Category Archives: Resources

Handling Conflict Better

conflcit“One day, when I work for a church or Christian organisation, I will never have to experience conflict again!” Or so the dream might have been before you started.

It’s easy to think that conflict won’t be a part of life when working alongside other Christians. Unfortunately, that is just not true. We experience differences in personality and opinion as much as any other people. Throw in a whole lot of passion for the cause and it can be explosive sometimes. We are all nearly experts at handling conflict poorly. Our challenge as leaders, though, is to handle conflict better – better so we can accept seemingly impossible visions and develop solid strategies for the change we so wish to see in our communities and world.

In Romans 12 Paul breaks down what it looks like to live out of our strengths as part of the one Body of Christ. Immediately following this we are taught how to live from love. Here we are told to make a real effort to live at peace with everyone. Somehow we have mixed up the invitation to live at peace with an unrealistic perception that peace means not expressing difference and not deviating from the norm, as if conflict is somehow sinful in itself. Living at peace takes skill. Leading others to live at peace does too. Healthy conflict takes practice as we change how we approach it and transform it into something that challenges us to use each others strengths in a way that helps us go further than we could go on our own.

This past month we invited professional mediator, Joe Campbell, to facilitate a day workshop with us on Handling Conflict Better. He approached the day with a solid foundation in theory and theology while making it incredibly practical for us to make realistic, everyday sort of changes. Here are just a few of the tools that stood out to me as particularly important for us in Ireland today:

Listen. If someone has a difference of opinion to you, there is a reason. Try to discover what that reason is instead of preparing your argument. When they feel heard there is a greater chance of working on the problem. When we hear them, there is a greater chance of figuring out what the problem actually is. Speaking of the problem …

Keep the problem as the problem. It can be really easy to quickly jump into believing and acting as if the problem is actually the person. Focus is removed from the problem and onto the person. This starts an escalation in conflict. The next thing you know you will be saying, “you always …” Sides are formed as you gather people who will agree with you and not the other person. The heavy artillery is launched at the other person until gigantic walls are formed between people and groups. When we focus on the problem rather than the person, we are in a place of problem solving, which is ultimately what we want.

Let someone know if there is a problem. We can tend to just shy away from problems we have, wishing they were biodegradable, breaking down and disappearing into the earth in a natural sort of way. Joe asked, “What’s the worst that could happen?” If someone does something that affects you there is a chance that the person doesn’t even know. Why not tell them what the problem is, without attacking them? “When you do (such and such) then (such and such) happens. Is there any chance of changing that?”

Bring in a third party sooner rather than later. If it looks like you are both having a tough time focusing on the problem, bring in a third party that is respected by both of you to help resolve the problem. The more escalated a conflict is, the more difficult resolution will be.

Conflict brings both danger and opportunity. As we lead, let us not forget this. If we want the same old, same old, then we should avoid allowing anyone, including ourselves, from expressing their views. If we want to remain comfortable and in control, then we should limit the input of other people – inviting only those who are like us. However, if we want to live out of opportunities that have never been realised in this country before; if we want to see the church working together as one under Christ; if we want to show the power that comes from reconciliation with God, then we need to learn to embrace conflict and, by all means, handle it better. We can lead that change.

Looking for more resources on how to lead conflict better? Check out our friends at the Saint Patrick Foundation.

Mentor Me: A Leader’s Guide to Finding a Mentor

Photo credit: chase_elliott / Foter / CC BY

Photo credit: chase_elliott / Foter / CC BY

God has given us many things to help us to grow as Christians. One of these is other believers. There are many pictures in the Bible of this mutual encouragement. One of my favourites is that of a body as Paul outlines to the church in Ephesus:

He makes the whole body grow and build itself up in love. Under the control of Christ, each part of the body does its work. It supports the other parts. In that way, the body is joined and held together. (Ephesians 4:16 NIRV)

There is real benefit in learning from people who have been Christians for longer and who are willing to help us to develop and to grow. You may have several people like that in your life who are a good example to you in what they say and in how they live out what they believe. In that sense they function as mentors to you.

In Christian circles the word ‘mentoring’ has come to be almost synonymous with discipling and carries with it the connotation of a relationship between two people with the specific goal of spiritual growth and maturity. In most cases, the process begins with someone who seeks out a mentor who is already a role model and who can encourage and challenge them to grow in their spiritual journey.

