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The Greatest

The phrase “greatest of all time” and its acronym G.O.A.T. have enjoyed a lot of publicity in recent years. This is especially true with social media where athletes get labeled with the title based on their prowess on the field or court. All I would have to do is tweet a picture of Michael Jordan along with a goat emoji and you would know exactly what I was suggesting. It leads to spirited debate and certainly brings out our passions and biases. It does, though, beg the question of whether such suggestions and debates are healthy.

Let’s start with what I know without question or debate, Jesus is the greatest teacher of all time. He transformed people who lived during His time on earth with His radical teachings, and over two-thousand years later believers around the world still follow his lessons. On nearly thirty occasions in the bible Jesus was referred to as “Teacher.” Even Jesus’ enemies called him “Teacher” (Mark 12:14). He used the techniques of sermons, conversations, and parables to translate really complicated ideas into easy-to-understand lessons. He used common everyday situations to teach spiritual truths.  His style was warm, compassionate, vulnerable, and humble. And He never put Himself before His message.

Something else I know is that the greatest teacher of all time gave us the greatest lesson of all time – which is to love. Love God and love others. There couldn’t be a simpler lesson to understand than go forth and love others. Yet simple isn’t easy. And I catch myself many times a day not loving others. It might look like judging, envy, or neglect, but it certainly isn’t love. Perhaps that is why God put the idea of Chief Experience Officer (CXO) 1 in my heart? For me, it is a simple construct to help me be the person I aspire to be – the person God wants me to be.

It is interesting to compare the concept of G.O.A.T. to the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). Imagine we are all brought before the Lord and He separates us “as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” We would be grouped with the sheep because of the good works we did. We would be grouped with the goats because, well, of the opposite. And imagine the sheep are blessed by God the Father, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” In other words the sheep demonstrated the greatest lesson of all time, they loved others. And the goats would ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?” And Jesus instructs them saying, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”

It is interesting that in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats it is the sheep who are the greatest, which is to say they treated others with kindness, respect, and serving them as though they were Christ Himself. So while fun to think about whom the greatest athlete of all time is, or rock star, or actor, being the G.O.A.T. should also be a reminder to us all that the most important thing we are called to be great at is loving God and others.

1I Am CXO, Now What? A Job Description For Living A Life Of Purpose And Meaning, WestBow Press, 2017

Do You Connect with Back to School?

It has been a number of months since my last blog. In full disclosure, I have been preoccupied searching for and ultimately starting a new job. Now that I have settled in, somewhat, I hope to get back on a more regular cadence of posting. Now, on to the good stuff! Thank you for reading.

It’s that time of year again: back to school. What, in May or June, seemed like a long and boundless summer ahead of us has quickly faded to cooler nights and yellowing leaves. At my house, back to school means my daughter will begin her sophomore year of high school; my son embarks on his freshman year of college; and my wife returns for her twenty-third year as a special education teacher.

LCM
Learner Connectivity Model

For me, back to school makes me think about renewal; fresh opportunities and new beginnings. It also makes me think about relationships and making connections. And, naturally, there are the nerves that can accompany the fresh start. For educators, it is a pivotal time to build rapport and inspire learning. And I am reminded of a framework for effectiveness in the educator role that I developed called the Learner Connectivity Model. Inclusive of all types of education – whether you are a teacher, instructor, trainer, facilitator, professor, coach, religious education leader, paid or volunteer – this model will help you make connections and increase effectiveness. It is composed of three parts: 1) Building connections between learners; 2) Building connections between learners and the learning content; and 3) Building connections between the teacher and the learner.

