Thursday, March 22, 2012

Wet Cement

Guest post by Mark Collins

On a small corner of a sidewalk, on a non-descript street in the west end of Brantford my name is immortalized. mark collins 67. With fear, fondness and a small twig I carefully carved each letter in wet cement. It was so easy, the twig glided through the impressionable gravelly paste. To change it now would require a diamond tipped high speed grinder and three city employees.
I was reminded of this cement incident last summer while parked on the QEW waiting for a cement truck to fill a 36 inch round wooden form that would become the support pillar of a new four lane bridge. The weeks long preparation before the cement was poured became tedious. Daily, at the legal limit, I drove past as a cement footing was placed deep in the ground to prevent any shifting due to weight, freezing or ground conditions. Days later, iron workers came and cut, bent and welded reinforcement rod to create a metal inner support cage that eventually would be hidden by the cement. Time passed, hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent as they dug, welded and then created the exterior forms. Now I was watching fresh wet cement being shaped into pillars that will stand long after I am gone.
Conversely, at the Guelph Line exit, just off the QEW, there are the remains of a cement truck spill. It is an oddly shaped clump of cement. It serves absolutely no purpose, other than to remind me each morning of the importance of preparation, reinforcement and formation of wet cement.
A lead pastor recently emailed me to say that the staff person that he had so much hope for was taking a lot more time, effort and resources than he had originally thought would be necessary. As I read his email I became dismayed thinking that soon this staff person would be sensing a call somewhere else. Shocked, I read the next line. The lead pastor said, “But I am totally committed to him.  I have NO desire for a crash landing.  I have ALL the interest to see him be everything Jesus wants him to be.”
If we leave this next generation to simply be poured into meaningless forms they will be ignored, useless and non-productive for Christ’s Kingdom.      

The challenge is for all leaders to engage in shaping Godly leaders for the future. This will require skilled workmanship and resources. One cannot merely assemble some rough structures to temporarily navigate some tough patches, thinking that it will be a long term solution. Building people and leaders into pillars who are the upholders of Holy Living, Biblical Standards and Christ’s Love should be our key priority. It will require effort, support, resources and accountability.   
DID YOU KNOW?  The Temple in Jerusalem had two main support pillars. The name engraved in one of those pillars was Boaz. Psalm 144 “Then our sons in their youth will be like well-nurtured plants, and our daughters will be like pillars carved to adorn a palace.”
  • This post was written by Mark Collins. He is a leadership consultant and a part of the Leadership Team for the Western Ontario District of the PAOC.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Why Don't You Like Me?

A lot of people go through life asking this question - why don't they like me? They look at others who are surrounded by friends and who seem to be people magnets and wonder - why can't that be me?

Believe it or not, many studies have been done to determine just exactly what it is that causes us to like someone. You may be surprised by the results. In his book, The Me I Want To Be, John Ortberg shares that "Out of all the causes - physical attractiveness, IQ, ability, personality type - the number one factor that determines whether or not you will like another person is whether or not they like us. If they like you, you will like them. If they don't like you, you will not like them." Of course there are exceptions, but in general this is true. So what are the implications of this?

For one thing, it appears that how we interact with people has a great deal to do with how they treat us. It seems that what Dale Carnegie taught years ago is true. He wrote a book called How to Win Friends and Influence People that was a bestseller for a long time. Here's a quote from that book: "You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you." In light of the studies Ortberg talks about, this seems to be borne out in real life.

The question, then, would seem to be, how can we develop a genuine interest in people? I'm not talking about learning sales techniques in order to fool someone into thinking that you like them. I'm talking about learning how to genuinely be a people person. I think the greatest example of this in history is Jesus Christ.

As we read the Gospels we find that people were drawn to him, and no wonder. He welcomed every encounter with anyone who was genuine. Even with those with whom He disagreed, His goal was to point them towards the truth. He crossed social and cultural boundaries to add value to people who were outcasts. He made world-changers out of people to whom no-one else paid attention. What did He see that others didn't?

Jesus knew that every person He laid eyes on was created in the image of God, and as such, had innate value. It was this principle that the U.S. founding fathers seized on as they stated in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

In the context of Jesus' life and actions, He treated each person who came to Him with respect, recognizing their intrinsic value. As Bill Hybels said, “We have never locked eyes with someone that did not matter to God.” Christians, in particular, need to grasp this truth. We may disagree with people, but we don't have to be disagreeable.

It's about your attitude.

You can either see people as assets or enemies. If you view them with suspicion, they will sense that and not be drawn to you. If, however, you're one of those who believes that every stranger is simply a friend you haven't met yet, you will have no shortage of friends. Treat people as you wish to be treated (the Golden Rule). As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Trust men and they will be true to you; treat them greatly and they will show themselves great."

