Finding Joy

by Matthew Stockard

sushiWeek by week, the vocation I serve in the Church brings me into contact with gifted people whose own callings to ministry give them energy and joy. Like most of us who engage the Church, my week is also filled with all manner of oddly messy circumstances. Much of my vocational life is caught up in those untidy situations, and despite their sometimes challenging nature, they are largely quite positive, reflecting that great quip attributed to Archbishop Tutu: “Anglicanism is very, very messy, but very lovable.”

A few of the people I meet with each month have been exhausted by their vocations. They are generally good, diligent, sometimes visionary folk, who have either worn themselves down or allowed others to do so, or both. In some of the most painful cases, such persons have confused servant ministry with a rationalized and artificial martyrdom. Hard work sometimes brings suffering as a part of our vocation, but we cannot remain there in an ongoing way.

My months always contain conversations with good “lights on” clergy and laity who have grown a bit tired. They love ministry, but are saddened or depleted by a variety of things, churchy or not. Most often these are the ordinary kinds of tired. Some of these people only need to hear a very simple, yet somehow rare, piece of feedback: that their ministry touches hearts and changes lives—not because of its grandeur, but because it is.

Whatever your vocation, the Holy One has called it forth from you not for the purpose of generating suffering, but for the advancement of a joy rooted in you that sustains community. Challenges will, of course, be present. When looking for vocation, one looks for those instants of true joy. In all of life’s business, it’s easy to lose this simple truth. Fame, fortune, and being perceived as important or powerful have little to do with true vocation, and are sometimes strong forces in leading us off the vocational mark. There are times when being addicted to bigness generates considerable suffering, but the addiction is hard to break. As you make your way, first be aware of your joy and of how that joy touches others. The great 87-year-old sushi chef Hiro Ono is not a master of his craft because he sought to be important: He delights in extraordinary sushi.

Transforming Work has been an experience of great delight for some three years now, but it will be transforming itself shortly. This reflection series will disappear, but these resources for continuing CREDO will not. You’ll learn much about this in the weeks ahead. As I conclude, I want to thank my co-blogger, Brad Agry, and all the other bloggers who have worked together to build this resource in other focus areas. Their companionship has been a joyful part of this experience. Thanks go to Herb Gunn of CREDO for the vision,  invitation and persuasion to engage such a thing as this, to Cindy Underwood of CREDO for ensuring that postings took place on time and as intended, and to Palmer Jones of CREDO, who has served as an artful editor and skillful guide, helping me along the way. Thanks to all of you readers who have traveled with us on this journey, and let us continue it in a practice that seeks both mastery and joy. Blessings to all!

Keeping Your Transformation Alive

by Brad Agry

??????????????????By the end of this month, various CREDO component blogs will conclude and  fold into Church Pension Group programmatic work around Education and Wellness. My esteemed colleague and co-blogger, Matt Stockard, and I have enjoyed giving you a full array of vocational topics over the last two-and-a-half years, designed to inform, hopefully inspire, and motivate you to keep constantly growing. We are proud of the 125 followers who subscribe to “Transforming Work.” Feel free to access our archived articles  through CREDO’S website and stay in touch with each of us in the future as your vocations unfold and new challenges come your way.

So how to sum up the more than 50 reflection pieces we have shared with you? The landscape of topics and points of view has purposefully been diverse. In one corner existed practical information about things like interviewing, negotiating, and networking; in another niche was a series of articles looking at topics such as the fascinating typology of the Myers-Briggs model and its implications in the workplace. On another continuum, we addressed distinctly personal issues around forgiveness, anger, grief, and isolation in the workplace. Matt and I saw the Spirit’s movement even in what might seem like the most mundane work situations, and witnessed that amazing things can happen at that “sweet spot” where spirituality and work intersect.

We know, through the familiar CREDO model, that rich, healthy, and well-examined lives go through the familiar cycle of discernment, action, transformation—followed by rebirth. The “sine waves” of various parts of our lives may not always be in synch. Financially, for example, we may be in a holding pattern, while spiritually we may be in the midst of an exciting “ah-ha” moment, on the crest of a major break-through and beginning of an exciting new chapter of our lives.

