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.

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Confessions of a Workaholic

When I googled “Workaholics Anonymous” I was only half-joking. Last week was my first serious effort to break free from the pit that mires me. Like any addiction, she calls to me, tempting me with her siren song. I want to understand her better.

There have been times when I’ve succumbed to the addiction because work gives me a strong sense of job satisfaction. It feels good to work. It feels good to know I’m doing well at something. Elsewhere in my life I’m a puddle of incompetence and insecurity.

These days the compulsion seems to be driven by my need to conquer – “I. WILL. NOT. LET. THIS. GET. THE. BETTER. OF. ME.” And yet, in the battle I’m giving the best of me. As a result I’m depleted. Exhausted. Practically defeated.

I began to dream of retiring and writing full-time…but that’s impractical. Maybe a more realistic goal is to find a job that allows me to have balance in my life.

Although I’ve been diligent in my commitment to P90X (1-1.5 hrs per day) and the arrival of a new used piano in my living room has brought extreme pleasure and a commitment of 30 minutes practicing each day, my dream of writing finds me staring wordless at the screen. All of the brilliant posts I craft during my commute, run, shower, or boring meetings … all of those words evaporate when I sit down at my desk and position my hands on the keyboard.

So in the rare moments I claim for non-work-computer-time I surf, reading the blogs of the truly brilliant, the witty, the articulate, the creative, the popular. And I shrink further inside myself. The snarky voice in my head that tells me I’m a fool feeds on my discontent and my fear. And I slink away.

Christmas

During my stay at the Windsor hotel in Kunshan, China I was impressed by the presence of Christmas and all its trappings.

When I checked into the hotel their halls were decked and Christmas tunes were playing in the background (specifically – “All I Want for Christmas Are My Two Front Teeth” greeted me upon my arrival).

Whenever I called down for room service, I was greeted with a cheery “Merry Christmas” and I listened to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” Muzak looping through my time on hold. And given the need to put me on hold every time I called (while they hunted down someone who spoke English), I heard that tune plenty.
Finally, I asked a local co-worker about the broad adoption of this Christian holiday. I know that Christianity exists in China but I was surprised to see so many reminders and signs of Christmas. I was curious if there was an appreciation of the significance of the holiday. I was told that most businesses were touting Christmas because of the commercial aspect – there were goods to be sold, they primarily catered to business travelers and tourists.
I wonder whether things are remarkably different in the US. We may be more cognizant of the Christian roots of the holiday but how many families really focus on the celebration of Christ’s birth? How easy it is to get swept up in the decorations and the gift-giving!
Something that struck me during this Holiday season was the weirdness of Santa Claus. The song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is especially creepy. In the song, we attribute traits to Santa that better describe God. Consider Psalm 139:

Psalm 139

1 O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.
5 You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!

7 I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!
8 If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.
9 If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—
12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!

….

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

God knows when we’re sleeping, he knows when we’re awake. He knows when we’ve been bad or good (so be good for His son’s sake!) and He loves us anyway.

God doesn’t come to town once a year or only on special occasions. He is always here. He is always with us. He is always seeking a relationship with us. He’s forgiving and faithful, loving us beyond measure. He leads us to everlasting life! He’s way better than Santa Claus!

In case that last post sounded sanctimonious

I’m not sanctimonious or holier-than-thou even if my last post sounded that way. My children may have survived thus far, but that is more of a reflection of God’s grace than my parenting skills.

Maybe I’m sensitive to the harsh criticism dished out by M. McGraw because I’ve been the subject of other parent’s judgment before. During their teen years my daughters were always able to find a sympathetic ear and welcoming arms in the form of “replacement moms”. D#3 moved in with a family whose mother actually told my mother she (the replacement mom) would never treat her children the way I’ve treated mine. Nice, eh? And all of the judgment passed over me by those replacement moms without benefit of Twitter.
And with Twitter? It definitely gives me something to think about. One of my daughters follows me on Twitter (although I don’t think she actively follows me, she could). One of my co-workers is also a “follower”. But it’s more than that that makes me think before I Tweet. It’s about the understanding that once Tweeted, the whole world is privvy to the thought I captured in 140 characters or less.
Do my Tweets make the world a better place? Do they spread light? Or darkness? As Christians we’re tasked with trying to spread light so that filter should apply to everything we do or say.
I won’t claim that before every Tweet I consider that it could be my last but I do try to apply a reasonable filter and use good judgment. Maybe it’s something along the lines of “What Would Jesus Tweet” (although not that well thought through).
Even with that in mind, after I tweeted this “Co-piloting while 15 YO drives the most dangerous stretch of I35. Praying! Oh, Lord be with us!it occurred to me – if we were in an accident (traffic was really nutty with all of the holiday shoppers) someone might correctly assume I wasn’t paying enough attention to my child who was in a potentially dangerous situation. As the co-pilot I was supposed to be paying attention, responsible and accountable for the safety of others.
My sisters and I often communicate via Twitter and in a way I was reaching out to them. It seemed better to focus on framing my next Tweet than to stress out. Maybe not. Fortunately we weren’t in an accident and my decision to send a Tweet wasn’t hotly debated by those who might choose to judge me. Or if it was, none of that was shared with me.
My musing this week weren’t meant to imply that I’ve got it all figured out. Far from it. I’m still trying to figure it out. Although I could post stories about what a horrible parent I’ve been and what tragic mistakes I’ve made to the detriment of my children, I choose to focus on how I think things *should* work.
Our social networks should work for good, not evil. And when we Tweet, we should Tweet responsibly.
That’s all. Oh, and…. Merry Christmas!
{From today’s reading in The One Year Bible: “Judge fairly, and show mercy and kindness to one another.” (Zechariah 7:8)}