Building Connections Between Your Learners

LearnersMost learning – good learning – doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Whether your group size is 2 or 200, leveraging the connection between learners can catapult enthusiasm for learning. When learners feel a part of a group and empathy is established between learners who have differing perspectives, trust increases. As trust increases performance goes up. Additionally, you can maximize the effect of social learning. Experts argue that as much as 70% of learning can come from our peer groups. Social, or peer-to-peer, learning is happening whether the teacher is intentional about it or not, so why not jump out in front of it? If you don’t believe social learning exists, watch this classic Candid Camera video. Or, consider this scene from the blockbuster movie “A Few Good Men.” Tom Cruise’s character (Lt. Daniel Kaffee) asks Noah Wyle’s character (Cpl. Jeffrey Barnes) how he could possibly know where the mess hall is if it is not listed in the Marine’s training/operational manual. Cpl. Barnes responded by saying, “I guess I just followed the crowd at chow time.”

So how do you facilitate connections between your learners (or students)? Examples include: using icebreakers or get-to-know-you games, implementing classroom leadership roles, establishing learning buddies or accountability partners, maximizing diversity, using partner sharing, and assigning small group projects. Avoid becoming the center of attention. Aim instead to create an environment where students can keep growing on their own or with their peers. Whenever possible, step away and create moments of independence. How about you? What else have you done or could you do to promote peer-to-peer connections?

Building connections between learners and the learning

LearningLearning can be like a string of lights where when one bulb goes out, the whole strand doesn’t work. Learners are more successful when they can make connections between what they are learning and something they already know; it keeps the lights on. For example, when I began taking guitar lessons a couple of years ago I was able to draw on the knowledge of how to read notes from the piano lessons I took when I was in middle school. Whatever the learning goal or outcome is, and please share it explicitly with your students, if the learners can make an emotional connection to it the likelihood of being able to demonstrate proficiency skyrockets. Students want clear answers to the following three questions: What is it I am learning? Why am I learning it? What do I do with it? The more you can assist your students in finding compelling answers to those questions the better.

To help establish connections between your learners and what they are learning, try the following: frame up the learning by providing context and expectations, clearly state the learning objectives, establish relevancy, make connections to prior learning, empower students to make choices about about what is learned and when, allow time for reflection, use storytelling, and insert random knowledge checks. Great teachers don’t stand up in front and deliver motivational speeches (once and a while it is a magical happenstance). They stand alongside their students and deliver relevant information in small, meaningful chunks that encourage the learner to think critically.

Building connections between you and the learners

TeacherI know what you are thinking: it is not your job to be a friend to your students. And I won’t argue with you there. Yet it is clear and undeniable that if a student doesn’t like his or her teacher it will get in the way of their learning. Students will most likely remember you for how you made them feel, rather than how you instructed. Effective teaching – like most human interaction – is based on trust, which is established within the first few minutes of interaction. Before you can instruct, you have to show that you care.

To have inspirited learners, they need to see your passion and credibility. If something fires the student’s instinctive part of their brain to fight or flight, emotion runs high and their ability to exercise sound reason and judgement decreases. Allow me to share an example. My daughter arrived home from her first day of freshman year high school with a dislike for one of her teachers. That attitude didn’t change all year. What happened? The teacher’s first words to his students on the first day were, “This is the most difficult class you will take and most of you will fail.” Instinct…emotions…reason…“I don’t like this guy.” On the other hand, when a student believes their teacher cares about them and is an advocate for them then he or she will work harder in that class. Demonstrate your aptitude for compassion, forgiveness, and kindness; it matters how you treat your students.

How do you build connections between yourself and your learners? Examples include: connecting on an emotional level, smiling, listening, creating a safe environment for learning and sharing, celebrating achievements (even small ones), storytelling, and implementing “test and tells” to assess prior knowledge.

What works for you? What best practices can you adopt? Reach out to colleagues or friends who are teachers and learn from their successes and failures in establishing connections with their students. Make this the best back to school ever, and know that students and teachers are better together.

Judge For Yourself

I grew up playing sports where the winner was determined by which team scored the most points. That was all that mattered – scoring one more point than your opponent. And although I watched sports on TV that were “judged,” such as figure skating or gymnastics, it wasn’t until recently I began feeling uneasy about that scoring model.

