Doing Our Best Work

Note: While I focus on pastoral work in this article, I believe anyone who struggles with scheduling creative work may benefit. I debated publishing this, fearing that some may not understand the various pressures and struggles of pastors and others who must address problems without clear solutions or perform other tasks which draw on creative resources. After sharing the article with a friend who encouraged me to post it, I offer it in hopes that some find encouragement, hope, or understanding.

The Creative Pastor

Are pastors creatives? While I’ve lamented the stress of forced creativity of writing and presenting weekly sermons, I don’t know if I’ve viewed pastors as creatives. I know artists, musicians, screenwriters, and such do creative work, but pastors aren’t writing screenplays, poems, songs, or painting beautiful pictures. I’m not sure I’ve considered that pastors may be just as creative but in a different way. Continue reading “Doing Our Best Work”

Michael Hyatt’s Leaderbox – First Impressions

If you want to see what a Leaderbox looks like, here’s my unboxing and first impressions:

I told myself I wasn’t going to do it. I told myself it was too much money. But then, I received a 10% off coupon for Michael Hyatt’s Leaderbox and I thought I’d revisit my initial decision.

After thinking about Leaderbox some more, I ended up joining.

What caused me to take the jump? Basically, the coupon came at the right time.

In a previous blog post, I wrote about reassessing how I read. I realized that if I was going to learn deeply, I had to read differently. So, fewer books.

I also realized physical books would help in my quest. I am able to make notes in a physical book. I can highlight and underline. At the end of each chapter, I can give feedback or write out a summary. For learning, I decided I would focus on physical rather than electronic books.

Leaderbox provides the tools I feel I need. Each month Leaderbox provides two (physical) books, a 21-day reading guide, a facebook group, and some quote cards. The Reading Guide asks questions about the day’s reading and provides a place for notes. The Facebook group provides an opportunity to learn from others. My hope and expectation are that my learning will be deepened and my thinking will be challenged and expanded.

The other aspect of Leaderbox that will be helpful is Hyatt’s team choosing the book. If I want to learn deeply and think differently, my reading must challenge me. I tend to gravitate toward the same type of books. I’ll browse through Amazon, see something that looks good, and then purchase.

Having someone else choose the book means I may end up reading a book I would normally avoid, which is good. If I am going to expand my thinking, I need to be challenged in areas I tend to ignore.

I could have decided to purchase a similar product from other companies, but I felt the books (at least the ones I knew about) Hyatt’s team provided were of higher quality. For instance, one of the books for March,The CEO Next Door: The 4 Behaviors That Transform Ordinary People into World-Class Leaders, as of this posting, hasn’t even been released. I received the book two weeks before the release. The authors expand on their Harvard Business Review cover story.

 

Why I Started Reading Fewer Books

I love reading books. Actually, that’s not quite accurate. I love the thought of reading. Reading, on the other hand, I find taxing.

I know many people who love reading. I’m not one of them. What I do love is learning. Since reading provides me the best and, perhaps, the most effective way to learn, I read. While I don’t necessarily find reading enjoyable, I read anyway.

Did you know over 300,000 books are published every year in the US? Yes, every year. That seems a tad excessive.

Thanks, Gutenberg!

If it wasn’t for his amazing printing press, there would be fewer books in the world. I would also have far fewer books on my bookshelf and in my Kindle.

I suffer from a buying books addiction. I can’t stop! I buy book after book, but I don’t always read them. Every time I look at my bookshelf, or look at my Kindle library and see all the unread books, I feel guilty.

Last year I decided to alleviate my guilt. I would make more time for reading. My reading would be intentional and focused. I would have a plan!

My plan revolved around creating two lists; Books I want to read and books I have read. I would choose a book from the “want to read” list and read that book and only that. Instead of having multiple half-read books, I would focus on one book and read it from beginning to end.

I would also keep track of the books that I read. Tracking would help me stay motivated, give me a plan to address my unread books, and provide feedback on my progress.

I am happy to report that my plan worked!

I read more books! I read a lot more books. I started my plan in April and by October I had read 53 books. I estimate, if I would have tracked the whole year, I would have read somewhere around 70 or 80 books.

I would read anywhere from one to three books a week. I was tearing through my unread books with ease. It was great. I felt good about myself and was proud of my accomplishment.

And then I stopped.

I didn’t stop reading. I stopped following my plan. I stopped tracking. I didn’t stop because I got lazy, I stopped with intention and purpose.