To keep our vocations alive—however we define our “work”—takes (1) planning, (2) action, and (3) faith. If we continually weed out that which is old to leave space for new growth, we need to know what’s being planted. Your CREDO plan gave you one approach to structuring goals, actions, and accountability; but now you are on your own. How will you sustain vision and stay attuned to that important category known as “important yet not urgent”?

Designate a few times a year to look at your career from “3,000 feet”—take a kind of metaview. In a methodical way, revisit old goals and see what has changed and understand why. Is it you who needs something different now? Or perhaps where you work has changed so much that its culture no longer “fits” who you are at your core. Enlist the help of a “board of directors,”  perhaps the same kind of people you trusted to review your various CREDO conference 360-degree profile feedback reports. Help these people help you as they reflect back what they see you becoming and enlist their advice as how to get there.

Taking action means giving “legs” to your goals. But be patient and realize that there may be some sustained periods of “research” needed to learn more about the details of what you are being called to become before you can act. Allow yourself to be in the “neutral zone” of not knowing and be fine with the rich learning that can come in this place most of us abhor and avoid. Becoming a “sponge”—absorbing information about a new spark that has ignited a new interest— is an exciting place to be. Enjoy it.

Faith comes into play with knowing when to let go and leave any possible confusion at God’s feet. As a career coach, I  work day in and day out helping people uncover what they really enjoy, what they want to do next, and how to get there. When I know I am emerging and transforming in my own work life but unsure what steps to take, I simply ask God’s help in the form of “baby step clues.” Picture yourself on a treasure hunt with God. God has a trail mapped out and the prize in mind; all you have to do in order to transform into who you are meant to be, is follow Him, clue by clue.

Can We Capture Creativity?

by Brad Agry

genesisIn several of my past jobs and in my work as a consultant, I have heard both leaders and team members in a variety of organizations express the desire “to be more creative.” Somewhere along the way,  the connotations for “creative”  blended with those for “innovative,”  and oftentimes resulted in the assumption that an end result would not imitate anything from before. Various individuals pulled out their flip charts and their whiteboards and started brainstorming, or as some of the corporate lingo would say, “encouraged out-of-the-box thinking” or “focused on ‘big picture’ ideation.”

Of course, we know that encouraging new ideas and ways of thinking is crucial to the lifeblood and growth of the institutions we inhabit. To use biblical metaphors, dried and dead branches need to be cleared so that new shoots can sprout. Yet is there, perhaps, too much emphasis placed on the end product and not enough on the actual process of creating? I would posit that our rushing to produce something that gets recognized as “very creative” is akin to a painter’s working against the clock to fill a canvas with something unique and perhaps marketable, but which gives the producer limited pleasure or pride in its actual creation. Along the way to “the finish line,” the artist learns little about his or her artistic identity and the processes or stages he goes through to create.

So what can we learn about the act of creating that will encourage us to slow down and recognize how we as individuals and members of organizations can derive the richest experience and learning?

A few years ago, I attended a workshop on leadership. The premise was that we are all leaders of one kind or another in all parts of our lives, regardless of how many people we actually manage on the job. Over a period of a year, we looked at creativity from four overlapping perspectives: (1) creating from self, (2) creating from others, (3) creating from chaos, and (4) creating from nothing. Each retreat challenged us to look at how to best leverage these situations in order to quite simply be and do our best.

Creation from self was really rooted in understanding how we each cognitively “start” projects and move them forward. How, for instance, composing a sermon or writing an opinion piece has steps we each take in different order and do in different ways. Through a number of exercises, we found clarity about something as simple as what kind of environment or formats encouraged our “smoothest sailing.”

The discussion of the “other” introduced a whole new dimension on how we create—in this case, with a co-partner—and included notions about compromise, openness, and abandonment of preconceived ideas. In working with a partner on a shared project, we also learned about the magic of synergy. Our charge—creating a 7-hour workshop curriculum that  probably would have taken each of us a week to do on our own. Working side by side, we finished the project in a single Saturday afternoon. In a sense, we “leaned into each other,” giving our all and definitely creating something larger than each of us.

Our trainer likened creating in the midst of chaos to the multitasking required of a  television director, who has to have eyes on six sets of cameras at all times. In our church world, the challenge can involve  leading a major event with continuous unplanned requests and last-minute changes, while still remaining in control and being “in the moment.” Creating here may seem like fire-extinguishing, but it is really about composing order when the solutions are not always readily clear, yet need to be made on the spot.

