New Release: Positive Cultural Impact

You’re leading a team: could be you and one child, or you and a sales team, or you and a massive corporation or nonprofit institution. In any case, you have a culture you want to build, values to instill. But how?

For the last few months I’ve been blogging less as I was working to refine a concept into a concise e-book which details my formula for making a positive cultural impact in the form of a cycle which I very creatively decided to call the Cultural Impact Cycle.

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Last Friday I published this e-book, reasonably priced at $2.99 USD. Here’s the link: How to Make a Positive Cultural Impact.

In a recent discussion with a random stranger, I told the stranger I am a life coach.

“What do you teach people?” he asked.

“Coaches don’t teach… but I’m also a writer,” I said, and proceeded to give him the elevator version of the cycle and the book.

“So, it’s the simple things,” he said.

Yes… it’s simple. The concepts here aren’t complicated. It’s implementation that may be difficult… perhaps even challenging enough you’ll want to work on them with a coach.

There’s more to come. Soon I’ll have a video course available for purchase that includes a workbook and an online forum. In the meantime, you can check out the book itself, it’s a short read at 8,300 words.

Enjoy!

–Adam G. Fleming

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Thailand, 2016, Poem #2

A bricklayer on his scaffold

Drops a plumb line from the topmost brick

To set it just, just so. If it is straight

His wall will stand and stand.

 

A poet drops a plumb line from her head to heart to find her voice

Setting her words just, just so. When it rings true

The culture she builds will stand, and stand

And stand.

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guns in America: A metaphor for your organization’s culture

I watched all 12+ minutes of President Obama’s speech on the shooting in Oregon. The only thing I disagree with (and this is a nuance) is that it’s a “political choice”. Nope. It’s a cultural choice. One of my favorite quotes is “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” (Peter Drucker). Politics — using the strategy of changing laws to attempt to deliver a desired result — will ONLY be driven by a change in culture. I think he addressed that in a roundabout way, and his evident emotion and sickness at heart push us toward a question: do we desire cultural change in this area? I have to say this is the best speech I’ve ever heard him give. It’s been a long time since he really inspired me. Thanks, Obama. No… wait. Seriously. Thank you, Mr. President Obama, for reminding us that we should be upset by this, that we should not accept it as routine. (Why has it become routine that when we thank our President the initial assumption is that we’re being sarcastic? — Er, that’s for another blog another day.)

I don’t have answers for gun laws. I hope that people want change. Strategy could go through a variety of iterations before we get it right, but we won’t even really begin to try until there’s a fundamental, tectonic shift in the culture, where the geological plates in the culture shift away from conflict, and instead of those plates shoving against each other, one side shoving guns and violence up on a pedestal high as the Rockies, they shift back (so that “Every mountain shall be made low”) to a great, smooth plains, a place of reasoning together whether we own a gun or not. We have allowed something to sell us an idea of liberty in the place of safety, and we have eaten the meal and the after-dinner mint is … sour.

We all have things in the culture of our organization/workplace/field which have become routine but aren’t right. Thank God they don’t have literal, physical casualties. However, they can have pretty long-lasting impact on a lot of people, they can end up sending people away, leaving them spiritually or emotionally battered and bloody, and why? Because we want to hang on to some old way of thinking, some pattern that is getting justified the same way some say “well, we need more guns to protect us from bad guys with guns!” (We have forgotten that Jesus said “only God is good” and so in our cultural mindset we are ALWAYS the good guys).

For myself, this came to a head in a particular area in the culture of my family. Seven years of lean thinking put us in a position where we have the same issue and struggle every few months. Like the President said, unless something changes, history tells him he’s going to have to go make a similar statement about grieving families before his tenure is up. Same thing in our culture.

Change the rules all you want: if the culture doesn’t change at a more fundamental level, you’re just shifting stuff around, shifting blame, most likely.

So with our situation, we went outside and placed stones of remembrance in the yard. We marked those seven years of lean thinking and prayed. We drew a line in the sand in some way, spiritually, culturally, and I am ready to make changes so that I don’t have to go back to the podium again and say, well, 2016 has been the 8th lean year … No. It’s time for a fat one. It’s time to recognize that the issue has been cultural, and at least in this family I set 50% of the cultural tone. I’m the one who gets to change. I’m the one who has to step back and allow the valleys to be exulted and the hills made low, so that the Glory of the Lord can shine among us.

Congo Reflections Part 4: Coasting In Silence

David Law flew me back to Wembo Nyama. I was 14 and had spent four weeks away from my family. I needed a break from them, and everyone knew it.

