The InterLearn Blog

All posts in the Growth category

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Learning from the Negative

I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve had this conversation as a parent with my children.  Sometimes it has been about examples that are in front of my children as teachers or leaders. . .sometimes it’s about me.  I tell them as we’re reflecting on the situation and can find very little positive that happened:  “I’m sorry but you’re going to have to learn from the negative on this one.  You’re going to have to see what not to do and learn to do the right thing.”

I’m sure we’ve all had to do that in our lives.  We see a bad example of something and run the other way. . .or at least decide to do something different.  (If you’re struggling for some negative examples, talk to me…I’ll share some of mine.)  We never want to be the negative example for those around us (ahem, our children…or students or team members).  Yet, given our fallen nature, it does happen.  As we grow in wisdom, hopefully, we have fewer of those times where we are the negative example. 

However, as leaders, we must recognize and embrace those opportunities to teach and develop even in the negative.  For faculty, they need to train students to learn from the negative.  They will likely have leaders “in the real world” that don’t have a positive message or lesson at times.  Yet, they still need to move forward in their own development despite those negatives.  The same is true for team members.  We would not want our team to fail just because we mess up.  We want them to learn and grow even when we miss it.

Learning from the negative requires several things on the part of learner:

  • Humility.  Recognition that we are fallen and make mistakes is vital. 
  • Grace.  Fortunately, we have forgiveness through Christ for this.  However, it’s Christ’s work of forgiveness in our lives that must be remembered when viewing these failures in others. We, too, are fallen, been forgiven (and will need forgiveness again in the future very likely), and need to extend the Grace that Christ extends to us.
  • Reflection.  While it may be easy to get upset at the negative example in front of us, we must logically reflect on that example to really learn from it.  See the situation from the perspective of the person providing the negative example.  What made them act the way they did?  What would have been the better way to act?  What will keep you from acting the same way in other situations? 

There are certainly times where the body of negative work in an individual requires us to pull away from an individual.  However, recognizing that they are in need of growth, just like you, is equally important. 

You may be the one to help them learn from their own negative example by gracefully helping them see their example.  

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Race to the Finish

In our household, the end of the year can be an extremely busy time (I’m sure we’re the only ones, right?!?). Not only do we have the normal holiday rush, my wife’s company often has rush work at the end of the year. As a result, there is always the likelihood that she will be racing to get everything done and reports written for clients. The question for us becomes, “what is really important that has to get done and what can wait?”

But what if we were to start the year with this attitude instead of just ending it with the idea in our heads? What if we decided that we were going to focus on what was really important and prioritize our year that way instead of just letting the year come at us and responding? How could we change our focus? What would it take?

Probably the first part would be to say, “What IS important. . .for the whole year (or 5 years or 10)?” When we really take the time to think about what is important, some of the focus will shift away from things that in a month we won’t even care about. It will let us throw aside the unimportant and reach for the important (perhaps eternal) things. . .

As we start this new year, let’s take the time to find the important, in our relationship with the Father, in our family, friends, and colleagues, in our work, and then get rid of the stuff that isn’t important. . .

. . .Then let’s race to the finish, with lightened load, and accomplish what needs to get done.

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You Don’t Have to Know It All (and you can’t know it all)

One maxim that I share with team members here at InterLearn is that “you can tell clients that you don’t know.” That is, I want them to know that they don’t have to know it all.  

According to some, the human knowledge base is currently doubling every 12 – 13 months.  The expectation is that it will reach a 12 HOUR doubling state with the expansion of the Internet of Things (all the appliances connected to the internet).  So, from a very practical perspective, it is an impossibility to know everything.  

Before you stop reading as you think this is a point that you already know, stop and think about your personal practice.  Everything from the way you delegate to the way you hire team members to the consultants you hire is affected by this conversation.  You may practically recognize that you don’t know everything.  However, unconsciously, there are areas where you think you know more than you really do.  When you unconsciously think you know everything about something (or that you know better than others), it keeps you from delegating tasks that “someone else couldn’t possibly do as well.”  It affects the team members that you fail to hire because they have abilities equal to or better than yours.  It keeps you from hiring consultants who could 1) take some of the man hours that your team has to spend to accomplish work, 2) know how to do it better/have more expertise than you, and 3) save you money by doing it more efficiently and quickly than you could do it. 

So, rather than feeling like you have to know it all, develop your vocational certainty around the concepts that you SHOULD know.  Have the attitude that you are going to make you the best you that you can to support those who you lead on your team.  Then keep learning and bringing in those that can support your learning.  

Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. . .and then never give up on learning more and developing resources that help you know (including other people). 

