What do people talk to mentors about?

Recently I received a gift box from my friends Jennah and Joel, a couple that I have mentored. Heck, I even officiated at their wedding. When I opened it and saw this keychain it made me smile from ear to ear. They reminded me that this is what I do. I am a leadership mentor, and day after day, I am engaged in mentoring men and women about life and leadership.

Hmmm?

This past week a friend was curious and asked, “Carson, what do people want to talk to a mentor about?” 

With my head cocked slightly to the right and my inside voice going, “Hmmm?” I pondered before answering. Sharing what had come up this week, my friend found the variety of topics interesting and suggested that I write about this. So, this begins a series of posts on what people ask me as a mentor. Here are my first five:

Time

It is not uncommon for me to engage in conversations about time. How does one give quality time to friends, spouse and family while juggling work, recreation and others’ expectations? Of course, the discussion goes deeper than just learning some time management hacks. We need to understand often the drivers beneath how we use our time.

Priorities and Goals

Very much related to how we use time, is the focus and discipline required for getting things done. I find most people function, some at a very high level, with no real priorities or goals. They can find themselves in job settings where deadlines and seasonal patterns create a false sense of focus or goal. I help people to understand their purpose, and then help them live on purpose.

Choosing between Good and Great

In his book Good to Great, Collins points out how we often settle for good instead of choosing great. After talking with mentees about the previous two areas, a mentor can be a helpful sounding board to identify what “great” would look like and how to pursue it.

Personal Development

Leaders, homemakers, business people, teachers, construction people, law enforcement, pastors, professors and entrepreneurs are among those who have approached me wanting help in growing and developing themselves. This development they seek is not about work (that will follow). They want to grow and develop. They feel like they are stagnant or, worse, stuck. Often a mentor asking the right kind of questions can draw them into seeing a plan for their development, bringing so much more pleasure in life.

Professional Development

Another form of development sought is the more specific work-related mentoring? Perhaps you have a new role or a particularly challenging situation. In either case, the listening ear of a mentor with experience can help leapfrog you ahead and provide more confidence and affirmation. The workplace has changed a great deal in the past ten years, and organizations are often willing to invest in mentoring for their people.

“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.”

Denzel Washington

How about you? What question would you like to ask a mentor at this moment in your life or career? Add a comment below, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Blessings,

Unaware: Leaders under stress?

Awhile back, I had a conversation with my therapist, Ahmad. I cannot stop thinking about it. Ok, so he is not really my therapist, he is my barber, but our conversations are always fascinating.

Ahmad and I talked about the summer holidays and a time when he drove his family pulling a trailer. As he was driving, he felt the trailer’s weight and momentum behind him as he held the wheel. On the other hand, his wife was chatting to him without any sense of the pressure and responsibility of towing a trailer.

The first time I drove a trailer that was not behind a tractor was towing a sailboat in downtown Vancouver. It was scary at first. Was it hitched properly? Would my brakes handle the extra weight? What about the extra height – would I make it under bridges?

There was a certain sway to the trailer as the sailboat seemed unbalanced. I knew I had to be careful, especially when backing up while having my brain wrestle with counter-intuitive steering in the opposite direction. No question, Ahmad was correct in identifying driving with a trailer as stressful.

In a survey by the Center for Creative Leadership, eighty-eight percent of leaders reported that work is the primary source of stress in their lives and that having a leadership role increases stress levels. No kidding!

..having a leadership role increases stress levels. No kidding!

Carson Pue

In all my years of mentoring leaders, I have never seen an intensity of stress faced by leaders, as during this COVID-19 season. Whether in business, non-profits, or churches, leaders are juggling many additional demands on their time, attention, and focus. This past month, even the most effective leaders I know are feeling emotionally and physically worn down because of the pandemic.

When we as leaders are under extreme stress, it affects us in many ways. Our decision-making is affected because we have trouble processing information, and COVID has caused extreme responses. Often leaders focus on the immediate and have been kept from thinking about the long-term implications of decisions.

Another stress response is to become very controlling. Leaders stop working with their teams and make unilateral decisions as they try to control the situation – a pandemic beyond our ability to control.

