About the Author
Barry Finkelstein

Reflections on “Personal Best”

I came across an article in the New Yorker magazine a few weeks back written by Atul Gawande, an expert surgeon who engaged a fellow surgeon to serve as his personal  coach with the goal of keeping his skills sharp and helping improve his performance and results.    See Personal Best at The New Yorker online. Dr. Gawande calls attention to coaching analogies from sports and the arts, noting that elite athletes and singers often have personal coaches to help them be their best.  They observe them in action and suggest small or large adjustments in preparation, strategy, or technique.  Now as you might imagine it’s pretty rare for professionals like doctors and lawyers to enter into a formal coaching relationship.   The same is true in my business of management consulting.  Well as the New Yorker article indicates, the coaching experiment was quite successful, and Dr. Gawande is convinced that both he and his patients have benefitted.

This got me musing about the work that I do as a management consultant and more specifically as a congregational stewardship consultant.   I have never been hired explicitly to be a coach, but surely that is a large component of what I do – observe leaders in action, offer suggestions to help them do their work more effectively, and then work collaboratively to implement the suggestions.  This is true whether the engagement is to improve the services delivered by the information technology department of a large non-profit or to help foster a culture of generosity in our UU congregations.

So now I’m pondering what it would mean for me to think of myself as a coach and my clients as generally skilled leaders interested in improving their skills and effectiveness.    I wonder how my work would be different if I embraced the coaching spirit more fully and openly.   And how might I benefit from personal coaching?

Well, that’s as far as I’ve gotten with my musings.   I’d love to hear from others who have experience either as coaches or being coached.  I’m convinced that there’s something useful in the coaching model and would love some ideas about digging further into it.  Please comment and share your experience and wisdom.

Stewardship as Spiritual Discipline

A Mini-Sermon by Barry Finkelstein
UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant
Emerson UU Church, Marietta, GA
November 14, 2010

I am one of the crazy ones – the people who sign up to do stewardship in our churches.  Go around and talk to people about money.  Both in my own church and as one of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s congregational stewardship consultants – which is how I come to be among you this weekend.

When I ask myself why I do this, an image pops immediately into my mind.  An image of one of my former churches – South Church Unitarian Universalist – in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.   We’re in the sanctuary – a beautiful historic sanctuary inside a granite monument of a building – and it’s January 1 2008, a  Tuesday.  On what might have been an ordinary New Year’s Day, the church is filled with people, with energy, with magic.  A beautiful, powerful magic that changed the world. (more…)

What It Means to Give and Receive

As a UUA Congregational Stewardship Consultant, I am always eager to learn and explore new ways to tap into the deep pools of generosity among my fellow Unitarian Universalists.  At our most recent consultants’ retreat, Mary Gleason introduced us to a powerful exercise that invited us to explore what it means to give and what it means to receive, and how that might relate to stewardship at our congregations.

I have since tried this exercise at several congregations, including my own, with great success.  The exercise is simple and I commend it to you.  Just ask people to take a few quiet moments to think about a time they gave something to someone that was really special – something that really hit home and was the “perfect” gift for that person at that moment.  The gift need not be physical – it could be the perfect word or a hug or a smile.  Ask people to remember what it felt like to give that gift, and to imagine what it must have felt like to be on the receiving end.  Then ask them to do the whole thing in reverse, thinking of a time when they were on the receiving end of the perfect gift.  After a few moments of quiet reflection, I like to ask people to share their stories in pairs and then in the whole group.

Reactions to this exercise have been varied, sometimes surprising, often inspiring.  Some folks have had a hard time remembering giving or receiving any special gifts – they’re just not used to thinking in these terms.  For these people, this exercise stirred up some deep memories and new ways of understanding how they relate to other people.

My most powerful experience with this exercise was with a UU middle school youth group.  Now, middle schoolers are not always easy to reach, and I approached this with some trepidation.  The results were amazing!  The kids shared moving stories of the most personal gifts – a hand-written card, a poem, a drawing, a touch, just the right stuffed animal – and were articulate about the impact of these gifts.  The exercise has worked equally well with people of all ages.   The sharing of giving and receiving stories lets people reach into the depths of their human connections, and after all isn’t that a big part of what we’re about in our UU congregations – and what stewardship is all about?  No matter how much time I allow for these sharing moments, it’s never enough.

As stewards of our congregations, we are called upon to be cheerful givers and grateful receivers.  May we tap into our spirits of generosity by lifting up what it means to do this work with grace and love.