Monday, April 17, 2017

Hands Off

Have you ever tried teaching a skill to someone? Ever been in charge of a project with a team and tried explaining how to do what needs done? Most people would rather just DO IT THEMSELVES.  They don’t want the aggravation of having to try to teach someone else how to do what they do.  

But teaching others what you have mastered is so valuable.  Here are just a few reasons why:

  1. to accomplish big tasks, you need a big team - you can’t do it alone
  2. you can go farther faster when you empower a team
  3. teaching others leaves your legacy in the world

OK, so if you are still reading this article, you likely are bought in to the value of teaching others what you do, what you know.  Now, I want to teach you HOW I TEACH others.  This is my philosophy of how I equip others, how I have learned is the best way to effectively get my “students” to comprehend what I am attempting to teach them.

Hands off

I have a Hands off approach to how I teach.  I learned this years ago when I first started teaching piano.  I had taken piano lessons myself since I was 5 years old all the way through college where I earned a degree in Piano Performance.  I thought to myself “teaching piano will be a breeze - I have had piano lessons all my life!” 

I remember my first student was an 8 year old boy.  His mom would sit with us as I taught him music.  This boy was excited, respectful, and motivated to learn music.  The first few lessons, I did a lot of talking and explaining about the piano.  The next few lessons, I did a lot of playing the piano, trying to show him how to play.  Then, in the last few minutes of each lesson, I would have him sit at the piano and repeat what I had been showing him.  He struggled to play, but I just chalked it up to him being young and new to the piano.  

After 2 months of lessons, the mom met with me and told me that her son was discouraged as he was not really getting what I was teaching.  She said “Matt, I wonder if you maybe had him do more playing, he may start to embrace the piano more.”   I have to admit, my first emotion inside said “hey, lady - I have my Bachelor’s Degree in Piano Performance.  I am a professional musician.  Don’t tell me how to teach!”  But, I remained teachable to this comment.   To please the mom and keep the boy as a student, I began taking the mother’s advice and started the lesson with the boy on the piano bench.  When I taught the song, I taught it with him in the seat in front of the keys.  I would lean over him to play the song, then immediately would have him repeat.  I would let him make mistakes.  And when he would make mistakes (wrong fingers, wrong position, wrong rhythm), I would resist the urge to correct.  I found that when the boy would sit and figure it out, he would eventually self-correct.  I would only correct when he got stuck.  The more that I would be quiet and let him get his hands on the keys, the better he would learn the song.  And…when the boy would play it right for the first time, he would look over at me with the biggest smile, looking for my approval.  I would cheer and celebrate him!

A hands off approach to teaching takes longer.  It takes incredible amounts of patience, restraint on your part as the teacher. The key to making this approach work is:

The teacher must take their hands off so the student can have their hands on

As the teacher, think of yourself as a Football Coach.  The Coach is in charge of the team.  The Coach is responsible for the team to win.  However, the Coach does not actually play in the game.  The Coach stands over on the sidelines.  In Football, the Coach does not even call all of the plays.  He lets the Quarterback take that role.  Think how stressful it is to be the Coach in charge of the team and responsible to produce a win, but he can’t go out and make the winning play! But the Coach embraces this concept: for the Coach to win, the Team has to win.  The Coach must trust his players.  He must allow the players to implement the strategy.  He must trust the Quarterback to earn the respect of the team, because it is the Quarterback who must work with the team on the field.

Let’s apply this Hands Off Teaching Approach to how you work with your team, whether it be at school, at work, or at church:

Less Teaching, More Empowering

I think I have been guilty of thinking my leadership training and my Powerpoint presentation was so great that everyone in the room should now be a great team player.  There is a place for teaching, for sure.  But what I have come to realize is that my team members get it best when they have the opportunity to lead something themselves.  Empowering does not mean just throwing them in the pool like a child who has never swam before.  But it does mean letting them swim with you close by.  People develop their “swimming muscles” when they have to swim on their own.  A teacher won’t let them drown, but an empowering teacher won’t “hold them in the water” either.  They take their hands off the child so they can truly experience the feeling of having to swim on their own.  This is empowering teaching.

Less Correcting, More Coaching

Correcting is good and necessary.  But Coaching is better.  What’s the difference? To me, it’s the timing of when you give it.  My friend, Dave Simiele is great at this.  He teaches his team at Christ Fellowship church to minimize correcting conversations on Sunday service times.  When one of his team members comes to him with a problem, he says “that’s a Monday conversation.”

What he is saying is that he would prefer to evaluate processes or correct problems during the week in private where he and team can focus on solutions with margin.  Sunday services for a Pastor is like the NFL Football game.  We need to be focused on people and focused on doing our best to make the service run smoothly.  That’s good coaching!

Less Watching, More Doing
Take your hands off the project or task, and have them put their hands on it.  Back to the piano lesson story, understand that people retain much more of what they learn when they DO, not just listen or watch.  Also, when people do something, there is a dynamic of muscle memory that comes in to play.  Once my piano students would play a musical passage correctly, I would cheer for them and then immediately have them repeat it over and over.  I wanted them to feel what playing it right felt like.  I knew they likely would forget all of the notes and rhythms, but what would help them is seeing it and feeling it several times.  When you teach something, get their hands on it.  

