What You Do When People Are Watching

Jessica Winkler - Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sitting across the undersized table smelling faintly of pencil lead, I once again engaged one of my son's teachers. My son was challenged by a number of different learning disabilities, requiring certain accommodations by his teachers. Complicating matters further was the fact that this was the fourth time we had moved, and so he had to be retested and reclassified in each state. It usually took a few pointed discussions with his teachers before he received what he needed in order to learn. I felt completely ill equipped to advocate in this way; I didn't even understand all of his needs completely, but my son had no one else. I advocated for him over and over again. I learned from repeated push-back how to make my points clearer. I learned from repeated conflict how to influence someone else to see my goals for my son as their own. "Okay, then we both agree we want my son to be successful..."

My son watched and learned. 


Fast forward to present day. My son now understands how to advocate for himself. He watched, he copied and he learned. Occasionally I noted that my other two children are not nearly as skilled at advocating for themselves. It is in these moments that I am reminded of the importance of modeling skills to others. In the best of times--but especially in busy, uncertain, or difficult times--we are given opportunities to positively influence and teach those who watch us. We leave a legacy in these times whether or not we want to, for good or bad. What kind of legacy are you leaving through your actions to help people make the world a better place?

Could Security Contribute to Creativity?

Jessica Winkler - Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Millennials, the youngest generation to enter the workforce with a force, has been the fodder of much consternation for the older, more seasoned generations of Xers and Boomers. 

While this blog will not be able to even begin to address the complicated dynamics of Millennials’ unique impact on what can be an entrenched way of doing business, I had to share one thought. I was confounded when I read a recent study by Pew research that found that up to one third of 25-34 year-olds currently live with their parents. 

Years of “helicopter” parenting have left an impact. 

A positive by-product of parental hovering has given Millenials a strong sense of security—that they will be protected from any true malfeasance. Has this sense of security empowered many Millenials to think “bigger?” Millenials make up some of the most creative and innovative individuals I’ve ever met. Does creativity need a safe place to develop—a place where ideas can be voiced and cared for? 

What can those of other generations learn from our younger co-workers? How can we support this sense of security that encourages creativity, risk, and no-holds-barred thinking?

How Wide is Too Wide for an Introvert?

Jessica Winkler - Thursday, October 16, 2014

I admit I felt panic rush over me at the thought of using my counseling training for a group in India. My strong reaction indicated more than just my insecurity and apprehension of leaving the comfort of my home and community. I realized that it wasn’t even the cross-cultural experience that concerned me, it was being with the same four people for 24 straight days (and nights!) that made my heart pick up pace. 

Moving out of my comfort zone as an introvert and communing 24/7 with a small group of people seemed volatile, unmanageable and so exposed. I know I can self-manage through rejection and fear but involving others seemed less secure. I cannot control someone else’s commitment, moods, motivation or acceptance of the real me. 

And yet I am called to stretch myself in the outdoor air of community. Without connection to community, my ideas become inbred and lacking in diversity, my energy self-reliant, and my perspective uniform. While solitude and meditation are very appropriate ways to cultivate depth, such practices alone lack the synergistic power that comes through vulnerable relationship with others. 

In the end, I went and my introvert soul survived. At the end of the 24 days, as the other four women and I walked slowly away from each other, dragging our battered luggage behind us, our faces were wet with tears. A piece of my heart went with each of them.

What Will You Do Differently?

Jessica Winkler - Thursday, October 16, 2014

Last night I was looking at my calendar that is beginning to fill up with black notations all over November and December. The holidays are purported to bring joy, and yet what I have found the last few years is that they fly by in a whirl of activities—my enjoyment often taking a second seat to the breakneck pace. I have decided I have to make things different this year, to make a conscious decision to let a few things go… to be still, relax and dream. Personal growth requires time to think, ponder, question, reason through, appreciate, value and prioritize. In other words, it requires some down time. There is no way around it. Remember, flying through life does not allow us to live life. Flying through the holidays leaves us feeling empty after a time that should fill our souls. Time is one thing we cannot manufacture more of, and is therefore our most valuable commodity. What will you do to slow down and smell the hot chocolate this holiday season?

To College or Not to College?