In asking someone to be your mentor for a certain period of time you are making this process of learning from others into a more formal arrangement. You are committing yourself to meet with and learn from that person. You are giving them permission to ask you about how you are growing and living life and in that way you are making yourself accountable to them.

Things to think about in choosing a mentor:

  • Start by praying, asking God to guide you as to whom you could ask.
  • Think of someone you respect and feel you can learn from, but not someone that you would not be able to be honest with. You are looking for someone who will encourage you in your relationship with God and with whom you can share your joys and your struggles.
  • It may be someone from your church, but that is not essential.
  • The person needs to be willing and able to give the time and energy that is necessary. Make sure they know that it is for an agreed period of time. You will also need to agree how often to meet and for how long. That establishes helpful boundaries for both of you.
  • Don’t be put off if the first person you ask says no. Not everyone will have the time and energy to allow them to be a mentor. Trust God to guide you through the response of others

Quotes from IBI students who had a mentor as part of our Ministry and Personal Development module:

“My mentor’s maturity wisdom and life experience were invaluable to me as she continued to support and guide me along my journey (in IBI). She had great insight and practical advice; she really helped me to stay focused and keep things in perspective”.

“I found the mentor relationship to be very beneficial; having someone ‘keeping an eye on me’ was helpful to keep me focused.”

“The mentor relationship was a brilliant time to sit and get godly advice on the things I was struggling with. Also to have someone praying for me was great”

“The mentoring relationship encouraged me in my Christian walk”.

Guest writer, Joan Singleton, is passionate about how each of us can help each other to grow and develop more than we realise. Currently she is teaching Pastoral Caring in IBI and coordinating the Ministry and Personal Development course for first years. 

Make a difference where you are

We are passionate about equipping leaders with the skills and character for local mission.

Watch to find out more:

Tempo groups (like the one Dave was part of) will be starting again in the autumn – see our Tempo page for more information.

Other training opportunities with Innovista include workshops and Leading for Life – 3 days leadership and mission training this summer in Berlin.

Becoming Strategic – Not as Scary as it Sounds

Strategy

If you are like me, working out a strategy feels something like standing in the middle of a field that stretches on forever. I know we need to head towards the sea but am unsure as to where we are, which direction the sea is in or which is the best way to get there. Thankfully, there are people who are incredibly good at planning – who actually enjoy it! Andrew McNeile is one such person. In February he joined us in facilitating our workshop on Creating a Strategic Plan in Ministry, hosted in Adelaide Road Presbyterian Church. Navigating towards a destination never seems as impossible when someone helps along the way.

Here are a few key messages that I picked up from the day:

Eyes on God – Go back to the beginning. The interactions we had with God when deciding on whether to accept a position matter. Involving God in the decisions we make about jobs or ministries gives us a reason to be there. Our vision might have been clear at the start and over time it has become cloudy as we get stuck in the day to day things we need to do. When we go back to the beginning we can remember why we are doing what we are doing.

Paint a picture of a better future that inspires people and motivates them to action. This is the definition of vision that was used by Andrew and is used by us here at Innovista. In this workshop we were speaking specifically about strategy, which is how we get to the end destination – a future that is better. A strategy is a sort of task-oriented list of to-dos that is really tangible. When we know where we are going, coming up with a good strategy becomes pretty do-able and keeps us on track. Is what we are doing going to get us there or are we changing the destination because we want to do something different?

Not everyone is a visionary. Sometimes we are in a position to help others who have been given a vision. Moses and Aaron are a pretty major example of this (I loved how Andrew wove their story throughout the morning). Moses knew that he was to lead people out of Egypt – that was his aspiration, his end goal. He screwed it up a few times and finally Aaron got on board to help him out. Aaron didn’t say, “Hey, Moses, that’s cool. You should hear the vision God has given me.” Or, “Moses, that seems like an interesting vision. Why don’t we just set people free by taking over the Egyptian system?” Aaron got on board with where Moses was going in a pretty major way.

Our attitude about strategy makes a difference. I was really struck by how our beliefs and attitudes about strategy are absolutely vital to what we will do about creating one and following it. On one side of the spectrum is the belief that we just need to go with the flow of where the Holy Spirit is leading us and planning would hinder that. On the other side is the belief that strategies should be written in stone and adhered to at all costs. Somewhere in the middle is the practice of making plans and leaving room for flexibility as unexpected things happen, we realise it isn’t working or God asks us to start moving a different way.