Leadership stress also drives men and women into isolation. They want to withdraw, to hide, to run. By shutting other people out of their lives, leaders are often left with only their own counsel causing people around them to lose trust while they lose perspective.

The most common question I ask leaders these days is, “How well are you sleeping?” Stress impacts the quality of sleep we are getting. Lack of sleep affects our behaviour, reduces confidence, and can damage relationships with those closest to us.

Do you know a normally calm and positive leader who is now showing signs of anger, irritability, and being overwhelmed? These are signs that your leader needs to be encouraged to take time to practice radical self-care.

A problem exists in that you and I can just be “along for the ride.” We are unaware of the stress involved in driving the leadership trailer. So let me urge you to reach out to a leader and encourage them. Let them know you understand the stress they must be feeling and encourage their practicing of self-care. Lower high expectations during this time, and recognize good things they have accomplished. Encourage them to recharge, recover, pray and practice restorative activities.

Grief and Birthdays

For those who grieve, special days such as anniversaries, birthdays, or Valentine’s Day can be difficult. Other holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter can introduce a whole season of difficult days.

Well, this is Brenda’s birthday. It’s been five years since she passed and she would have been sixty-five today. This threshold, turning sixty-five, was achieved by me just two weeks earlier.

While significant dates can be, and have been difficult, the anniversary of Brenda’s birthday brought me joy. Memories of her make me smile from ear to ear and sometimes laugh out loud. Let me explain.

The Birthday Zone of Endurance

From the time we married, Brenda carried on a running gag for the two weeks I was “older” than her. If we were out somewhere and asked, “How long have you two been married?” I would answer with the number of years and Brenda would slip in, “But I am much younger than Carson.”

Yup, for two weeks she relished being younger. At a restaurant, while we were celebrating my birthday, she would not so quietly tell the server that I had “robbed the cradle.” “I am significantly younger than he is,” she would say with her alluring smile and sparkly eyes to all who would listen. Who was not to believe her?

On occasion, I would protest and retort,

“Only by two weeks! You are only younger by two weeks!”

To this Brenda would roll her eyes communicating to the individual without words “Yeah right, LOL like I am only two weeks younger that this old guy.”

Once during the “birthday zone of endurance,” we were snuggling on the couch watching television. Brenda had her head resting on my shoulders and against my neck. I was stroking her hair and, trying to be romantic.

”Where have you been all my life?” I whispered.

Without lifting her head she responded, “Well for a large portion of it I wasn’t even born.” This was followed by chuckling, that she could not stop. <Big Smile>

She had many more typical jabs I’d be expecting. For example:

  • At the dinner table, “Honey, let me help you cut your meat.”
  • “Carson, here” as she reached for me. “Take my arm. I will help you with the stairs.”
  • “Dear, can I read that for you?” or,
  • “I am going to call Glen to see if I can borrow his truck to go pick up your birthday candles.
  • On and on it would go.

When our boys were young, she would smile at me and kindly tell me, “If we are ever out somewhere, and you are mistaken for our boy’s grandfather, don’t worry, I will correct them.” As she walked away, I swear I could see her smile through the back of her head.

So you get the picture. I had to endure these two weeks every single year, as she loved this annual season of teasing me.

Brenda seemed to gather energy and slow down time all at the same time during these weeks. She would be in a state of absolute joy. She even spent extra time on her makeup and how she dressed. She just loved playing the “much younger woman.”

Turning Sixty Five

This year, oh she had plans for this year. Suddenly in my waking on August fifth, I would be sixty-five, and for two weeks she would be married to a senior citizen. She desperately, passionately, unswervingly wanted to reach this milestone for me and had been contriving some great plans for years.

..But she never got to carry them out.

Her best friend Alison and I walked to the cemetery today to celebrate her birthday in heaven. When we arrived, I was filled with these memories of her and so grateful for the years we shared.

Time and good memories do help the grief journey but I have the grace to realize we all have our own pace. Allow yourself the time needed.

Happy birthday Brenda. We miss you.