Why stop tracking when my approach seemed so effective? Basically, there were two problems with my plan that I didn’t anticipate.

For one, I was after the wrong goal.

If you looked at my list, you would see the books A Curious Mind (9 days), New to 5 (1 day), and Emotional Agility (5 days). Were they good books? I think so. To be honest, I can’t remember too much about them. Did I read them? Well, I saw all the words. I underlined things that seemed important. I can go back to Kindle and look at my highlights. Yet, I’m not sure the experience of “reading” those books was really what I wanted.

My stated goal was to read more books, which I was. But my real goal was to learn, which I wasn’t doing. I’m not sure I learned too much from any of those books. The fault wasn’t with the author, the fault was with me!

The second problem with my plan was the books I was choosing to read.

While I was reading a lot of books, I found I was gravitating toward books that seemed easier to read. If a book covered a difficult topic or seemed like it might take a long time to read, I wouldn’t pick it from my “to read” list. I started looking at the “average reading time” that Kindle lists and used that to pick the next book on my hit list.

In October, I decided to stop keeping track. Instead, I would focus on learning and choose books that could take longer to read, but offered a deeper insight and understanding of the subject matter.

Here are some key takeaways from my new approach:

  1. Passive reading isn’t the same as active reading.

  2. It’s okay to have unread books.

  3. Interacting with the book means I need a physical copy.

  4. Reading may not come naturally.

I am also learning that I don’t really know how to read a book. Not for deep learning anyway. So, I brushed off my copy of How to Read a Book that, I, ironically, listened to on Audible a few years back, and so I might find a process that helps me learn.

I assume I will be reading fewer books, but I am convinced I will gain a deeper understanding of the subject, read more challenging books, and, who knows, might just enjoy reading!

I may write another post outlining the process that I land on for reading. Right now, my process is too new to share. I have to live with a process for a while tweaking it through trial and error.

If you have a process or technique you use to read, share in the comments!

Five Essential Practices of Leaders

Leading well requires intentional practices.
Leading well requires intentional practices.

One of the best books I’ve read on leadership is “The Leadership Challenge” by James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner. The book, in its fifth edition and over twenty-five years old, outlines five vital practices for effective leadership. As I stumble my way into and through leadership, the five practices have helped my leadership development.

Practice One: Model the Way

Leaders set the climate of the organization. Leaders must clarify values by finding their voice and inspiring commitment to shared values giving people a reason to care. For leaders to be effective, they need to passionately model and pursue the vision of the organization. This practice can be phrased in different ways; walk the talk, buy what you sell, live what you preach, etc. Leaders can’t tell others to be vision focused if they are not. Your behavior, not your title, earns you respect.

Inspire a shared vision

Shared vision, more than anything, transforms organizational culture. Leaders cultivate shared values and vision by imagining future possibilities through reflecting on the past, attending to the present, and prospecting the future.

Shared vision creates ownership not only among leaders, but across the entire organization. The importance of ownership cannot be over stated because owners approach their work differently than non-owners. Owners care passionately having a “do what’s needed” attitude. If leaders do not inspire ownership, team members, whether employees or volunteers, develop a “do what’s asked” mentality limiting their full engagement and talents.

Inspire others by embracing your passion, aligning your dreams with the people’s, and animating the vision using stories and images. Such inspiration helps individuals give their best to the mission of the organization.

Challenge the Process

Leaders search for opportunities by seizing initiatives, exercising outsight (instead of simply looking “inside” leaders also look outside), and treating every job as an adventure. Experimentation and risk-taking move leaders and organizations out of their comfort zones closer to fulfilling their vision. Willingness to do what hasn’t been done before, start small, generate small wins, and learn from experience creates active learners who keep learning while moving forward.

Enable Others to Act

If a vision can be fulfilled without teams, the vision is simply too small. Teams are vital for any vision worth pursuing. Building strong teams, perhaps the the most difficult, but essential task of effective leadership, empowers organizations to realize seemingly impossible goals. While culture celebrates leaders who single handily transform organizations, those leaders usually have good and strong teams contributing to their success.

Teams are built by fostering collaboration around a common purpose in an environment of respect and trust. A climate of trust, created by sharing information and facilitating relationships, needs to be established if teams are going to be successful (See Five Dysfunctions of a TeamFive Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni).

