Coaching and Politics on Super Tuesday

Back in 2009 as I was working my way through a professional life coaching course, I had a peer / colleague who sent me an email that was political in nature.

I realized right then that what we were learning about being life coaches was in conflict with the nature of making one’s political opinion known. Your opinion is exactly what you’re trained to keep out of the conversation. You don’t betray your opinion because it doesn’t matter. Your client’s agenda is king, and your agenda not only should remain hidden, but in fact, should not even exist.

It seemed to me that broadcasting one’s political opinion, even outside the confines of a professional relationship, was antithetical to the process of becoming a coach at heart. On a practical level, since our nation is so divided along party lines, making your personal opinions known will essentially alienate 48-52% of your prospective clients. On a deeper, almost spiritual level, becoming an “ear” means learning to silence your voice. Your job is to support the growth of others, but not to tell them which direction to grow in.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve recently been to Thailand where I began to rediscover my voice as a poet, and I recognize that the point of being a writer at all is to share opinions (in my case, that comes in a variety of forms from poetry to fiction to creative essay). Furthermore, my desire to exhort my friends to growth includes a general appeal to be well-read, to be erudite, to seek to understand the world about you via a variety of travel experiences whether they be through books or on a bicycle or airplane. Getting to a different time and place is crucial for gaining perspective, which is, in turn, crucial for growth. When I write, I hope that I invite people to find different perspectives, and when that happens, I invite them to use their own ears.

I am writing this on “Super Tuesday” and by the time I’ve saved this overnight I expect to find that Donald Trump is most likely going to be the Republican candidate for the Presidency. I would prefer not to say which of the other four major candidates remaining (alphabetically, Clinton, Cruz, Rubio, and Sanders) I am promoting, but I do say this:

We need to start looking past Donald Trump. He’s so good at holding the spotlight we think that if and when he goes away, it will be over. But Donald Trump represents a natural disaster which has already struck our shores and ripped its way from atop the purple mountains’ majesty and across the fruited plain. His demagogy is detrimental not only to how we will see ourselves in the future, but how the world will see us too– even if he isn’t ultimately elected! Demagogy means that he stirs people up by playing on their emotions and prejudices to win them over quickly and gain power. He is the living definition of this word! Another word that reflects the behavior we’ve seen at his rallies is mob-fascism. We should be very concerned that fascism in some form is on the rise. It will not end with Trump, whether he is elected or not. There are people who are hungry for the controlled environment that comes with fascism, and there are apparently a lot of them. Donald Trump doesn’t seem smart enough to create this wave; but he sure knows how to surf it. He will mock anyone and everyone for a laugh, and that is how it starts. Incidentally I have seen many conservatives point out that programs like SNL, which were very edgy in the 1970s as they poked fun at homosexuality, also paved the way for gay marriage. Making fun of things is the first step to making them okay.

Trump is making it okay to beat people up and throw them in the street without their coats, and that is what the fascist mob is hungry for.

Now, I’m not saying Trump is a Nazi, because he’s not. But I would like to point out that the World War II Axis Powers included Mussolini’s fascist Italy and Hitler’s Nazi Germany working together. Trump working with Putin, for example, would be a pretty bad deal for the world. And we know they are mutual admirers.

The fires of fascism were already in Smaug’s belly here in the United States, rumbling about inside a sleeping beast, hibernating during the winter of anti-intellectualism. Trump, in his craving for popularity, perhaps silly as a dwarf whose eyes are only on the gold, has aroused that dragon. Sooner or later, we’re going to get burned. Trump may lose to Clinton or Sanders (I daresay he will, though he’s defied every pundit who says surely he can’t continue to rise). But for the people, this desire for the fascism-sponsored cotton candy sugar rush of self-righteousness multiplied by fear that he offers as flippantly as he tosses the coif on his head, no, this is not going to go away. Within another four to eight years, another demagogue may rise on Trump’s shoulders and take this country into some truly dangerous places, and growth, as sponsored by erudition, will have to hide behind multiple levels of false identities on the internet as though it were the worst kind of explicit and graphic images.

Mockers ultimately do not like to be mocked, nor do demagogues, no more than terrorists do. We saw what happened at Charlie Hebdo. Can we imagine that a party here might eventually be serious and dangerous enough to go after a Late Show host? You’d better believe it can happen.