My daughter, a dancer since she was four years old, has been participating in competitive dance for the last four years. Now in high school, more than ever, she has been feeling the burden of trying to be perfect on the dance floor. As a father and Christian, it is hard for me to see her battle with a quest for perfection when I know only He is perfect, and my daughter was uniquely and perfectly made as she is – warts and all.

I have become increasingly uncomfortable with individuals participating in contests that are judged-especially youth. I do not believe judgement is healthy or rooted in Christian morality. In basketball, for example, you can have an “ugly win.” Though not your best performance and certainly not perfect, you can still win the game. And while human error or bias can have some impact on the outing of a football game (e.g. referees), the final winner is almost always determined by points scored and not a judge’s interpretation. Now, I am fully aware that in sports like dance athletes are earning points, and points determine the winner. However, the points are awarded by people-who are only human after all-and we are naïve to think that judges do not have preferences of dance styles, artistry, or coaches. Just the other day during a Winter Olympics’ snowboard competition, where points are awarded for the tricks the athletes perform, analysts shared dismay at some of the decisions of the judges. Snowboarders are not flying fifteen feet into the air to put a ball into a net; they do so with the hope and expectation the trick will earn them points from a judge.

What about outside of sports? Dare I say judgement is rampant in society today. During a recent dinner table conversation, my two high school children told me in no uncertain terms, “To survive in high school you need to judge and be judged. That’s just how it works.” The extent to which they are willing to tolerate the judging determines which extracurricular activities they join, who their friends are, and what values & beliefs they share publicly. The same is true for adults. Though we may not always share our judgements aloud, aren’t we constantly judging what other people say, do, wear, and believe? And often we judge others for things they have zero control over such as the color of their skin or physical disability. Why is that? Does it make us feel better about ourselves? Are we intolerant and unaccepting? Do we believe we are better than everyone else? Are we just lazy, and stereotypes help us to be more efficient at categorizing information? Or have we simply lost sight of fundamental human decency? We, as a culture, cannot even seem to ask basic questions of one another without judging. “Why did you dye your hair that color?” “Why did you do the assignment that way?” “What were you thinking?” We are so accustomed to being judged we hear the tone of criticism in most questions asked of us.

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

In large part, I believe, the problem rests in comparison. Not only is “comparison the thief of joy,” as Theodore Roosevelt once said, comparison robs us of our God-given gifts of faith, hope, and love. When I was a teenager, my grandmother compared me and my accomplishments to her sister’s grandson. I was always hearing about him and what he had done. I felt like I was at most a disappointment and at least needed to brag on myself more (not a strong suit of mine). Today, we have social media. In an instant, we can see what family and friends are up to and how their lives appear so much more exciting and rewarding than ours. And when we see others who look, act, or talk different from us by comparison, we judge them. We say things like, “I would never let my daughter wear that.” Or, “How can they afford such a nice vacation? They must have a lot of credit card debt.”

And so, I challenge myself and ask you to join me. Can we compare less and be more tolerant? Can we talk with a tone of empathy and acceptance rather than criticism? Can we love our authentic selves and not fall prisoner to the judgement of others? Can we be merciful and assume the best in others? And can we agree that differences are a source of strength, excellence, and prosperity when working towards a common good? And if we can, wouldn’t we be earning the highest scores? You be the judge.

A Dad, a Decade, and a Dedication to Development

It is hard for me to believe, but this month marks the tenth anniversary since the death of my father. He would have turned 70 years old this month. His death was unexpected and I wasn’t prepared for it mentally. I got all too acquainted with the feelings of loss, regret, and frustration. And now, a decade later, my new normal puts up a stiff fight against the way things used to be as foremost on my mind.

