A Listening Posture and the Knuckleball

What is a ‘listening posture’? We know that it refers to a mental or spiritual attitude, but what is it like: Standing, sitting, lying prone? A baseball catcher spends much of his career in a crouch or squat. Many of the greatest baseball coaches were former catchers, because of way their role on the field prepares them for the coaching job. They are often said to be the on-field coach. The catcher has several jobs. The first is to call for a pitch, so they set things in motion. (the coaching question) The second is to catch the pitch. (hear the answer) If they fail to catch the pitch, it can mean disaster. So the alternative is to knock the ball down. It’s not ideal, but it can keep a runner from scoring. If the catcher misses the ball and a runner scores, the team may even lose the game. Ironically, the pitcher is the one who is said to have “won” or “lost” the game. But much credit is often due this on-field coach. The hardest pitch to catch is the knuckleball. This throw involves putting no spin on the ball so that the ambient air may direct the ball, herky-jerky, up, down or to the side. It can be nearly impossible to hit, but is also very difficult to catch, because the catcher can’t anticipate its direction; it doesn’t go fast, but it doesn’t go straight. The pitcher can’t spend his time worrying about whether or not the ball will be caught. A knuckleballer puts a great deal of concentration into the pitch. It can be impossible to hit, yes, but when thrown incorrectly it can also be the easiest pitch for a batter to hit. A listening posture is that crouch: ready to catch the expected or knock down the unexpected so that you can pick it up and toss it back to the speaker. A really good listener, like a confident catcher, is always calling for the knuckleball. Give me the unexpected, and I’ll knock it down, toss it back to you … and help you turn it into a win.


Congo Reflections Part 3: Faith in (removing/ replacing) the Mask

A jungle pins its own topsoil to the ground. Leave a slash-and-burn farming plot to its own devices for some time, just a year, and it will be overgrown. Things grow so easily but “improvements” are difficult to maintain.

There are stories from Congo about “improvements” such as railway lines and electrical lines that did not survive the building period– by the time a crew finished the line from A to B, the middle was choked with weeds, or the steel torn up, appropriated for other uses by those who live nearby -appropriated for something with a more immediate and concrete use. Of course the concept of ownership is different: land, or even steel, if not in obvious and apparent use, might be used by any passerby or neighbor. I cannot say that I know deeply or intimately the details of cultural differences here, but I can say that the differences are there, and I know the concept of intellectual property is tribal. Look at artwork: tribes co-create, with variations on a theme that may last hundreds of years.

But the written word: so devalued now in the West that we expect to buy your next book for $0.99 or even get a free download, the written word is still a rare and important gift.

Charles and I talked about how we determine which coach training materials ought to be translated into French. This isn’t easy. I’m concerned that any “coaching question” may become rote rather than a flexible framework.

I wonder if there’s a way to mesh the coaching idea with the tribal approach to intellectual property — the idea that we create variations on a theme. Can the questions be developed as a mask is developed? (Not a mask as we think of wearing at Halloween.) I’m talking about a mask as something passed through initiation rites, an entire persona, costume and spirit together, something fluid from generation to the next, adaptable as new materials become available, but rooted in a tradition of authenticity and vulnerability rather than the traditions of secret societies? And in that sense, there is some rote, certain steps to the dance, but room for creativity as well, like when an old costume is worn out and needs to be replaced, that suddenly the new one has Coke bottle caps attached.

As I consider this, I begin again to have faith that in Congo an approach to leadership, to coaching, and even to Christianity itself, can be contextualized by those who know themselves — by the Congolese. A mix of tradition, rote learning, dance steps that stay the same, building a framework for love, for authentic relationship, can emerge.

We want to bear faith to Congo that we believe the Congolese can integrate and contextualize coaching to help them take off masks that need to be removed, but that the idea of a mask-like conversational dance can be useful and transformational. This idea is very fresh for me as of the writing on June 3. More reflections to come.