Jessica Winkler - Thursday, October 16, 2014

As a parent of three kids currently enrolled in college, the painful contrast of money spent on tuition (and room and board, books and…) verses the missed dollars they could be earning with a full-time job is sharply digging under my ribs. 

Time magazine (October 29, 2012) reports that by 2020, 65% of all jobs will require a post secondary education. A master’s degree is what an undergraduate degree used to be valued at. The cost of those degrees continually rises. In 1993, 46% of college students had debt, averaging $14,500. In 2011 that number had increased to 66% having debt, averaging $26,600. The crushing figure entwined in this is the unemployment rate for college grads: 1.5 million. Put another way, 53.6% of bachelor's degree-holders under the age of 25 are jobless or underemployed. 

Is the value of these degrees worth the money spent? As we look at rapidly changing environments where innovation is king—are college degrees really the best way to spend our dollars and our time? What if we spent as much energy finding mentors and learning from them in dynamic practically applied cultures? Could we then get away with less formal schooling? Before you get defensive, please know I am highly educated and love what I learned in the colleges I attended. But is that the best course now, for our younger generations?

To formula or not to formula—that is the question…

Jessica Winkler - Thursday, October 16, 2014

“That’s why we invited you to come and train,” She said matter-of-factly. “You Americans have a formula for everything.”

I was a little taken aback and didn’t know if I should be complimented, insulted or something in between. I was doing a number of trainings for a group in Bogota, Columbia a few weeks ago. Their desire was to establish mentoring relationships between a group of entrepreneurs and mentors who are experts in their field to advise their mentees through their business start-up. I do believe in structure for some aspects of the mentoring relationship—setting expectations, and utilizing certain skills—and I had just proceeded with the aspects I felt in my experience transferred cross-culturally. But looking back on the content, it did come across as pretty formulaic. And I also had to agree, we as Americans and I myself do have a formula for many things. I know for me formulas give me comfort in knowing expectations and how to plan. But I think the difficulty comes when life doesn’t fit neatly in a formula as we expect. Columbians are much more spontaneous, taking cues from relational signals and cultural norms in a real time action, rather than following formulas.

She said “we are much less rigid but in this case we know we need more structure or this mentoring initiative won’t work.” I smiled realizing that this is exactly why I love working in other cultures—the marriage of differing ways of doing things can produce something so much more effective than a singular, myopic approach. Some structure combined with the spontaneous Columbian way of doing things would make for a very dynamic mentoring relationship for the people involved in the program. 

So what about you? Are formulas working for you or are they possibly preventing you from more fully living out your personal and professional potential?

From Dragging Feet to Complete Buy-In

Jessica Winkler - Thursday, October 16, 2014

Twenty one schools from all over the globe. China, Afghanistan, Bolivia, Indonesia, Kenya, Thailand…just to name a few. The Network of International Christian Schools and Oasis Schools had brought in their school directors from all across the world to be encouraged, to train, and to give them a venue to recruit for staffing. I have been working with this organization now for 18 months and have fallen in love with the leaders and their passion for teaching children from all nations. I had the privilege of training this group in mentoring and leadership development. We have been doing a pilot with them over this past year to create a mentoring culture in two of the schools. The results have been significant. As I find frequently, there was some feet dragging when the idea was presented to the pilot group of directors last year. Where would they find the time? Would this just be another “program” added to already pressed schedules? But yesterday the two schools piloting the program were able to enthusiastically recommend the mentoring initiative. Their problem was no longer earning employee buy-in but instead finding more time for the mentoring pairs to meet more often. Even they seemed a bit surprised at how well things have gone. A tribute to the power of human relationships and mentoring. 

If these schools experiencing stretched resources, limited time and energy have found mentoring to be a welcome tool, you can too. You may be feeling like them, stretched, limited and low on energy. Why not give the power of mentoring a chance to encourage you? Who might you work with in a mentoring relationship? Who might you ask to speak into your life? Don’t wait.

Honesty, the Only Policy

Jessica Winkler - Thursday, October 16, 2014

The question frequently surfaces. What qualities make a good leader? Are there certain qualities that every leader should possess? I have seen lists of traits that are desirable, but I will put forth the assertion that honesty is one non-negotiable in a leader. Honesty inspires trust. People follow who they trust. People are more willing take risks when they trust. People become more engaged while they trust. 

