Archive for the ‘mentoring’ Category

Cross Country CoachesI like watching people succeed at their goals. I love being a part of that success. This is true in ministry, in my IT career, and in my personal life. As a children’s and youth pastor, I’m in a position to help young people learn more about themselves, what they want, and what they need to do to accomplish those things. However, I’m also there to serve as counsel and be a teacher of what’s appropriate and what’s not. Those latter responsibilities are very important and make up the bulk of my duties in that position. As a result, I do more directing and leading than “cheerleading.” Likewise in my IT career I’ve been a mentor, meaning I’ve helped folks learn what they needed to learn and basically point them in the right direction. Both of those positions are about directing folks.

A life coach doesn’t do these things. Instead, a life coach:

  • Helps a person identify those areas of life they want to improve.
  • Helps a person determine which areas are most important.
  • Helps a person identify goals that will improve those areas.
  • Helps a person determine next steps to move towards those goals.
  • Encourages the person as they move towards those goals.
  • Helps keep a person accountable by asking them about their progress.

This is a very different approach than being a teacher or a mentor. And this is very different from our traditional image of a coach. A life coach understands that the impetus for change must come from the person. A life coach also understands that a person is most likely to make changes and pursue goals which correspond with the areas that a particular person feels is most important. Also, a life coach guides a person to determine the path to proceed along, but the person being coached does the majority of the “heavy lifting.” This is because folks will tend to work on the steps they’ve developed. They have ownership. Also, we typically know what we have to do, we’re just uncertain about it. Either we don’t trust ourselves in the fact that we can come up with the solution or we don’t trust ourselves to implement the solution. This is where a life coach steps in. He or she helps one work out those concerns and feel more confident about the action and the ability to accomplish it.

I’m starting out small, working with a couple of guys at work. They’re young and they’re smart and they have big dreams. My friendship with them is such that if something isn’t working or seems odd, they don’t feel any hesitation to tell me. After all, they know that being a life coach is one of my dreams, and as my friends they want to help me just as much as I want to help them. I’m really looking forward to the growing and accomplishing and succeeding all three of us will be doing over the coming months.

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super hero high fiveI’ve worked my way through Leadership Coaching by Tony Stoltzfus. One of the things he recommends when a client achieves a major accomplishment is to offer encouragement and praise. He warns against generic statements because they lose their effectiveness quickly. For instance, how motivating is this?

Great job! You’re awesome!

The first time and two it’ll probably provide a boost. However, if that’s all your coach every says, eventually you’ll begin to doubt the sincerity of said coach. This also holds true when we’re interacting with co-workers, subordinates, and family, especially children. His recommendation is the G.U.E.S.S. approach:

  • Genuine: You mean it.
  • Unequivocal: It’s all praise. There’s no back-handed insult in what you say. There’s also no sarcasm.
  • Energizing: You should match the enthusiasm and energy of the person you’re praising.
  • Specific: Your praise should focus on something they did well or something important that they accomplished.
  • Substantiative: You are saying something important about the person.

Consider the following two examples which I could have given my daughter at her recent karate belt test:

That was pretty good, girl. It’s about time you knocked another belt off.


You did an awesome job! Your focus during the belt test meant you did a magnificent job on your forms. Plus, your karate yells were clear and well-timed. This shows how hard you prepared!

Yes, the second response is longer, but that’s not what makes it better. I gave very specific examples of what she did well. I tied it back to her as a person. My language matched her passion at the end of her belt test. Finally, there wasn’t a put down hidden in the praise. Those qualities are what the praise better and more likely to encourage and inspire.

You don’t have to follow the G.U.E.S.S. model perfectly when you give your praise. However, at least try to make it specific and tie it to the individual in question. Generic praise becomes ineffective quickly. If we are going to take the time to praise, let us do so in a way that energizes and motivates the person we are praising.

