How Honest Abe would have Tweeted

“You can tell the greatness of a man by what makes him angry.” — Abe Lincoln

Abe Lincoln had a practice when he was angry with someone. That practice was to write a letter in the heat of the moment; lay it all out there. Speak his mind. Say what he thinks.

Then, he slept on it before sending it.

Then, he didn’t send it. Ever.

I think it’s fair to say that Honest Abe would not have used Twitter much at all. The idea that you can get a message out blah, blah, blah, boom, would not have appealed to him.

If greatness is about what makes you angry (and you do get angry sometimes, if you’re passionate about life, and perhaps even about petty things) then your next best path is to write things down … and leave them out of the public discourse.

Lincoln did become angry. He also dealt with a country that was as divided as it has ever been. For us to reunite our country, we need leaders who don’t Tweet, they shut up. And I’m talking about you, dear reader. Oh, haven’t there been times when you got angry about something and posted about it on social media within the next two minutes? And have you looked back later to see how petty it was? Did you experience the shame you’ve thought others ought to experience? If our President-elect is going to use Twitter the way he has been, then the rest of us who are leaders in this country are going to have to rise above that. How? By not responding in kind. By not Tweeting in anger.

Does this mean we should never speak our minds? To heal the nation, aren’t we going to have to speak, and to take action? Of course we will, we do. That’s what I’m doing now.

I take consolation in the fact that a President is a figurehead – but we don’t have to follow his example. We can take our examples from other Presidents, other leaders. Leaders who didn’t fire off a postcard when they were mad, and send it by the next Pony-Express. Leaders who knew how to say what they thought, on paper, and then keep it to themselves. This will make you a better entrepreneur. A better parent. A better spouse. A better person.


Coach training, Congo update

Monday I spoke with Jacques Luwaku, one of the trainees from a class I led in Kinshasa last September with Charles Buller and Jeannette Buller Slater. Jacques (pictured, in the middle of three men seated behind the table) works with Leonard Kiswangi (pictured, seated to my immediate left) at the Kinshasa office of African Enterprise, an international organization based in South Africa, and also pastors a congregation in Kinshasa.

Jacques said, “I’m going to give you a coaching testimony. Recently, I got a call from a young husband in my church (and he filled me in on their positions, the wife is in the women’s council, I missed what the husband’s position is, but these things are culturally important in Congo, everyone has some position or title) and the man said ‘No, pastor, my wife and I, it’s not working out, we are just going to get a divorce.’ (Jacques did not say what their dispute was about.) So I called the husband back, and I called the wife, too, and I said, ‘No, I don’t have any counsel to give you. But I have a question for you. If I asked you to give counsel to another young couple who was thinking about getting a divorce, what would it be? What should they do? Get divorced? Or stay together? Please reflect on that together, then you tell me.’ and they called me back later and said, ‘No, pastor, really, we’ve thought about what advice we would give; we’re going to stay together.’ They solved their own problem, they have walked away from the door of divorce. When I am coaching, I am second, and they are in charge.” Jacques went on to say that he hadn’t had to stress out about it and was glad to see the couple find their own solution.

I felt excited for him. I told him, “But Jacques, you didn’t even use the Panic Technique.”

“What? The Panic Technique? Oh, no,” he laughed, “I did not use the Panic Technique.”

It’s gratifying, and that’s an understatement, to see that the training we did in Congo last fall is bearing fruit in very real ways. Coaching saves marriages.

This story is shared with Pastor Jacques’s permission.

I continue to coach Jacques occasionally, pro bono, with your support. It seems like a good time to remind my readers that if you’d like to support our work in developing nations, training leaders like Jacques Luwaku to use coaching techniques, you can do so at Evergreen Leaders. All contributions are tax-deductible.


Foundational Coaching Skills Training

Interested in getting trained in Foundational Coaching Skills? I work together with CMI to provide this training every year. I don’t own the training, I just help lead it, but I can confidently say that as someone inside the industry this class is the absolute best value you can get anywhere. That’s because the training is top notch, and if you apply yourself for the entire course you’ll have a great grasp of coaching, and you’ll get it at a fraction of the price you’d get anywhere else. The deadline for this year’s FOCOS Indiana course is looming, so read more about it today if you think you might want in!