How to Act (React) on Stage

Act I: Theater directors and acting coaches say that you should react to what other characters are saying, rather than just acting.

I think it ought to be said that you should think about whether or not your character is listening carefully to the other characters, or not.

This impacts how you react. Characters who respond in an inappropriate way (in the script) probably are doing so because they aren’t listening.

People generally aren’t good at it. Off-stage most reactions come from not listening very well to others. If you’re good at listening deeply, you’ll be able to act as though you aren’t, but the inverse is not true. If you can’t listen deeply offstage you won’t know how to portray it. Call it method acting if you will, but you can’t fake true listening. The audience will smell you out. Your reaction won’t ring true.

Act II: if you’re writing dialogue and the people in your dialogue understand each other perfectly, all the time, then you’re not writing multiple voices or characters at all. Interesting dialogue reflects reality — where people sometimes aren’t listening. That’s why a life coaching session transcript would make an awful script for the stage. But it can be fascinating to watch a live demonstration of life coaching as it unfolds. It’s more like watching sports, because it’s unscripted and anything could happen — and probably will. And when the coach is a good coach, the coachee is going to perform like an all-star.

The Art Of Motivational Listening

A publisher called EntrustSource has asked for my next book. This is NOT an indie project, but it’s a small publisher so they aren’t dumping a huge ton of money on me as an advance. In fact, there’s no advance at all. Here’s my Kickstarter project. My goal is to have $2000 in pre-sales by June 30. Learn more about it, see a really ridiculous video, and even get an early copy or contribute to the project here!

Here’s the “more serious” version of the video. If you want to see the ridiculous one, then you need to go to the Kickstarter campaign itself (via the link above) and check it out there.

Sustainable Fundraising without doing Events!?

I’m no expert at fundraising but our organization (Evergreen Leaders) has some great resources for individuals who raise their own support, as well as executive directors and directors of development. We’ve had clients who’ve taken their budget from 10K to 100K in two years. One of our board members, Carol Fesco, has used the system effectively for more than a decade as D of D for Horizon House in Peru, IL, and she’s going to co-facilitate a new fundraising coaching group with me. It’s been a while since we’ve helped anyone do this because we were latent for some time while our founder Rich Foss was ill, but we’re back, ready to rock n roll. The first meeting will be in June:

Next month, we’re starting a web-based coaching group to help people learn about development through a system that eschews events and promotes your story through a team I call your “volunteer ask force”.

The book we’ll be reading together is called GreenLight Fundraising (written by the aforementioned Mr. Foss) and can be purchased here. But we won’t stop with reading a book. We’ll celebrate successes and set action plans, we’ll distill principles and more than anything we’ll help you with healthy accountability to do the tasks that will help you grow that budget! I’m excited about combining these resources with my coaching skills to help my friends be fully funded. We’re going to dig in!

A handful of people have committed to joining this group, and our waiting list starts after we get eight people, so if you’re curious, let me know soon. There is a sliding-scale cost based on your annual budget, so talk to me about details. I appreciate any referrals you have for people who’re struggling to pay the bills for their non-profit, or want to double their budget over the next few years.

Can I coach my employee or not?

The question comes up all the time: If I can’t have an agenda for someone I’m coaching, can I ever truly coach people inside my organization, or not?

If the individual’s values are in alignment with the organization’s values and goals, then yes, a supervisor can coach anyone on issues related to strategies and tactics. The organization’s preferred strategies or tactics may not work for that person. Scrap them on an individual level if you’re both headed the same place with the same values. Coaching builds leaders internally and if you build leaders through their tasks, they’ll be grateful for the opportunity.

If the coaching goal revolves around issues where the individual and the organization are not aligned in terms of values or goals, then a third-party coach is better. The person who needs coached may find they also need to move on. Better to figure it out for themselves and make a shift to an organization where their values line up, than to hang on way too long, get burned out, frustrated, sabotage with complaining or other bad attitudes, and end up needing to be fired!

Know the difference between values and strategies/tactics, and you’ll know whom you can coach.