The notion of creating from nothing was strangely liberating and scary at the same time. We don’t often get the chance to start with a completely “clean slate.” Certainly, someone like the church planter, for example, knows about the domain of “new territory.” What’s needed in a completely uncharted situation is a trusting attitude toward intuition,  sound judgment, and the willingness to take risks. Midway through our retreat on this topic, our facilitators slyly disappeared, leaving us with minimal direction. We were challenged with complete responsibility as to how to create, structure, and complete the retreat.

So in your day-to-day work, take a close look at where you are with regard to the act of creation. Know how you best function—be it alone, with another partner, or in a group—in beginning, deepening and moving a project forward. Don’t be afraid to leverage the talents and support of others in the process. Practice managing multiple requests by emulating the behavior of colleagues you respect who do it well. And when the unique situation appears, when you do get to work from absolute “ground zero,” relish the chance to really think big…and take your time at the flip chart!

Taking Action

by Matthew Stockard

actionVisioning is an essential part of leadership. Imaginations need encouragement and stimulation. Communities, organizations, churches and teams need to share understanding and ideas together. Such cooperative and collaborative work is essential to the heart of the Church’s way of being. But unless all that good conversation comes down to action that brings about actualization and embodiment, it’s just a bunch of good ideas bouncing around.

So how do you enhance the active development of all those great ideas you and your team have been having? I know you’ve probably got assignments and lists, but sometimes our collaborative capacities begin to diminish once we’re past the original visioning stage.

Let me suggest that a variety of electronic tools exist nowadays that can help enable collaborative teamwork when it boils down to getting things done.

First of all, you’ve got a bucket of some sort to catch all these good ideas, right? It’s essential to keep those good ideas someplace handy. If you can’t tackle everything at once (who can) it’s time to make a list. That list will help you keep those interesting ideas from getting lost. If the list also organizes the ideas in a way that facilitates implementation, then you’ve got a good bit of the project managed.

I’m sort of fussy about electronic tools. I really want great reliability from them; moreover, I want excellent performance. I like them to be compatible with the various electronic devices that many of us rely on every day, but I’m not really interested in spending much time to maintain them from moment to moment. What I want is effortless tools that will save me time. If I have to spend substantial time in learning the tool or entering information or interacting with that entered information, then I’m better off with a pencil and a 3 x 5 note card.

If you’re a bit like me, here are some possible suggestions that may prove useful to your workflow:

Wunderlist is available on iPad, iPhone, Android, Windows, and Mac. It’s essentially a very well implemented To-Do list, which can be structured, shared and organized in ways that will help you accomplish your goals. Tasks can be assigned to sharable lists, making group collaboration on aspects of a project transparent. It’s available in a variety of languages.

Trello is another great information organizer. Think of it as a deck of cards that can be configured to contain information, communication, lists and documents. Highly customizable, Trello can hold a great deal of information in an organized way in the palm of your hand. It has incredible flexibility and can manage very complex and sophisticated information systems.

Don’t want something quite that complex? ActionMethod is my current favorite of these sorts of tools. It’s a customizable aggregation of categories (called “groups”), projects, and action step cards. I find it a lightning fast way to organize a great variety of projects simultaneously. Great visual design, a highly intuitive interface and an inbuilt focus on accomplishing and keeping track of those many action steps that make all of our projects go make this an easy to use and flexible tool in a variety of platforms. I particularly like its capacity to sort action steps by due date and present them in a simple list and its straightforward means of tracking delegation of action steps. A variety of levels of cost (starting at free, one of my favorites) enable a range of services from delegation to collaborative sharing of information and documents. Find out more about beginning with ActionMethod.

If you choose a tool to assist you in moving ideas into action, be certain to choose something that works for you, and not vice-versa. You may find a tool that not only helps with managing projects, but also has the potential to increase productivity while helping to manage stress.

Tackling Your Inner Saboteurs

by Brad Agry

gremlinIt’s an awful feeling when we let our confidence fall prey to negative thinking. We may be in the middle of making job changes, learning something new, or in a place of career transition where the status quo we are accustomed to is turned completely upside down. Suddenly “all the furniture” in our neatly structured work life has been rearranged and the former “rooms” we occupied bear little resemblance to what was in place before.