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The boy in red is my oldest. He and his younger brother achieved one of their major life goals last year when they passed their black belt test in American karate. It was a long journey. We often talk about one and five year goals. They stuck to it past five years because there teacher has subjective qualifications based on maturity, self-discipline, etc., that most begin to reach as teens. It is a reminder to me that if my sons can stick to accomplishing a goal though it takes 7-8 years, then I have no excuse.

But that’s a post for a different day. This post is about teaching what you know. My oldest has always excelled at grappling. When he was 12, they put him up against a 15 year-old during one of his advanced belt tests in order to challenge him. He picks up moves and techniques easily and he remembers the hows and whys for them, too.

As a black belt, he is often expected to help the other students, and part of that is teaching them proper technique. He takes time to explain why a particular move is a good idea or why it is a no-no. For instance when a kid put his “hooks” in by wrapping his feet around from my son’s back, my son immediately stopped him when the kid crossed his feet, hooking them together. My son knows the lock that allows you to break out of “back mount” when an opponent does this. He quickly pointed out to the student that it is possible to break his feet this way and repositioned the student’s feet properly.

By being put in a position to teach, my son is able to reinforce his own knowledge in something he loves. By teaching, he must understand what he knows in a way that he can communicate and share it. It goes beyond proficiency and moves toward mastery.

When you get the opportunity to teach about something you know, seize it. Make sure you have enough time to prepare, if you can, but look for opportunities to share your knowledge. To do it right, you will be forced to go beyond basic understanding. You need to know the subject well enough to be able to find a different way to explain it if your first method doesn’t work. That is the mark of a good teacher. To teach something, your understanding of whatever it is will grow. It is said that the teacher gains more than the student. This is certainly true the first few times you teach on something and seek to do it properly. Therefore, desire to teach, not just to help others but also to improve yourself.

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BooksIn my professional development presentation, I recommend several books for developing interpersonal skills. I’m a big believer in always learning, always improving, even in areas I think I do well. So whether you struggle at dealing with other people (I’m a very painful introvert, so I naturally do) or you are the life of the party, there’s always something you can do better. Here is a small set of books I have found helpful in my career:

The Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman

Everyone is different, but there are some basic ways in which we understand love and praise and there are just as basic ways that we communicate such. While this book is intended for couples, the principles apply to any relationship. Understanding how our worker receives positive feedback from us is important. This book will show you how.

How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie

If you think you understand how people tick, you don’t. That’s what this book reveals. It’s built on a lot of common sense, but what I found surprising is how much I knew but didn’t apply properly. For instance, if hardened criminals can justify in their minds why they aren’t bad folks, do you really think pointing out the shortcomings of your coworkers is going to be effective? This is the first main point and the book is full of many more.

Soup: A Recipe to Nourish Your Team and Culture, by John Gottman

Building a successful team is hard work. Building a successful team that grows in strength and capability is even harder, except your team can help you do that. However, it requires mentoring, trust, and accountability. There are right ways and wrong ways to motivate employees along those lines. That’s what this book is about, told in a story like fashion of a young executive who is faced with a lot more authority and responsibility than she thinks she is ready for.

Never Eat Lunch Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi

This was the first book that got me thinking about how I spent my time with business relationships and what I made out of those relationships. It taught me that a lot of what we see out there for advice and tools are bad. Ferrazzi instead insists on building real relationships, not just a contact list on LinkedIn. He intermixes business and personal in a lot of what he does because there aren’t clear cut dividers when the purpose is to get to know folks. There are huge benefits to getting to know folks well, such as they being willing to pass on your information to another acquaintance, being able to ask for help from them, to having someone who truly cases in tough times. But it goes beyond that, and Ferrazzi talks about how relationships, any healthy relationships, enrich our lives. This book also taught me to see conferences more as a means of meeting people and getting to know them, rather than just stuffing myself full of knowledge and my bag full of SWAG.