Want more info? Here you go.

Recognition. Cha-Am, Thailand Blog #1

Recognition. Cha-Am, Thailand, blog #1.

The beginning of relationship is recognition of the other.

There is a sense, when we have heard of someone else through a friend, of anticipation, so that when meeting that person in real life, we find an element of joy in recognizing someone.

I have seen this happen twice in the past 24 hours. First, M____ S_____ was introduced to me, and he said, “OH! You’re THE Adam Fleming!”

“The one and only,” I replied, feeling quite like Winnie the Pooh when Christopher Robin recognizes his endeavors. It’s a good feeling to be recognized.

This morning, I introduced my wife to an artist who hosted me in her home during my trip to Thailand last year. Megan gave her the same royal treatment. “Oh! You’re A____ P____! Can I give you a hug?”

It occurs to me now that there are various levels of recognition. I’ve blogged about artist John Koenig’s work on the concept of sonder recently, which is the experience of recognizing that each passerby has a life as intricate and complex as our own. Sonder brings us only to the beginning of recognition. Sonder is to notice those around you in a new way. Noticing is okay.

The desire for Recognition is one of sixteen core desires that Tony Stoltzfus identifies as key elements God has baked into each of us. But there are many different levels on which we can be recognized.

Sonder is the beginning, and the next level I’ll call “lineup recognition”. On the plane to Thailand I watched a mobster movie. At one point the loose cannon character walks into a bar and shoots someone in the head. Later, he’s in a police lineup and the barmaid is brought in to identify him. She’s been intimidated, however, and tells the police, “no, none of these guys is the one.” The lineup is one aspect of recognition. We either acknowledge or deny we can attach a face to a name, or a face (in the mobster’s case) to an action.

Another place I see this in action is at my local coffee shop. One of the regulars, a man who was my landlord for a few months back in my college days, his name is Joe, came up to me a few weeks ago and said “are you Frank, the guy from Plymouth?” He was meeting someone he’d never met before. I said, “No…” and then Joe looked at me closer. “Oh, yeah, I know you,” he said, disinterest washing over his face. Yes, he recognized my face, we’re both in that coffee shop all the time. I don’t know if Joe even remembers my name, but once he looked closer he knew I couldn’t be Frank.

When we hunger for recognition, this is not the sort of encounter we hope for.

We’re much more attuned to the definition of recognition that means a celebration. This form of recognition says “Well done, good and faithful servant,” or just, “well done.” Some of us are attracted to trophies (If we as humans in general weren’t, we wouldn’t bother to make and award them to each other). Others of us would just as soon have a bonus, usually at work this is how we reward value, and trophies can ring hollow. Then there’s the recognition we are given when we don’t really deserve it. That can also ring hollow. So what about recognition from God? Do we ever really deserve it? Like children who draw drawings to be hung upon the fridge, we all (some of us more, and some less) hope that we will be rewarded with a recognition particularly when we’ve put heart and soul into a project.

Here we prepare art for a conference today. I assembled sixteen drawings on a 4×8 board for Jonathan Reuel, who drew them but was not able to come. Ben, who is leading the arts team, said to me, “good work,” when I finished, and I said, “No problem, it was easy.” Jonathan did the hard work of making all the drawings, and on top of that he had to include careful instructions for how to assemble his work, but all I really did was tape drawings to a plywood board. It’s funny, when Ben said “good job” to me, I still felt kinda good about it.


(Photo above: Jonathan Reuel’s work assembled in foreground as Ann Metz works in mixed media.)

So as we begin this conference, we begin by recognizing each other: the names we’ve only associated through pictures, or friends, or the internet, people we’re excited to finally meet as well as the recognition of old friends walking through the door. Soon our friends Jerimae and Karen will arrive, and I’m excited to see them. But I also was welcomed by the leader of the organization which hosts this conference this morning. “Adam and Megan Fleming,” he said, “I’m so glad you could come. I’m sure we’ll talk more later, but I just wanted to tell you I’m glad you’re here.” That would have been so easy for him NOT to do. But this is a key leadership principle: you have to recognize people. You have to acknowledge sonder, you have to pick people out of a lineup, you have to rejoice in meeting people you’ve only heard tell of, you have to even more rejoice in the successes of others around you. Do this, and you’re on the way to leading.