It’s a Matter of Perspective … and Discernment

People tell lies. This is not new news. People lie for many reasons. If someone asks me to pray for them, I don’t ask why. I don’t assume their story needs to be verified. It’s not as if they’re asking for money (in which case, you bet I’m checking the background story)! If someone’s plea for support or sympathy casts someone else in a negative light, I may do some digging. There’s always two sides to the story. We are supposed to be intelligent, reasoning human beings. We’re also emotional and biased by our histories. I try not to take sides. I’m not in a position to judge others. But occasionally I’m called upon to discern the truth. Sometimes I’m compelled to share the truth as I see it.

When I was a teen, my high school opened up a computer club. I remember declaring my hatred for computers. By the mid-80’s I realized that if I wanted a decent job, I’d have to overcome my feelings about computers and learn how to use them. In ’86 I landed a job doing data entry on a mainframe computer. By ’87 I was doing word processing. By the Fall of ’89 I quit my job as a stenographer and went back to school to get a degree in Engineering.

Soon after that, I tapped into the internet. It was not like it is today. We had Bulletin Boards and Usenets. It didn’t take long before I fell in love with computers. And I fell hard. I’m inherently a researcher and I’m proud of my ability to find all sorts of information on a variety of topics. It’s a blessing. And a curse. (I give a nod to “Monk“.) The Internet is a researcher’s dream.
I’ve been a computer-geek for over 20 years, but in the land of social networking I’m still a babe in the woods. Mommy-bloggers seem so tech-savvy, blending art and design, wit and wisdom. I am humbled as I surf some of the best sites out there (according to Babble, anyway).
I’m not a Mommy-blogger. I’m barely a blogger. I’m a mother (my youngest is 15YO, my oldest is almost 24YO) and a grandmother (my 4th grandchild is due in April) and a geek. I may not be in my element, but I value the social network established through blogging, Facebook and Twitter. Most of my co-workers are mystified by my on-line presence (although many are on Facebook, few go beyond).
I could wallow in my insecurities, measuring myself against the greats and finding myself lacking. Instead I choose to do my own thing. Hopefully my “thing” is a positive reflection of my faith.
Recently, there’s been another round of drama in the World of Blogcraft and on-line networks.
Last week a toddler drowned and the mom tweeted a request for prayers. As much as I’m bent on seeking the truth, I didn’t stop to question (or check) the background – I stopped to ask God to be with the child and mother. On that day, God collected the toddler up to heaven and left the mom to deal with the aftermath. Ours is not to reason why. Only God knows His plans for us.
This weekend, another Tweeter sent an urgent request for someone, anyone, to call 911…and she provided an address. I’m not sure what’s going on in her immediate situation but I found myself reading her “back story” all the way back to 2007. She didn’t ask, but she’s also in my prayers. {NOTE: in the 2 days it’s taken me to finish writing this post, Jess has posted an explanation…and her thanks.}
Another blogger called for support of a friend who lost her home and family to a tragic fire. She and her family are in my prayers.
There’s also the ongoing story of Anissa and the tremendous outpouring of support for her (such as this video).
Sometimes the on-line community pulls together in a positive and remarkable way. Here’s a post by a woman who can truly testify to this. In this post, she’s responding to the Twitter “in-fighting” that took place between the mother of the drowned toddler and a women who positioned herself as a harsh critic (she jumped in to judge the situation and its tragic outcome).
Back in October I found myself at a crossroads. In this world, people lie. Whether I like it or not, that’s the plain truth. Not everyone is to be believed. I posted my thoughts on several situations that were made public via blogs. When the truth is not obvious, the burden is on the reader to decide.
Should we all become cynics? Should we doubt everything we hear? Should we refrain from sharing our opinion?
I choose to remain faithful, trusting in God to ultimately judge the action of others. Lying isn’t new behavior, but the Internet leaves us exposed to a much broader audience in a much smaller “world” via our social networks. For myself, I will do my best to love everyone and offer my prayerful support as needed. How about you?

