Normally, statements beginning with “I” worry me. For a while this truly bothered me, event to extent that I try to limit the number of “I” statements in my own conversations and writing. Recently, I had a discovery…the problem is not with the “I,” but rather the word that follows. Consider how the following words, when paired with “I” to start a sentence make you feel.
Honestly, these sentence starters are not all bad, but what welled up in you as you thought of how they might be finished? We all use “I” statements each day, many of which are paired with these second words, and probably without doing damage. Yet at times, these words might signal our material desires disguised as “needs,” or our focus on being right rather than what we “believe,” or even our sense of righteousness disguised as advice giving words.
There are no best practices for using these words beyond an awareness of what we really mean when we use them, which leads me to three new “I” statements that I am trying to use more.
I don’t know. I like being right. I like having know it all power at my fingertips to prove my point. What I am learning is that mystery is okay. Letting others be the star is more important than standing in the spotlight all the time. Not knowing demopnstrates humility and suggests that I might be a good conversation partner on a journey. Being right becomes a competition which means creating a winner and a loser. I certainly do not want to lose, so why would I want my conversation partner to feel the same way?
I see you. The world seems to have as many labels as ever, and many of them are divisive. Rather than seeing labels I want to see people and their humanity. I need to appreciate their unique story. When we truly see one another, categorizing and judging based on our own stereotypes becomes much less likely.
I wonder. There are days that I need a greater appreciation for mystery and awe. Saying “I wonder” invites me to do just that. If I say it out loud, I invite others into the creative process as well. Exploring together is usually more fun for me than going it alone.
What are your “I” statements that we could learn from and practice together?
If you spend any time around me, you know that I love coffee. One of my favored ways of enjoying coffee is a French press. Problem is I could never quite replicate the depth of flavors at home in my own French press. After asking a few questions, two small details emerged that have made all of the difference. The first is the grind of the beans. My home grinder could not do what a French press requires of freshly ground beans. The second is to add just a half cup of water to the grounds and stir, before adding the remainder of the water for brewing. Two small nuanced steps that have made all the difference for my coffee snobbery.
Lost among all of the leadership books teaching about motivational methods, strategy and tactics, organizational principles and whatever else may be the latest trend, is a small, nuanced skill that is often overlooked. The power of listening.
Many new leaders fail because they are too busy talking about their plans. Many pastoral leaders fail because they are too busy learning how to communicate their vision. Many community efforts fail because people in charge assume they know what the community needs.
Before speaking, it serves leaders well to be better listeners. There are a few good methods to help with this.
- Check your ego
- Ask good questions
- Reflect on what you hear…and what you don’t, before acting or responding.
Another important piece is to know to whom to listen. We can pay experts. We can pay consultants. We can pay researchers. I suggest we seek out the community listeners. There are people paying attention in our organizations, churches and communities, at far deeper levels than we might know. Do you know who they are? Do you know how to ask them to share? If you don’t, then listening may be a skill worth developing in yourself. When you do, you’ll begin to notice those who do.
The University of Kentucky basketball team beat my alma mater, the Duke Blue Devils, in a nationally televised game this week. Before the game, people on television argued loudly about the merits of both teams. After the game, people on television argued about the merits of both teams going forward this season. People arguing, passionately, sometimes shouting at each other about their opinion, but never listening to each other, much less demonstrating a willingness to say, “you know, you are right.”
Our national conversations sound very similar. Political candidates shouting their views, but not really listening. Our social media streams, filled most often with only those with whom we agree, continuing to blame and accuse but not really seeing to listen to the other.
Then in our congregations or organizations when there is conflict, we choose sides and begin shouting our opinions and why we are right, back and forth at each other. Blaming, accusing, and not listening. I am less inclined to believe these conflicts arise and are not resolved well, locally or nationally as a result of poor leadership. There is a bigger issue at work. We have lost our way.
Bolman and Deal (2013) state that courageous leaders are clear when espousing core values and beliefs as leaders, and that is where hope is found. Do we as individuals, leaders in organizations and as a country know what our core values and beliefs are? National politics don’t indicate that we do. Hyperbole, spin and inflammatory comments for approval ratings are not core values. They are manipulation. But it isn’t just politicians that do this. Pastors, business leaders and parents do this also. If we are honest, we probably do this in our internal dialogues as well, because we are not certain of our core values and beliefs. We’ve got work to do as leaders, as ministers, as parents, as people.