This isn’t to say that you’ll ever fill the desire for recognition the way Jesus does, but you can stand in for Him when the chips are down.

We have asked our children to look for a few things as we’re gone. In a way, this gives them something to tell us about their day other than “fine” but it also gives us something to notice, recognize and celebrate. We’ve asked them to collect Sayings and Successes. We told them they can notice them about each other and remind each other about them when they Skype with us.

The ascending beatitudes of Recognition: Notice, and you will be noticed. Recognize, and you shall be recognized. Celebrate, and you will be celebrated.

What Happens in Vegas

They say it stays in Vegas.

I traveled to Las Vegas this weekend for the first time to attend a Rapport Leadership retreat. While I’m not sworn to secrecy, what we actually did at the retreat in Alamo, NV, isn’t something I’ll talk about (though I will brag that my team won the pirate sword in the creativity exercise with my concept).

But what you do in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. Whatever you do goes with you. The promotional phrase they use on billboards all over town is a lie of the worst kind. Whatever you do, no matter where you are, impacts you later, no matter where you go or what you do later.

Las Vegas is not an impact-free zone.

I hit the lobby of the hotel to catch a shuttle. It was 4:30 AM and I saw a couple staggering back to their room. The woman was so drunk she could barely stand up or walk. It’s sad to see people who’ve bought into this lie that whatever you do while you’re there won’t matter later.

On the positive side, what we did at the retreat, while I won’t share the details even with my wife (it’s best if she doesn’t know in case she gets a chance to attend the same training sometime) it will have visible and demonstrable results, because what I did in Vegas isn’t going to stay there.

Intentional Community #5

A blog reader asked me to comment on the topic of Slackers in your intentional community.

You’re trying to engage your community with purpose and intent for accountability and growth, and you run into slackers. It doesn’t matter what your format or system is for intentional community. They will be there, sitting at the table, waiting to eat.

Someone asked me recently if I could push a big RED button and something in the world would change, I said that for me, it would be that everyone in the world would have at least one good friend.

Slackers are a bit like the monkeys on Monkey Island in Thailand. A guy named Tim and I kayaked out with half a loaf of bread and fed these wild monkeys. First of all, we figured out quickly who was the Alpha male. (No females even showed up for the handouts. Not sure why.) We had to work to get bread to the others. The Alpha was a little bolder, willing to brave water up to his knees. He was ready to chase anyone off, baring his teeth and screeching. Tim and I made sure to stay far enough out that we couldn’t get bitten. A bite from one of these guys would be bad news. One of the monkeys climbed up on Tim’s kayak and found his water bottle. The little dude punched a hole with his teeth and sucked out the fresh water. The monkeys lost interest in us when we ran out of bread. It seems they could tell the handout session was over. Perhaps they saw that our hands were empty, maybe they just knew by experience, or maybe they could even smell that we didn’t have any left in our pockets or bags, but they left pretty quickly.

It seems kind of mean to compare slackers with monkeys, but remember, my personal vision statement is that everyone would have at least one friend. Even monkeys. Even Slackers. The point isn’t to be mean, it’s to be frank.

Principle number one: You are the only person responsible for the depth of community you experience. You do not get to blame it on others if people don’t show up and you therefore don’t get to have community. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog, you need to build in redundancy to combat the fact that other people are typically not as concerned about building community with you, specifically, than you are concerned about it for yourself, and therefore for others by extension of your involvement.

Principle number two: we are called to share our bread, even with monkeys. Bread is of course analogous to money, but it can also easily mean time, emotional energy, or whatever else you give to relationships.

Principle number three: Your bread isn’t limitless. If people aren’t reciprocating in your relationships, you’re going to run out. When that happens the monkeys will leave or you will get in your kayak and paddle away. No harm, no foul, monkeys are used to this pattern. They may act offended, but they’re really just pushing to see if you don’t have a few crumbs left.

