Congo Day Whatever, Intensity Deepens

It’s Wednesday already, and we’re about half way though our training.

We’ve done The Heart of a Coach, Biblical Precedence, Active Listening, Powerful Questions, and bits and pieces of some other stuff. Generally as questions from the trainees come up we just address them. Perhaps we ought to be asking our trainees first what they think when a question comes up but usually we are simply answering the questions. I mean there’s still a discussion format, but its such a huge paradigm shift, and then too we’re working in a second language or through translation whenever our words escape us, so this default is perhaps a little easier.

There hasn’t been time for much else since Monday at noon or so when people began arriving. I was so tired last night that perhaps I was a llittle relieved that they internet wasn’t working and I couldn’t Skype with my family, or blog or anything.

Robert and I took a taxi last night over to a market to find bananas for the group. That was an adventure in itself. The traffic here is some of the worst you’ll find in the world, it’s a constant snarl at any intersection. Driving anywhere is a constant negotiation for the driver, but the passengers also shout out encouragements to drivers of other vehicles, etc. It can take an hour at rush hour to go six kilometers. We did get bananas for the group.

I’ve been leading the demo coaching sessions, which means that I’m listening in French and even attempting to formulate great questions in French. Happily, the guy I’m coaching in those demos is also our key translator, so if I’m stuck I just revert to English. Of course this means that he has to not only be coached but also switch mentally over to translating. It’s pretty wild. Basically we’re both doing double cognitive duty. It’s fun but mentally exhausting.

I have an hour for a nap and feel that I should use the time for exactly that.


Congo Trip Funding Tracker

You may realize from reading my Congo blogs that I’m preparing to go to Kinshasa in September for two weeks. I’ve been invited by Charles Buller at AIMM to help lead a coach training for pastors there, and while my North American trainees are able to pay for training, it’s obvious our Congolese friends living hand-to-mouth cannot afford to pay for our training. It will be my first visit to Congo for 27 years, and I’m very excited about sharing leadership principles; the big, hairy audacious dream is that Congolese leadership culture would be impacted for more authenticity and transparency among leaders; for more fruitful leadership on a church-wide level, and ultimately even at a political level, nation-wide, for the sake of all Congolese to be elevated out of the grind of oppression and poverty. We also recognize that there’s a good chance the Congolese we visit will take away something completely different from the experience than what we expect, and that’s okay! This rest of this post is just a simple report I will update as donations come in. If you are considering a donation but have questions about the trip, please do email me.

Here is the budget breakdown:

Airfare: $1698. Immunization and Visa: $265. Food, lodging and in-country travel: $500. Salary: $1700 (this has to cover about 3 weeks for our family). Admin: $314.

Donated or Pledged to date: $4300 as of 8/26.

Remaining need: $190 by ASAP. Email me ( to pledge, or make a tax-deductible donation via Paypal to my non-profit (Evergreen Leaders) here. I will update this post on a daily basis as donations come in.

Thanks! –Adam

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.

Most Basic Policy

When Nancy Becher, the publisher of Small Biz Forward, asked me to write an article about policy, I almost said I don’t have anything for you this month. I’m not much of a policy and operations management type of person.

Then I remembered a discussion with a client who missed an appointment last week and decided that you can learn from my mistakes. Typically in my contract I let my clients know that if they cancel at the last minute without an emergency, their pre-paid session is considered used. I can’t re-schedule billable hours on a moment’s notice.

Someone said “Your failure to plan is not my emergency.”

Here’s where I made my mistake. This client had been a client some years before. At that time, I signed the client to a coaching agreement and the clarity for this policy was in writing.

This time around, the guy called me up and scheduled several meetings, sent a check, and we began working together. I made the mistake of assuming that he knew the drill. And in fact he does know the drill, but I hadn’t asked him for a renewed agreement, I just started working with him again. So I didn’t have a lot of ground to stand on ethically (let alone legally) to ask him to pay for the session he missed. I told him I assumed that he remembered “the drill” from earlier, but really it had been several years.

He did not have an emergency. He had just overbooked himself with too much to do in too little time, and his coaching session was the bit that got thrown out. Some might ask whether he’s getting much value out of a coaching relationship if that’s the thing he forfeits when the schedule gets too intense. But the reality is that he told me “I would have taken it more seriously if I’d known I was going to lose money.” That’s actually a good reason for the policy – it protects and preserves my billable hours. My goal is not to keep someone’s money for an hour of services I didn’t perform! It’s to remind people that the services I perform are valuable to them, because my real goal is to serve.

There’s the reason for policy. It’s not that the coaching is take-it-or-leave-it for him. In fact, we had a session this morning I’m confident was deeply impacting, so if anything, the policy helps the client remember that they’re losing money AND impact when they miss a meeting.

Bottom line is this: I may be a visionary, not an Ops guy. I may not have a lot of things organized to the hilt, but certain things are critical. It behooves me as the seller in the relationship to bring clarity to what I’m selling. I’m the one who risks damaging the relationship if I don’t do it, and that’s just stupid when you’re the seller. It’s your opportunity to learn from my mistake.