“We have a revolution to make, and this revolution is not political, but spiritual (Guéhenno, 1993).”
- Start with self: be honest about assessing what your personal core values are
- Have vulnerable relationships: be willing to share your opinion, listen to others and explore conversations together
- Lead with integrity: share those core values and live them out in a way that people don’t ever have to ask you to verbalize them
- Inspire and be inspired
“We have a problem and we cannot find the solution.”
“Maybe if we try harder it will work.”
“We’ve always done it this way.”
Any of those statements sound familiar? Chances are we, our team, our business, or our church has found itself there before. Then we continue to mine the same set of answers hoping one will suddenly fit. We may even decide that it is an effort level. To an extent it is…not a work level effort, but rather a changing mindset effort.
Call it a battle between the “Fixed Mind versus the Growth Mind.” Fixed tells us what we are supposed to do, but never answers the “why” question very effectively. Fixed keeps us limited to a box. Fixed causes us to stall out.
The Growth Mind challenges us to begin with “why or why not.” Growth challenges us to move beyond the boxed paradigms and stagnant pasts. It causes creative conflict and breaks open new possibilities. But it can be harder and messier than Fixed. And you can remain stuck, if harder and messier is too much effort.
If you have ever stood on one side of a canyon knowing you had to cross the valley to get to the other peak, you know that the destination is somewhat unknown, and the journey to get there most certainly is. Use the Growth Mind to immerse yourself in the chaos of the valley and the journey to a new height. You will find that the destination is visible until it isn’t. In the chaos there are new findings and new adventures. It is even possible that the destination isn’t what you imagined it would be from the other side of the canyon. Perhaps it is even more than you had hoped for. Journey on!
If you have ever worked in a church, you know that the demands of the job are far greater than what most first time ministers expected. In seminaries and divinity schools, ministers are taught about hermeneutics, exegesis and ethics, with preaching, languages and theology sprinkled in. Then they get to the local church and the demands require budgeting, leadership, administration, marketing and politics. The following statistics are from the business world, but I suspect they are comparable for ministers.
- ½ to ¾ of American managers are inadequate for their job demands (Hogan, Curphy and Hogan, 1994)
- ½ of high profile senior executives that companies hire fail within 2 years (Burns & Kiley, 2006)
What we lack in congregational leadership and ministerial longevity is often mismatched expectations, and only those with great savvy as quick studies in organizational theory, or a PhD in “faking it until making it” survive. Where is the disconnect? Is it the educational system’s fault? The minister? The congregation? Hard to say, but this much is worth noting, congregations might want to consider increasing continuing education for ministers rather than cutting it.
More revolutionary might be giving the minister a couple days per month to learn best practices from a variety of leaders within their own community. Imagine a minister that is able to learn about advertising or budgeting by spending a few days interning or shadowing an ad executive or budget officer.
Do I have the solution? No, but I have more questions to ask and a desire to treat a cause, not a symptom.
Productivity improvement is a big topic, from apps to tips. Admittedly, I read the articles and use a few apps to help me out. One thing to notice though is how different the tips can be. I put them in three categories:
- Helpful and worth trying to implement. An example is creating your to do list or the next day as your last action each work day. Stick to two things that you really want to accomplish.
- Helpful, but not going to happen right now. Spend 30 quiet minutes each morning, first thing, as you prepare for the day. With a high school and middle school student in the house, our mornings start with a sprint. Could I get up earlier? Sure but 5:45 is early enough!
- Interesting, but never going to work for me. For example, eliminate choices by wearing the same thing each day and eating the same thing each day. The rationale is less brain energy is spent on mundane things. I happen to think my socks are anything but mundane!
That leaves me to wonder what it is that makes some of these practices and tools work for some and not for others. Obviously the answer is that we are all unique. Here’s another thought, as unique as we all are in the way we learn and work, we are also different in how lead, love and laugh. So are the people we work with, for and who we supervise.
What productivity tips do you have? What makes you the leader you are?