Chaos and Order in Coaching

A Blog Post by Chad Hall

I’m currently re-reading Jordan Peterson’s significant book 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos.  Peterson, an outspoken psychologist and professor at the University of Toronto, shares observations from the fields of science, psychology, history, philosophy and religion in a book that’s an example of the self-help genre at its best.  He’s an interesting person and it’s an interesting book.  However, I think the subtitle is a bit off from the actual content of the book.

Does chaos need an antidote?  Sometimes.  As Peterson observes, the human brain’s most basic categories are chaos and order.  So much so that the brain itself bears this dichotomy: the right side of the typical brain being more attuned to chaos and the left side more at home with order.  Chaos is the domain of ignorance, not knowing, wildness, and uncertainty.  There is much to fear when it comes to chaos.  Chaos is the flood that destroys, the wildfire that consumes.

Chaos often needs an antidote.  But sometimes the cure can kill. 

Why Being a Doctor Doesn’t Mean You’re Good at Anything Else

A Blog Post by Chad Hall

Joel serves as the pastor of a mid-sized church on the West Coast.  Pastors in his situation face a lot of challenges, from budget to recruiting volunteers to preparing sermons and lessons every week.  Wisely, Joel turns to key leaders in his church for support.  Unwisely, Joel recently made one of the most common mistakes I see among church leaders: expertise transference.

When it came time to hire a worship leader, Joel planned to lean heavily on the wise counsel of three church members.  He needed their help in determining the best hiring process and in discerning who was a good fit for the position.  He described these men as “strong, godly men who are leaders in the church and community.”

As Joel’s coach, one of my roles is to help him challenge his own assumptions.  So I asked him, “What makes you think these three men are the most qualified people to help with hiring a worship leader?”  He reiterated that they were strong, godly leaders.  I assured him that I’d heard his description the first time, and I was curious about their qualifications for the hiring of a worship leader.  Joel responded that one of the men was a family doctor, another was a respected attorney in town, and the third served as CEO of a large business.  He assured me that their vocational status signified their qualification to serve as leaders in the church and to provide wise counsel in the worship leader call process.

Joel had fallen prey to what I call “expertise transference.”  (Maybe there’s a more technical name for this phenomenon, and if so, please let me know.)  The assumption is that expertise in one domain translates into expertise in other, unrelated domains.  In other words, because someone is qualified to be a family doctor, he must also be qualified to make important decisions about the life and health of a church.

You only have to look into the personal lives of “successful people” to see the fallacy of expertise transference: many successful doctors, lawyers and business owners (even Christian ones) struggle when it comes to family and other personal matters.  Yet, churches constantly tap these types of successful professionals to serve as elders, deacons, teachers, and important committee members.

Churches aren’t the only ones who practice expertise transference.  Hollywood actors are constantly asked to opine on important geopolitical matters, and they tend to oblige.  Athletes and athletic coaches are asked to give advice to graduating college students.  The opinion of a wealthy citizen tends to carry more weight than the thoughts of a poorer person.  And the list of examples can go on and on.

Why does this faulty assumption persist?  Most likely it serves a mental shortcut for determining merit.  But shortcuts can often lead us down the wrong path.

Expertise transference is one of those common false assumptions that coaches need to notice.  To be clear, our role isn’t to smash the assumption as blatantly untrue.  Instead, we are called to press our clients to recognize that the assumption is based on a fallacy.  It’s not that a doctor is disqualified to provide wise counsel in a hiring process, it’s just that being a doctor doesn’t automatically qualify a person to be a good leader, to make good decisions, or to offer wise counsel.  And being successful in business or a profession doesn’t equate with being “godly” – no matter what the Protestant work ethic might say.

I asked Joel to forget momentarily the three men he’d pre-determined could be of support in the hiring process. “Let’s put them on the shelf and pull them off if we decide you need them.”  With those guys out of the way, I asked Joel to list the key criteria that would make someone helpful in this process.  He immediately said he needed people who were “godly.”  “Okay, what’s that mean?”  He responded that being godly meant someone displays the characteristics of Christ. “And what are those characteristics?”  He listed several: humble, prayerful, compassionate, committed to God’s kingdom, willing to serve.