Growth promoters will not be able to call themselves things like “Adam G. Fleming.” Am I speaking doomsday? Not entirely. Will all be well if Trump loses the presidency? No, it will not. Smaug is awake, and he is not happy. He will feed. The danger is not Trump, it is the wave he’s surfing, a wave that’s getting bigger, not fading. The real danger is in thinking that Trump is the wave (just because we think the hair he sports is the biggest wave we’ve ever seen). With or without Trump the wave is going to cascade across our beaches and suck some part of us out to sea, probably a very innocent and beautiful part of us, probably that part that makes people around the world say to each other “I’d move there in a heartbeat.”

“Oh, wait, Adam, are you saying we should be afraid? Then you’re a demagogue yourself.”

I am not saying we should be afraid. I am saying we should practice erudition. We should read, we should have our eyes and ears open, we should see what is coming, and we should even be willing, if we would love our enemies and lay down our lives for our friends, to get out of the way when the mob mentality comes rolling. We should stand up and call the dragon by name, because otherwise people might just think it’s a friendly little earthquake which will pass and not something with jaws that’s on a warpath. I’ve often been curious what made the difference between Jews who left Germany in the early 1930s and those who stayed until it was too late. I think there are a lot of factors and it’s probably impossible to narrow it down to one thing, and it’s not pleasant to say “they didn’t see this coming” because it sounds like blaming the victim. But if some really deep crap is coming down the pike, I don’t want to be the one who says “I’ve invested too much here to leave” and put my children in harm’s way. I won’t be a victim. When people say they “would move away” and we don’t take them seriously, we’ve forgotten that at almost all times, there is some place in the world where they are moving away. Usually those refugees are leaving well after the time when it might have been expedient. If I’m going to leave, I’d like to think I’ll do it before it becomes so difficult.

This is why I feel it’s worth standing up and making a political statement, even though I’m a coach who isn’t supposed to have an agenda: it’s because I do have an agenda, the coach really does always have an agenda, the coach always has had an agenda, and that agenda is authenticity and growth. I hope for an America unafraid of growth and the unpleasant changes that come with it, not for a mockery of what makes America great, the plastic masquerade of success and righteousness as a glossy film over the ugly head of control and fascism.


Who’s in your house?

How much community can you handle? Back when I was a young man our church identified the Biblical or Greek concept of oikos, a word which means, more or less, household. It annoys me to use Bible-sounding language when unnecessary, so I’ll just say house in italics to represent this concept of close relationships. I remember that the magic number for how many people you can reasonably have close relationships with at a time was 30.

We like to think we can handle more, but count out how many people you’ve had significant conversations within the last 21 days (since the beginning of the year, post-holidays).  Now look at how many of that group you have a significant conversation with on at least a monthly basis for the last year, or solid, tangible plans to do so this year. The number shrinks rapidly.

My house includes a wife and four kids. They are a sixth of my close community. After that, I had a meeting with my non-profit’s board chair (6). A small group that meets by phone, five more people (11). A significant conversation with one member of our congregation I talk to pretty regularly, on a deep level, oh, but he’s in the aforementioned small group. Nine coaching clients (most of these count as work relationships to some extent, but on another level my job is to provide a significant relationship in other peoples’ houses.) (20). Even though it is my job, I can still only participate in a limited number of deep relationships. I can build a bigger house by having this sort of “relationship hosting” as my livelihood, the money allows me the time for more than 30. At most, if I retain any sense of balance, the number doubles to 60. If i was meeting with three times more coaching clients per month, not only would I be maxed time-wise, I’d be falling over with relational exhaustion. And I’m an extrovert!

I have 899 Facebook friends. As if it is some sort of badge of honor, popularity, or marketing reach. It is, in fact, to some extent all of these things. But it should not be mistaken as part of my house.  

Think critically about who’s in your house. You need some who give something to you, a few you give to, and many who give a relatively even relational value exchange. If you get out of whack you start complaining on social media, because you’ve forgotten that the virtual world isn’t your house. It’s not pretty. Sometimes there are people like Goldy Locks Who are in your house breaking your furniture and eating your gruel. Get them out, unless you intentionally invited them and have some boundaries (Ok, you can eat the gruel, but no going into the parlor and breaking my china). Does this mean you can’t find a measure of community online? Of course not.

Think about it this way: coaches use a Wheel of Life to help you chart your satisfaction in a variety of areas, usually 8-12 areas like work, spiritual life, family, finances, health, marriage, and hobbies. Having at least one person you can share authentically with about your progress or failure in each area is critical. Perhaps your spouse is a great sounding board for work, your spiritual life, but tunes out when you bring up golfing. OK, find somebody else in your house to talk to about that. This is where the internet can prove handy, especially when you’re a Scrabble geek, or you like lengthy discussions about … community. Thanks for reading!