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Friday night my wife and I talked about my upcoming hair donation. I have grown my hair out a number of times for Locks of Love. I’ve been told hair grows at a rate of about half an inch a month. For Locks of Love, the ponytail must be at least 10 inches long. That means it takes anywhere from 18 months to two years before a ponytail is long enough. And it takes about six ponytails to make a wig for a child. My ponytail is long enough and in keeping with my Japanese genes, my hair is going gray pretty quickly. Therefore, it’s time to donate and call it a day.

The reason I point out Locks of Love is to make the point that you don’t have to have money to help. Typically, various non-profit organizations do calling sweeps to try and get monetary donations. Sure, these groups need that. However, especially in these financial times, you may not have a lot of excess funds laying around to donate. The good news is there is something else these organizations, schools, churches, and other groups need: you. Whether it be your hair for wigs or it be your time to tutor a child, they need people. They need folks who will care and give of themselves.

When I was back in the US Air Force, the base I was stationed at had a tutoring program at a local elementary school. A lot of the folks who participated were young airmen, ones who barely made any money at all. However, because they could help a kid learn to read, to spell, to add and subtract, or any of a multitude of elementary school aptitudes, they were of great help with the children. They may not have had much money to give, but their time, their attention, and their willingness and eagerness to work with the children is what was really needed. It’s what they gave. And those kids benefited greatly from it. Later in my tour, when I started a chess club out at the same elementary school, the bulk of my volunteers came from that same group of people. They invested themselves in those children. And I can tell you the children noticed. When a particular airman couldn’t be there because of work or vacation, he or she was missed.

When I was at The Citadel, we had a tutoring program at Burke Middle School, which is just out the front gate of The Citadel. Cadets (college kids) were the ones who provided tutoring to middle schoolers who needed a little extra help in their coursework. Again, it didn’t cost the cadets anything monetarily. It just required time and commitment. For cadets it meant changing into leave uniform, signing out of the campus, walking to Burke Middle School, tutoring, then going back and resuming the cadet routine. Not anything hard, but tremendously rewarding, especially when you saw “the light come on” with a student you were working with.

These are just a handful of opportunities I’ve seen where it wasn’t about money, it was about time and personal involvement. Therefore, if you are looking to help but looking at a bare wallet, put the wallet away. Instead, check with your local schools. Check with after school programs. Check with your city and county. Check with your church or religious center. There is a greater need out there than there are volunteers to fill it. All it takes is a willingness to make a difference to find the right place for you.

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Choose to Inspire

I work with children a lot as a children’s pastor. And one of the things I’ve noticed about children is that if you can inspire them, you can overcome behavior issues, problems with authority, and other things that make some not want to work with them. It’s why some teachers are seen as great and awesome and others not so. Think about the fact that all the teachers we may label as “great” in our lives are the ones that inspired us. They are also the ones we remember. They may even be the ones that we hope one day to be like. For many of us who were members of The Citadel Regimental Band and Pipes, one such man was Major Herbert L. Day, USMC, retired.

His influence was felt far and wide throughout the ranks of the musicians and conductors of the US Armed Forces and then later at The Citadel, where he was the Conductor of Bands. He wasn’t just a conductor. He was a leader. He was a mentor. And he understood that he was there to inspire us to be far better musicians, cadets, and adults than we thought we could be. Major Day is no longer with us, but his legacy lives on with everybody on whom he made an impact. That’s a large body of people. We are better because of Major Day.

We each have a choice on whether or not to inspire. You don’t have to be the maverick leader of a giant technology company. You don’t have to be the President of the United States. You don’t have to be in the military or be a teacher. You can inspire where you are with the people around you. It’s a conscious choice. It means investing in those folks, wanting them to succeed, to be better than they think they could be. Don’t believe me? Watch Ben Zander inspire a bunch of busy, alpha-types to appreciate classical music in a new way.

He shares himself in that video. He invests himself in that audience. And he refuses to believe he can’t make a positive impact, an amazing difference. If you watch the video to the end, you’ll see a rousing standing ovation from the audience. I believe he succeeded. And the reason why is because of something he said near the very end:

“… I have a definition of success… It’s not about wealth and fame and power. It’s about how many shiny eyes I have around me.”

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