Hang in there!

I am missing sailing, and my first mate.

Our family loved our sailboat and for sixteen years we would be out on the ocean as often as we could. Today, I kept noticing my head raised up to look at the weather. What do I look for first? The wind. It is the wind that gets the attention of sailors, and this was one of those days.

In a sailboat, you cannot get back to port quickly should something go awry. This fact breeds self-reliance among those of us who love the sea. You learn to look at all the elements, to study the weather, to do a walk around your boat before casting off, and to understand where you are going and all about navigation.

Laughing now at the thought of how many times I would drive my car 100 kilometres per hour to get to our sailboat at Point Roberts WA so that I could get on board and proceed at seven knots towards some unknown destination. All the while, adjusting the sails, tweaking the sheets and scanning the water trying to get one more tenth of a knot out of her.

Perspective

Sailing, for me, has been the one thing I do that puts everything in proper perspective. I see it as the ultimate expression of freedom – perhaps exactly because I have chosen to place myself in a position where there is no forgiveness for mistakes. This causes you to become very aware of what’s going on.

Annalong

This is Annalong. She was named after a small fishing village in County Down, Northern Ireland where the Pue family are from. In fact the Presbyterian church at the top of the road has the Pue family gravesite with many of my ancestors named. It is also a meaningful name to us as my mothers name was Anna and we purchased the boat shortly after her death.

We don’t own her any longer. She is off on adventures with another family, but I sure miss her. Along with sailing her, I miss writing in the salon, making coffee at sunrise and sipping it outside in the cockpit during my quiet time. As the sun rose I would continue to sit there, my mind coming slowly to rest like I was in a sacred sanctuary.

Annalong was to me as I imagine going to a cabin is or others. But let me tell you, when you put up the sails and the hull moves through the water with waves lapping her side – there is nothing like it.

Being on a boat that is moving through the water it’s so clear… Everything falls into place in terms of what’s important, and what’s not.

James Taylor

Mentoring moment…

How is the COVID pandemic like being out on the ocean?

How has it made you more aware of what is going on, and what’s important?

I’d love to hear from you.

Where Did Everyone Go?


COVID Leadership Lesson #2

During the global pandemic, Dr. Carson Pue has been mentoring Christian leaders around the globe. In doing so, he has made some observations.

These are their stories.


Photo Credit: The Irish Times

Ministry organizations I am mentoring and coaching are now working with fewer people on staff. Staff members are absent due to sickness – either themselves or loved ones for whom they are caring. Others have left because they are caring for children home from school or due to furloughs or layoffs caused by the impact of closures and reduced revenue.

My friend Bob Kuhn, in conversation the other day, said the challenge ahead is discerning how to maintain the mission while modifying the methods. Not only a catchy phrase, but Bob also speaks wisely about the role of leaders in organizations and businesses today. In the book Essentialism – The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner considers “fewer things done better” as the most powerful tool for effective leadership. Essentialism, written in 2014, is perhaps the exact theme needed in 2020.

– Robert G Kuhn
Photo by Mark Arron Smith from Pexels

When asked by leaders how they are supposed to cope with all the reductions they are experiencing, I propose some questions to help think through what is essential, and how to maintain the mission with fewer paid staff and reduced financial resources.

Questions Leaders Can Ask

  1. What are the essential services we offer? Can we limit any other services or activities and put more resources into our essentials?
  2. With fewer staff, you cannot expect to do all you have done before COVID-19. Can we reduce the number of service hours we are open?
  3. Do you have any area of your organization where only one person knows how to do a critical part of your work or ministry? If a crucial member of the team became ill or indisposed, is anyone cross-trained to keep the organization going?
  4. Do you have any former staff or volunteers whom you might call on to ask for help during the pandemic?
  5. Is there some new service, resource or product that you might be able to retool with fewer workers and generate new revenue?
  6. What about you? If you were to become ill, have you identified who could make critical decisions in your absence?

I have been very encouraged by leaders who are not trying to be heroes, and who are inviting team members into leadership roles during this time.  I think in years to come we will look back and realize how this Covid-19 season re-calibrated teams and revealed previously unrecognized strengths within them. 