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The Pessimist’s Dilemma

For most of my life, I’ve been an optimist.  In high school, I was even given a character award for it.  As an entrepreneur, I’m a rugged optimist…I think my ideas are good enough and better than what I see out in the field. . .and will succeed.  And if those ideas don’t work, I’m sure we’ll figure out another way to get the job done.  As I’ve aged, I’ve probably moved a bit left to realism as a measure of what can affect my ideas (particularly when I haven’t done the hard work of developing a plan around them).  However, I still maintain that positive outlook about what can be and what is coming.  

For the pessimist, though, there is an entirely different outlook on things.  They see the world in the ways that it can’t be done, not in the way it can.  They have obstructionist’s tendencies to shoot holes in the ideas of those moving forward with a plan.  The “new ideas” that they bring to the table are why it won’t or can’t work.  All too often, they hold this pessimism as a righteous calling.  

I’ve seen this all too often in my client base.  The pessimist enters the room claiming they are just being the realist or holding the arbitrary standard they feel applies. . .and their “righteous work” is, seemingly, to kill accomplishment…to kill growth.  I’m thinking of one individual in particular as I write this but there are many others I’ve seen over the years.  

The experienced optimist knows that there is a way to deal with the pessimist.  A good idea backed up with a solid plan can defeat the negative perspective of the pessimist.  The pessimist will out themselves as a “Negative Nancy” given the time and opportunity and the crowd around them will grow weary. 

However, the pessimist has a dilemma in any forward-thinking, growth-minded organization.  Will they choose to change their perspective on the ideas placed before them with a positive attitude? Or, will they succumb to their bent?  Their bent is comfortable for them.  They can play the role of “just looking out for what’s best” or “quality.”  In the end, they will settle for less and hold back those looking for increase.  When they stay with their normal, it will lead to misery for themselves and for those around them until someone makes the executive decision to move them out or they self-select out.  Either way, it will be a breath of fresh air for the group when they do.  

Alternatively, they can CHOOSE a new perspective.  It won’t be natural.  It likely won’t be easy.  They will have to change their attitude and thinking patterns.  They will have to gain a new understanding of how quality works.  They will also have to gain a new level of trust from their compatriots who know them as a pessimist (because likely by now their compatriots have learned to expect the negative from them).  It won’t be easy to change.  It will be a daily, perhaps hour-by-hour challenge to make the adjustments. 

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Taking Back the Power

I recently had an interesting experience with my son.  He’d been participating in a club at school where the leader (a staff member) was generally demanding (and somewhat oppressive in my humble opinion) of those involved.  Meetings had been scheduled for every morning before school and a strict regimen was required of those involved.  For those wanting to be part of this club, strict adherence to the mentality of the leader was a requirement and questioning the authority was severely dealt with.  Schools (particularly private, Christian K-12 schools) are known for their totalitarian structure, of course.  

At the beginning of this term, my son made the decision on his own that he would rather do something else with his time even though he had enjoyed his time in the club.  However, for several weeks, the leader was unaware that my son was not going to continue in the club.  Various “threats” of penalties for not attending meetings floated back to my son through the grapevine from the leader.  Finally, my son spoke to the leader of the program and let him know that he would not be participating in the club any longer.  There was an element of shock on the part of the leader.

As my wife and I processed the situation with my son, we recognized what had happened:  my son had taken back the power of the relationship.  Instead of a situation where this leader had methods of controlling my son in his school career and levying penalties if he did not comply as requested, my son chose to remove himself from the situation.  In doing so, this leader no longer had power over him in the same way.  He gained freedom as a result.  

Before we get too far in revolutionary discussions though, think about the positive side where you choose to give up your power.  There are times, of course, where you choose to be involved in a situation for the positives inherent in the system.  As a citizen of the United States, I subject myself to the authority of the governing bodies within the U.S.  In doing so, I gain the rights of a U.S. citizen.  As a member of the local golf club, I agree to pay the membership fees and follow the club rules and gain access to unlimited golf, unlimited use of the workout facilities, and use of their pool during the summer.  As an employee, I submit myself to my leaders in order to accomplish the mission of the organization and, hopefully, receive a paycheck.  As a student, you submit yourself to the rules of the school and studies of the courses in order to gain an education.  

However, there are times when you need to take back the power.  Taking back the power is not just a revolutionary idea.  It must be a management idea.  It comes down to what you choose to give your attention and efforts.

It might not be a person from whom you need to take the power back.  It might be a process, a hobby, a practice, a group, a habit, really anything that holds undue sway over you and your actions and keeps you from accomplishing what you’re supposed to accomplish.  Here are several personal examples of how I have taken back power:

Personal Relationships:  There a number of individuals who have simply become a negative in my personal and professional life.  In some cases, I have limited my opportunities to be around them by just finding other relationships to develop.    

Television:  I’m fairly selective in what I watch on television not only for content (read that, I don’t watch smut) but also for the time investment.  I am a science fiction nerd and would love to watch through the entire Doctor Who series.  I’ve watched a few but, frankly, I don’t have the time to invest in watching that entire body of work.  

