Archive for the ‘Communication Skills’ Category

Giving Thanks When You’re Not Thankful

“Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.”– Amy Collette

Article contributed by Amy Sargent

I’m guessing you understand the value of gratitude. You’ve been told how a thankful heart can change your perspective, open up possibilities, and produce positive emotions. You’ve learned that expressing thanks can lift your spirits and make others feel appreciated. You probably know that gratitude can help develop resilience as you go through difficult times. And as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, you’re reminded it is a time to be thankful.

But what if you’re not feeling thankful?

Times are tough. The fear, uncertainty, and sense of a loss of control over life as you once knew it can feel overwhelming. Just watch the news or scan your social media feed and you’ll see a plethora of negative stories and posts, with an ample supply of “2020: Worst Year Ever!” memes. The loss that people are experiencing seems to be present at every turn. You may have lost your job. You may have lost a loved one. You may have lost your social life. You may have lost your confidence in leadership. You may have lost your ability to get out and exercise at your favorite gym or enjoy a meal at your favorite restaurant. You may have lost your [you fill in the blank]. All of this loss can leave you feeling discontent and discouraged, and a far cry from feeling thankful. So how are you supposed to feel thankful when everything’s going wrong?

“Gratitude is an antidote to negative emotions, a neutralizer of envy, hostility, worry, and irritation. It is savoring; it is not taking things for granted; it is present-oriented.”– Sonja Lyubomirsky

Waiting around for the feeling of gratitude to come along may prove to be a long, long wait. Instead, try taking a few steps in a grateful direction and see if the feelings follow.

1-Keep a thankful jar. Find a notepad and an old, colorful jar and place it somewhere you can see it and reach it conveniently. Each time something positive happens, no matter how great or how small, write it down on a small scrap of paper, fold it, and place it in the jar. Try to write at least one thing a day (or more). You may have to search for positives at first, but look closely. They’re there.

2-Use the words, “thank you” often in your daily vocabulary. Who can you thank? Maybe a friend shared a kind word, or someone opened a door for you. Maybe someone liked your post, or someone gave you that choice parking spot. Even if you feel something was owed you (like a client finally sending that payment!), make it a habit to say thanks.

3-Reflect back on past successes, and think about who helped you reach those milestones. Maybe your parents served as a source of encouragement, or you had a mentor who took time out of their busy schedule for you. Take a moment to send them a text to let them know how much you appreciate them. Be specific with your praise.

4-Notice the little things and savor. From where you’re sitting as you read this, look up and look around. Allow your eyes to fall on something beautiful, something cherished, something you value. It may be an expensive item or a small trinket — cost doesn’t matter. Take a moment to note why this item brings you joy. Try doing this when you take a walk outside or on your commute to work.

5-Share a positive story with a friend. Research shows that retelling a positive event you experienced enables you feel the positive emotions associated with that event again and again — as often as you tell it — and allows the listener to feel them as well! Think back on something which brought you a host of positive emotions and find a friend to share the joy.

6-Be kind to yourself. Many are feeling isolated these days, and have very little interaction with others. So who better to get in the habit of showing kindnesses to than yourself? Take good care of your body (sleep, eating, exercise) and celebrate your successes. Forgive yourself of past wrongs and appreciate yourself for the person you are and are becoming. Thank yourself for the efforts you are putting into growth and change.

“We don’t need to see things differently to be grateful, rather be grateful to see things differently.” — Niki Hardy

Gratitude may be a new skill for you. But as with any new skill set, practice makes perfect. The more you are able to incorporate exercises such as these into your daily life, the more gratitude you’ll begin to feel. Don’t wait for the perfect set of circumstances to begin down the path of thankfulness. Circumstances are not in our control, but our gratitude is. So get started today. Even if you don’t feel like it…yet.

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melodie Beattie

An unpopular way to inspire

In a world where everyone appears to be shouting loudly (whether verbally or through the written word in their social media posts) to push others to think differently and act differently, it can seem as if forcing one’s hand is the only way to bring about change.

How did this become the norm, and when did the art of inspirational leadership lose its foothold?

It was the 14th century when the word inspire first came into use, carrying much of the same meaning then which it does today: to influence, move, or guide, not by force, but by a divine power, empowering followers to action. It was a metaphorical use of its Latin root inspirare which means to breathe or blow into to create something new. We figuratively refer to this when we say things like, “that vacation was a much-needed breath of fresh air”, or when a particular confrontation is stifling, “I need to get some air”.

I can’t help but think of a blow-up life raft, which, when uninflated, is rather useless, but when filled with air, is capable of fulfilling its intended purpose of floating upon turbulent waters to carry its passengers where they need to be. Inspirational leadership is like that. It’s the act of breathing life into others so they are then capable of being their best self, not only fulfilling their intended purpose, but motivated to rise above to create and achieve great things.

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, and do more, you are a leader.”

— John Quincy Adams

Back to the yelling. When you hear inflamed insults, name-calling, and outbursts of verbal venom spewing forth, do you feel inspired to dream more, learn more, and do more? Do you experience inspirare, your heart and soul filled and brimming over with the oxygen-rich motivation to become your best self and accomplish bigger, better things? Or instead, do the angry affronts leave you feeling rather deflated?