Keep your heart up,

Carson

Bee In The Greenhouse:

COVID Leadership Lesson #1

During the global pandemic, Dr. Carson Pue has been speaking with Christian leaders from around the globe. In doing so, he has made some observations.
These are their stories.

A bee followed me in through the door.

Last summer I was staying at a beautiful wee home in Northern Ireland. One of the features that I enjoyed was the garden off the kitchen. Beyond that, through the garage and across the lane, was a secret garden. This hideaway had a weaving mowed pathway back towards a grove of trees with benches situated to catch the sun at various points of the day.

The secret garden also concealed a small green house for starting plants and in it two chairs which proved delightful for relaxing and reading as it rained every day while I was there.

On one of my visits to the greenhouse, a bee followed me in through the door. After a short buzz around small glasshouse, it seemed confused about how to get out. I kept the door open and wanted to help the bee but instead of retracing its path, the bee insisted on pounding itself on the ceiling. Over and over again the bee would bounce off the clear glass. I imagined it wondering what on earth was happening when it could see through to the plants and trees beyond – a much more friendly place.

Finally, the bee slid over to the open vent and I was excited to anticipate its escape through the gap. However, the bee didn’t escape and went back to practising the same behaviour as the previous four minutes. Over and over again the bee banging itself against the clear glass as seemingly ignoring the large gap that would provide freedom.

After numerous attempts, the bee collapsed on the frame of the window and stayed still acting like an exhausted runner catching its breath. I was worried about the poor things life but after a few minutes, there was movement again. No flying this time, the bee was just crawling along the frame. Finally, the frame led it to the opening and spreading his wings he flew off into the world of trees, flowers and freedom.

Getting grounded was the path to the answer.

This image has stayed with me for months. I believe that the first thing a leader must do to make decisions is to get grounded. That is true at least for making the ‘right’ decisions. So in a time like the pandemic, many leaders feel like their feet have been knocked out from under them. They are no longer grounded and a form of panic can set in making you bump your head against the glass that prevents you from finding the answer.

The majority of leaders I have spoken to since the pandemic started have experienced this. The global crisis has hit us in waves, and each time a new wave comes, leaders have to pivot and change. This impacts us personally and organizationally. If we respond by symbolically hitting ourselves against the ceiling we will upset our team as they are looking to you for leadership in these times. Personally, it can induce fear and uncertainty that shakes you to your core. As a result, many feel like quitting or saying to me that they sense “God is moving them on”.

The leaders I am mentoring are by all measure successful. They are used to living with complex decision making and seemingly unending demands. As the frequency of decisions has intensified, throughout the pandemic many have not been prepared to deal with this.

Even though we have been in isolation, time seems to be absorbed with all there is to do, because the world keeps changing daily applying even greater demands on you. People speak about the world having stopped, but not so for leaders. We struggle to stay grounded in all aspects of life – our job, family and friends, our broader community and our faith life. Inevitably, you will have to make trade-offs as Andy Stanley describes in his book called “Choosing to Cheat”. You may see Andy speak about this here.

Staying grounded is important

Mature and seasoned leaders are aware of the importance of staying grounded. It is what keeps them from riding the roller coaster of emotions between “I am so great and have got this!” to “I am such a loser, and I think God is calling me on or right out of this ministry thing. What do they say they do to stay grounded? Here are some typical responses:

  • Spend time with family
  • Draw close to your best friends
  • Get some exercise
  • Practice spiritual disciplines like prayer, solitude, worship
  • Have an attitude of gratitude and thank God daily for your blessings
  • Serve others
  • Go to your spot, where you feel God’s calming presence

It is in practicing these that leaders can return to a stated of being grounded, and being grounded is essential to you being productive, authentic and integrated. This grounding is vital to their effectiveness as leaders because it enables them to preserve their authenticity.

So let me ask you this. Are you letting frenetic activity dominate your days and weeks? It happens easily, but let me encourage you to stay grounded. Do what works for you. Rest on that window frame and walk along with it slowly. Doing so will eventually reveal the opening that you need, just like that bee in the greenhouse.