Smaller and Quieter in 2016

I got to do a lot of extra listening this month as I completed the Final Evaluations (they’re called “4C Evaluations” though I don’t know why) for a group of new coaches I’ve been helping train all year. I say even less than normal during an Eval because the trainees are coaching each other, and I just observe quietly for a full 40 minutes before I say a word.

One of my trainees did a very nice job coaching, helping the other person (the coachee) to slow down and take time to process something, and as I debriefed the session, I had a picture in my mind:

Have you ever watched the Kentucky Derby or another major thoroughbred horse race? At the end of the race a racehorse is all geared up for speed. Their heart is racing and they’re doing exactly what they were born to do: fly around a track in 2 minutes or so. But they have to cool off gradually so they don’t pull a muscle or whatever. The jockey is there, of course, reining them in, but they need more help.

Next time you watch a race, notice the horse that comes alongside this thoroughbred. The Alongside Horse comes up and communicates with the racer, helping them ease out of their wild-minded, chomping at the bit excitement, so that they can cool off gradually. In other words, the trainer makes sure the horse has a friend who can help him settle down and refocus on what’s next. The Alongside Horse isn’t a great racer — they’re a calming influence. That’s a totally different kind of horse. If these horses were on the DiSC scale, the thoroughbred would be a HIGH D while the Alongside horse is probably anything else.

It’s not unusual to see coaching clients who are going from one thing to the next so fast they don’t have time to breathe.

So, rather than bigger and better in 2016, my mantra is smaller and quieter, calmer. Helping people ease out of their fast-paced life and stop for a moment to breathe.


Listening to your Family

I’ve been writing about writing on Thursdays, community on Saturdays. If you missed the Fusions in the Void check the archives, especially if you’re in a valley or desert season in your life, or in what has traditionally been known as The Dark Night of the Soul since St. John of the Cross identified it that way. That series ran every Tuesday for the last 15 weeks.

Time for something new on Tuesdays, and I guess at least for a one-off I’ll talk about Motivational Listening again. Once the holidays are over I’ll evaluate whether I want to run a series on Tuesdays or just do one-offs on listening. Feel free to drop me a comment and leave a request for me to comment on any particular topic.

Listening to your family:

I get so busy with coaching clients sometimes that I forget to listen carefully to the few things my children and my wife say to me. This is so convicting, it’s worth writing about over and over.

Around Christmas and New Year’s we get together with the people we most need to listen to, and we do our best to ignore their opinions and ideas. Sometimes that’s healthy. My sister-in-law announced to the entire family on Christmas Day at breakfast that she hoped we could suspend any political discussions for a day. And it’s not that we fight, so much, it’s just that we can spend one day enjoying each others’ company without digging into things that can cause friction. So we stayed away from it, because, sister, I’m listening. If you listen for peoples’ desire for peace, you can support it.

My mother-in-law said grace at brunch on Christmas Day. Halfway in she choked up, to her own surprise. She’s so grateful for the grandkids; I think she’s pleased, for the most part, with even her sons-in-law. I’m grateful for a mother-in-law who loves the family so much that praying over them would move her to tears. Mom, I’m listening. If you listen to people, you can see where their love rests, and learn from their love.

My father-in-law, a staunch Republican, surprised me this morning (the moratorium on politics over) that he’s thinking about voting for [candidate X] because he’d rather have [ideology X] in the White House than [Lord and Master of the Minions and Inhabitants of Hades X]. At first I thought he was joking, but realized that he’s not missing the big picture when he watches the GOP debates. I’m listening. He often comes across with self-degrading language that indicates we who have college degrees are smarter than he is. This is not true. He has a variety of street smarts I’ll never touch. If you listen to people, really listen, you’ll begin to see where they know more than you do, and recognize the places where you can learn from them.

My wife asked me (as I posted in a different discussion Saturday about community) to make sure to spend time with my children during the vacation, and not immerse myself in books and writing while we’re at the in-laws. I’m listening. She’s going out with her sisters this afternoon to see about mounting her deceased grandmother’s diamonds. I’ll be parent-on-duty. It’ll be fun! The kids are having such a great time with their gifts, and with their cousins. If you listen to your spouse and children, you’re clued in to their needs, and you can give them what they hope for. Jesus talked about how if a son asks his father for a fish, would he give him a stone? No! Unless he isn’t listening. Then, he might give him a stone, or just nothing. Listen, then give fish.

My dad likes to give people five dollar bills on occasion and not for any reason that they earned, but just because he loves them. He calls it “a fish”, too. I love to tell my kids I’m proud of them. They always say “why?” and I say, “because you’re my son/daughter. That’s all the reason I need.” This builds the relational capital they’ll need to have with me one day when it’s time to come to me and tell me something they’re afraid I don’t want to hear. I only hope they trust me enough to tell me. To know that I’ll be listening.