Inspirational leadership is the ability to mobilize individuals and groups by articulating a clear, compelling and motivational vision for the future. Those who possess this superpower (I jest, we all are capable of it, with some superpower effort!) are able to bring people together in unified efforts to reach an intelligible, enthralling objective. And one very effective way to do this is to be a servant leader.

Servant leader. It’s a phrase first coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in 1970 in his essay The Servant as Leader. It’s not the most provocative phrase, is it? Where’s the passion, the persuasiveness, the power that we so often associate with leadership? For many, the word servant evokes images of weakness and ineffectiveness. If this is you, I challenge you to allow for a paradigm shift, for this humble, quieter style of leadership may very well be the most powerful breath of fresh air needed to inspire others.

Leaders who practice servant leadership focus on others’ needs and objectives, and seek to understand the why behind those needs and objectives. They are able to see and appreciate others’ perspectives. They actively look for ways to increase others’ satisfaction and make themselves available, with gladness, to offer assistance.

Think of someone you know who truly understands you, who ‘gets’ your hopes and dreams, and actively does as much as they can to help make them happen. They listen to you. They validate your viewpoints. They take time out to be with you, show an interest in your life, and truly care. When asked, they are happy to offer support to help you be successful. They celebrate your achievements and mourn your losses, by your side.

If you are so fortunate to have someone like this in your life, a servant leader, you understand the positive impact of the inspirare they provide. Imagine if all of us had these life-breathers encircling and lifting us up. In his article in the Small Business Chronical, Fraser Sherman outlines how servant leadership, in the workplace, can boost morale. He notes “Employees feel valued and they know you are looking out for them. That inspires them to work with more enthusiasm and [better] serve the customers, which benefits your bottom line.” Servant leaders also encourage a collaborative workplace, and provide a model of authenticity where employees, in turn, feel safe enough to be authentic, deepening levels of trust within the organization.

Palena Neale, Ph.D., writes in her Forbes article, “Why Servant Leadership is More Important Than Ever“, that our current “new normal” with different ways of operating, sickness, layoffs, furloughs, and at-home employees make this novel style of leadership vital. She writes, “Wider societal impacts include adverse effects on the global economy. This calls for a more comprehensive, communal leadership approach: leadership that is focused on serving others.”

In contrast, think of leaders you know who are not on the lookout for the needs of their teams. They focus on their own objectives and often diminish the needs of others. They don’t make time for those ‘beneath’ them, and when they do interact, they are distracted, quick to give quick, “off the shelf” advice or solutions, hurrying the conversation along. They fail to go above and beyond, and team members find themselves saying things like, “I hate to bother you…” or “I’m sorry to take your time but…” at the start of any ask. These individuals tend to speak poorly of others (leaving you to wonder what they say about you when you’re not there), point blame away from themselves, and rarely stand up for the underdog.

Sadly, leaders such as this leave their teams feeling deflated and discouraged.

“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

— Albert Schweitzer

It’s easy to point the finger at those in leadership. “If only leaders would figure this stuff out!”, we say in exasperation. However, we’re talking about emotional intelligence here — that ability to exhibit self-awareness and self-management, and tune into others’ emotions and manage our relationships with them appropriately. If you’re ever tried to control someone else’s behavior, you probably know how well that turns out. We can only change ourselves. So instead of waiting on those who bear the title, let’s instead take the brave task of looking inward as to how we can improve our own inspirational leadership skills. Here are a few tips to get started:

  • Get to know people. Ask others how they are doing and really stop to listen. Use open-ended questions to understand the why behind their needs, hopes, dreams. One of my favorite coaching questions, after someone has shared, is,”What else?”
  • Keep an eye out for small ways you can be of service to others. Open the door for someone, offer up the best parking space, spend an extra 5 minutes listening. Offer to buy a colleague’s coffee. Give a sincere compliment. These little gives can help build a new habit of service.
  • Schedule time for others. I know you’re busy. We all are. If it helps, set aside a small amount of time each week on your calendar as ‘Others’ time, so doing something for others actually DOES fit into your schedule.
  • Adopt a yes attitude for a while. When others make requests, think how you CAN help them instead of all the reasons you can’t. If it’s a no, it’s a no, but before you commit to the no, consider alternate ways you could turn it into a yes.
  • Keep your promises. Nothing sucks the air out of someone like a broken promise. Be realistic in what you can do and if you do agree to help someone, make that the priority. You will always have ‘better’ things come up…other opportunities and demands which compete for your time and attention. Though those things may be more attractive — stick to your word.
  • Become an over-deliverer. It’s one thing to meet someone’s needs, but going above and beyond can inspire others to new heights. Again, start small. If someone needs five minutes of your time, offer them ten. If they ask to have coffee, take them out to lunch. If they need an hour off work to tend to stressful events at home, if possible, tell them to take the day.
  • Develop the habit of follow-up. We all appreciate it when someone gives us the time of day, but if it’s a one-off incident, the value of that connection begins to fade with time. Follow up with them. Check in with them, and ask about details you discussed last time. If you’re one of those people who says, “I’m not good with names — let alone details!”, write down the things they share with you and review before your next encounter.

