Friday, February 26, 2016

Methods and Values for Networking

Among the most effective skills I have developed across the decades of my career is the ability to network well. To understand who people are, why they are important, how to connect with them, and the value of consistently communicating with them is vital to effective networking.

I’d like to have you consider this skill in terms of methods and values.

Methods – The methods for effective networking are faster, more responsive, and less costly than ever. When I began to understand it in the 1980s, we networked with land line telephones, fax machines, post cards, letters, and face to face meetings. Over thirty years later, we network through mobile phones (calls and SMS messages), email, social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and probably others…), Skype video calls, and occasionally even meeting face to face. One has to find the methods that best fits his or her communication style, time commitments, and technological abilities to choose well.

Values – Knowing one’s purposes for networking and the intended results for it will shape most of his or her values in networking. My phone, and probably your phone, is full of names, email addresses, mobile and office phone numbers. Those of us with smart phones have more computing power in our hands than there was on the first moon landing craft in the 1960s. We can use that computing power wisely or foolishly, our values for networking will make the difference. Stated below are some simple values for networking effectively:
·        Communicate frequently. It has been important to me to send a devotional thought to friends and colleagues every Monday morning for well over ten years. The list of people to whom I send these notes is nearly 900 all around the world. One weekly email helps me stay connected with a very wide network. I also aim to send emails to this separate list of sports chaplaincy colleagues every Friday. This list contains several hundred people from six continents as well. This frequency seems to work to do what I hope to accomplish with emailed devotions and notes for sports chaplains, character coaches, and sports mentors.
·        Communicate briefly. The attention span of consumers of electronic material seems to be shortening all the time. To keep one’s correspondence to around 250-300 words gives your message a chance to be consumed completely. If it’s too long, most will check out just part of the way through your thoughts. The confines of Twitter’s 140 character format have actually helped me find ways to communicate very succinctly.
·        Communicate freely. Don’t expect a prompt reply from all those with whom you communicate. My experience is that very few will reply at all. Even if your note really resonates with a person’s heart and produces great fruit, the impacted person is not likely to write you back. If you can’t handle that lack of response, don’t set yourself up for disappointment by sharing your thoughts in this manner. Think of it like radio or broadcast television. You cast your communication into the air and hope it has the intended effect, but you seldom know if it’s connecting until much later.
·        Communicate directly. In networking, regardless of the media, it is wise to be direct and to come straight to the point. A handshake, the repetition of the person’s name, a connection with his or her company, and the exchange of business cards has been the stock in trade of those who network well for decades. This same sort of direct communication is most effective in building one’s network through electronic and social media. Get to the point, quickly.

No matter the chosen media or method, we can be effective networkers as we shape the process by wise application of values for the process. “Please give me your contact information and I’ll be sure to be in touch.” It’s about that simple. Build your network and broaden your influence. It’s worth the time and effort. I promise.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Solitude, Groups, Crowds, and Family

One of the ongoing, constantly shifting, concerns of my life and ministry is managing the ratio of time spent in solitude, in small groups, in crowds, and with family. I know each is important and even vital to a healthy lifestyle and a vibrant ministry, but what are the proper ratios for each aspect of life?

It would be very tidy to assign 25% of one’s time to each area and to call it done. I cannot do that for a number of reasons. My life is seldom that tidy, being the foremost reason. I believe giftedness, personality type, and season of life, each being other factors in building these ratios. Let’s think about these facets of life and ministry individually and about how heavily each one should weigh in the structures of your life and ministry.

Solitude – Each of us would surely say this is an important part of our lifestyle and ministry. To have quiet, private time for reading, contemplation, and composition of ideas is vital. But how much of your day, week, month, and year should this occupy? For me, personally, this is most difficult. Because of being extremely extroverted, easily distracted, and full of energy for activity, I find solitude very difficult. My moments of solitude most often occur while driving my car down the highway. I build one day per month into my calendar for quiet reflection, reading, planning and such, and I usually can make that happen. (Thank you John Stott for the recommendation.) Once a year, I plan and execute a three to four day study retreat where I can be 100% alone, listen to music, read, write, and plan the coming year. Some of my friends, and my wife in particular, are perfectly happy with hours per day of solitude and quiet. They find it fulfilling and relaxing. I about go nuts in the first two hours! Let’s find time for solitude, whether it is 2% or 50% of your time will likely be shaped by personality, giftedness, and calling.

