Are you a Coach, a Mentor, a Leader or a Manager?

In the world today, everyone is someone – at a minimum, you are your own boss. I don’t mean in the sense of owning your business; I mean in the sense of how you manage yourself. Whether you like it or not, you are responsible for your own actions. You’re accountable for the decisions you make. How well are you managing yourself? Seth Godin recently wrote a post that suggested the odds are that you’re doing it poorly.

Here’s a summary of the fundamental differences between the roles of coach, mentor, leader and manager:

Coach A person who trains (athletes), tutors (students) or instructs (performers).
Mentor A wise and trusted counselor or teacher. An influential senior sponsor or supporter.
Leader A guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement or political group.
Manager A person who has control or direction of an institution, business, organization. A person who controls and manipulates resources & expenses.

The differences in practice can be subtle:

Managers are individuals assigned to a specific role with defined scope, typically paid to fill that role, and responsible for the day-to-day operations and expenditures of that organization. Not all managers are effective leaders. Ideally, managers are accountable for the decisions they make.

A leader in an organization can be identified as the person that everyone tends to follow. This may not be an organizational (assigned) leader. A friend of mine worked for a local school district. She told me about a teacher that all of the other teachers’ turned to during difficult discussions. The teacher always provided sound input and her guidance was typically followed. Then the school district “put her in charge” (i.e. made her a manager) and she turned into a hated dictator. The school district quickly returned the teacher to her previous role. Had they taken the time to invest in her leadership skills they might have enjoyed a different outcome.

Leaders are not necessarily accountable (if they are not also the “manager” for the organization); a series of bad decisions or a change in conditions might cause a leader to fall out of favor or get left behind by an evolving organization.

A mentor is also a go-to person. This is an individual whose experiences and reputation make them a great source of advice. They’ve learned from their own mistakes & successes, as well as from others and they’re able to distill those learnings into practice and useful advice. Wisdom, a key attribute of a good mentor, can best be judged in hindsight. Does an individual’s decisions (and advice) generally turn out well? That track record builds a person’s reputation as a wise and trusted counselor and grows his or her sphere of influence.

The advice and opinions offered by a mentor are generally of the take-it-or-leave-it variety. A mentor is not likely to be held accountable for the failure of others, although they might credit themselves with another’s success.

A coach has an area of expertise or interest and a particular talent in helping others within that area. Not everyone with expertise has the ability or inclination to coach. You don’t have to be an expert in an area to coach.

A year ago I began a workout routine. Over time I became increasingly more proficient with my Wii-Fit exercise. A friend suggested I begin to run, but I laughed, argued, made excuses and generally avoided running. Soon my friend became my coach. Before I knew it I’d run in my first 5K. She’s not a professional runner, but she has useful experience running in 5K’s and she wanted to see me succeed. She encouraged me. She gave me tips and suggestions. And she cajoled me into finally signing up and participating in a 5K. She effectively coached me, mentored me and led me through the process of defining and meeting a specific goal.

It’s great to have someone in your life that can help you succeed but sometimes that “someone” must be you yourself. I’ve recently come to appreciate the need for me to be that person for myself. As the head of US-based operations for a Taiwanese company I rarely see or hear from my boss and when I do, his input does not typically take the form of constructive feedback, mentoring or coaching. I can choose to be a victim, remaining stuck in old behaviors or I can identify opportunities for my own improvement, set personal goals and develop action plans for bringing about the desired changed. I also have to find ways to measure progress and hold myself accountable.

I am in the process of managing myself: I have the assigned responsibility and accountability for being the best me I can be. That means I have to move from the role of “Engineering Manager” to “Director of Operations”, which carries more than just an increase in responsibilities. I need to define goals for the team and strive to meet those goals in an ever-changing climate. Failure could mean the demise of the organization (i.e. closing shop and handing out pink slips). While that may be an extreme view, it keeps me motivated to outswim the sharks.

I am in the process of leading myself: I am an avid follower of Michael Hyatt, Chairman & CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. His blog is sub-titled “Intentional Leadership”. He regularly posts tips that are useful for leading, mentoring and coaching oneself and others. I am choosing my path.

I am in the process of mentoring myself: I’m paying attention to the leaders I consider effective, and those I don’t (i.e. “what not to do”). I have a stack of management & leadership books (some I’ve read before, some not) that I’m reading with a fresh eye. As I read I’m thinking about how I interact with others, but also how I interact with myself. I’m identifying a few key areas for improvement and focusing on opportunities for immediate change.

I am in the process of coaching myself: I’m setting goals, defining expectations and deliverables, and most importantly I’m devoting the time needed for these efforts. I’m encouraging myself, cajoling and pushing and striving for continuous improvement.