Whether it’s getting your team to recruit volunteers, or share a story publicly, or write out a progress report, have them do it over and over.  Point out specific things they do well, and you will find they will repeat those things.  Your team wants to be successful.  This is how you help them feel successful.  They will improve as they are hands-on in doing the work themselves.  When they get it right - cheer them on!

Teaching takes patience, insight and strategy.  But it is worth taking time to teach others what you do well.  Teaching others skills that you have mastered will turn out to be the most rewarding thing you do.  Empowering others to be successful becomes your legacy that will give greater meaning to your life.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pour Out

If you have been serving in some role for a long stretch, you eventually realize the strain it puts on you personally.  Whether you serve in your church in some way, or in your neighborhood or community organization, serving is demanding and draining.  Why? What is it about serving that is demanding and draining? Is it the hours of work? Is it the manual labor? Is it the preparation? 

I have found what contributes most to the demand and drain of serving is having to work with people.  It’s a paradox, because people bring the most joy and the most meaning to why we serve.  People are the REASON WHY we serve.  Yet, interacting with people can be frustrating, hurtful, and draining.  It is not the long hours that discourage people to serve.  It is not the manual labor that frustrates people.  On the contrary, manual labor actually energizes many people and gives them a sense of immediate accomplishment.  It is the process of working with and interacting with people that drains our battery fast.

I have written many blogs on leadership because leadership is all about working with people.  And while there are many great insights in to how to understand people better so you can work better with them, this blog is focused on the sacrifice of serving.

Serving Takes Sacrifice

I have to remind myself that there is a personal sacrifice in me serving where God has called me to.  Serving is not about me.  Serving is not about fulfilling me, although the benefit of serving is that it does bless me and grow me.  Serving, by it’s very definition is about giving yourself to others.  Serving is about accommodating people.  It is about seeking to understand people and then attempting to meet their needs.  Serving is about denying your own needs and preferences for a moment so that you can take a lower position of a servant to attend to the needs and preferences of others.  

The Apostle Paul was one of the first Church Leaders in History who helped establish many churches.  Paul wrote letters to other Church Leaders to give instruction and counsel that were later included in the Bible.  Paul, with all of his proven experience and Church authority understood the serving mindset and the price of serving.  

One of the letters Paul writes is to a young, up and coming Pastor named Timothy.  Timothy was being faithful leading and caring for people in a church Paul established in the city of Ephesus.  The Apostle was in prison at this stage of his life because of sharing the message of Jesus Christ.  The Apostle by this time had traveled throughout the world preaching, starting churches with people who became new believers.  The Apostle had served people all of his life since his conversion to following Jesus.  Knowing that he would likely be executed by the Romans, Paul wanted to give Timothy and other Church Leaders one final letter on the essence of leading people.  The Apostle Paul gave this charge:

2 Timothy 4
But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.  As for me, my life has already been poured out as an offering to God. The time of my death is near.

What a picture of pouring our life out as an offering to God! If you have served faithfully, this will likely resonate with you.  When you truly serve consistently and faithfully, you literally pour out your life - your time, your gifts, your all to people.  You pour your life out at all times, not just when it feels good to you, not just when you understand the plan.  You serve when it becomes difficult, when it feels lonely, when it becomes heavy.  But you stay committed because you know you are called.  Like Paul, you are called to “fully carry out the ministry God has given you.”

Jesus Himself also used this analogy of pouring out in describing His life mission to His inner circle friends.   When Jesus was having a meal together with His Disciples, He knew soon He would be taken and beaten and killed by His enemies.  Jesus had enemies, not because He did anything wrong or selfish.  On the contrary, Jesus lived to serve others.  Jesus came to love the unlovable, to touch the untouchable.  He healed hurting people.  He forgave sinners.  Jesus brought a message of life and love.  But people in powerful positions were intimidated by Him, because He was turning people from traditional thinking.  Jesus was bringing freedom to people, and that endangered their power.  Jesus understood that there would be a sacrifice for his serving.  He would experience suffering for his serving.

Jesus used the bread and the wine at the table to illustrate the meaning of His life, to show the essence of what serving truly should look like:

Luke 22:20
..after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”

The pouring concept really describes what serving feels like to me.   It is a complete surrender of self.  It is giving your all until you have nothing left to give.  It is giving yourself liberally, not holding anything back.

To pour out, you must empty yourself

But, here is the great thing about serving God!

You can never out-give God

When you pour out to people that you are called to serve, God re-fills you.  Jesus said:

“I am the Living Water.  whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life
John 4

Proverbs 11:25 makes this promise:

A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

What I have learned as I have given myself to serving God and serving people I am called serve is that there is a sacrifice in serving.  There is a pouring out of my life, my emotions.  Sometimes, the people I serve do not always appreciate what I do for them.  And they do not always give back to me.  However, as I approach God with my needs and my emptiness after serving, He ALWAYS fills me up, He ALWAYS satisfies my needs.

If you are serving faithfully, be encouraged.  Keep on serving.  Keep pouring out.  Give generously from your life - do not hold back thinking that you have to reserve some back for yourself.  Whatever you pour out will be poured back in to you.

You can NEVER out-give GOD!