Groups – I am sure we would each and all see the need to live and serve in small groups. To interact with people in groups of 4 to 24 is both healthy and builds community in an excellent way. We can know people deeply when we spend time with them on a regular basis, whether focused on study, worship, service, or fellowship. The best groups combine a measure of all four elements. This is the environment in which I best serve and grow. I seek groups and regularly start new ones. The extroverted among us will soak up the energy of the group and thrive in its life. The introverted among us will likely be drained by the group, and the larger the group the more quickly their energies will fade. If one is an introvert, finding the proper size, content, and focus for group life would seem to be most important. They need group life as much as the extrovert needs solitude, though not necessarily their preferred cup of tea. Let’s find a way to build small group life into our schedules. Let’s entrust our hearts to some trustworthy men and women who will care for us in our best and our worst days.

Crowds – I seldom find people who are ambivalent about crowds. Most folks either love the chaotic movement of a sea of unidentified human beings or they are intimidated, crowded, and disturbed by the masses. For some the crowd is something to be avoided, while others feed off the energy and emotion felt in large groups of 200 or more people. I believe this is why most churches in the USA have 120 or fewer people in attendance most Sundays. To have more people than that compromises people’s ability to know everyone and leads to feelings of being alone in a crowd of strangers. This also accounts why some churches which break through the 250 person barrier, grow to become megachurches with thousands in attendance weekly. These people are very comfortable in crowds and don’t feel any compulsion to know everyone’s name. I believe it is healthy and even wise to find some time to be in crowds. In ministry, these crowds are like huge fishing holes. In crowds we can meet people new to us, we may find candidates to join our groups, we may find new friends or ministry partners, and we can simply enjoy the unique strength and joy that is afforded those who participate in corporate worship in a huge crowd. No matter our natural bent toward crowds, let’s find ways to participate in them and to gather from their unique advantages.

Family – I am sure you have read about this, attended seminars, done the workbooks, watched the videos, and suffered the pangs of guilt offered by so many related to the life of your family. I will not add to your load of guilt and despair. Rather, I would like to have you see family life from a broad perspective. One’s season of life should probably be a strong factor in how one prioritizes time and resources related to family. When I was a young husband and father, we were rather poor and scraped together a living with long hours of work and little recreation time. We spent a lot of time with family because we had no choice. Later, as our careers developed and our son got older, we prioritized time to be with him in his youth sporting activities. It was the right time to invest those hours in practice, driving to and from games, and playing ball at home with him. As we became empty-nesters, our use of time shifted more toward career development and time with my wife. Now as grandparents, we carve out time to drive the hour and a quarter each way to be with two little girls. We make time for them, regardless of most other factors. Over the years, the ratio of time spent with family was largely dictated by the opportunities at hand for the best expression of love, commitment, loyalty, and investment in those for whom we care most deeply.

Finally, please hear the admonition of one almost sixty years old, who has made enough mistakes to have some perspective. Please make time for solitude, your soul needs it. The Lord may speak to you in the quiet moment, if you have one. Please seek out and form intimate small groups, you and they need it. The Lord may speak to you through a trusted and loving member of your group, if you are in one. Please find a way to be in a crowd on occasion, your vision needs this. The whole world is not just like your small group, nor like the person in your mirror, your vision can expand and your hope can be renewed in a healthy, vibrant crowd experience. Please make time for your family, all those around you need it. Your family is a model for the untold number who are watching you. You have a unique opportunity to show all those around you what a Christ-honoring family looks like, warts and all. Love them extravagantly and the world will beat a path to your door to learn how.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Beginnings and Endings of Sports Seasons

No matter the sport with which you serve, there is a natural rhythm to the season. Each season has a beginning and an end. Most have a pre-season and a post-season. We would be wise to understand these natural rhythms and to shape our work so as to take advantage of both the beginning and the end of the season. Following are some thoughts about both the beginning and ending of sports seasons.