I am a proponent of intentionally leading myself, how about you? Are you ready to take the initiative and be accountable? Think about these questions:

  • How do you set goals/expectations?
  • How do you measure progress?
  • How do you give yourself feedback?

These are key elements in effectively learning to manage yourself to success.


The funny thing about feedback

It is better to be criticized by a wise man than praised by a fool (Ecclesiastes 7:5). Do you believe this to be true? There are people who operate as if only a fool would criticize them. Conversely, they believe that all praise is wise.

This week I was blessed by the departure of such an individual. During his end-of-year performance evaluation session he began objecting before I provided any feedback. His poor attitude has been poison in our small organization. He has been argumentative in team meetings, raising a litany of excuses and bemoaning the difficulties of job challenges without offering constructive input to make things better. He befriended another individual and the two of them spent a lot of time complaining and bolstering each other’s arguments about the unfairness of their current situation.

As individuals and as an organization, we are under construction. If we remain stagnant it is to our detriment. We will not withstand the storms of tomorrow unless we study our current strengths and weaknesses, understand the challenges and adapt accordingly.

In my leadership role, if I see a member of the team that is undermining the strength of the organization it is my responsibility to address the situation. After carefully considering the options I must approach the individual(s) and provide feedback and suggestions for changes that will help the individual and the organization.

No matter how carefully I frame the feedback, it is up the individual to receive and digest the information provided and to choose how to respond. In the case of my recent experience, the person in question, after being pressed through the “it’s not fair” portion of his reasoning, chose to leave the organization.

By nature we are prone to reactions of fight or flight. It takes a higher level of maturity to adapt and evolve rather than just try to survive intact. In our walk of faith, in our careers and in our personal relationships it is up to us to choose the path we will walk. I pray we are all seeking words of wisdom and choosing to grow and evolve rather than to cling to a stagnant version of ourselves.

Are you able to embrace feedback? What have been the most effective ways that feedback has been provided to you?

Guest post – How to Stay Young!

This was forwarded to me. Given my intense focus on writing a novel as part of NaNoWriMo I’m going to “borrow” this as a way of blowing the dust off of this blog.

1. Throw out nonessential numbers. This includes age, weight and height. Let the doctors worry about them…that’s why you pay ‘them.’

Keep only cheerful friends. The grouches pull you down.

3. Keep learning. Learn more about the computer, crafts, gardening, whatever. Never let the brain idle. ‘An idle mind is the devil’s workshop’…and the devil’s name is Alzheimer’s.

4. Enjoy the simple things.

5. Laugh often, long and loud. Laugh until you gasp for breath.

6. The tears happen. Endure, grieve, and move on. The only person who is with us our entire life is ourselves. Be ALIVE while you are alive.

7. Surround yourself with what you love, whether it’s family, pets, keepsakes, music, plants, conifers, hostas, hobbies, whatever. Your home is your refuge.

8. Cherish your health: If it is good, preserve it. If it is unstable, improve it. If it is beyond what you can improve, get help.

9. Don’t take guilt trips. Take a trip to the mall, even to the next county; to a foreign country, but NOT to where the guilt is.

10. Tell the people you love that you love them, at every opportunity.

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take,
but by the moments that take our breath away.

And if you don’t send this to at least 8 people
– who cares?
But do share this with someone… We all need to live life to its fullest each day!

Worry about nothing, pray about everything!


"Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave…

…when first we practice to deceive.” Sir Walter Scott

Once I read something that Neil posted on his blog and was flabbergasted…then realized he writes the best fiction I’ve ever found on the Internet. Bless him, he’s good!

Not long ago I was floored again – this time by the horribly immature response of Alice Hoffman to a mixed review of her novel. Not a bad review, just a mixed review. She proceeded to attack the reviewer via Twitter: she posted the reviewer’s e-mail and telephone number and she told “her fans” to contact the reviewer directly. This was a published author behaving quite badly, demonstrating for all how a lack of personal restraint can lead to public embarrassment and subsequent apologies. We’ve seen this sort of behavior from Hollywood denizens for years. Although Alice may wish to be remembered for her noble statements or her novels, she left a legacy with her hasty remarks. In the backlash of public reaction she deleted her Twitter account, but the Internet has memory and Google cache retained the information for some time.

Today I’ve been taken aback again by the drama played out between Nic and the TSA. Although Nic has “darkened” her blog (Update: her blog is up and she’s posted an apology of sorts), her post is still out there. After I watched the TSA video I did a quick Google search and found her post among the many related hits.