Know what’s critical for your business, what your customers need so they can purchase without confusion, and give it to them. A contract or agreement with expectations for your work together is the most basic of all policies. Some things to consider: Do you need to be paid in advance? Is there anything you can repossess? Because if it’s a service like coaching you really have no way of retracting the value you delivered. What is your client expected to do? What’s expected of you? What’s the agreed-upon recourse if one of you cannot meet the expectations or deadlines? What are the limitations of your expectations, and where does additional pay come in for added services or value? If you offer a money-back guarantee, you’d best have the money set aside somewhere! If you were the client, what other clarity would you appreciate?

Congo Reflections Part 2: Hope

Congo doesn’t lack for spaces to grow food, catch fish; nor does it lack the natural resources needed for cottage industries. I’m not saying it’s not poor — I’m just saying it doesn’t need to be.

When I was in Thailand a few months ago talking with a couple missionaries, one said

–you will always have the poor with you,

and the other said

–yes, but that doesn’t mean they have to be hungry.

The idea to teach coaching principles in Congo is fraught with a variety of cultural pitfalls. One of the biggest challenges is translating a skill set for use by peers or equals into a society steeped in a tradition of hierarchical social structures. From the chief down; from the dictator down, from the bishop down, everyone has to be very careful what they say to those above them, and to preserve their status, also to those below. Creating an atmosphere of authentic sharing among brothers is a cultural challenge. Still, we hope that the ideas we can share in Kinshasa will give pastors a new paradigm, which leads to a new kind of accountability — one the leaders seek eagerly, rather than avoiding.

Yet even to say “This is what we think you need” has an air of arrogance about it. I know Africa in general and Congo in particular needs leadership. But I approach the gift of training pastors there with a great deal of fear and trembling. It’s humbling to be invited to provide something that holds out hope to such a hopeless place.

As we plan and prepare, I reflect more and more on the first experiences in Africa. I find my year in Zaire (Congo) 27 years ago the most difficult year of my life to write about. It’s not that I’m shy about the psychological and social challenges I faced as a boy, the culture shock that was the bedrock of forming my identity in adolescence, it’s just that this particular experience was so powerful. Perhaps it is the hopelessness that permeated it. I am not by nature hopeless. I will rise above, and so will Africa, one day.

What hope did a man have that he would journey 50 miles on foot with a silver French coin minted in 1853, saved who knows how many years in a secret place, to bring this anachronistic remnant of colonialism to try to sell it at our house? Hope that it may be worth some sort of fortune? And what happened to his hope when my father sent away to determine an appropriate value, and the man waited three months, only to find out that the coin might retail at $10 in the States, and was generously offered the equivalent in rapidly devaluing Zaires? To wonder if he was being robbed, as is practically traditional in an exchange. A large sum in a country where people earned a dollar or two a month on average, but certainly no great fortune. A disappointment, that European cash.

What hope drove people to journey from the forest, knowing there were “whites” in Wembo Nyama, hoping we might buy monkey meat captured three days before and dangling in the 88-degree heat and 95% humidity from the back of their bicycle, an entourage of flies, what disappointment when we didn’t take the microbiological risk on their delicacy?

And I will be delicate with you about the hopes of those with open wounds who traveled to our stoop hoping for a miracle cure. Some medicine or perhaps a treatment. Even a prayer.

There’s the thing. There are no miracle cures today for Congo. There is not enough wealth we can offer for antiques or delicacies that could heal this nation from the many ways it has been wronged, by Belgium, by the United States, by the United Kingdom, by Big Corporations, and even the leadership training we might provide this fall contains no miracle cure in itself. So how do we hold out hope that this thing is the thing? This Leadership, the idea of coaching? But I am not by nature hopeless.

When I think of Lumumba and two others executed with him, I wonder what America might have been if Washington, Jefferson and Franklin had been abducted and executed in 1778. But rewriting history in such a fantastic way is the stuff of novels. Rewriting the future is something we can still hope to do. Dream of a future with me where Congo leads central African nations to a new way of doing leadership that takes Africa back for the people. And when it happens, expect your cell phone to cost more because someone digging near Lubumbashi is getting paid a living wage. Dream of leadership and fair-trade electronics.

As of this writing, I still need $4,000 by August 1 so I can go to Kinshasa and offer hope, however small. That is a fortune in Congo, but it’s doable here. It’s a small amount, much smaller than the hope it offers; at least, the hope in my heart. Reach out to me at to know more about how to give.

Congo Reflections Part 1

You may need Google Earth handy…

Charles Buller, my former pastor, now with Africa Inter Mennonite Missions (AIMM) asked me to go to Kinshasa with him in August. Or September. Maybe October. “I can’t do November,” I said. The idea is to do some very basic coach training for Congolese Mennonite pastors.