Beginning of a season –
·        The great thing about this part of the season is that everyone starts undefeated. Hope beats strongly in the hearts of every team and each player and coach during this part of the season. As soon as the first competition is completed, half of all the teams competing now have losses. Let the hope and anticipation of the new season work for you as you speak with everyone in terms filled with hope, expectation, excitement, and anticipation of good things.
·        The downside of this part of the season is that some have expectations that range from unrealistic to laughable. If we are wise we will help these, less than reasonable, players or coaches to focus on the daily process of preparation and competition, over against a set of results that they hope validate their optimism. Talk in terms of embracing the process of development and becoming the team they hope to be at the end of the season. You may see their disappointment coming before they do.
·        When speaking with team leaders (coaches, club managers, etc.), set the boundaries for your service and the expectations for when, where, and how you will serve the team. Seek to establish this and to maintain a consistency of service without regard to the ups and downs that accompany most seasons of sport.

End of a season –
·        The great part about this part of the season is that we now know what kind of team we have. The process and the results have revealed the nature of our team. Some teams compete like champions and enjoy the rewards of such performance. Others finish well below the .500 line and lick their wounds as the season mercifully ends. Still others find themselves mired in the mediocrity of the middle of the standings. In any case, there is a finality to the end of any season.
·        Be mindful that for some or many, the end of this season is also the end of their careers. At every level of sport, the end of sports seasons bring the end of careers. When you are aware of such, speak clearly and affirm those who exit the sport. A simple thank you card, a well-crafted letter, a chat over coffee, or a visit to your home for dinner are all powerful ways to express your heart and God’s heart to those who finish their sporting careers.
·        Consider those who may be terminated at season’s end. The sports world can be cold and cruel to those who underperform or seem to be a “poor fit.” It is of immense value to those who leave the team that you show faithfulness and loyalty when they are terminated. Pursue them with calls, text messages, tweets, however you can, find a way to express your support, to assure them of your prayers, and to communicate your respect. Most of their colleagues and friends don’t know what to say or how to respond. We need the emotional intelligence and grace to love those who find themselves adrift and seeking new employment.
·        Finally, after the season it is always wise to meet with the team leaders (coaches, club managers, etc.) to evaluate, to review, and to discuss your service of the team. Seek their ideas, adjustments, and vision for the season to come.

Let the natural rhythms of the sporting season work in your favor. Take advantage of their virtues and beware of their vices. Use these seasonal advantages to enable you to love the people of sport in your charge extravagantly and to serve them selflessly.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Process over Results

Just over twelve years ago in Athens, Greece I was chatting with Andrew Wingfield Digby of the United Kingdom about sports chaplaincy and as we wrapped up our conversation, I asked, “Are there any other pointers you would share with sports chaplains?” He looked me in the eye and shook his index finger while saying, “Don’t act like a fan!” I have repeated this advice on five continents since hearing it in 2003.

As I have contemplated Andrew’s statement across the years and have sought to grasp its significance, I have arrived at one value in particular. It is to value process over results in all interactions with people of sport. No matter if it’s a twelve year old baseball player or an eighty-five year old coach, my approach and my conversation is always about process and never about results. Fans only care about results – wins, losses, championships, pay raises, being fired, new contracts, or resignations. To make matters worse, sports media members usually ask the same sorts of results oriented questions, simply broadcasting the same attitude to thousands or millions of listeners, viewers, or readers. The sportspeople are normally either defensive to such conversation or they simply answer in a string of clichés with little to no value or insight.

I prefer to engage sportspeople in terms of process. I ask questions about practice, training, rehab sessions, weight training, player development, personal development of the coaching staff, etc. I ask questions like these: “How pleased are you with this week’s practices? What does your upcoming opponent do well? How do your team match up with them? How are things going for (player’s name)? What about this team pleases you most? Who is leading well on the field/pitch/court/track? How is your team developing?”

I never ask questions like these: “Are you going to win tonight? Are we going all the way this season? Will we be better than last year? Why didn’t you win yesterday? Why are we losing so much? Should I bet on you or against you this weekend? (Obvious, I hope.) Do you think my chapel talk today will lead to a win? Are we going to be champions this season? Who is the best player in your league? Why don’t you win championships anymore? Will we beat __________ (rival team) this year? Is this year’s team as good as the ____ (great team from the past) team?”

Sports fans see everything about sport in the simplest form possible – results. Sportspeople, those engaged in the daily processes of sport, understand their lives are much better understood and experienced in terms of process. We will connect better with them, we will understand them better, we will communicate with their hearts better if we lean into chatting about process and run away from foolish discussion of results.