Listening like this happens out of unconditional love for one another. Learning to listen better is the best gift we can give each other for the New Year.

Once in a while at the end of my blog I like to remind you that I have books for sale and would love to sign one for you and ship it out. Please cruise over to the bookstore and purchase one … or both! I appreciate your support!

Writer’s Group: Setting a really great goal

What sort of goal pushes you but is attainable? That’s what Justin and I have decided to push ourselves and our group toward, so that each one is making headway in writing their book.

I’m setting this blog up a few days in advance. I committed to 15,000 words this month and I have just over a thousand left, two days to go. I’ll attain my goal. I’ll push for that last amount partly because I’m leading and it would be poor leadership if I don’t lead by example, and partly because I’m serious about meeting my goals anyway. And partly because I’m committing to it once again, with 51 hours to go.

We fully expect that the writers in our group will publish their books sooner, more frequently, and with more quality than if they were not in the group.

Yesterday I sent my editor my final comments on the first round of corrections for the full draft. In less than two weeks, my goal is to finalize all the copy and send it to press. I’m ambitiously shooting for publication, for books in my hands, by December 1.

Set your goals just low enough that you can attain them every month, and just high enough that it will take effort. Both of these are important. You MUST attain your goal each month, otherwise you become discouraged. You must also set it high enough that you have to work for it. Otherwise it’s not a goal. Think of it this way: if you say “my goal is to eat three square meals a day” but you already do that anyway, as sort of a natural course of events, it’s not really a “Goal,” is it? But if you change the goal to something like this: “I will eat small portions including hard boiled eggs and carrot sticks six times a day, making sure to chew my food completely, and cut out sweets for the next eight weeks” there is a pretty good chance you can do it, and a pretty good chance it will take some conscious effort. Just like health and fitness goals, writing goals must be attainable to keep up your enthusiasm and courage, and hard enough to let you know there’s effort involved. Best of luck in November, when many people write short novels … but you could be writing novels every month with just a little more regular discipline and accountability!

Writer’s Group: Even when editing

Justin and I were talking about what to do with those in the group who are moving into heavy editing phase. If you’re editing, I said, you still need to keep momentum going, perhaps even for your next project. So we’re encouraging people even when in the midst of editing heavily that they still need to hit a minimum word count. That may be a blog, or working on the next story, or a poem. If we get too mired in editing, it becomes easy to quit writing entirely when the book is done. I’m editing a lot this month, but still shooting for at least 15,000 words. How are you doing?

Next group will meet Oct 22 at 8 PM eastern. If you want in, contact me. Drop progress reports in the comments! Keep up the good work!

UPDATE: Since I’m leading the group it’s important that I practice what I’m talking about here. I have been in heavy editing phase the last three days, but I’m still on track to hit my target of 15,000 words this month — and that’s not including what I did to my manuscript in second draft over the last few days. Vital stats for me today:

Goal is 15,000 words. 10,821 so far, 4179 to go with 13 days remaining. 321 words a day. Easy as pie to hit or beat that target.

Writer’s Group: You get an extra week — what will you make of it?

Hey everyone. So this month we have five weeks between meetings.

We all bumped up our goals for the month, but seriously, I bet we can all beat them by a significant margin. There are still three weeks left, but don’t be like that 1600 meter runner who lags badly on lap 3 out of 4. The “third lap” on the track for the runner who is attacking the mile (metric version) is where the gap is made up. It’s easy to run a good time the first lap when fresh, and easy on the last lap when almost done. It’s what you do with the middle laps that makes all the difference. Roger Bannister got this, and the mental edge gave him the first sub-4 minute mile. Granted, he was gassed:


SO we get three middle laps this month instead of two. Stick to your pacing!

Our next group meets Oct 22 at 8 PM eastern. Drop comments on how you’re progressing!

Congo: The Ancient Villagers

The joke in Congo is always “Chef du Village” which sort of refers to the village chief of course, but might be used in context of who is first in line to wash their hands before the meal or some other insignificant thing where you’re sort of the boss.

One of our trainees told a story about a time when a villager asked him a deep probing theological question he couldn’t answer (he is a theological bigwig.) When he used the word “villager” he apologized, and in the USA he might have been apologizing for calling the guy a “redneck” or perhaps a “bumpkin” or “hillbilly”. So his point was not to denigrate the villager but actually to commend his insightful question, but he didn’t have another word to describe the person’s living condition but to say “villager”.