My hope and belief is that everyone has the ability to grow and mature, to become a leader (not analogous to the Alpha male, who is more like a bully) and steward the gifts God has given them, but the stark reality of the world is that while everyone shares that potential, some do and some don’t. That takes us back to the first question, will you be one who does? Who shows up? Who makes community a priority?

The second thing is that because you’ve made this a priority, you’ll make sacrifices. You’ll give sometimes and get nothing in return. This WILL deplete you. You’ll have to retreat, gather new resources, rest your aching heart, and try again, make another investment. I suspect a combined approach is healthiest:

Reach out to some of the monkeys who took your bread. Maybe next time around they’ll get it. Also, reach out to new people, because this helps build redundancy. You may find some new monkeys, but you may also find some people who will stick with you. Somebody else is looking for this. I am, and I have plenty of friends who do. Intentional community is a real possibility for your life.

Finally, keep investing. It’s a bit like the stock market. Sometimes you buy stocks and they fall for a while, but if you keep them, they can come roaring back. Sometimes you buy in with a high-flying stock and it crashes. But any financial adviser will tell you this: keep investing, even when the market is down. Especially then.

You’ve got to find someone who needs one good friend. Then go be it. They may be a long-term monkey, or they may just be a stock that’s down at the moment. Either way, you’ve done something good for humanity.

Remember this: if you stop investing, you may not realize it, but you just became the monkey.



Leadership: Calm Under Fire

In 1964, a missionary-pilot named Burleigh A. Law flew a rescue mission to Wembo Nyama. (I know this story because I lived in Wembo Nyama in ’87-’88.) An eastern Congolese rebel group called the Simbas (Swahili for “lions”) had captured the town; they had been killing Congolese and foreigners alike, raping nuns, and allegedly even cannibalizing their victims on some occasions as they swept across eastern and central Congo. Law knew that other missionaries on the ground were in very real danger and he hoped to evacuate them, so he flew overhead and dropped a note. “Stand if it’s not safe to land,” he said, “Sit down if it is safe to land.”  The missionaries who retrieved the note stood as he flew over again. It is not safe to land. Law landed his plane anyway. He was shot and killed by one of the rebel fighters before he could even turn off the plane’s engine.

A friend of mine who is chief of police in a rural township told me once that the reason firemen are often killed is not for lack of training—it’s usually for lack of respect for that training, fueled by a desire to be a hero. His men are often factory workers and farmhands with little other chances at glory (their high school football days behind them) and he worries that they’ll ignore their training precisely because they hope to be that hero. Their odds are low at heroism: for every fireman who emerges a hero from a situation they shouldn’t have gone into, many more lose their lives for the same reason. Risks are calculated for a reason.

“You know, you send people into war zones, you send people into dangerous situations and into riots, and you worry that they are going to get hurt. … You send somebody out to do a story on tourism and — how can you expect something like this to happen?” Jeff Marks, Station Manager, WDBJ, Roanoke, VA, quoted in an article on by Elliott C. McLaughlin and Catherine E. Shoichet, 8/27/15.

Marks said this in response to the shooting that killed two journalists, Alison Parker and Adam Ward, just yesterday (this article was drafted 8/27/15).

In his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, Nassim Nicholas Taleb identifies a key issue for leaders that Jeff Marks is today all too aware of: you simply cannot expect the unexpected. You can make all kinds of plans for any number of contingencies, and that’s important, but the fact that something is unexpected and improbable is precisely the reason that it’s impactful.

A friend of mine runs a business that trains emergency personnel and police in deescalating violence. His consulting firm worked with Newton, CT, before the tragic shooting there, and in the wake of their tragedy, the responders won national recognition for their excellent work during the tragedy. Perhaps they saved lives. It’s always hard to say. His firm has been working with Ferguson, MO, police since the resignation of Chief Thomas Jackson in March of this year. Jackson stepped down after a particularly incriminating report from the Justice Department which found that “Ferguson’s law enforcement practices are shaped by the City’s focus on revenue rather than by public safety needs. This emphasis on revenue has compromised the institutional character of Ferguson’s police department, contributing to a pattern of unconstitutional policing…” (report, p.2.)