Servant leaders have a desire to be the change someone else needs. These days, it’s not the most popular way of leading, and surely won’t get you a lot of attention. And for most of us, it doesn’t come naturally, and it doesn’t come easily. But it is a skill set worth developing. Not only will your efforts breathe life into those around you to be their best, they just may inspire you to discover your own purpose and direction as well.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

On a positive note

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Times such as these can feel overwhelming, far too trying and tiresome to attempt to maintain a positive outlook. With ever-changing restrictions, guidelines, and perspectives which continue to constrict their grip on life as we once knew it, many report feeling utterly exhausted. Mix in fear, uncertainty, and grief, and it’s a recipe for negativity. Add in a little financial struggle and a heaping lack of in-real-time social interaction, you may find yourself completely spent at the end of each day. Who can muster up the effort for a positive mindset with all of this going on? Choosing optimism can feel like just one more thing on your to-do list. It’s much easier to allow dejection and depression to curl their dark tendrils around what’s left of the light inside of you and choke out any positivity you have left.

But realistic optimism during tough circumstances is the very salve needed to soothe our wearied souls.

What does it mean to be realistically optimistic? To better understand, let’s take a quick exploration into the field of positive psychology. Jeana Magyar-Moe, Ph.D., defines positive psychology as the scientific study of optimal human functioning. Optimal human functioning. Let those words sink in. Would you describe your life right now as optimal human functioning? Most likely not! Martin Seligman, Ph.D., defines it as the scientific and applied approach to uncovering people’s strengths and promoting their positive functioning. Do you feel your strengths these days are being revealed in a way which promote positive functioning? If you’re anything like me, quarantines and stay-at-home orders have instead revealed how weak my character is when it comes to things like eating well and exercising. Oh, why is that fridge door so easy to open, and why is Netflix is so much easier to choose than a yoga workout? Similarily, Chris Peterson, Ph.D., of the University of Michigan, says positive psychology is the scientific study of what goes right in life, happiness and joy, what makes life worth living, and the good life. Nice. For him. All it takes is one glance on social media to see most everyone around us telling us what is NOT going right in their lives.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not seeing a lot of people who are living out positive psychology these days.

Whichever definition you most connect to, there’s no need to argue which is best. We have plenty of other newsworthy items to argue about. I think we can all agree that an increase of positive emotions is something we all could use more of. But how to find that in a world swarmed with negativity?

Realistic optimism is not about pretending nothing bad is going on. It’s not hiding our heads in the sand, or looking the other way when negative events occur. Life is tough right now, no need to pretend that it’s not. But would you believe that a positive spirit is not so much about what’s going on around us?

Researchers have found that our circumstances only make up 10% of our happiness levels! I find that shocking. What do you mean, my ability to experience positive emotions is not based upon what is or is not happening to me? Oddly, studies show that 85% of the stuff we worry about ends up having a positive or neutral outcome? Think back on the last thing you were really worried about — did it actually come to pass to the degree you expected?

And while 50% of our happiness results from our genetics, the remaining 40% is up to us, through our choices and actions!

You’ve probably heard of emotional intelligence — that ability to perceive the emotions you an others are feeling, in the moment, and manage your behaviors and relationships appropriately. The competencies which make up emotional intelligence are really about behaviors — behaviors based upon the emotions we feel. Two of these competencies, realistic optimism and resilience, are closely connected to positive psychology. Realistic optimism is expecting success instead of failure, seeing opportunities instead of threats, expecting the future will bring positive change. Resilience is perseverance and diligence in the face of setbacks. I sure like the sound of each of those. But easier said than done.

Why have a positive outlook? Through her work around the science of positivity, researcher and author Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues discovered that positive emotions have superpowers. They can broaden our awareness, attention and cognitive abilities. They can build our creativity and resiliency. They allows us to see a wider range of possibilities, unlike negativity, which tamps down our innovative ideas. Positivity helps us be more socially connected and build stronger relationships, and has actually been proven to undo the psysiological damage that persistent negative emotions can cause. [https://positivepsychology.com/broaden-build-theory/].

And all of that can happen despite the negative circumstances which surround us!

I know, it’s hard. Honestly, I think it’s easier to allow negativity to take rein, allowing our emotions to run amok, without any awareness or management. Think back on a time when someone recently made you very mad. Remember the physical symptoms you felt? Maybe your heart was racing, your mouth became dry, and you felt a sick pit in your stomach. Maybe your face flushed, your jaw clenched, and you found your hands became fists. And the thoughts which result from that hard-hit of negative emotions! It’s probably not a good idea to mention them here.

These emotions which lead to thoughts are what lead to our actions. Actions which, often, later, when we lie down in bed and think back on our day, make us cringe. It’s much easier to let negativity rule than take hold and choose positivity. Consider this, for example. When you read a post on social media that makes your blood boil — which is easier, in the moment: to type something smart aleck or cutting, or to choose to tell them something you appreciate about them?! Negativity is a much easier choice. However, if we continue to let negative emotions take the lead, we’ll quickly and easily end up in Debby Downer’s neighborhood. But who wants to live there?

How do you know if you could grow in realistic optimism? See if any of these ring true for you. People who struggle with an positive outlook tend to see failure as permanent and that difficulties, when they arise, will last a long time. They demonstrate inflexible thinking, and, as a result, can feel powerless and helpless. They expect the worst and often dwell in the past, engaging in negative self-talk. They operate from a fixed mindset and often believe that every misfortune is their own fault and attribute their success to luck rather than their own capabilities. They blame their circumstances for their misfortune and love to tell you about everything that has gone wrong over the days, months, and years. Does this sound like you?