Always put eyes back on God. As a vision is cast and a strategy is made, we need to set our eyes on God. We believe in moving with him, in relationship with him the whole time. If you are involved in leading something but feel bogged down in the day-to-day things that need to be done, remember back to how you ended up saying “yes” to that role. How did God confirm that for you? What did you dream for the people you are working with? Write down your aspirations (your goals). Finally, begin to stop doing things that aren’t going to get you there and think of new things that will. That is what making a strategy is about.

During the workshop we gave time for participants to work together in putting creating the beginnings of a strategy. The collective discovery from this process was a need to return to the vision.

If you are involved with a team of people or on your own and would like to work through some of these questions together over a period of time, contact us for more information about Tempo and future workshops.

Next Dublin workshop: Conflict – Friday, 17th April 9:30-12:30 2015 Cost: €25

Internships – The Place Where Theory and Experience Meet

theory and practiceWhether formal or informal, internships are a powerful tool for growth. They are an intentional time where theory (what people say should work) and experience (trying things out for ourselves) meet and interact. Being able to process these two things at the same time helps us change our practices to become more and more effective in the areas we are passionate about. Here are a few really useful things I have learned over the years while supervising internships for a variety of different universities, colleges and programmes:

Learning is not comfortable. That’s not to say it is not enjoyable. If you don’t face something that challenges your view of God, people or yourself,  you will not learn anything. Growth takes resistance training. Learning how to embrace and manage the challenging emotions of an internship are crucial.

Being able to look at a situation objectively is vital. While in a new environment that you are trying to learn from, write down a few situations (good, challenging, mundane) each week. In one page or less write down exactly what happened without any interpretations or personal opinions. This is far more difficult than it sounds! This means fully present and observant each day. Three things might happen when you do this: 1. You will see the situation differently. 2. You will gain insight into your own beliefs and actions. 3. You will be able to use this as a tool to identify what theory you put into practice and what theory you could have put into practice.

Experience is useless for learning without theory. This is something we do naturally anyway whenever we reflect on situations in our lives, “I should have done … Next time I will.” In an internship we are taking what other people have learned and are trying it out for ourselves. The main thing is to know what ideas you are trying to apply and taking the time to discover how you have used it or how you would like to use it next time. I would often ask new interns what courses they took the last year and what they would really like to focus on learning to put into practice. If you have already written down a situation from the week you can take a few minutes to identify the ideas/theories that you used even if it was just natural and without effort. Take some time then to identify theories that you could have used. Be prepared to give a reason as to how you know you used that theory. “I know I used active listening because I made eye contact, used an open posture and asked open-ended questions.”

It is easier when we welcome feedback. Chances are that if you are in an internship you will receive some sort of verbal or non-verbal feedback, even if it isn’t feedback that specifically helps you identify what went well and what didn’t. By choosing to participate in an internship you are giving other people permission to comment on how you are performing. Feedback is always easier when you welcome it because you believe it will help you grow. One way this can be done is by bringing the same written situation to your supervisor and have them write down what theories they saw you use and what ones they see you could have used. Compare notes with each other after. You might just find that you are practicing far more good things than you realised.

Internships are all about learning. Learning if you like that particular type of job. Learning how to do something more effectively. Learning more about yourself. Learning about people. Use it well.

Over the past couple of years we have been partnering with the Presbyterian Church of Ireland VIPs (Volunteer Internship Programme) by leading different workshops. This week we were with them facilitating Ending an Internship Well.

Small Steps Towards Increased Leadership Health

Last week we looked at getting a picture of how our health is affecting us in our leadership roles (read it here if you missed it). Leaders set the culture. We have the opportunity to set healthy cultures in our organisations simply through the power of our example. Leading out of a place of emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health enables us to serve those we lead more effectively through increasing capacity to listen, gaining perspective on complex issues, taking time to understand what lies behind people’s behaviour and having the energy to dream about what could be.

This week is all about small changes that make a big difference towards topping up lower levels of emotional, physical, spiritual and mental health. Big results often just need the right small changes and consistent grace. You probably have a lot of things that have worked well for you in the past. Use one of those again! If you’re stuck, here are a few of our suggestions:list of life giving thingsStep 1: Choose one thing.

Step 2: Set something up that will help you remember to do this each day: set a reminder on your phone; write it on a sticky note and put it up near you; make a poster; ask a friend to do it with you.