I’d love to believe Nic’s story because she tells it with passion and it’s compelling – but the same can be said for Neil’s work of fiction. One big difference – Neil didn’t attack a public entity. Neil didn’t create a campaign. Nic not only posted her rant, but she also posted this item on the “People’s Blog” which includes a link to her post. I found several others who had taken up her cause. Only some had updated with the TSA’s counterclaim. Google is an awesome and scary tool when it comes to research. Nic should know that her full name, home address and phone number turned up in my simple search for her story.

Today Maggie wrote a post expressing her dismay over the situation and some aspects of human behavior. Maggie’s far more eloquent than I – I encourage you to read her thoughts for yourself. If you read this you know I’m way ahead of her, worried on her behalf about the responsibility she’s shouldered in passing on information that may be difficult to verify.
In August, Nic told a story on Violence Unsilenced. Was her story there true? Perhaps Nic struggles with reality, or maybe she’s writing fiction and wants to know that her stories are believable or maybe she just has a flair for the dramatic. Today’s drama casts doubt on her tale, like the boy who cried wolf. Even when liars tell the truth, they are never believed. The liar will lie once, twice, and then perish when he tells the truth.”
I’m a regular reader of the Violence Unsilenced posts. Because I want my comments on the VU site to be prayerful and meaningful, I take the time to visit (whenever they’re available) the blogs of the victims. I want to understand them better, to appreciate their circumstances. That’s how I found myself torn by Kelly’s recent post on the VU site. Her blog took me to her husband’s blog and between the two of them I pieced together a story of two people who are in a bad place, both culpable. It’s hard for me to identify one person as abuser and one as victim – they seem to share these roles. After spending half their lives together they know where each other’s buttons are and they push them. I am still praying for them – their story has touched my heart.
But Kelly posted her accusations on a well-regarded blog and thereby afforded credibility to her side of the story. But just as we see with Nic and TSA, there are two sides to every story. It’s damaging to yourself and to others if you build up your self-righteous attitude based on the misguided indignation you’ve inspired with your half-truths.
And then there’s the mixed blessing of social media. Another TSA vs. passenger drama happened in June 2007 and was also “outed” with video footage. In that video the TSA comes off less wholesome, yet the TSA still disclosed the full video. 2+ years ago Twitter wasn’t as widely adopted (and blogs weren’t as broadly embraced) and available for the viral spreading of the woman’s claims.
In the end, each of us must decide whether we’re going to walk around (or browse the Internet) believing everything we’re told and taking up the sword for others with moral outrage based purely on their moral outrage …. or believing nothing because the world is filled with liars …. or having to apply ourselves to the arduous task of discerning the truth and deciding what we’re willing to believe based on what we know.
The world is filled with people who tell lies. That is the truth. Nic may have believed what she posted was true but her memories might have been distorted by the anxiety and frustration experienced during her delay. Or maybe she has “issues.” I don’t know Nic, but she created a cloud of doubt and uncertainty that is probably warranted.
“Only simpletons believe everything they’re told!(Proverbs 14:15)
Update: the TSA has now posted additional video footage from multiple angles.
Meanwhile, the blogging firestorm continues.

October: Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Maybe you know this already, but the statistics for domestic violence and sexual assault are grim. Girls and boys are exposed to inappropriate sexual content on a regular basis. I’m worried for our children, especially our daughters. 1 out of every four is likely to be a victim. It pains me to think about the households that are filled with tension, anger, violence and struggles for survival. Every empathetic fiber of my being cries out for the justice and freedom of the oppressed.

To balance that is a firm belief that couples united in faith (i.e. pledging their vows before God) should be committed to do everything in their power to make their marriages work. Having entered into a holy partnership, subject to a divine covenant, how do you know when to hit the “escape” button? “Should I stay or should I go?” must tear at the hearts of the victims.

There’s a web site that provides an outlet for victims. A safe haven, as it were. A place to speak out against the abuse they’ve survived. But something happened there that has left me disturbed.

How does the moderator, a modern saint, protect the site against false accusations? I’m not talking about blatant, malicious attacks against the innocent – that’s the foundation of most of the unsilenced voices. No, I’m talking about someone speaking out against their spouse, telling their side of a very two-sided story. Calling out their partner for “abuse” without confessing to their own role in the sad state of affairs.

Most abuse is one-sided. There’s an abuser and a victim. Sometimes, however, couples develop unhealthy relationships based on power struggles, battles for control, efforts to wound and retaliate against wrongs, both real and imaginary. The roles of abuser and victim are blurred, shared, ill-defined. She dresses provocatively, wearing low cut blouses, showing cleavage, flirting, starved for attention. He’s jealous and angry, resenting the attention she gets from others, even though he doesn’t show her enough attention himself. Anger, distrust and hurt brew in the subtext of every conversation. Words that can never be reclaimed are hurled during the heat of anger. Names are called. Ugly, hateful names. Because in the depth of their pain they each want their beloved to hurt as much as they do.