Let's look at some good habits to develop if you want to be a people person.
  • Smile.
This is so easy to do and makes such a big difference. Have you noticed that a smile is infectious? Try it on the next person you meet. Smile and greet them warmly. First impressions are important and a smile gives a good first impression. Most of the time it is reciprocated. When it's not, let it go.
  • Show genuine interest.
Don't pry - that can be creepy. But allow the other person to tell you something about themselves. Engage in the conversation. One thing I've learned is that everyone has a story, everyone has dreams, and everyone wants to be heard. The problem with many of us is that we're often too busy talking about ourselves to listen. Good listeners are never lonely.
  • Remember names.
This is something I have to work on. I remember when I first came to my current congregation. I met a man in the foyer before the service and we talked for a few minutes. As he left I said, "Goodbye Fred, it was nice meeting you." Now sixteen years later he has still not forgotten that I remembered his name. (I wish I could do that all the time). One method to try is to use the person's name three times in a conversation before you say goodbye. That helps to match the name with the face in your memory bank. There's no sweeter sound to people than their own name.
  • Add value to people.
What can you do to make a difference in the life of the people you meet? Can you connect them with someone? Can you share information with them? Can you buy them a coffee? This afternoon I was in the drive-thru at the coffee shop when I noticed a friend of mine was in the truck behind me. I decided to be nice and buy his coffee. When I pulled up to the window I was surprised to find that the vehicle in front of me had already purchased mine! None of us spent a lot of money, but the kindness brought a smile to all of our faces.

Let me conclude with some helpful quotes on the subject:
  • "This is the final test of a gentleman: his respect for those who can be of no possible service to him." - William Lyon Phelps
  • "To love a person means to see him as God intended him to be." - Fyodor Dostoyevski
  • "The most useful person in the world today is the man or woman who knows how to get along with other people. Human relations is the most important science in living." - Stanley C. Allyn
  • "You have two choices: You can act as though you tolerate people, or you can appreciate people. Those who appreciate people are going to make others more comfortable." - Roger Ailes
  • "If you judge people, you have no time to love them." - Mother Teresa
Related Articles:
The Power of Encouragement
When Confrontation is Necessary
Are You Teachable?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Creating Positive Change

Change - one of the most feared words in some organizations and the defining ethos of others. As we lead, it's also one of the prerequisite skill sets: the ability to navigate change successfully. That being said, I find the following quote from Lyle Schaller particularly insightful.
"Anyone seriously interested in planning social change would be well advised to recognize two facts of life. First, despite the claims of any, relatively little is known about change. Second, much of what is known will not work."
Now that we have that disclaimer out of the way, let's look at some keys to bringing about successful change in an organization.
  • Be willing to change yourself.
If we are going to lead change, we must first model the adaptability required for change. There are some leaders who resist change in their own lives, yet expect others to be enthusiastic about it. Here's the how-to on personal change.
  1. Admit the need to change.
  2. Assume responsibility for that change.
  3. Evaluate - why am I the way I am?
  4. What can I do about it? Set personal goals. Find a mentor.
  5. Start today.
  6. Celebrate when you get there.
If you are comfortable with change, your people will be much more likely to follow.
  • Lead for the benefit of the people.
People know when they matter and when they don't. In order to be a change agent that lasts, you must first win the hearts of your people. See The Levels of Leadership and remember, "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." If people don't believe that you have their best interests at heart, they will not follow and will resist change.

John Maxwell uses an illustration where coins represent influence. When you are brought in to your new position you are given a certain amount of coins, which represent influence. When you make a good decision, an people recognize it, they give you more coins. When you blow it, you give some back. The wise leader recognizes whether they have enough coin to attempt a specific change. The more coin they have collected, the greater risk they can take. But be careful, when you run out of coin it's time to call U-haul.
  • Create an environment where change is normal.
Begin small, but make positive changes. It's generally best, at least at first, to add rather than subtract. Give more options. This can demonstrate why the change you propose is better than its predecessor. Get some wins under your belt. As seen in the example above, this allows you to move to more substantive changes that will move your organization forward. You will find that as the organization moves forward, change becomes easier. It's much easier to steer a ship when it is moving; it's impossible when it's standing still. John Maxwell gives some very helpful tips for creating a climate for change in his book Developing The Leader Within You.
  1. The leader must develop a trust with people.
  2. The leader must make personal changes before asking others to change.
  3. Good leaders understand the history of the organization.
  4. Place influencers in leadership positions.
  5. Check the "change in your pocket."
  6. Good leadsers solicit the support of influencers before the change is made public.
  7. Develop a meeting agenda that will assist change.
  8. Encourage the influencers to influence others informally.
  9. Show the people how the change will benefit them.
  10. Give the people ownership of the change. 
  • Be a vision caster.
People want to know why a change is taking place. They want to be convinced that this is a good thing and will benefit them and the organization before they commit. A skilled vision caster will paint a picture of a preferable future. Remember the Pareto Principle (20/80). Invest your time in influencing the 20% of your people who can help you influence the rest. If your top 20% aren't with you, wait, or be prepared for a long battle and likely failure.