On the other hand, those who possess a positive spirit see unfortunate events as temporary, and use each struggle to develop better coping skills. Their self-talk speaks to them of success because they believe they will succeed. These individuals operate from a growth mindset, believing negative events are temporary and happen to everyone. They are unfazed by defeat and bounce back after disappointments. They’re flexible, adaptable, and look for ways to allow failures to teach them resiliency. Do you know anyone like this?

Carol Dweck speaks of these two mindsets in her book, Mindset (2015). She describes a fixed mindset as one which assumes our character and intelligence are static, and our success is based upon of inherent intelligence, one that’s set at a fixed standard. In other words, there’s no room to improve or grow. Those with this mindset avoid failure at all cost to maintain their sense of worth. In contrast, Dweck notes that a growth mindset “thrives on challenges and sees failure not as evidence of unintelligence, but as a heartening springboard for growth and for stretching our existing abilities.” Do you see the difference?

She also goes on to say, “Out of these two mindsets, which we manifest from a very early age, springs a great deal of our behavior, our relationship with success and failure in both professional and personal contexts, and ultimately our capacity for happiness.” [Mindset, 2015]

In other words, most of the goals we think will make us happy, often don’t. In contrast, it’s our mindset which determines our level of happiness.

The beautiful thing about a positive spirit is that it can be developed, no matter how negative you’re feeling today, and no matter the ugly circumstances swirling around you. A model to follow is PERMA, developed by psychologist, educator, and author Martin Seligman. Each letter of PERMA represents things we need in our lives to experience more positive emotions. Seligman coined the phrase, “Learned Optimism”, because a positive outlook for many of us does not come naturally. We have to choose PERMA, to learn it, and not wait for it to just happen by some act of fate.

Which one of these could you use more of?

Positive Emotion. In order to have a positive outlook, we need to feel positive emotions. Experiencing emotions like joy, hope, contentment, excitement, and giddiness, on a regular basis, can increase our levels of positivity immensely. Take note of the emotions you feel most strongly each day. If the negatives outweigh the positives, take some time to do the things which create positive emotions for you.

Engagement. Do you absorb yourself in your activities fully or are you a multi-tasker? If the latter, your ability to engage may be limited. Research shows that it really is difficult to multi-task — though you may be doing two things at once, one of them is getting more focus and attention which means the other is put on the back burner. Learning to focus on one thing at a time and relish the experience with all of your senses — engaging — is vital to building positivity.

Relationships. Experiencing deep, meaningful relationships, and taking the time to connect with those we care about, is probably the foremost way to build positivity. Make a list of those you love being around, and note why. Figure out ways to reach out and connect with them on a regular basis. Need more friends? Seek out ways to make new connections and build relationships, whether it’s joining a social group or expanding your friendship circles to include new faces.

Meaning. What is your life purpose, and how does that show up in your day-to-day activities? Can you connect that purpose to the work you do? Does it show up in your personal relationships? Knowing why you do the things you do and aligning them with your values can add meaning to everything you do. Try writing down your values, the things which are most important to you, and see what shifts you need to make to better align your life with those values. Seek the help of a coach or counselor if needed.

Accomplishment. If you’re a to do list-maker, you know how good it feels to check off a box when you complete a task. Accomplishments, both great and small, make us feel good. And they increase our motivation to continue to be successful. Looking back on past accomplishments can spur us toward greater goals. Try it. What did you accomplish today? Write them down, and circle the items you are most proud of. Share an accomplishment with a friend. Celebrate your wins. Try this for a week, or a month, and watch your positivity grow.

From a 20,000 feet view, here are a few ways to cultivate PERMA:

Challenge your negative thoughts about past events and why they happened.
-View negative experiences as neither personal nor permanent (“this too shall pass”)
-Consider the worst-case scenario and come up with actionable strategies to avoid it
-Remember bad things happen to everyone (the grass isn’t always greener)

And on a more down-to-earth level, here are some practices to incorporate PERMA into your day, week, month, and year, proven to increase your positive emotions:

Connect with friends/family/new people

Change your setting

Get outside and spend time in nature

–Find something that makes you laugh — and laugh!

Exercise (aerobic and cardio work best)

Do something kind for someone else– giving back, community engagement, volunteering, etc.

Activate your curiosity and learn something new

–Begin a gratitude jar/journal/letter

Reflect on a past achievements and celebrate them

Set a new goal and jot down how you’ll get there

Count your blessings and small kindnesses which happen every day

Savor moments, big and small

–Find flow (get lost doing something you love)

By choosing just one of these to start doing each day, with repeated practice, you will increase your positive emotions. Don’t believe me? Give it a try and find out. It can’t hurt to try. Your weary soul deserves a little positivity. And what an amazing example you could set for others who think they have to sink into the downward spiral of negativity. Who knows, your positive emotions may inspire them to do the same.

You and this world need your positivity.

Active Listening to Avoid Conflict

Article contributed by guest author Grant Herbert.

Do you fail to listen, interrupt, or always find fault in what others say, or do you welcome mutual understanding by listening intently and allowing the sharing of information?

One of the most powerful skills that we can all have is genuine listening. It’s the key to effective communication. And for healthy relationships, it’s important to hear everything that’s being said and to be a tuned into what’s not being said so that we get the full picture and we’re able to interact and have mutually beneficial communication. This is one of the most important ingredients in Empathy.