That’s the backdrop upon which we found some pretty important contextualization for coaching in Congo: I described and demonstrated the technique where, listening carefully, I repeat back to my coachee word-for-word what he said. Not adding any analysis or interpretation of what they said, simply repeating it back: “If I understood you correctly, you said _______”.

When I was done demonstrating this technique, Jacques pointed out that the Ancient Ones (Elders) in the villages had this skill down pat. In fact, it’s an aspect of oral culture that they’ve lost. It was easy for the Congolese guys to see the value in this aspect of coaching, because it’s something that, at least in the past, had value in their culture. There are aspects of wisdom that village elders have had all over the world that have been lost, or nearly so. Interesting that modern leadership techniques might revive the value for them. Something to chew on as you become a better listener today. Perhaps you’ll even become such a good listener that they’ll call you “chef du village” without any irony!

Opportunities for Training in Listening Skills

While I’m leading a four-day training for leaders in Congo right now, I want to let you know about some great opportunities to get some training in motivational listening back in the USA. I hope that if you have referrals you will leave a comment or email me.

These courses are great for those who want to build their listening skills. Usually the first impact people see is improved relationships in their family life, and the second is in their work. Where else would you like to improve your listening skills? Asking powerful questions? Areas where you have leadership responsibility — of course!

First, there’s a Level 2 training coming up September 24 & 25 in Indianapolis hosted by Evergreen Leaders. There is a prerequisite that you take a basic course like the one in the next paragraph; you know who you are. Registration ends September 20 or so. This is a two-day on-site course with no follow up teleclasses or anything. It’s just two days of hard practice. Cost is $395

Second, on October 2 we kick off a Level 1 training, with one day on-site and eight weeks of follow up tele-classes, Indianapolis and possibly in Elkhart, IN as well. Cost is $195.

Third, CMI FOCOS 2016 has a registration deadline of Dec 1. This course is a year long, much more intensive, it is for people who are quite sure they’ll want coaching skills for their work.  We’ll have teleclasses, you get eight personal coaching sessions, six mentor coaching sessions, a week on site in Elkhart, IN (last week of April) evaluations and more. The cost for this course ranges from about $900 for cross-cultural mission workers to $1200 for non-mission workers. It’s absolutely the best value on the market, anywhere. Other places that offer this sort of training would cost at least three times what CMI charges.

All these courses have a Christian-faith based component.

Congo: Listening in the old days, marriages

Perhaps the most poignant thing I’ve heard any of our trainees say this week is that the elderly in the villages can sit and listen to someone and then repeat back verbatim what the other person has said. The impression I got was that people had this skill to such a degree that they could also repeat entire accounts much later. In other words, they had a mental method of note-keeping that didn’t require paper.

This is an important and perhaps often overlooked skill set for coaches that was apparently deeply ingrained in oral culture here in the Congo, only to be lost to urbanization, and it is the first window into cultural contextualization of the modern conversational tool known as leadership coaching that our trainees brought to the table. It’s not surprising that someone can still identify the oral-information cultural background, but what’s even more exciting is to see that at least that one particular trainee who brought it to the foreground (and others too) immediately picked up on it and saw its value. There’s a little anthropology going on here! Whenever you can tap into a cultural element in training, you can really capture peoples’ vision that this skill is something they can utilize in a culturally appropriate way. It’s a thrilling discovery for me; it’s an anchor for our work.

Today we’ll be presenting on two major pieces: encouragement (which is not an obvious thing, at least in the Congolese Mennonite Church, according to sources close to this author) and we’ll do some marriage coaching exercises with the married couples here — there will be five of them.

I sat and talked with Albert last night (if you’ve been following the blog, this is the same guy I talked about a few days ago — I went to their house for dinner with Charles and Jeanette). I’ve been observing Albert and his wife Aberty, and I see that they do everything together in a way that’s very counter-cultural here. Even at the meals, they sit across from each other and put the fufu on the plate in front of Albert and the sauce on the plate in front of Aberty, then each reaches across to eat from the other’s plate the whole time. In a culture where men usually eat alone while the wife eats off to the side with her children, this sort of routine affection, and the deeper stuff they do like go together and minister together makes a profound impact. Albert said that even when people come to him for counsel, Aberty sits in, and he asks her for input. Then, he says, men will say, ‘oh, why does your wife always have to be here’ and yet, he says, they always come back. So, even though they act like it’s a deal-breaker, it’s not. Instead, it’s an example. I think married couples around the world, and in fact I myself, can take a lesson from Albert and Aberty.