Some of the coach training I’ve done named these internal negative voices “saboteurs.” They are by definition “agents that tend to hamper or hurt.” On a psychological level, these inner gremlins abhor change, movement or growth. They want to do their best to keep things just the way they are. They seek to protect you from charting unknown territory, and want you to live small and safely.

One of the metaphors I have found helpful in managing these annoyances is to think of your job as a ship. There is a captain who, in a sense, represents the “wiser you” —the positive, rational individual who steers the boat and confidently ploughs ahead, even in rough seas. This person—be it your strong side or even another personification you look to for strength and guidance—is your supreme advocate.

The captain also keeps your gremlins locked away in the hold. We all have gremlins itching to get on deck and redirect the boat. It is often helpful to name the gremlins and give them characteristics. The more clearly we can see what they stand for, the easier it is to combat them.

While I freely admit to having an army of gremlins, I will give you examples of two I have learned to recognize and manage over time. The first is “Peter Perfect”—he is meticulously dressed, always prepared, hyper-organized, and exacting about details. He comes roaring into action over something as insignificant as a misspelled word or a document with slightly incorrect margins. He raises hell if I am six minutes late for a meeting and makes me obsess if I forgot to add a topic to an agenda. In a word, he is mean to me, and undermines and degrades my work for trivial reasons. He does not want me to excel or move ahead and is always looking for ways to hold me back.

And then there is “Temper Tom”—the saboteur that encourages anger and defensiveness in the face of new challenges. He does not allow me to process and work through solutions. He is the impatient, scared beast that lashes out and confronts others, thinking that this supposed “strong” and aggressive behavior will mask any vulnerabilities I have.

To tame these creatures, you first must be able to recognize and name your common prototypes, and identify what makes them surface and when. Knowing yourself means being cognizant of what historically triggers their appearance. They never completely disappear, but you would be amazed at how you can begin to diminish their impact.

Do what’s best for you. I have one client who verbally dismisses gremlins by name, telling them that what they are doing is not helpful. Another person I know journals and records times when various saboteurs have popped up. With strength she can look back and read what was “on the other side” of these voices and remind herself of the successes or accomplishments that may have occurred by resisting the voice and continuing to move forward.

Incidentally, I have a confession to make. For more than a week now, one of my saboteurs has fought me every time I try to sit down and write about this topic. He clamors, “Good Lord, will people really want to read about all of this ‘touchy-feely’ dribble? Isn’t this stuff pretty common sense anyway? Could this really be applied to real work situations?” The strong Captain Brad has ploughed ahead. He says, “Who knows what the trip will bring, but if we don’t try, we will never know…and wouldn’t that be a shame?”

Organizing Time for the Organization

by Matthew Stockard

focusSome years ago I had a good friend, a parish priest, who believed that functionally there were really only two liturgical seasons in The Episcopal Church: Ordinary Time and what he called The Jesus Season. He postulated that the beginning of The Jesus Season was marked by the up-sweep of programmatic activity as the school year began, and noted that Ordinary Time began at different points proximate to Easter, depending upon how far away the parish was from the coast. When I was younger, I thought him a bit cynical in this. Nowadays I get the gentle wisdom he was trying to highlight.

Even now, as summer draws closer to a close and those meetings and design teams begin to warm up their engines, this period of late summer has a lot of organizational planning to pursue in service of the rapidly approaching Jesus Season. The multiple priorities, goals which point in different directions, and needs which shift like sand on dunes can begin to harsh that wondrous summer mellow the Rector somehow achieved in July. How to manage this growing tension? Time management. Not for an individual, but for a whole organization.

Living as we all do in a constant stream of fresh things to do, a common error as people consider time management is that a to-do list is something that can actually be completed. We can complete the grocery list, so why not the to-do list? We tend to revert to task management when we think this way, considering grand organizational BHAGs as simply one more bag of flour to pick up and cross off the list. This approach is sometimes not at all helpful to organizations. While we can cross off action steps along the path of a massive project, what makes an organization’s work flow is FOCUS. During this time of preparation for the year, don’t simply ask what needs to be done. Look carefully at how your parish is spending time related to specific, focused goals.