Honesty is at the core of sustainable leadership. And what about the crushing lack thereof? Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Bernard Madoff. Jimmy Swaggart. Lance Armstrong. Betrayal of the public faith. Trust broken. Their once strong leadership quickly diminished with a lie.

John Maxwell wisely states that people buy into the leader before they buy into the vision. When honesty is blown it is difficult to recoup that buy-in. In today’s world, leadership is moving from the power of authority to the power of influence. Influence is the currency of leadership, no longer position or titles. Influence requires trust, with honesty the most basic coinage in the bank of trust. 

Would you agree that honesty is the most basic trait of leadership?

What Can You Do?

Jessica Winkler - Thursday, October 16, 2014

Catching up on my reading with a back issue of TIME magazine I came across a disturbing statistic: 349—The number of U.S. Military suicides in 2012, more than the 295 troops killed in combat in Afghanistan during the year. Really!?!? 

I cannot even begin to understand the complexity of the problem but it touched me deeply. Where have we as a country failed? How can we support these brave people as they come back to life as usual—back from an earthly hell? Regardless of your political beliefs, the point where a person decides that life here is not worth living deserves our reflection. 

We live here listening to the radio and watching video that portrays a world that many of us know little or nothing about. We rely on the media—biased to be sure—and don’t necessarily see the life stories that result from blanket decisions made here on American terra firma.

How can we be a better support to those not in our everyday purview? How can we support the broken? How can we be more intentional about breaking from our “tyranny of the urgent” myopic stances that ignore the daily pain of others? And why am I addressing an issue of which I have little understanding? Please know I ask this first of myself because I have failed miserably in raising up and looking outside of my current circumstances by justifying my lack of action as needed self-concern. I write this in a hope that we can begin to step up in practical ways to care for the unseen pain of people who may not be that much like us in their experience but deserve our respect and care nonetheless. What practical helps do you have? How can you be more proactive in places you don’t understand?

There is No Substitute for Time

Jessica Winkler - Thursday, October 16, 2014

A few years back, my soon-to-be college bound teens and I decided to venture into the wild—well at least the wild that a pre-made campsite with running water could provide. The campsite was beautiful and also offered a guarded hope for time together that teenage busyness often steals. Cell phones with no service. An electronics fast. Sitting around a fire. The perfect conversational moment. As dark fell, Sammi and Joe began to speak, often finishing each other’s narratives. The closeness of their age had forged a bond rarely articulated, but audible through the fire’s smoke. The flames magnified smoldering issues that existed just below the surface. As we sat, hidden concerns were aired, filling the dark night. They talked of three friends attempting suicide this summer, one still in critical condition. Another friend nearly dying of alcohol poisoning. Lesbianism. Bulimia. Pornography. Disdain for God, parents, country, self. Their concerns felt like hot pokers, eliciting sorrow, anger, helplessness, fear. My parental instincts make me want to extinguish their pain. Their daily challenges were so different from my teenage years. What will their futures look like after walking through these flames of adolescence? 

I realized that I don’t have all the answers about their futures. I have the feeling that what they will end up doing may be with companies, occupations and technologies that don’t even exist yet. And ultimately it is just that, their futures. But I am convicted at my lack of intentionality in stoking vital fires within them…after all, my role as a parent is to influence and lead. Where had I let my own busyness postpone important conversations in favor of the tyranny of the urgent? Or maybe the topic was too hot for me to find a way to broach it, avoiding the inevitable discomfort. What can I do now to further impart the values I hold so dear, to give them the tools to see the light though the smoke, to make choices that will move them forward not leave them in a piles of ash? 

Whether you are a parent or not, you are called to influence those around you. Is there a conversation you need to have with someone that you keep putting off? Is there someone you need to go on an “electronics fast” with and spend a few uninterrupted hours experiencing the deeper conversation that only expanded time allows? How can you be intentional about carving out unbroken time with those you have the unique opportunity to influence and push the daily grind past superficial existing into impactful living?

Mentor Leadership Team




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