The 2007 year-end review edition of “Wisconsin Grocer” magazine, the official magazine of the Wisconsin Grocers Association (WGA), contained both an article written by my dad and his obituary. Semi-retired from 35 years in the grocery business, he was working part-time for the WGA as its Member Services Representative. He had submitted the article titled “Coaching for Improved Work” prior to his death, leading to what in essence became advice from the grave. At the time when I first saw the magazine ten years ago, it seemed oddly normal to see both the article and the obituary; he did regularly write articles for the magazine, and he was most certainly dead after all. With death comes cold hard truths and I had no other means to process it. However, when I pulled out the magazine recently as I have been reflecting on my dad’s passing, it now struck me as being peculiar and unsettling to see both entries. It caused old feelings of anger and sadness to resurface in me.

I re-read the article (to be honest, I am not sure if I ever read the article when it was originally published). And doing so reminded me of many of the great qualities my dad had. His guidance in the article was indicative of the sage advice he often gave to family, friends, and colleagues. My dad understood the universal truth that organizations and the leaders who are trusted to run them must put time and effort into developing their employees.

There are many commonalities between the roles my father and I have held in the field of workplace training and development. He somewhat stumbled into the industry after working for many years in the grocery stores and then getting promoted to a corporate leadership position. I remember him telling me a story about the first time he facilitated a large workshop for managers and how nervous he was beforehand. He shared his concerns with his boss at the time who essentially told him to “suck it up.” He became very proficient in front of large groups as time went on, but he was more comfortable and impactful in an intimate setting. I, on the other hand, received a degree in education and have spent the majority of my career committed to helping employees perform at their best. I get awkward in one-on-one and small group settings, yet thrive when facilitating large groups. Similar yet different. Either way, we both appreciate the value of putting work in to the people side of business.

In his book “The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality” (Doubleday Books. 1999), author Ronald Rolheiser writes about staying in contact with our loved ones after their death. For Christians, Rolheiser writes, “we find our loved ones after death separates us by giving concrete expressions in our lives to those virtues and qualities which they best incarnated.” He goes on, “Just as Mary Magdala did not find Jesus in his tomb, we too will not find our loved ones there (though good to visit graves). We will meet the ones we can no longer touch when we put ourselves in situations where their souls once flourished. Simply put, we find our loved ones by entering into life, in terms of love and faith, in the way that was most distinctive to them.” In other words, if you want to feel more in touch with a deceased loved one who was characteristically compassionate – be more compassionate yourself.

When I visit my dad’s grave, it is a good experience and allows time for me to reflect and pray in silence. But, I do not meet my dad there; I don’t feel connected to him there. To achieve that connection, I need to go to the places that are most distinctive of my dad. And that means going deeper than just doing the same things that he did. It took me a number of years to learn that. For example, my dad had a love of cars…Corvettes specifically. I have owned a couple of Corvettes myself, and while they conjured up thoughts and memories of my dad, they didn’t bring us in contact. I needed to go more to the core of his character to those traits he incarnated – for which he was the living embodiment of.

My dad had a way of making people feel at ease around him. And he was especially adept at finding the one who was most isolated, alienated, or uneasy, and reaching out to them. I experienced it a number of times myself at large gatherings I would arrive at (such as a wedding) where I didn’t know many people and my introversion would take over. Then I would see my dad and he would come over and talk with me and make me feel special. Immediately I felt more comfortable. I have come to learn that when I am warm and gracious, and when I reach out to the lonely, lost, or excluded, I meet my dad.

And so, to that end, I want to share an excerpt from my dad’s article on coaching so as to help me, and perhaps you, stay connected to my dad by being involved in an activity that was distinctively him-coaching.

“Most employees want better direction from management. They perform their jobs in the best way they know how, maybe not the way you would perceive them doing the job.

Coaching is one of the most powerful one-on-one management techniques for increasing work performance. Coaching becomes a great motivational tool. It provides an opportunity to communicate a detailed plan for working together to improve operational goals, objectives, and enhance customer satisfaction.