When I work with parish vestries who are doing some yearly planning, after they’ve listed the 37 or so excellent and large ideas they’ve created for their parish to enact in the coming year, I ask them to choose just five upon which to focus in the coming year. Energized by their creativity, they invariably whine a bit about this dull task of focusing. “Surely we can do these six as a part of this one focus area—they’re all related?” they ask. “Yes,” I always say, “but which one will you begin this year, right now?” That’s where the deeper conversation starts.

As you get ready to populate that massive calendar, do you know your focus points as an organization? Do you have the focus down to a realistic set? Does each ministry area have a realistic set of focused goals and are they in alignment with the overall parish goals? Each ministry area should have a set of goals drawn from those primary organizational goals. That’s where time management will help accomplish the overall objectives. By focusing on five, you’ll still have those other interruptions, surprises, new ideas, which may be interesting but distracting from goals, but focus will help you tend the most valuable areas first. Put most of your time in service of these goals. When each staff person or ministry area shares aligned goals, that calendar will shine with progress. Maybe that mellow can even last a while past Labor Day.

Want an example of a specific approach to this sort of organizational time management? Read A Personal Approach to Organizational Time Management, in the McKinsey Quarterly, January 2013.

Why Not Ask for Help?

by Brad Agry

Mature student in classA few years ago, during a leadership exercise, I was part of a group of 19 people who were blind-folded and tasked with following a circuitous rope in order to “get to the end.” At the beginning of the exercise, the instructions were brief and included the statement, “If at any point you need help, just raise your hand and one of the facilitators will come over to you.” We later found out that there was, in fact, no “end” but just a closed continuous rectangle of rope wrapped around four trees that  most of us followed with mounting frustration, like confused little hamsters on treadmills!

Over time I sensed there were fewer and fewer of us still on the course. What did the “finishers” know that I didn’t? What technique did they master that I had not tried? My gut trumped my pride, and I finally “asked for help.” The facilitator whispered in my ear, “In asking for help, you have found the key to unlock the door to success—there is no end—take off your blindfold and join the others on the porch.”

Funny how many of us perceive asking for help as a sign of weakness or incompetence. Our inner demons clamber, “You have been a priest for 10 years and you should know what this means!” Or, “You are the head of the discernment committee—aren’t you capable at the very least of scheduling a series of four conference calls with 12 people?” We become our own worst enemies and in reverting to self-conscious mode, often remain silent, feigning understanding and control rather than admitting not knowing and needing assistance.

I heard a story about a new member of a diocesan staff who had recently transitioned from a full career of parish work. Over the first several months, he readily absorbed most of the technical aspects of his job, just by means of day-to-day interaction. He settled in and was growing well in his new position. One day he was asked  to substitute for his superior at the last minute and run an inter-denominational meeting—an area in which he had zero experince. It seems he was given a quick briefing and then asked to chair a meeting of 12 complete strangers—many of fairly senior rank. Apparently, he freely admitted to not knowing many of the functions of the attendees. He was not shy about asking for some brief introductions of the attendees and feedback on how these meetings typically ran. He did not try to answer questions he was not sure of, but merely promised to get back to people with correct information. Several people I know who were at the meeting marveled at his confidence in not knowing and being able to freely and publicly admit it. Despite this initial handicap, he successfully led a meeting, which facilitated important discussions and made substantial progress to agreed upon future actions.

When new groups form, I am particularly impressed by leaders who enter with a “blank a slate” in terms of what the group will ultimately accomplish and how. They do not enter with “fully baked” plans in order to impress. Rather, they are willing to be equals during the “undefined” stages of a project. They listen; they defer to others; and when not sure what to do next, name it, open the discussion, and encourage brainstorming.

Knowing when and how to ask for help on the job takes judgment and practice. So much depends on the language used and how the request is presented. When I have been on the receiving end of such requests, I am impressed by an individual’s transparency and directness. In cases where an individual has absolutely no knowledge of a subject, just saying something like “help me understand exactly what you mean by x…” is appropriate. When one has some knowledge but needs a sounding board or feedback, saying something like “I have a couple of options I have thought about, could I ask your help in sorting some of them out” can work well.

Look back over your career and identify those times when just asking for help would have been the easier and more efficient path to follow for the long run. Experience the relief of a burden lifted by not having to pretend and scramble for answers.  See what it’s like to be honest with and vulnerable to your colleagues—knowing in most cases this honesty actually can earn their increased respect for you.

So isn’t it about time you finally take the blind-fold off and join the other enlightened ones on the porch?

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