The last straw was the night I smacked my little sister with a steel bowl, right on top of her head. At five, she was prone to running about naked, which embarrassed me, especially since we lived in a fish bowl. I mean that, at night, in one of the few houses with electric lights, it was not unusual to realize that neighborhood children’s eyes were peering in the windows. They were only naturally curious, wondering what these whites did at night in their closed-door, brick and tin-roof house, without a grasp of any social taboo of going to see for themselves. Seeing my sister, the nudist, in all her blonde Caucasian glory. As if we needed more reason for people to gawk. I was angry, peerless and alone, culture-shocked, stressed, dealing with my sister’s exhibitionism so my concern about the “paparazzi” was too much to bear, and I thumped her with a bowl and it sounded like a gong. And of course she cried quite a bit.

So they sent me to stay with the Laws for a while. A half-hour flight or so, in a single-prop Cessna to a different mission station. Take a break. Grow up a bit. Get some perspective. Stop fighting with dad. Socialize with some other Westerners.  Go for hour-long runs on the savanna where I could focus on my breathing and watch the occasional dung-beetle who also had to deal with his crap every day as he rolled his treasures across the same dry plateau; it was a chance to think only about as much as the beetle was thinking. I fell in love with running. It was one foot in front of the other, thoughtfulness without the need for a specific idea. You got your second wind, found your pace, and coasted along the dirt track in silence and slid back into the house unnoticed, sweating out my toxic anxieties in the process.

Before I went to stay with the Laws, I was going a little bit crazy, maybe a bit beyond the tolerances of normal adolescence. ‘Maybe’, I say, because even in retrospect, I realize that I only grew up once, and it happened to be in the middle of Zaire. So how would I know for sure if I was beyond my own ability to cope with being 14 in any way worse than it might have been in Illinois, on a strawberry farm where I knew the difference between fruit and weeds? But I’m pretty sure the added stress meant I was not coping as well as I might have in the States.

At the end of my retreat, as we flew back into Wembo, David said over the noise of the engine, “Check this out. I can cut the engine and we can glide the last two miles to the strip. Nobody will hear us coming.” Usually the arrival of an airplane was a major deal. Hundreds of people would show up at the strip to gawk at the plane, welcome strangers or say goodbye, help out with luggage somehow, hoping for a tip. To surprise my parents by walking in the door without anyone in town noticing, I liked this idea very much.

He cut the engine and turned the Cessna into a hang glider. The wings would bear us up just long enough to reach the strip and coast to the end. We began to lose altitude. I might have been afraid we’d crash, but my pilot was confident. The air rushed by, our velocity kept us moving forward, and all was still. A half-dozen noticed us coming, but there wasn’t the usual dozen-times-a-dozen spectators as we rolled down the last bit of clay airstrip, touching down like an ace at Wimbledon in that hush of the serve, just before the audience erupts in applause.

It’s significant for a person like me, who likes the bright lights of a stage, to have that desire to walk unnoticed. Coasting in silence on the outskirts of Wembo taught me that the ability to be at peace, and, at the same time, to be unnoticed while falling out of the sky, is a valuable art. That’s what I like about the riskiness of coaching someone – I can turn off the engine that drives my own decision-making process and let the wings of listening interact with the air of my client’s living and breathing and let them land on their own runway — or take off for jungles and oceans, all successes unknown.

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.

She Burns My Ears!

Some time ago I encountered an elderly Amish man in our local coffee shop. He was eager to talk to strangers, which is rare for an Amish man, and I struck up a conversation. I sat and listened.

I learned that his two children were grown and had left the state; people don’t realize how much the Amish are on the move, taking rocky ground in Missouri and upstate New York and making something of it, starting new communities. But they do use Amtrak and hire vans so they can visit each other. I discovered that this man’s children didn’t come visit often and there was some estrangement, learned that his first wife had died, and that he’d remarried against the advice of his community. His second wife was a long-time bachelorette, and he was her first husband. Therefore she was a good deal more independent than a normal Amish wife, and even though “they warned me,” he said, “She burns my ears.” Suddenly, I understood why he was talking to strangers.

My father-in-law sold agricultural products, fertilizers, etc., in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, (densest concentration of Amish in the world) all his life. He’s 78 years old, and he’s never heard an Amish man talk like this. He was never an insider, as far as the Amish are concerned, but he wasn’t enough of an outsider for them to open up that way. After all, he knew them and knew their neighbors. He might have kept a secret if asked, but he wasn’t to be trusted. He was “English.”

What allowed this to happen? I wasn’t too busy to listen. That’s the first piece. You have to slow down if you want these sort of encounters. The second remarkable thing here is that the man lived in a “we-told-you-so” community where there was not a single empathetic ear for his problems with his second wife, so he took it outside the community. I was far enough outside his community that word couldn’t travel back. I asked his name at one point, and he wouldn’t give it.

If you want to develop authentic community, you have to refrain from creating a “We-told-you-so” culture. When people take their problems away somewhere, going “off to town” to find an outlet, it makes restoration and reconciliation difficult. For an Amish man to share his story with me seems rather harmless, but there’s potential for a much darker side to this phenomenon.