are, however, they can be sucked down into the Bermuda Triangle too if they are not quickly applied. Brain research shows that concepts must be acted upon within 24-72 hours if they are to find a home in long-term memory. In other words, use it or lose it.

I will be asking more questions in upcoming coaching calls to help coachees “lock in” the good work they are doing. What great ideas do you need to act on right now – at least in part – so that they don’t disappear, never to be heard from again?

Tapping into what you don’t know you know

Monday was the first of eight sessions in “Coaching as a Learning Catalyst,” an online class I’m taking. The course teaches basic brain science so that the participants can better utilize coachees’ cognitive preferences and learning styles to promote forward movement.

An underlying theory for this class is the knowledge model (from Smart Things to Know About: Knowledge Management by Thomas Koulopoulos and Carl Frappaolo), which divides information into four types:

  • what we know that we know (I’m ready for the test!)
  • what we know that we don’t know (I need to take a class on X subject.)
  • what we don’t know that we don’t know (Ignorance is bliss.)
  • what we don’t know that we know (I have bits of information, but I haven’t connected all the dots yet.)
Creative Commons "brain power" by Allan Ajifo is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
Creative Commons “brain power” by Allan Ajifo is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The goal of learning is to know that we know. Traditional teaching moves students from knowing that they don’t know toward true understanding. The purview of coaching, however, is helping people get from what they don’t know that they know toward confidence and a well-informed plan. The focused questions that coaches ask prompt coachees to bridge the gaps between pieces of information they already have. Unlike purging the brain after a big test, then, the coachee is more likely to retain the connections and act on them, because the parts of the equation were already ingrained.

I’m excited about this class, and I look forward to sharing and using what I (currently) know that I don’t know!