When we get this skill to where it’s going to help us and give us a triple win, a win for us, a win for them, and a win for the greater good, we are not only interested in what we have to say and what our opinion is, but we’re open to what the other person or people have to say. And we filter that information in our logical brain to make sure that we have the entire picture to avoid misunderstanding and to avoid conflict.

Well, we’re still learning to do this well. We might be someone who interrupts all the time, where we’ve got our own agenda and we’re pushing that, and we’re not really all that interested in fully listening to what the other person’s saying. We might be giving the opinion that we are listening with our ears, but our body language and our response and reaction says that we aren’t really interested.

When we do this, we’re able to have conversations that are effective, that are mutually beneficial, and that allow us to be involved with Compassionate Empathy; to not just understand, but to be a part of the solution as well. 

So, let’s talk about some of the things that we are listening for. As we’ve already said, we’re listening to what’s being said, we’re also listening to what’s not being said. We’re listening to what’s not congruent, what doesn’t seem to add up. A lot of times, I’ll be having conversations or I’ll be communicating and what I’m saying here isn’t lining up to what I said here, and that creates confusion.

We listen for what’s needed, what’s missing, and we listen to what their goals are, what they want to achieve. By actively listening, we can also be attuned to what their strengths are so that we know where we can add value and where they’re doing okay.

So, let me give you three key tips that you can use to help you to be a more active listener and therefore, have more effective communication.

Number one, set aside your own agenda. When we have our own agenda out front, we’ve got all this noise and all this clamour going on in our mind. So, even though we are doing our best to listen, we’re not hearing. We’re filtering it through our own agenda. So, the best thing that we can do is to be totally focused on them, set aside our own agenda, and listen fully and be fully present. 

Number two is to avoid jumping in. A lot of times when I was learning to be a better communicator, someone would be talking and they could tell that all I was doing was waiting for them to take a breath so that I could jump in. I’d be trying to jump in and go, “Yeah, okay.” And every time they said a point, I’d have something to counter it with or something to add. 

So, when we avoid jumping in and leave the conversation open and collect the information in a logical way, not collecting it in a way that’s comparing it to what our beliefs are, we’re able to get the full picture. 

And number three is to reflect back what you heard. Remember last week, we talked about the communication process, being someone who is a sender, encoding their message, and sending it to a receiver. The receiver receives that information through the noise and then they decode what they thought they were communicated. And that’s where the confusion can come in.

What they then do is they encode their reaction or their response and they send it back through the noise to the original sender who is now the receiver, who decodes what they think they heard. The challenge with all that is we can make assumptions. We can think that we heard this and therefore make a belief around that, give that a meaning when in fact it may not be what was said at all.

So, by reflecting back what we think we heard, we were able to get clarification and or confirmation so that we can then move forward effectively; simple phrases like, “So, what I heard you say was…,” and then repeating what you thought they said. Now, this can be done, whether it’s verbally or whether it’s written text.

And that gives the person that you’re communicating with the opportunity to go, “Yes, that’s exactly what I said,” or give clarity and either go deeper to give further understanding or go, “No, that’s not what I meant at all. This is what I meant.” 

So, when we use these three tips, when we actively listen and we do it without assumption, we do it without jumping in, and we reflect to get clarity and confirmation, we take out all the misunderstanding and all the conflict. Active listening is a crucial component of Empathy, and one of the competencies that we teach in the work that we do in Social and Emotional Intelligence. 

Listen to the podcast here: https://youtu.be/xIxfZUKAb1o

Don’t miss the view

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I woke early and hopped on my bicycle, barefoot, and pedaled over to the beach in the first rays of the morning light. Pinks, oranges, and purples danced across the water’s surface. Sea gulls flocked together on the shore and sat silently looking seaward, dreaming of discarded sandwiches and half-empty bags of chips. A lone heron stood on one foot, stately and elegant, and a silvery fish jumped with a splash.The waves rolled in gently and the breezes whispered promises of peace and hope. Early mornings on the beach are the stuff dreams are made of.

That is, if you look past the trash strewn across the sand, remnants of yesterday’s revels. Broken glass, empty soda cans, bags of garbage, diapers, broken chairs, plastic sand toys, dismantled canopies, busted umbrellas, fast food wrappers, grocery bags, cigarette butts, and oh, those plastic water bottle lids by the dozens.

Here’s a thing I was thinking about. If I only focused on the garbage, and believe me, there was a LOT, and reflected on what kind of people would leave such a mess, the whole beach experience would be pretty crappy. I could get on social media and yell about it, criticize, and make snide remarks, making it clear I am not “these type of people”, and how the world is going to h-e double hockey sticks because of it. I could pretend “it’s my duty to inform you” of how degenerate people are and describe in detail their dastardly ways so you, too, can jump on my bandwagon. I could word my posts in such a way which breeds fear and panic about how polluted our world is, where no one would ever want to venture out to that dangerous, scary place called the beach again.

But look at this picture. Despite the messiness, the vista was breathtaking.

With a focus bent on the negative, I could have missed it.

Or, I could consider a different perspective. I could shake my head, then get busy picking up some trash. It’s not fun. It’s actually kind of gross. It hurts my back a little, too. But doable. Instead of scorning “them”, I could choose to offer forgiveness to those who don’t know better (or maybe do and make a choice to care about things different from me). And all the while, soak in the stunning beauty which surrounds me.