Step 3: Give yourself permission to not do it perfectly. In all things remember that we are told to “come boldly to the throne of grace so we can find mercy and grace in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Grasp hold of grace and rely on it as if you were a mountain climber in need of strong ropes.

Spiritual and emotional growth takes time. And often a transformation happens over time without the person knowing quite how it happened. ~ Dr. Henry Cloud

By caring for ourselves we will develop the space to see ourselves with greater awareness. From self-awareness we gain the capacity to have control over our impulses (self-regulation) – we are able to create and maintain boundaries in our lives.

Personal Leadership Health was a workshop co-facilitated by Liesel Reimer and Joy Winterbotham. For more about Innovista Leadership Workshops visit our workshops page. We also provide workshops for staff teams. Contact us for more information.

Ending an Internship Well

If you are currently involved in an internship, this article is for you! Chances are that when you started you were hunkered down like a runner of the 100 meter race. Everything in you was ready to go full steam ahead! Shortly after the gun went off it might have begun to resemble a game of snakes and ladders more than the energetic sprint you were hoping for. Looking ahead to the end might not seem all that appealing either because you now love your placement or because it seems like it will never end! The Presbyterian Church of Ireland VIPs (Volunteer Internship Programme) were heading into their final months of internship when they invited us up to lead a workshop on finishing an internship well. Here are a few strategies I shared that I have found to be most beneficial over the years.

Know the path you have been on: Imagine a game of snakes and ladders in front of you. There are 100 spaces from start to finish. Where do you find yourself right now? What were your snakes throughout your placement – those unexpected occurrences that set you back? What were the ladders that have helped you succeed in your internship? Are you happy that you are near the end or does it seem like a long, unending task to complete? What does making it to the end look like for you?

Picture the end: If you were to finish successfully, what would a successful finish look like? What would you be doing? What would others be doing? Ask yourself what it looks like to leave a position in a better place then the way you found it. Ask your supervisor or line manager what a successful ending looks like to him or her.

Choose to persevere: Let’s face it, as soon as the end is in sight it is sometimes easier to slow down and let our guard down. Using the last month or weeks of an internship requires determination to do well rather than just relax into the easy relationships or aspects of ministry. In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul challenges us to: “Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training … do not run like someone running aimlessly.” In Hebrews we are told to throw off everything that hinders, run with perseverance and fix our eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2). Christian ministry requires this type of intentional perseverance.

Give and receive feedback: An internship is a mutually beneficial relationship between yourself and the organisation you are partnering with. Feedback is a great way to make use of this opportunity for growth. Feedback in this sense is more focused on what has gone well and what could have gone better more than how you are feeling. It is specific and has examples. Avoiding “I am” statements is really helpful too. When asked about how something went it is easy to respond with, “I am really terrible at …” Instead, focus on the  objective results, pulling out the things that should be repeated and identifying ways to change an outcome for the better next time. Giving feedback to the organisation you are with will also encourage them by letting them know specifically what they have done that has helped you grow. By giving them feedback, you are also likely to have helped make the experience that much better for the next intern!

Identify what has changed in you: Hopefully you have picked up some new skills and identified strengths that will help you in the future. If you were to explain to someone the skills that you used during your internship, what would you tell them? Are there skills that you want to develop before you go? Be specific with identifying how your character has changed, how your thinking has changed and what skills you have developed. This is your progress report for personal growth.

Prepare for good-byes: We aren’t any better at these than anyone else. They make us cringe and shy away in denial or we begin to distance ourselves from the people we have come to care about. Make sure the people you are working with know when you are leaving. Don’t make promises that you might not be able to keep. Give room for celebration and grieving both for yourself and the people you are working with.

Hand over responsibility: Depending on what level of responsibility you have had, you might need to tie up the loose ends and make sure that someone is there to take your place. If you are in a position to do so, identify who you can mentor to do what you have done. Who needs what information from you? In some cases, you will be able to develop people into your role. Make a plan with them so that they become your intern in a sense. This is part of picturing the end so that the work does not stop when you leave.

Ending an internship well is the responsibility of both you and your organisation. By making it a choice and finding the people who can help you finish well, you will find yourself feeling positive about your experience even if it was challenging! You will discover more of a focus of who God created you to be and how he can use you to serve others well. You will leave a legacy behind you that will benefit people long after you are gone. You will really bless the organisation you are with. Ending an internship well inspires new beginnings!

finishing well