Accreditation Teams and Boards:  As a more professional example, I’ve chosen not to continue serving as an accreditation team member.  In so doing, I have freed myself from the time commitment and the obligation to not serve schools with my professional services as a consultant.  I also rarely serve on boards for similar reasons.  

The result of taking back the power, as I noted for my son, is freedom…freedom from the negatives of the situation and freedom to be about what you need to be about.  Recognize what has power and control in your circumstances and decide on the value of those circumstances. 

Is the submission to the circumstance and loss of power worth the benefits gained?  If not, make a change in the power structure.  Take back the power in your life to refocus and accomplish what God wants you to be about.  

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Called Alongside

My wife has become an ultra-runner. If you’re not familiar with the term, it signifies those running races beyond the marathon (which is, itself, 26.2 miles or 42.195 kilometers). She runs so much these days, that I rarely even concern myself with supporting/crewing her when she does a marathon because I know she can do a marathon in her sleep. When people talk about running a marathon, I almost have a response like, “isn’t that precious (that you think that’s long).” (It’s not quite that bad since I have run two marathons myself and know the pain of doing so.) However, that’s what my wife’s very long distances (50k, 100k, 100-milers, and 126 mile staged races in the Rockies) have done to my mentality.

When I tell people about my wife’s running I’m commonly asked several questions (particularly about running 100 miles):

· Does she stop to sleep when she does a hundred miler? Answer: No. It’s straight through the day and night stopping for restroom and food breaks.
· Does she run the whole thing? Answer: It’s a combination of running and walking.
· How long does it take her: Answer: Depending on the terrain, 24 – 30 hours.· Is your wife crazy or does she have some mental issues? Answer: Yes. She runs to get rid of the crazy. 😊

In order to be successful, my wife does several things. The first is she prepares well. She trains, eats well, gets sleep, has appropriate gear, learns what she can about the course she’s running, has a plan of attack for the course for both how she will run it and what she will eat during the race, etc. A second thing that she does is develop relationships with other runners. In a long race, having a friend to run with and pull you along is very helpful. Many 100-mile races do not allow you to have a pacer for the first 50 miles. So, having a friend that is running the race for the first 50 is very helpful.

Another thing that my wife does, when she can, is to engage pacers. A pacer is someone NOT running the whole race that can come alongside her and run with her, encourage her, stretch her by running at a speed that fresher legs can accomplish (and that her brain is telling her she can’t).

Today, my wife is running the Prairie Spirit 100-mile Trail Run. She started at 6 am this morning and hopes to finish it around 24 hours. As I write this, I’m sitting in the “crew” (those who support runners while they are running at various locations throughout the race) vehicle with all of her supplies, waiting for her to reach the aid station where I will trade out shoes for her, give her nutrition, take any coats that she wants to shed (or give her dry clothing), and send her on her way in as short of an amount of time as I can. I will do this all day today. This evening when she reaches the 50-mile mark, I will be her first pacer and run 10 miles with her before passing her off to another pacer who will run a stretch and pass off to another pacer. This will continue throughout the night until completion.

The term paraclete [παράκλητος (paráklētos)], often referring to the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, is the role I’m playing when my wife is running. Paraclete, in the original language, refers to a legal advocate or assistant. In the same way in my wife’s running, I’m “coming alongside,” being her “advocate,” and “comforting” her as she runs (definitions of parclete in the Greek).

Like “crewing” and “pacing” in the ultra run, we at InterLearn recognize several things about our work.

· You need a plan to accomplish what’s set before you. InterLearn has a knowledge base and years of experience in the field to help you develop the plan.
· We are not the ones running the “race.” That is, we know we are not operating the college or university. We know, however, that we have some skills and strong experience in the field that allow us to come alongside the institution to help them accomplish what God has called it to do.
· Like the pacer and crew, our efforts don’t mean much if you don’t accomplish what you’re called to do. You and your institution’s calling are our reason for being. Helping the institution accomplish their goal best is what our goal is.
· While we can want it a lot because we see how important your mission and vision are, we can’t do it for you. We can only be there to support you, encourage, help you with techniques that work, help keep you accountable to the plan.

In terms of our business practice, @InterLearnEd (InterLearn, LLC) serves as a paraclete as well. We come alongside colleges and universities to help them accomplish the goals that they have. Often, we are working with higher education institutions and leaders by:

· Developing new online programming and curriculum
· Helping them consider their structure
· Updating their recruiting efforts
· Helping them with their financial aid practices
· Helping them find experienced practitioners to add to their team through executive searches
· Advising them on best practices in the field that are time- and field-tested.

We do all these services to help the institution see growth and health. Let InterLearn come alongside your team to help it accomplish its calling.