Every day we read and watch nothing but negative behaviors on our news feeds. There’s some pretty awful stuff going on, hurtful and shocking and scary. Is it tainting your view of all humans? Of our country? Of this world?

And what are you doing about it? Are you helping pick up the broken pieces during these crazy times, or just kicking them around, making an even bigger mess?

I know, the trash is real, and it’s ugly. And there are dangers associated with it, and things are not as we’d like them to be, and we’re scared. But try to keep living, humanely, despite it all. It’s easy to kick around the anger, fear, and worry, spreading it to everyone you know. It’s harder to bend down and pick it up, and put it in its place.

If you feel at a loss as to what you can do to help in these unsettling times, consider picking up some of the residue left by others who are hurting, angry, and struggling. Grab a bag and carry it for them, and find a place to discard it, even if you don’t think they deserve it. Maybe it comes in the form of sending encouraging words in a text. Maybe send some money anonymously to help someone who is struggling financially. Maybe share a positive post. Maybe make someone laugh. Maybe let them know you value them. Maybe share a meal, send a gift card, or ask someone how they are doing, and take time to really listen. Discover their needs, their fears, their dreams, and figure out how to help clean up the mess. Because we all end up in messes sometimes. And we all need others to help when we find ourselves in that messy place.

And while you’re doing that, look up.The sunrise is amazing. Sure, these days you have to look a little harder to see it, but it’s there, every morning, the dawning of a new day. So lift up your eyes and look from the place where you are, to the north, and to the south, and to the east and to the west. You won’t want to miss the view.

Tuning out that critical, inner voice

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

I get the amazing opportunity to teach courses in emotional intelligence each week, to brilliant students from around the world. It is a humbling experience, yet oddly, I feel confident in doing so. I mean, sure, I still get nervous, because I so want to impart the class content in a way that inspires them to action, but I think it’s a healthy nervousness which keeps me prepared. But there was a time when the thought of teaching these classes gave me the sick pit of dread. After listening to a workshop this morning about rewiring our inner dialogue, by my talented colleague Grant Herbert, I reflected on how I was able to move from a crippling fear of public speaking to thriving from it.

And this is where where I want to say thank you to all of you who attended Pathways Church. It was you who gave me this confidence to defy what the voice tried to tell me. Ron Johnson asked me to share my story as part of his sermon one week and I heard myself saying yes, though everything in me wanted to say no. I’d never spoken in front of a large group of people, let alone a church. “You’re not a speaker, you have nothing of value to share, you’re not good enough”, the inner voice whispered. Soon after, Christopher J. Bloom asked me to take a shot at presenting the announcements/communion each week at services. Again, I said “Sure”, but inside I felt like shriveling up in my comfort zone and running away to a deserted island to hide. Before that first service, I sat out in the car, having a full-blown panic attack in front of my kids, and cried. Who am I to speak to this great people of Yours? “You are going to sound dumb, they will be bored, you’re not cool enough, you’re not worthy–you’re not even a good church girl!”, the relentless inner voice chanted. Vanity, vanity, all is vanity, but those inner voices sure know how to play into that human weakness of ours.

Legs all weak and noodly, stomach sick, I remember walking up on stage in front of about 1,400 of you, self-conscious and shaky, feeling like an idiot, fully aware that the presenter who preceded me in weeks past was a professional (and funny!) comedian. Was I going to trip in my new thrift store heels? Is that a coughing fit I feel coming on? Was my zipper zipped? As I opened my mouth with a shaky, unsteady voice, glancing discreetly at the notes scribbled on my hand, the words fast-blurring as my nervous sweat stealthily trickled down my palms, I croaked out a feeble attempt at a slightly-humorous, self-deprecating story, to get a laugh and warm up the crowd to the sermon’s message.

Pathways Church, you laughed. You laughed, you nodded, you responded, and afterwards, came up, hugged me, and told me how much you could relate to what I said. And then the next week you did it again…and the next, and the next, and the next. I went from dreading the experience to almost enjoying it. Chris smugly grinned, knowing he was right about me all along — I could do it, even though that inner voice persistently told me otherwise.

My friends at Pathways Church, it was you who encouraged me to defy my inner voice and squeeze through the iron bars it so desperately wanted me to cower behind, to the point where I actually looked forward to getting up in front of you and sharing my mishaps and mess-ups, my mistakes and maladies. sometimes inviting a smile, sometimes evoking a tear, in way which I think helped us all feel connected, something we all longed for and needed. I know I did.

So thank you to all of you who encouraged me with your consistent, warm responses as I stumbled over my words, said things I later regretted, and learned, slowly, to stop listening to my negative inner dialogue and create a new story. It’s because of you I feel confident doing what I do today. Thank you for that.

What limits is your inner voice placing upon you? What is one thing it says you can’t do, which maybe you can? How much longer do you plan to listen to it? Maybe it’s time to rewire what it’s saying, from an “I can’t” to an “I can”.

Offering kindness: An innovative way to lead

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

Not sure about you, but I’ve never once been inspired by someone’s angry, political rant. Oddly, I’m not moved to action by someone shouting at me to do/not do something. Accordingly, when someone hurls insults, calls names, or attempts to shame…again, strangely, I don’t find that motivational. Over the years, I have changed my viewpoint and actions exactly zero times as a result of that sort of behavior. You? Maybe I’m just stubborn that way.