Worse, they began to seek allies outside of their partnership. Others who will support “their side”. “Friends” who tell them “You should leave your partner! They’re a scoundrel! You deserve better!” Worst yet – when seeking support from someone of the opposite sex. This bolsters the individual ego “Hey! I’m not so bad. This guy/gal likes me. Why can’t my spouse see what they see.” And the partner? This new ally is the enemy and the very relationship is a betrayal, fostering even more hurt and distrust. Don’t kid yourself folks, it’s not innocent. If you must find someone to talk to, seek a counselor. If you have friends that support you, stick with same-sex friends. Don’t feign innocence defending your opposite sex ally. Your partner has every reason to object, even if nothing is happening.

My heart is hurting for a couple that is in the throes of a public separation. I’ve been reading both of their sides and I see from within. I’ve been there. I’ve lived through this. I can testify that this hard time can be survived, but in order to do so the idea of “right/wrong” must be abandoned. There is not going to be one victor and one loser, just as there is not one abuser and one victim. This relationship can be mended when these two people recognize that their love for each other is their best ally. Changes will be slow and there will be back-slides, but the man I was ready to leave (let go) 10 years ago is the same man I can’t imagine life without today, tomorrow, until death do us part. I speak from experience.

I pray for this couple, I pray for my husband and myself, I pray for all couples everywhere. Relationships are hard.

The world is filled with people who are willing to throw their commitments into the fire and move on to the next one – and they’ll encourage you to do the same. Don’t listen. Pray. Seek help from sources who support your effort to work through the changes you both must make. Pray some more. Focus on what YOU must change and hold on to your love. Don’t imagine the grass is greener elsewhere. Things have gotten bleak but you can get past this. These hard times can make you stronger. I’m praying for you.

A Few Comments on Independence

Raising teenagers changed the way I look at independence. I can look back at my own quest for independence and have a clearer understanding of both sides of the equation. There’s something about breaking free from the rules and from our ties to childhood that compels many (including myself) to rebel against their parental units.

The hard lesson is that quite often the freedom that is sought, fought for and won is not really freedom. While my girls might be independent relative to their parents, they did not step out of this household and gain self-reliance. In some ways they’re getting there, yes, but each of them has relied on (or is still relying on) welfare in order to get on their feet. Currently, each of them relies on the parents of their “significant other” (whether by necessity or convenience, I can’t say).

D#1 is living with her boyfriend and his parents. She’s got a steady job with insurance! Things seem to be on track, based on the last year. She’s not raising either of her children, though. And that’s for the best.

D#2 is married and raising our youngest grandson (hurray!), living in a 1-bedroom apartment with her MIL, supplemented by food stamps.

D#3 wrapped up her 1st year of college by moving into an apartment with her girlfriend. Neither of them work. My daughter says the money she saved from the part-time job she worked for a month or so last summer…is dwindling. Admittedly, I’m leaping with both feet to the conclusion that there’s some welfare going on there. She’s the one who left home partly because we wanted her to earn some of the money for college, which we would reimburse. I guess she showed us. She’s the only one of the 3 who has not ever hit us up for anything since she left home. Is it better for her to show us she doesn’t need us? Not from where I sit.

I can’t help but find parallels between my children’s relationship with their parents and our relationship with God. God is our parental unit. God wants what’s best for us. God has given us rules that He expects us to follow. God expects us to be honest with Him and God hopes that we seek and maintain a relationship with Him. He notices when we’re away and He’s grateful when we return. The more time we spend with Him, the happier He is and the easier it is for Him to help us. If we only seek Him during times of crisis, He may be slower to respond. He may take time to figure out what’s best for us in our given situation. If we never seek Him, if we don’t need Him, if we never ask for anything, well…there’s not much He can do for us.

Meanwhile, are we relying on other gods to satisfy our needs?

50% of our children leave the nest, then return???

Yesterday I picked up a book called “1001 Things Every Teen Should Know Before They Leave Home (Or Else They’ll Come Back)” by Harry H. Harrison, Jr. It states that 50% of our children will return home 5-6 years after leaving. GOOD GRIEF!

OK, I took the bait. I decided that in the time remaining with our 14 year old, there is plenty of opportunity to teach him 1001 things. Let’s see…. Item #1 “Adulthood is not for sissies.” Great. How do I slip that into casual conversation? And what do we do with that info? It’s not like he can “opt out”.

“O.K. Mom, I’ve decided not to pursue adulthood.”

This had better get better or I want my money back.