Let’s talk about leadership. God willing you’ll never be under fire in any physical sense. But, whether large or small, unexpected things are bound to happen to your business or organization. You won’t really know the nature of your own ability to remain calm under fire until they happen.

  • From Burleigh Law’s death, we can learn to be prepared to listen to the warning signs. Ask your people for signals, and listen to them. “We should not buy this machine, we can’t afford the debt” or “we must take care of this customer no matter what it costs, they are threatening to take their discontent to the internet.” There’s a fine line between courage and stupidity. Know where the line is, and respect it; listen, listen to your people on the ground. That line is the line of humility, and it preserves you.
  • From the deaths of Parker and Ward, we are only reminded that unexpected means just that. You won’t be able to avoid the unexpected. You can prepare and train your staff for contingencies, but not for everything. “Expect the unexpected” is a nonsensical lesson. Be prepared for what you can reasonably prevent, then be prepared to offer kindness to victims of tragedy around you. (How will you treat your employees if your primary buyer goes out of business?)
  • From Chief Thomas’ story, I can only say, be just; it’s the best way to prepare for a moment when you need to de-escalate violence. On the far side of injustice you’ll only find disgrace.

An ancient book tells us what is good: to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to dodge evil, or even the unexpected snafu. But the courage to do those three basic things under fire will make you a great leader. The impact of the improbable can be a good thing, too, when the impact is positive – so go be improbably great, and you’ll make an impact to the positive that has longer lasting power and touch more people for the good than any of these negative events I mentioned will ever accomplish for the sake of evil.

Playing the Blues on Vortex Street

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

John Donne

On the heels of thinking about rivers that move so slowly it’s hard to tell they’re going anywhere, or those lazy spots where everything’s so wide it loses focus, I also see a place where things speed up … in reverse.

In an eddy, liquid spins backwards as it flows past an obstacle.

The old school language for this is backsliding, but the liquid in an eddy will eventually flow downhill with gravity, so this language feels more hopeful. That’s easy when your life is like a river, but what about when mapping your life feels more like oceanography?

Sometimes life feels more like an ocean than a river. Tides slosh us back and forth, and the meteorological systems that accompany and impact our routines are far more complex than the ecosystem of a simple river.  Then there’s the foundational shifting of tectonic plates; in short, life throws so many transitions, changes and complications we easily end up adrift in an ocean when all we hoped for was a ride downstream.

Ocean vortices, also called mesoscale eddies, can sometimes last for months, and cover areas as big as 500 km in diameter.

Even more intriguing is the Karman vortex street, a phenomenon when eddies in a repeating pattern happen on the backside of a blunt object, such as Guadalupe Island, 150 miles west of Baja California. Guadalupe causes a vortex street almost every day from June to August. The alternating eddies formed in a vortex street in the lee of an island take turns in a repeating pattern.

Obstacles that cause regular patterns in our lives can be surreal. Sometimes the obstacles in our lives are permanent and create vortex streets which become part of the landscape. Some days we can ignore them completely because we live with them; other days we have no choice but to acknowledge their existence.

I was talking to Jason (name and story used with permission) last night. Jason routinely places in the top ten in local triathlons, recently he placed 6th in a field of 200+. He once qualified to participate in the Best of US Amateur triathlon and flew from Alaska to Vermont to compete in what turned out to be a pretty exclusive race, with only a handful of male and female qualifiers invited from each state. (He wasn’t one of the top finishers that time, though.) His level fitness comes partly from an incredible work ethic and partly from a diet extremely low in fats because his body can’t handle them. What people don’t see when they watch Jason compete is his chronic familial pancreatitis, with a suspected slow-growing tumor; and he also battles renal cell carcinoma. Jason has undergone multiple surgeries and has been in danger of losing his life. He schedules medical procedures so regularly, he says, “it’s like the way you would schedule with your dentist or eye doctor.” (He tells me that tomorrow, July 22, he has an endoscopy scheduled.) Who knows if he would still be surviving if he didn’t push his body to the limit in training and competition whenever he’s healthy? It gives him the ability to fight when his illness takes over for a period of time.

