06 Oct STRENGTHENING MY PASTORAL LEADERSHIP SKILLS WITH CAREER COACHING
It has always been my mission to serve. I once held a 23-year military tenure in logistics operations at the RSN Naval Transport Base. The soldier’s spirit of putting others before oneself had awakened my growing inclination for the spiritual path, which led to the onset of my years of missionary service.
During my time in the clergy as an ad-hoc missionary, I was facing difficulties with my transition to a full-time missions director. Besides conducting worship and counsel services, I was also expected to facilitate foreign missionary efforts in our parish visitations.
Hence, the new role requires excellent people management and communications skills to navigate through the cultural sensitivities present in an internationally diverse congregation.
I was confiding in Vasanthi, a fellow church member, about my general anxieties regarding the transition when she encouraged me to join the RACE Leadership & People Management diploma course. It was exactly what I needed then to better prepare myself for the bigger responsibilities ahead. I wanted to be a better pastor to my congregants, and that inspired the need to develop my leadership skills further.
CAREER COACHING HELPED ME SOFTEN MY PARENTING STYLE
Initially, I didn’t understand the need for the complimentary career coaching sessions in our training curriculum. I was hesitant about having to share my personal stories with a complete stranger. My coach, Miss Koh Puay Eng, would often challenge me to expand my creativity by building unique Lego designs during our earlier sessions. I was puzzled over the use of such strategies and had preferred to work directly on my professional skillsets instead. Puay Eng persisted in building a genuine connection with me, and I started to gain trust and confidence in her professionalism.
She eased me into the coaching process through a casual discussion about family. I am almost 54 in age, have four adult children but I have never thought to question the way I brought them up. This only came after an honest reflection upon Puay Eng’s gentle prompting of my parenting decisions. For the first time, I noticed how strict and military-like I had been with my children. My relationship with them was distant and formal, resembling that of a commander and his men. My husband, however, has always been warm, loving and kind; quick to spare the rod.
While my children were growing up, my husband and I would often fight over our differences in parenting styles. Whenever my husband tried to reason for how our children needed to be heard and not to be told what to do, I would be fiercely adamant about the need for them to respect and obey those in authority. I was seeking to maintain the traditional hierarchical relationship between parents and their children, which resembled my own experiences with my parents.
Through Puay Eng’s patient questioning, I slowly became aware of how my regimented military lifestyle in the past had shaped my belief system, and how unconsciously I have been operating in those rigid ways for years. I began to discover how my instinctive response to silence my children’s attempts at questioning my authority had driven a wedge between us. With Puay Eng’s help, I’m starting to realize that my husband may have been right all along in how I needed to listen more actively to communicate better.
CHANGING MY COMMUNICATION STYLE TO BECOME A LISTENING LEADER
I want to be a leader who listens. I need to work on myself first in order to improve my relationship with my family and to be a better leader for my congregation. This sudden awareness that came with career coaching is key to the reinvention of my management and communication styles. Puay Eng held me accountable for the smart goals I have learned to set under her guidance. She has also been my cheerleader in my first steps towards change.
Puay Eng would often guide me to figure things out on my own. She used the context of parenting to reveal the flaws in my communication style without explicitly pointing them out. Likewise, to emphasize the management techniques taught in the training module, ‘Managing People’, we focused on real-life application using several role-playing scenarios. Everyone has their own unique interpretation of the world which affects their communication styles. Not everyone communicates in the same way as I do. I learned the importance of making a deliberate effort to be slow to my reactive instincts, seeking first to understand the perspectives others have before responding with my own.
UNDERSTANDING THE PAST AND IMPROVING PRESENT FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS
I had previously found my mother to be overbearingly difficult when I missed my daily calls back home, but I now understand that her emotions probably came from a place of concern that was merely disguised in the form of anger. I took a deliberate step at slowing my familiar reactive modes to see things from her end. My mother is likely to be lonely, worried about our lives, and she may not know how to express herself well. Despite our generational differences and their initial skepticism about my commitment to change, my children have since witnessed the efforts I have been making to actively listen in order to reach out to them, and my family relationships have improved significantly.
A BETTER LEADER IN FAITH THROUGH EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION
Through an introspection on my family relationships, I realized how universal these communication and interpersonal skills are in both parenting and leadership. The context may be different and the players may change but what underlies it remains: A good leader takes care of her people by listening actively to them.
Since my previous role as an ad-hoc missioner, I have been observing the interactions between the local and foreign parishioners for a while now. We may congregate together in the same house of worship, yet remain isolated in our distinct social groups. My transition to a higher leadership position gave me the privilege to bring people together and build trust in the congregation through our common faith. I wanted to bridge the differences between the two groups and found the people management techniques taught in the course to be very useful in my cause.
RENEWED CONFIDENCE AND TAKING ACTION AS A LEADER
I have organized informal gatherings, and would intentionally pair them up in a buddy system for our service. Our foreign parishioners are mostly construction workers who often saw themselves as inferior to our local parishioners who are largely in white-collared jobs. Increased opportunities for interaction helped them to gain a better understanding of one another despite their class differences. It has helped us to grow closer and stronger as a church.
Since my sessions with Puay Eng through the RACE programme, I have grown a lot more competent in my counsel work and have eased into my new leadership position. Previously when I was still operating in my rigid mold, the challenges of managing the church felt insurmountable. Equipped with better communication and people management skills now, I have renewed confidence in my journey as a leader for my congregation.
If you would like to start your path to career success now, visit here to learn more about the RACE program.
“Strengthening my Pastoral Leadership Skills with Career Coaching”
as narrated by Susanna R.Krishnakumari, written by Carol Boey.