They are all keeping busy!

Continuing my series on leading during COVID, I want to share an observation about leaders and their teams. When I ask about organizations and employees, I often hear leaders saying, “They are all keeping busy.”
Then I pursue this, “What they are doing?” Their answers are often, “I don’t know,” or “They are doing what they have always done.” Allow me to speak to both.

Photo: Gowling WLG

What are your team working on?

If you, as the leader, do not know what your team is doing, then I would want to talk about what is going on – with you. Several things may emerge.
• Consider your state. Things are not as they were, and you are in an altered state as a leader. Considering your concerns, how are you doing personally?
• It may reveal that you have not been overseeing your team well before this time of crisis.

The people you manage are a direct reflection on you.
Every member of your team is inwardly looking at their role in the organization and wondering if they might survive any layoffs necessary. So, of course, they want to be needed. You have probably noticed most of your team with their heads down and busy. The question that needs asking is if they are working on the right things. Without intentional supervision at this time, many just keep doing what has always been or gravitate to those things they really like doing and are good at. The problem is that things are not as they once were, and what we did before makes no sense in the immediate situation.

So what can we do?

This pandemic is going to change how you and your organization function both now and into the future. It is the time to double down on team meetings. Communication is so important to keep your people involved. There are few businesses or organizations that will escape not losing team members.

So, here are somethings we as leaders can do:
• Don’t hide from your people. Show them you are still the leader and that you are working hard to figure out the next steps.
• Help your team understand what leadership is working through now and keep them updated.
• Treat your people with respect. No one has done anything wrong here. The reality is our economy is experiencing devastation caused by the pandemic.
• Remember that it is not just about making the right decision, but it is how you communicate it.
• Show empathy. Your decisions affect the lives of individuals and families. As a Christian, I pray for team members privately. Sometimes, with permission, I even pray with them.

Take care…

These are such challenging days for leaders. Suddenly we are not leading. In fact we are being led by circumstances and they seem to change every three hours. We get exhausted because even simple things seem so difficult. Please take care of yourself. Reach out for help if you need it. These are not times to be all tough and proud. Put some boundaries around your days and find a few life-giving things you can still participate in and enjoy. We need you as the leader for such a time as this.

Keep your heart up,
Carson

Being the Leader in These Times … something no-one wants to be.

It doesn’t matter what training or experience you have. Nothing has prepared you for these leadership days of COVID-19. I have had mentoring calls with Christian leaders in the marketplace, ministry and not for profit organizations globally. There are some common themes in these calls.

Over the next while I am going to share observations from these conversations with leaders and pass on some mentoring insights to help you with your leadership.

What is your role?

Leaders are getting so caught up in the adrenaline powered hour by hour changes that they have abandoned their key role – leading the organization. Leaders are there to make hard choices for the sake of the organization and to honour your team. Your job is not to protect your people, it is to lead them through this as you care for the overall ministry or organization.

Perhaps more than at any other time your team need to see you lead with confidence, faith and skill. Allow your people to grow through this in their faith, and skill. Treat them with honour, dignity for who they are – even if they are laid off. No one was prepared for this.

Seeking Wisdom

Christian leaders are usually very compassionate people. I love that. It is just that sometimes it can get in the way of you having the space needed to make tough decisions. I coach leaders to find the space you need where you can ask God what to do. He has the wisdom that you need right now. The Bible reminds us in James 1:5 “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” And remember, this is coming from a God that cares about you and everything that concerns you.

But how do I know if the answer is of the Lord?

A question that often follows when I encourage praying for wisdom is, “But how do I know if the answer is of the Lord?” Two responses. One is that if it isn’t clear, then ask God to make it clear to you. The other is that we should look for His peace (shalom) to be upon us. Colossians 3:15 in the Amplified Bible states, “The peace of Christ [the inner calm of one who walks daily with Him] be the controlling factor in your hearts [deciding and settling questions that arise]. To this peace indeed you were called as members in one body [of believers]. And be thankful [to God always].”