One of the most important investments is to invest time and effort into one of the most important assets: employees. Employees are the key to customer satisfaction and profitability. Train new employees and coach key employees to accept responsibility for executing outlined process improvements.

Just a thought, if the work assignments that are to be accomplished on any given day represent 100%, what percentage would you estimate will be accomplished that day with you not present and all of your employees on the job? If you rely on coaching and developing your staff, the chances are a greater percentage of work will be completed in a manner which equals your expectations.

Focus on making positive change happen. If you continue to always do what you always did, you will always get what you got before.”

Good advice ten years ago…good advice now…and good advice ten years from now. My dad was not a prolific writer, he didn’t have an organizational development pedigree, nor did he have a college degree. But he understood people. Regardless of any technological advancement, automation, process excellence, or any other development, people and managing relationships are still at the heart of all successful businesses, communities, and families. So why aren’t leaders more effective at coaching people?

In my experience, leaders accomplish the things which they are held accountable for. Often those things are sales, production, and customer satisfaction. Leaders are not held accountable – I mean really held accountable – for coaching and developing their people. I challenge you to make 2018 the year of the employee, and invest time and effort in them. Hold yourself and others accountable for coaching employees and perhaps you will see their distinctive virtues and qualities come to life.

What I Learned About Making Dreams Come True

As the end of 2017 draws near, I find myself looking back on the year that was. I had my fair share of triumphs, disappointments, and opportunities. Without question, this will always be remembered as a special year because I achieved a major life goal. In April, I released my first book (titled “I Am CXO, Now What? A Job Description for Living a Life of Purpose and Meaning”) and checked off a big box on my list of accomplishments I hoped to complete…one day. Since then, I have had the opportunity to talk about my book and its message with several different audiences including people of faith, business leaders, and high school students. What has struck me is just as eager as listeners are to hear about what it means to be a CXO, they are equally enthused to learn how I achieved my goal. I found that people are hungry to hear stories of inspiration and receive affirmation that dreams can indeed become reality.

It is hard to put into words. I thought the notion “you can do anything you set your mind to” didn’t apply to me. I thought that was for the other guy. But I have come to appreciate I, too, can share in life’s grandest adventures. I can make what seems unreachable attainable. This was the dream after all; publishing a book. Not selling thousands of books or becoming a famous author. And I had absolutely zero prior experience or expertise to rely on. But I had the conviction to follow my heart. And so, I want to share with you what becoming a published author has taught me about accomplishing your goals – for I know they live in your heart too.

Have the Right Mindset

First and foremost, I needed to change my mindset. You see, I have wanted to write a book for many years. Well, truth be told, I didn’t want to write a book – I wanted to have a completed, fully authored book with my name on it. I wanted to be an author; I didn’t want to write a book. I have never liked the process of writing (yet here I am writing a blog) and had many starts and stops over the last decade.

To get over the psychological hurdle, I needed to shift from seeing an end point to embracing the journey. I wrestled with knowing versus learning, and had to move from finding joy in knowing how to do something to getting joy from learning how to do something. I needed to embrace getting there rather than being there. Allow me to give you another example. In addition to always wanting to write a book, I had also wanted to know how to play the guitar. I had tried to learn a few times over the years and found it to be too hard and gave up. I couldn’t play the guitar. Finally, I needed to adjust my mindset and believe there is joy in learning how to play the guitar. Now, about a year and a half after beginning a concerted effort to learn to play, I still don’t know how to play the guitar. However, I am learning and find enjoyment in the process.

What goals do you have? Let’s say, for example, your goal is to earn a MBA. You should focus on the individual classes, personal development, and connections you make along the way rather than on the final credentials hanging in a frame on the wall which will likely be a few years and thousands of dollars down the road.

Set Milestones

Achieving your most wild and exciting life goals requires having a plan. Instill intermittent milestones where you can celebrate success along the way. This creates discipline by addressing two things: it makes the challenge seem less daunting, and it renews your commitment to forge on. For me, I ultimately decided I wanted to give it a try and whether I succeeded or failed, at least I gave it a shot.