So share your vision. Why is this a good idea? Remember that the goal is to move the organization forward and to improve the lives of your people. As Max Depree said, "In the end, it is important to remember that we cannot become what we need to be by remaining what we are."
  • Make incremental changes when necessary.
Sometimes major changes are necessary; and sometimes major changes in direction will result in many people being thrown overboard. The more established the organization, generally speaking, the more gradula th changes need to be made. In a quote from the church world, Pastor Ron Stewart says that "Every church will turn 180 degrees in 10 degree increments."
  • Celebrate the victories.
Find creative ways to have a party when a change has been successful. This will help to create an environment where change is seen in a more favorable light and will likely make the next one easier. Make heroes of the successful change agents in your organization if that is a value you want duplicated. Remember that "what gets rewarded gets done."

Quotes on change:
  • "The leaders in any organization must be the environmental change agents." - John Maxwell
  • "Great change dominates the world, and unless we move with change we will become its victims." - Robert F. Kennedy
  • "If you want to make enemies, try to change something." - Woodrow Wilson  
  • "The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinions." - James Russell Lowell
  • "If your horse is dead, for goodness sake - dismount." - Eddy Ketchursid
  • "It's the most unhappy people who most fear change." - Mignon Mclaughlin
Related Articles:
The Power of Encouragement
Turning the Corner - How to Regain Momentum
The Power of Words
Key Leadership Qualities - Communication
Are You Teachable?
Repacking the baggage of our lives

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Power of Encouragement

We can probably all list a few people in our lives who have that great quality of being encouragers. They are the ones who we are always glad to see when they walk in the door. On the other hand are the discouragers - those who can suck the life right out of a room. We would all like to be encouragers, but just how is that done?

Start with a positive attitude.
Attitude is a choice. Many people don't believe it, but it's true. You can be a glass half full or a glass half empty kind of person. It's up to you. You may have been raised in a negative environment, but you can learn how to look at the world differently. How does that happen?
  • Make peace with God.
This is the beginning point. If you and God aren't getting along there's a very good reason you're miserable. We were created for relationship, and the very first relationship we were created for was the one we should have with God Himself. He has provided all that we need for peace with God through Jesus Christ. It's a gift; it can't be earned. Peace with God is the first key to good relationships with others.
  • Control your thought life.
Our minds are very much like computers, what goes in is what comes out. Read positive books, listen to uplifting music; as far as possible be around positive people. You will gradually find that your attitude towards life will take a turn for the better.

Practice good will.
Good will is really a commitment to giving other people the benefit of the doubt. We all look at people in one of two ways: either they are friends or enemies. Generally, we also find what we're looking for. If you approach someone assuming that their motives are wrong, it is highly unlikely that we will find a friend. On the other hand, if we assume the best about people until proven otherwise we're likely to be rewarded with good will in return.

Look for the good in people.
Everyone has good qualities, even if they are harder to find in some people than in others. Choose to look for the good in people - and mention it. How do you feel when others speak well of you? Doesn't it make you want to do even better? We all like to get a pat on the back, and we all tend to flourish in a positive environment. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said: "Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be."

Practice doing the little things.
It doesn't take much to make a big difference. So often when we think about making changes in our lives we make it a huge daunting challenge. Start small. Smile at everyone you meet; you'll find that it's contagious. More often than not your smile will be returned. Make a commitment that with everyone you talk to today you will make one positive comment. Find something that is deserving of a comment - and say it. Tell the person serving your coffee that they're doing a good job. As Mother Teresa said: “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” Write one encouraging note to someone. Finding a note like this can make all the difference in the world, and may turn someone's day around.

Be others centered.
If you want to be an encourager, spend some time investing in another person. Ask them about their day; their life and their family. Focusing on them will help them to feel important, and everyone needs that. One of the best things we can do for ourselves when we're feeling down is to care for someone else.

Look for good examples.

Albert Schweitzer
Who are the people who have encouraged you? What is it about them that stands out? Emulate those qualities. You can become a person that people want to be around. I've included some quotes that speak eloquently to the power of encouragement. We may not be able to change the world, but we can change our corner of it.

"In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit." ~ Albert Schweitzer

Booker T. Washington
"Correction does much, but encouragement does more." ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

"There are high spots in all of our lives and most of them have come about through encouragement from someone else. I don't care how great, how famous or successful a man or woman may be, each hungers for applause."~ George Matthew Adams

"There are two ways of exerting one's strength: one is pushing down, the other is pulling up." - Booker T. Washington
Related Articles:
The Power of Words
Growing a Thick Skin
Where's A Good Mentor?