Volatile, Uncertain, Complexity, Ambiguity

These are wild (VUCA) times: Volatile, Uncertain, Complexity, Ambiguity. Remember that you are not alone in this. Think of someone else in your line of work and give them a call. Encourage them in their leadership, share best practices, help each other with problems. get over yourself and reach out for help.

A windy Northern Irish Day

There is a great need right now for what is called spot coaching. It is a ten to fifteen minute call to help hold up the arms of leaders facing these challenges. I am going to offer FREE coaching to as many as I possibly can in the month of April and maybe beyond. My next post will have the details of how to book a time to talk, pray, cry, decide or be encouraged – whatever you need. Until then, as my mentor Barry Hawes used to say at the end of every call, “Keep your heart up.”

From the End of the Earth

Antarctica. This vast continent of ice and rock has been drawing me towards her shores for the past seven years and now she has forever changed my life.

To give an idea of scale, the leading edge of this glacier is 120 feet tall.

When Bob Kuhn and I were completing a three month trip around the world in the global south we shared our last supper in Aukland New Zealand. Bob was going to meet Renae in Palm Desert and I was leaving for Kauai to be with Brenda so we could unpack that experience with our wives.

Bob and I left the restaurant talking pensively about our trip and how it was sad to be splitting up the next day. In the midst of this we both said, “We should have gone to Antarctica.” It was the only continent that we have not travelled to together.

From that moment on, we would frequently look at each other and say “Antarctica” giving it a special power to invoke hope and vision. This year, we did it. We are here, and the impact of this adventure will stay with us for the rest of our lives.

My journal is filled with notes and observations that will provide fodder for future blogs and keynote addresses. I’m presently quite speechless about what we have experienced here. Others have described visiting Antarctica as like going to the moon. We are looking at the immensity of a part of the world largely untouched by human beings. What we are seeing is a dramatic series of contrasts between ice and stone, appearing just as it has been from long long ago.

“The thing that is most beautiful about Antarctica for me is the light. It’s like no other light on Earth, because the air is so free of impurities. You get drugged by it, like when you listen to one of your favorite songs. The light there is a mood-enhancing substance.”

― Jon Krakauer

It is going to take some time of reflection before I can share more, but I will.

Sure glad we came in their summer.

Four Years – Not Like Three

Martin Sanders
Dr. Martin Sanders

I was in Northern Ireland with my close friend and ministry colleague Martin Sanders on the fourth anniversary of Brenda’s death.

Martin’s wife Dianna died five years ago also in the month of August and we have been walking with each other through the grief the journey of grief and it has been so good to share life together.

The fourth anniversary of Brenda’s passing did not feel like the third. Being in Ireland this year was the first time away from my family on the anniversary. The family are doing well. This summer we had been together talking at Barnabas about how we were doing so I am comfortable with that – I just miss them when I’m away.

On the morning of the twelfth, Martin and I were invited for “a cuppa” by Dr. Arthur Peebles. (That is Northern Irish for coming by for a “wee cup of tea.” ) There we were, three doctors together in a quiet well lit Irish sitting room sharing together about the loss of our soul mates. Arthur lost his Ann four years ago and he and I have spoken of this on previous visits. Martin’s Dianna died five years ago August 22nd, and of course I also experienced the second loss of my fiancé Ruth.

We are all reasonably intelligent men and understand that the experiencing of grief is normal, but that doesn’t mean it’s simple. As we shared we discovered it hasn’t been easy for any of us. Often the most common shared experience was the longing for the companionship we once shared with our wives.

Science has demonstrated another dimension of why we crave companionship so strongly. When your loved one is alive, the comfort of their very presence sets off neural reward activity in your brain. After they pass away, adapting to the loss is compounded by the disappearance of this stimulus/reward activity. Over time, we learn to cope with the death and don’t expect this same reward. But if you struggle with complicated grief, your brain continues to crave it.

Dictionary.com defines craving as something you long for, want greatly, desire eagerly, and beg for.

We have come to take the perspective that God made us to crave so we’d always desire more of Him.