I chose to begin in autumn knowing that it would soon be winter and I would be writing at a time of year when it is too cold and snowy for my liking. I challenged myself to have the writing done by spring. My first milestone was to have a completed manuscript – not the final draft, but a completed manuscript from first chapter to last. My second milestone was to have a few trusted advisors read the manuscript and provide feedback. Then I attained confirmation from the publisher they would accept the manuscript, I added the foreword and some illustrations, and so on and so forth. Each milestone of the journey was affirming. I learned to appreciate the process of writing a book and managing the publishing steps.

If your goal is to run a marathon, concentrate your efforts on form, routine, and gradually building your way up to 26.2 miles. Perhaps complete a 5k and then a half marathon first, and celebrate those successes. Work on improving your time even if you haven’t increased your distance. If you only see yourself as a “marathoner,” you may give up a few miles in because the challenge seems too daunting. As Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “He who would learn to fly one day must first learn to stand and walk and run and climb and dance; one cannot fly into flying.”

Eliminate Your Greatest De-motivator

I mentioned earlier that I had a number of starts and stops over the last decade or so. The biggest deterrent for me was the act of plunking away at the keyboard and putting thoughts to page. This killed my motivation to write. Finally, I installed a dictation app on my phone. I could speak my thoughts and ideas, anytime it was convenient, and the app would convert it to a document. I only needed to then edit, shuffle paragraphs around, add details, and polish it up. From there, I was off to the races.

What is the greatest factor demotivating you from working towards your goals? If you can name it then you can eliminate it. Reflect on this and be sure you have gotten to the heart of the matter. This is a little different than the common philosophy of doing the least desirable task first. I suggest you find a way to remove it, abolish it, destroy it. Once you do, remaining tasks begin to build momentum.

Use Your Network

One of the more joyous outcomes I realized from working towards my goal was learning how many people in my network wanted to see me succeed. I expected that writing a book would be a solitary activity left to me and me alone. I learned for me to succeed I needed the help of others – and plenty of others were ready to offer their help. There are people you know who would be happy to help you, too. There are people who want to see you succeed.

For example, I got help with tasks like selecting a publisher, editing, photography, and marketing. I am confident if you stop to think about it you will find that there are people you know who can help you based on their experience and expertise. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Not only can these connections help you with elements of your goal you are not experienced in, they will be some of your greatest cheerleaders and can serve as accountability partners to keep you on track.

Overcome Your Fears

Fear of failure is something I have wrestled with most of my life, as many people do. This fear generally fuels me into action rather than paralyzing me, so I don’t worry about it too much. In this case, I had lingering self-doubt about whether or not a publisher would take on the project. I wondered if anyone would read the book. I worried about readers finding grammar errors. I had angst over what my family and friends would have to say about it. Eventually, I found the courage I needed to put myself out there, embrace vulnerability, and allow readers to learn about what is in my heart. I decided that the book did not need to be perfect, it merely needed to be authentically me.

And then came another, and perhaps more important, fear. I needed to overcome the fear of succeeding. I needed to be vulnerable enough to accept success and failure with equal amounts of grace. I needed to get comfortable with having my name on the cover of a book, with having my name show up in online search results, and with the attention I would get from people who learned I had written a book. I have never been one to self-promote or seek attention. Authoring a book has taken me out of my comfort zone. I continue to remind myself that it is not about me; it is about the message of the book and trying to help others. What about you? What if you actually earn that MBA or finish that marathon? How will you respond to the achievement? And is that response standing in your way?

We all have hopes, dreams, and aspirations. What is one of the most wild and exciting goals on your list? What are you doing to prepare to attain it? I am confident with the right perspective, discipline, courage, and a little help from your friends you can do anything you want to. And in the unlikely event you do not achieve your goal, I am sure you will at least be happy you tried. No regrets!