This condition is Jason’s vortex street. “It’s surreal,” he says, “I’ll place sixth out of more than two hundred in a triathlon, then I’ll come home and there will be a medical bill I have to pay. I don’t feel sick, I feel great.”

The last time he was in the hospital, I went and sat with him for a couple hours, and I cried. I wonder when I will lose some of my closest friends who deal with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and I treasure the small interactions of our lives; the sharing of a picture of their children on Facebook, a phone call to say “congratulations” for small victories, or “I’m glad you’re feeling better.” If, and ultimately when, we lose these “clods and promontories” as John Donne called them, we will all be the worse. When the bell tolls for them it also tolls for us. We all sing the vortex street blues.

Singing the blues is a simultaneous sharing of woes, while feeling good somehow that a better day will come. My friend Jonathan wrote a song that begins like this:

Better days gonna come again/ put your raincoat on, you’ve been stuck in here too long.

We have to get out. Jason does this better than anyone I know. His body creates one of the most intense vortex streets, a constant drag to the leeward, but his discipline to get his raincoat on and get out is an inspiration.

We often do feel like islands, (and we feel that our own physical selves are that obstacle which causes a vortex street) and yet John Donne insisted, we are not alone, that we must grieve every clod lost to the waves. When our friends are singing the blues on vortex street, our job is not to ignore, but to acknowledge, and to celebrate small victories as we navigate through the eddies. Perhaps worse than the backwards motion of backsliding, like a temporary eddy in a river, is the three-hundred mile wide mesoscale eddy in the ocean, or the vortex street that follows us around like a pair of ribbons streaming behind us, creating drag. The mesoscale eddy or the Karman vortex street are disruptive, regular, and part of the ocean that picks away at our continent.

What’s am I listening looking for? What’s the value of recognizing a vortex street in a friend’s life?  Look for ways to find inspiration from someone’s efforts and then highlight it. Invite people to get their raincoat on and get out.  See people in poverty rehearse and perform a symphony in spite of it. When you see people in pain who compete in spite of it, share each others’ stories (with permission!) and be aware that some of us live with permanent obstacles. The vortex street comes from permanent obstacles, difficult surroundings, but it leaves a trail of beauty if we’ll only look for it.

Congo Reflections Part 5: Liberty

The end game of leadership training in Congo is freedom.

This idea of “liberty and justice for all” we speak of in our pledge of allegiance hasn’t included people in our own country at all times, and it certainly hasn’t included Congo. I’ve addressed in earlier Congo Reflections posts the CIA meddling and even attempting assassinations in Congo. The arrogance of the idea that our military and covert ops ought to “protect our national interest” within the boundaries of other sovereign states is despicable to say the least.

But to focus on the positive: how does leadership training invite freedom in Congo?

Freedom, bravery and heroism are nebulous terms and the US Government, like most governments, control the message of those words. Facebook blew up in the past months with juxtapositions of (nee) Bruce Jenner against images of wounded warriors as examples of bravery. Jenner went through national criticism for the sake of his own comfort. But warriors themselves recognize that they serve a “national” interest driven by big government and (if possible, whenever possible) even bigger corporations.

This government, and these corporations, attract top level leaders, for whom money isn’t even the biggest attraction. It’s power. Power corrupts.

What is it to have a leadership style that lays down power and washes others’ feet instead? It is a leadership style that ultimately results in martyrdom, but its power ends up lasting much longer. Lumumba may have been, as I’ve mentioned, on his way to an absolute power, and who knows if it may have corrupted him? But I believe he was attempting to lead collaboratively – Congo for the Congolese, truly free from imperial influence. The cost was death. The Congo had a chance. The Congo deserves more chances at Liberty. The Congo needs leaders trained to give themselves up. An army of them. A horde. Not so that we invite them to die physically, though that may happen for some. But we invite a view of leadership that carries a vision of death to self. Death to self for a brother’s sake, Jesus said, was the greatest love a man could bear. That’s great leadership, and that frees the people. It is one of the greatest truths known to humanity.

This is truth that sets us free.

Help reverse the trend of imperialism and partner with my trip to Congo to train leaders here!