Here’s a thought: If you really want to influence the way someone thinks, convince them that your way is best, or lead people into action, maybe consider a different approach.

Do something kind for them.Tell them what you appreciate about them, in detail. Thank them for who they are. Forgive them of past wrongs. Anonymously send them money with an encouraging note. Pray for them (all the while asking to see how you might be ‘off’). Send them a gift in secret. Treat them to coffee, or dinner, and when you’re together, do nothing but ask open-ended questions and listen. Offer respect. Validate their differing point of views, even if you don’t agree. Encourage them.

And if that’s just asking too much, consider getting out and doing something wonderful for someone else today…not by yelling, ranting, or condemning, but by showing active love. It’s kind of hard…especially when times are tough…but we can do hard things.

Yes, be smart. Be wise. Be alert. Be discerning. Be shrewd. And be kind.

Then, when you stop for a moment and glance behind you, you might be surprised by how many followers you have, looking to you to lead them, wanting to know more of how you think and learn from you.

Or, keep shouting into that social media megaphone, attacking and demeaning. It’s a choice we each get to make.

No matter how many shut downs, lock downs, viruses, conspiracies, quarantines, curfews, scandals, wars, and rumors of wars, that’s one freedom no one can take away.

What Services Do Servant Leaders Provide?

Article contributed by guest author Dennis Hooper.

Sometimes leaders ask if I help organizations understand and implement “servant leadership.” Maybe the individual has heard of the concept but can’t imagine how it functions, considering his or her current beliefs about leadership. I love exploring existing perspectives with inquisitive people, helping them see a more effective model and allowing them to adjust their leadership behaviors.

The most common image of leadership involves the traditional pyramidal hierarchy. Developed centuries ago, the corporate organization chart clearly identifies what portion of the empire each leader controls. “These people work for me” is the operative mental outlook. Within this framework, many leaders find it hard to consider “what can I do to serve them?”

So, let’s start thinking about servant leadership by representing the organization through a different model. Imagine how we might use a tree as a more appropriate organizational metaphor.

Visualize that the individuals who do the work on a day-to-day basis are the leaves. They are supported by the branches, which are the organization’s managers and supervisors. Top management is the trunk supporting the branches and leaves and delivering water and nutrients up from the roots.

The trunk and branches provide substantial support for that portion of the organization where the “real work” is accomplished. When the winds of change blow, the trunk and roots provide stability, keeping the tree anchored firmly. The tree’s extensive root system collects revenue from customers, and the trunk delivers the needed capital equipment, raw materials, tools, and supplies to the leaves.

Through this simple paradigm shift, many individuals are immediately able to better understand the concept of servant leadership. The trunk and branches function collaboratively to ensure the health and growth of the twigs and leaves. A tree is a living organism; if any part becomes diseased, the life of the entire tree is in jeopardy.

If the organization remains healthy, the parts that do the “real work” are pushed higher, competing favorably with surrounding trees for sunlight. Growth, through increased production and reliability, is a natural desire among those doing the work. The trunk and branches grow only as much as is required to deliver the resources needed by the growing numbers of leaves.

Pyramids were never intended to grow; they were designed as tombs! Trees, however, are alive and beautiful. With apologies to Joyce Kilmer, “I think that I shall never see a pyramid lovely as a tree.”

Now, let’s consider the real-time services that you provide when you function as a servant leader. Let’s start with you as entrepreneur, gathering resources and sending up the first shoot. Leaves are added as survival seems viable. Growth occurs quickly in those first few years as the tender seedling seeks sunshine and manages to avoid consumption by insects and herbivores.

Once the organization matures, you as leader provide opportunity, resources, a healthy work environment, and clear expectations. Depending on the surroundings, you communicate direction so that everyone is empowered to achieve the inspiring vision of robust growth. When problems arise, you listen and collaborate to eliminate obstructions and obtain needed resources.

You offer coaching, feedback, respect, and expanded responsibilities. You inform everyone of the organization’s results and you invite new ideas. You offer encouragement, hope, balance, and clarity. You tell the truth. You plan so last-minute requests rarely occur. You keep promises that you’ve made. You ask people what they need, and you work to provide it.

Lest we take this model too far, let’s acknowledge that those doing the “real work” are accountable to your authority. However, the leaves rarely need to be reminded why they exist. They realize that their role–processing sunshine, water, and nutrients–is a critical function for the success of “the tree team.”

As a servant leader, you support and empower those who do the “real work” of the organization!

Reflections

Article submitted by Amy Sargent.

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” — Margaret J. Wheatley

Making time this holiday season to reflect on the past year may feel like one more item to add to your ever-growing to do list, and the last thing you have time for.  However, stopping to reflect may be one of the most important things you do amidst the holiday hubbub.

Reflection simply means to give deep thought to something.  It’s not a fleeting, in-passing glance back, and isn’t to be confused with the goofy, quirky “Deep Thoughts” by Jack Handy on NBC’s television comedy, Saturday Night Live.  Reflection consists of stopping what we’re doing, pausing our current thought stream, and purposefully remembering past events, considering why they happened, how they happened, and pondering the outcomes.