High trust allows the enhancement of people’s sense of self-determination providing opportunities that get the best out of team members and releasing their full potential. Rather than focusing on the “right way” to solve problems, teams are given permission to find their own solutions, allowing for creativity and innovation. People are smart and will figure things out if given the chance. Accountability and expectations make sure teams stay on track and within any boundaries of the organization.

Encourage the Heart

I find this practice the hardest given my temperament, but many will find the practice easy. Leaders encouraging the heart through celebration and recognition. Recognize contributions by showing appreciation. Celebrate values and victories by creating a spirit of community. When hearts are encouraged, people not only respond with loyalty, but with their best work.

Summary

These five practices have transformed my view of leadership. I still struggle with a few of the practices, but I see how these practices enable organizations to effectively fulfill their mission. For more information about these practices, check out “The Leadership Challenge”.

Discussion

What practices do you find the easiest? What ones are the most difficult? Can you think of practices that can be added to the list?

How 4 Tips Help Me to Read, Remember, and Learn

4 Tips that Help You Remember what You Read

Are you Sure that Leaders are Readers?

I used to think that leaders were readers because I kept reading that they were and the belief just seemed right. Many leaders do read, sometimes quite a bit. If you want an example, just check out Bill Gate’s book list. Some leaders believe reading is so vital, they put reading on their calendar. What do they read? Just about anything and everything.
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I now believe the “leaders are readers” sentiment misses the point. Effective leadership requires more than reading. Leaders must not just be readers, they really need to be learners. I know from experience that reading many, many, books, doesn’t necessarily lead to learning. While focusing on reading seems productive, if we do not learn from what we read, then we certainly are not maximizing the potential of the book.

If learning becomes our focus, rather than reading, a new world of possibilities open for us. I hope to focus on other ways leaders might learn, but this post outlines four tips that have helped me to read better, remember more, and learn from what I read:

1) Take Notes

I can almost hear the groans! Yes, taking notes is my number one tip. I feel your pain. I hate to take notes, but I find when I do, I retain more of what I’m reading. Research confirms that I’m not alone, as this Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching Paper reports.

I suggest handwriting your notes as well. Michael Hyatt has written about the lost art of note-taking and some of his comments relate to hand-writing book notes too. Getting a notebook so you can keep a journal of your reading and learnings can help you as you read, but also becomes an archive of important discoveries. This LifeHacker article about perfecting note taking techniques gives great suggestions.

2) Review Your Notes

Why take notes if you don’t review them from time to time? When you take time to review your notes, the information has a chance to go from short-term memory, to long-term memory.

I have a tendency to forget what I read. There have been times I start reading a book only to realize I have already read it. At one time, I almost purchased a book that I not only had on my shelf, but I had made copious highlights and underlines in the text.

Perhaps you aren’t like me, but I find simply highlighting, underlining, and dog-earing pages, doesn’t help me to remember what I’ve read or learn much from the book, but reviewing my notes does.

3) Find “Actionable Items”

This tip requires more work than the others. I don’t always find actionable items as I read, but when I don’t, I wonder why did I even read the book? Why read a 150 or 200 page book if I’m just going to continue doing the same things over and over again? One goal of reading can be change and transformation. If I’m not changed by a book, then I probably haven’t fully engaged it.

Sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t be better to spend more time with one book than reading many books. Being more selective would help me focus on quality works with actionable items leading to new skills. Knowledge doesn’t necessarily equate to wisdom, but applied knowledge does.

4) Get Help

We live in a great era for those who want to “get to the point” and forgo all the extra “fluff” that many books contain. Services like blinklist and MinistryLibrary distill pertinent information from books leaving the stories and antidotes for those with more time and desire to read.

Blinklist is like Cliff Notes, but shorter. They compress each book into multiple “Blinks,” each usually less than a page long. A book may have seven Blinks or up to around fifteen.

MinistryLibrary creates 5 – 10 minute videos summaries for each book and also transcribes the video just in case you don’t have 10 minutes, or you want to pass the information along to a staff person. MinistryLibrary also has “Workshops” which lists action items from the book, designed for staff to hold each other accountable to applying the lessons from the book.

Reading is one of many ways to become a learner. In future posts, I will explore some of the other ways to learn.

Yes, leaders are readers, but if we never learn from what we read, we forfeit the full potential of our books and reading time. If you have other tips, please share them in the comments!

Peace!

Dr. David.