A day to be truly thankful

Today, as people all across America pause in their busy lives to give thanks, I have blessings beyond measure and my thanks are lifted up as I praise God for all He’s done in my life this year.

I just took a quick peek at my post from last Thanksgiving. Last November I banged out a post every day as part of NaBloPoMo. On Thanksgiving day, my oldest daughter was barely communicating with us. Our 2nd oldest daughter was living in Pennsylvania with her husband and our grandson. Our 3rd oldest spent Thanksgiving in Del Rio with her girlfriend and her girlfriend’s family. Our youngest, my husband and I enjoyed a healthy, quiet meal at home. I spent some time reading. We worked on a puzzle. We were visited by a flock of cardinals.
This November I’ve banged away on the keyboard as part of NaNoWriMo. Today, I crossed the finish line – not the 50k word goal (I passed that last Friday) but the actual goal of finishing the novel. Yes, I did it. It took almost 69,000 words, but I can now proudly claim to have written a novel. What a great way to celebrate Thanksgiving! Giving thanks for the flow of words and the story I was able to tell.
But, better than that! (What, pray tell, could be better than that?) Last night at about 11pm our oldest daughter and her beau arrived. Today at 11am our 2nd oldest, her husband, his mother (the MIL) and our grandson arrived. They live across town so it wasn’t the journey that made their arrival remarkable. It was the drama leading up to today. She called Monday to say they weren’t coming (insert MIL drama here), then yesterday decided they were going to be here after all. At about 2:30pm our youngest daughter arrived with her girlfriend. We sat down to eat soon after 3pm. All eleven of us.
After a fantastic dinner, prepared by my wonderful husband, we settled down to watch “Up”. A very enjoyable movie (other than the occasional tear-jerk scenes that caused me to cry, which caused my husband to announce that I was crying much to the delight of all. Glad to be of service).
It’s been a good year for many reasons, but mostly because my faith has grown (continually seeking God’s guidance), my knowledge has grown (almost finished reading The Bible in a Year, huge awakening comes with the awareness and insight), my ambition has grown (well, “shifted” may be a better word – I’m no longer interested in the corporate ladder), my relationship with my children had improved dramatically (even in the absence of drama). I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been – physically, mentally and spiritually (given my history, that’s no small feat). I’m employed, yet able to pursue my passion (ahem, that would be “writing” in case you missed that subtlety).
I’m so happy I could dance. Or sing. Or fall on my knees, lift my arms and turn my face to sky and say “Thank you, God. You are awesome.” Or all of the above.
What are you thankful for?

Celebrating Life

This past year was awesome. There were many highs and many lows, but the highs were all higher than the lows. I’ve been through the dark valley before so I know how important it is to appreciate time spent on the mountaintop.

Today has been a day that marks a few personal accomplishments:
I’m celebrating life – I turn 45 today.
I’m celebrating my career – from stenographer to engineer to development manager to line director and now author. Today I crossed the 50,000 word target for #NaNoWriMo and I’m still going. Finishing my first novel is a major milestone. Additionally, Guidepost magazine is publishing my 2nd story (March issue). Today the editor called to clarify a few items. I’ll soon be receiving the final draft for my approval. Today I lift a glass to the good Lord who guides me, my loving shepherd.
I’m celebrating family – Thanksgiving is less than a week away. I’m praying that the entire clan will be together for Thanksgiving…for the first time since (I’d have marked the calendar if I’d realized it was going to be the last time) maybe 2003.
But I’m also humbled and reminded to be grateful for all that I have and to take none of it for granted. Twitter and the World of Blogcraft have been alive with prayers for a woman I’ve never met, Anissa Mayhew. There are a lot of people that I respect who have written posts or Tweets that have pulled at my heart and called me into the powerful circle of prayer in the on-line community. Anissa’s life has been filled with valleys and mountains. She’s proven to be strong and faithful (based on all that I’ve read I firmly believe this to be true). She and her family need our prayers. I gladly lift up my prayers and ask that you join in.
God, Please show Your strength, Your mercy and Your grace. Bless this woman again, as You’ve so richly blessed her during previous trials. Be with her. Be with her family. Infuse her with Your Spirit. Only You can help her recover from the strokes that threaten her. Through Your steadfast faithfulness I trust You to show us Your power & might. All glory is Yours. Amen.