“There is no greater journey than the one that you must take to discover all of the mysteries that lie within you.” – Michelle Sandlin

In a research study of employees in call centers, compiling the efforts of Francesca Gino, Giada Di Stefano, Bradley Staats, and Gary Pisano, it was discovered that employees who spent 15 minutes at the reflecting about lessons learned at the end of the day performed 23% better after 10 days than those who did not. [https://hbr.org/2017/03/why-you-should-make-time-for-self-reflection-even-if-you-hate-doing-it]. In the world of academia, researchers found the significance of reflecting on the student’s learning is undeniable . “It can naturally activate further engagement with learning material, deepen learners’ understanding of the topic and reinforce independent thinking and in that way create an effective learning environment.”[https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329203590_Theories_on_Self-Reflection_in_Education].

Reflecting is a positive choice any time of the year, but is especially beneficial as we wrap up the past 12 months and look ahead to 2020. Making time to reflect can add value in many ways. Here are just a few:

  • Forces us to slow down during a hectic time of year
  • Makes it possible to celebrate our achievements
  • Promotes gratitude
  • Helps us determine the things we don’t want to repeat in the coming year
  • Births creative ideas, helping us plan ahead for what’s next
  • Inspires others to reflect on their own lives
  • Connects us with those around us by remembering those who helped us along the way

As educational reformer John Dewey noted: “We do not learn from experience … we learn from reflecting on experience.”

Need some ideas on which aspects of this past year to reflect on?  Consider some of these, for starters:

  • What went well?
  • Where did you miss?
  • What ‘made your heart sing’?
  • What made you laugh?
  • What scared you and why?
  • What are you most grateful for?
  • What (and who) inspired you with hope?
  • Who helped along the way?
  • Who do you wish you would’ve spent more time with?
  • Which accomplishment made you the most proud?
  • How did you overcome a particularly difficult challenge?
  • Who did you help?
  • What do you wish you would’ve done more of?
  • Who are you most grateful for?
  • Which activities were the best use of your time?

Most likely, reflecting on the above questions will prompt you to think of more questions of your own to reflect upon.  If you like to write, consider using a journal to document your thoughts, or record your responses on a voice recorder, or have an in-depth conversation with a trusted friend or colleague.

Doing so will help direct you toward a successful year ahead.

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection. From the quiet reflection will come even more effective action.” — Peter Drucker

What Services Do Servant Leaders Provide?

Article contributed by guest author Dennis Hooper.

Sometimes leaders ask if I help organizations understand and implement “servant leadership.” Maybe the individual has heard of the concept but can’t imagine how it functions, considering his or her current beliefs about leadership. I love exploring existing perspectives with inquisitive people, helping them see a more effective model and allowing them to adjust their leadership behaviors.

The most common image of leadership involves the traditional pyramidal hierarchy. Developed centuries ago, the corporate organization chart clearly identifies what portion of the empire each leader controls. “These people work for me” is the operative mental outlook. Within this framework, many leaders find it hard to consider “what can I do to serve them?”

So, let’s start thinking about servant leadership by representing the organization through a different model. Imagine how we might use a tree as a more appropriate organizational metaphor.

Visualize that the individuals who do the work on a day-to-day basis are the leaves. They are supported by the branches, which are the organization’s managers and supervisors. Top management is the trunk supporting the branches and leaves and delivering water and nutrients up from the roots. The trunk and branches provide substantial support for that portion of the organization where the “real work” is accomplished. When the winds of change blow, the trunk and roots provide stability, keeping the tree anchored firmly. The tree’s extensive root system collects revenue from customers, and the trunk delivers the needed capital equipment, raw materials, tools, and supplies to the leaves.

Through this simple paradigm shift, many individuals are immediately able to better understand the concept of servant leadership. The trunk and branches function collaboratively to ensure the health and growth of the twigs and leaves. A tree is a living organism; if any part becomes diseased, the life of the entire tree is in jeopardy.
If the organization remains healthy, the parts that do the “real work” are pushed higher, competing favorably with surrounding trees for sunlight. Growth, through increased production and reliability, is a natural desire among those doing the work. The trunk and branches grow only as much as is required to deliver the resources needed by the growing numbers of leaves.

Pyramids were never intended to grow; they were designed as tombs! Trees, however, are alive and beautiful. With apologies to Joyce Kilmer, “I think that I shall never see a pyramid lovely as a tree.”

Now, let’s consider the real-time services that you provide when you function as a servant leader. Let’s start with you as entrepreneur, gathering resources and sending up the first shoot. Leaves are added as survival seems viable. Growth occurs quickly in those first few years as the tender seedling seeks sunshine and manages to avoid consumption by insects and herbivores.

Once the organization matures, you as leader provide opportunity, resources, a healthy work environment, and clear expectations. Depending on the surroundings, you communicate direction so that everyone is empowered to achieve the inspiring vision of robust growth. When problems arise, you listen and collaborate to eliminate obstructions and obtain needed resources.

You offer coaching, feedback, respect, and expanded responsibilities. You inform everyone of the organization’s results and you invite new ideas. You offer encouragement, hope, balance, and clarity. You tell the truth. You plan so last-minute requests rarely occur. You keep promises that you’ve made. You ask people what they need, and you work to provide it.

Lest we take this model too far, let’s acknowledge that those doing the “real work” are accountable to your authority. However, the leaves rarely need to be reminded why they exist. They realize that their role–processing sunshine, water, and nutrients–is a critical function for the success of “the tree team.”

As a servant leader, you support and empower those who do the “real work” of the organization!

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