As we continued the coaching conversation, Joel unpacked several more key criteria in addition to “godly,” including familiarity with the worship arts, experience in hiring, and the spiritual gift of discernment.  I asked him to build his “dream team” according to those criteria and he came up with four names: the attorney from his earlier list, a homemaker with a strong gift of discernment as well as strong project management skills, a retired Marine who ran the sound system for worship, and the office manager who worked in the family doctor’s office and who was a whiz at both staffing and managing processes.

Joel’s team lived up to expectations as they designed a hiring process that included the congregation as well as outside experts, kept things moving in a timely way, and considered much more than what was on the resumes they’d collected.  In the end, they called a seasoned worship leader who was a great fit for their church, and vice versa.

As coaches, we aim to help our clients expand their thinking, so they can create new awareness that they then put into meaningful action.  To support this process, be on the lookout for false assumptions, including the assumptions behind expertise transference.  Your clients might not enjoy the work it takes to drop the false assumption, but they will appreciate the benefit that comes from clear and intentional thinking.

Toxic, or Merely Troublesome?

A Blog Post by Chad Hall

Julie is a client of mine who works as an office manager in a mid-sized law firm.  (BTW, names and some details are changed to protect client confidentiality.)  In a recent coaching session, Julie brought up an issue with one of her direct reports, Pamela.  In fact, it’s an ongoing issue.  The latest manifestation of the issue involved Pamela petitioning for some special work privileges as well as new furnishings and equipment.  When Julie declined the request, Pamela became accusatory and wondered out loud, “Why do some people get treated like they are important while others of us are treated as if we don’t matter at all?”  Julie wanted to be coached on how to deal with Pamela.

A simple rule in coaching is that we can only coach the client, not the person or persons whom the client finds challenging, so our coaching immediately focused on what part of the issue Julie needed to own and what she could do.  As a strong leader, Julie accepted responsibility for the issue and declared, “It’s my job to make this right.  I can’t just expect to manage people who are easy to manage; I also have to manage people who are troublesome.”

The Only Difference Between a Rut and a Grave are the Dimensions

A Blog Post Reflection by Danelle Miller

Lately, our family seems to be stuck in a perpetual state of change. Each of our five members has gone through significant changes recently. New jobs, a change in schools, death of a dear friend, a new home in a new town, aging parents needing care… and that’s the short list!

These changes have left me feeling unsettled. My “normal” has shifted. Change (which goes against my personality) has become the new “normal”. I feel like I live in Limbo Land — a place where I’m always in transition and never quite settled. The ups and downs have me looking for a new perspective on our situation. If I am always looking for straight and steady living, I know that I will miss some of the beauty of my current life (as crazy as it seems).

In looking for that new perspective, I came across this blog published by CAM one year ago:

By Dr Brent Sleasman, President of Winebrenner Theological Seminary (brent.sleasman@winebrenner.edu)

“The only difference between a rut and a grave are the dimensions”  – attributed to Ellen Glasgow

I’m in a bit of a rut right now.  Our organization has just come through a series of big decisions and the adrenaline is slowing as I take a breath before the next issues surface.  It’s fair to say that things are moving in a positive direction; for example, I have the privilege of building a strong personnel team and, as an institution of higher education, we have recently received an affirming report from our main accreditor.  And, yet, if I’m totally honest I’m finding myself struggling to keep focused while having a general feeling of melancholy as I engage in my day to day tasks.  This isn’t my normal demeanor – many (if not most) times I find myself motivated for the tasks ahead and ready to “be” the leader our organization needs at this time.  But not today.  In fact, not for the past few days.

As an avid reader I’m very aware of the assumptions driving many of the business conversations today.  The mentality that “strong and steady” is best, the idea that “life is marathon and not a sprint,” and the belief that consistency is key seems to permeate much of what is considered “business common sense” in 2017.  Perhaps as nothing more than an act of existential revolt, I am finding great dissatisfaction with these prevailing assumptions.