I began reflecting on Congo (formerly Zaire) seriously when I went to hear Charles talk about his last trip to Congo, when he and a Congolese pastor rode motorcycles 1000 km from Tshikapa on the Kasai River, through Kikwit and back to Kinshasa. Do you have any idea how dangerous this was? Charles went thousands of miles from decent medical care, and no such thing as a med-evac even if anybody knows where you are, if you wreck, which they don’t. Charles talked about frequent incidents of getting lost like he made a wrong turn going to Kroger’s for some avocados. (But he did get some avocados.)

When I left Zaire in 1988 I thought “I may never see this place again.” Now the opportunity presents itself, I have to ask this question first: “Am I really needed?” Charles says yes, so I am in. And second, “If I got the chance, would I also take a motorcycle trip through the bush?” I say no.

What does a leadership coach trainer have of value to take to the slums of Kinshasa? If I had kept up with my nursing career (LPN from 1994 to 1996) I might be able to bandage wounds, give some shots, save some lives. But if Congo needs anything, long-term, it is leadership. Coaching is a key to options. Options are a key to infrastructure and an economic middle-class. An empowered middle class is a key to balanced leadership. Leadership is a key to the sustainable liberty of a people. And if anyone needs liberty:

King Leopold II’s personal exploitation project (and by extension, all Belgians, and everyone who used rubber tyres in the early days of automobiles) pillaged Congo for somewhere around 80 years from the 1880s to the 1960s. One of my literary heroes, Mark Twain, spoke out against it in his pamphlet “King Leopold’s Soliloquy”, a piece of political satire that set the stage for American comics like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. This pocket-lining set the example for Mobutu, Congo’s .

Maybe you’ve heard of Leopold, and Mobutu. But do you know the name Patrice Lumumba? Lumumba was (perhaps) Congo’s greatest hope for quality leadership. I won’t say that power wouldn’t or couldn’t have corrupted him, but it’s hard to say when the CIA makes you poisoned toothpaste. It appears that Larry Devlin, the CIA operative in Kinshasa at the time stalled. Perhaps he knew that Lumumba’s days were numbered. Lumumba, an African for Africa, was dangerous. It is said that when the USA ignored his pleas for help, he went to the USSR. He didn’t really care who helped him: he cared about Congo.

Lumumba met his end by firing squad in Katanga, that ever-dangerous provincial center of raw wealth in the southeast.

In my boyhood, I visited Lumumba’s birthplace with my brother. We went by bicycles because it wasn’t more than 6 or 8 miles from where we lived. I cannot find it on Google Earth: Onalua, near Wembo Nyama, in Katako-Kombe province. In today’s ultra-connected world, Onalua is still the middle of nowhere. It’s like it doesn’t exist. I doubt very much whether more than a dozen living Americans have been there. After all, Charles recently went through villages where they haven’t seen an American missionary for two decades.

–To be continued June 9.

You’re a candidate! (For a wax job!?)

Some time ago the woman who cuts my hair tried an up-sell on me. “Around your age,” she said, “I have a lot of customers who have me start waxing their nose hair and eyebrows. And … you’re a candidate.”

When I got done laughing about her skillful — even political — use of words to inform me that my nostrils and uni-brow were less-than-sophisticated, I relented and allowed her to place piping hot firebrands covered in molten wax up my nose. I even agreed to pay extra for this. And you know, the pain isn’t really that bad. But the hair keeps growing. It seems I’m a ‘candidate’ for life.

Today Megan and I had a gut-level conversation with Jonathan. Jonathan’s not a coach, per se, but we’ve been meeting with him and (because coaching is my milieu) I’ve been thinking about him in that capacity. Since we all value honesty, I admitted to him that I was a little dissatisfied when seeing him through that lens. So we talked about what it is exactly that he does, how it differs from coaching, and Megan and I decided upon the term “oracle”. (Which made him delightfully uncomfortable. I mean, it gave him the creepy-crawlies. He has this little freaked-out boogie dance he did. It’s going to become a classic story, larger than life. Already is.)

In the course of this conversation he reminded me of something I’ve known all along: I’m really nice about it, but I’m bull-headed and though my marriage is good, I still need someone who has permission to call me on my bull and help me stay on track even when it isn’t my top priority for growth! In other words, even though I’m pretty happy with a lot of things right now, I’m a candidate for the oracle. In fact, I’m a candidate for life.

If you want a life of growth but know that those nose hairs have to be cleared away like brush in dry season before a fire breaks out, if, in short, you’re a candidate, then get a coach. Or an prophetic oracle. Or a pastor who’s not a puppet for what the congregation wants — someone to whom you are willing to abdicate your considerable power of independence. You may or may not pay this person for their role in your life, but you can never terminate your friendship with them. Maybe it’s a mentor who expects you to exceed their own success, and who will challenge you when they see you getting slacker-y or bull-headed, who pushes you even on the stuff you’re really good at. Find someone you trust, and let them wax whenever you wane.

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.