Andrew asked what our favorite metaphors are for dealing with urgent situations. The passage below in which I find strength and inspiration in difficult times contains several metaphors and a simile. This verse is from Habbakuk 3: 17-19:
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines
Even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
Even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
Yet I will rejoice in the Lord!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!
The Sovereign Lord is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
Able to tread upon the heights.
(New Living Translation)
Preparing to send this posting led me to reflect upon the fact that most of my business consulting and executive coaching clients are either Christian or Jewish, and yet executive coaches seem in general to be allergic to any references to the rich resources of these traditions. By contrast, Marshall Goldsmith, one the world’s best known executive coaches, makes much of his Buddhism, and whenever I have seen or heard him introduced at an event, mention is always made of his religion. This seems to be greeted as something very cool. I wonder what the reaction would be if another speaker were introduced as a devout Christian or Jew. Likewise, in discussions of coaching techniques we frequently hear references to Zen, a monastic form of Buddhism, which is non-theistic, as are most forms of this religion.
Lest there be any misunderstanding, I have extensively studied Asians religions, for which I have great respect. I have sat for 30 days in meditation with Tibetan Buddhists in the mountains of Colorado. I have lived for a year in an urban Zen monastery in Los Angeles. One of my favorite clients today is a fervent Hindu, whose face is radiant with his heart of compassion. My wife and I have some dear friends who are Sikhs. I earned degrees in philosophy primarily to study the best that has been said for and against theism for 2,500 years. At “the end of all our exploring,” to use T. S. Eliot’s phrases, I have come “to arrive where we started,” as a theist and as a Christian, “and know the place for the first time.”
My journey bears some similarity to that of others. For decades, the Oxford philosopher Anthony Flew was one of the most prolific and articulate defenders of atheism in the world. In 2004, however, he announced to shocked academics that the evidence and logic had led him to conclude that the most rational position is that there exists a creative, intelligent, all-powerful God after all. In his bombshell book, There Is a God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed his Mind, he says that though he is not a Christian, he finds it to be the most persuasive of all the creeds available.
How does all this affect my consulting and executive coaching practice? First, not by intrusive proselytizing. In most of my work with clients, faith does not come up at all.
Yet there are also instances in which avoiding or changing the topic would be to ignore my clients’ concerns expressed in the context of work. Sometimes this has involved respectful listening and feedback that has provided to Jewish clients reassurance and encouragement to remain strong in the faith that has been the basis of their flourishing lives. At other times I have been honored to be included in their bar and bat mitzvahs, a bris, sabbath services and funeral observances.
A few years ago, a company President, in coaching sessions, felt it very natural to discuss with me the importance to him of his Christian faith. One Christmas I gave him as a gift a copy of the very popular and extraordinarily inspiring book by Sara Hughes called Jesus Calling (30 million + copies sold). Its short, daily devotionals are written in the first-person singular as the voice of Jesus. My client later told me how much the gift meant to him and said he had ordered a copy for every member of his family. Thus was forged an even deeper bond of mutual trust and respect in our work together.
A long-term client and CEO frequently mentions his constant awareness of the presence of Jesus in all aspects of his life. I recently asked him where that sense of His presence was when he faced a particularly intractable, recurring and oft-discussed problem that seemed to drive him to despondency. The question almost stunned him, as it opened an area of inquiry and discussion he had never considered. He was effusively grateful for the ensuing conversation. “This is so valuable!” he said afterwards. “I don’t get this anywhere else, not even from my pastor.”
So, perhaps Goldsmith has a point. Readiness to discuss one’s fundamental values and view of reality encourages others to do the same, to their immense benefit and inspiration. If Goldsmith were asked for a metaphor that gave him strength in adversity, he would likely cite a Buddhist saying or story and thereby shame the rest of us who are so prone to hide our “lamp…under a basket” (Matthew: 5:15) out of fear of offending or being attacked. Brad Pitt’s character in the movie Ad Astra says, “most people spend their whole lives hiding.”
My advice is certainly not that you start preaching rather than coaching. Instead, it is to take regular time to examine, ponder, and perhaps discover anew the rich resources provided by your background which may have sustained millennia of generations through life’s most daunting trials. In doing so, you will prepare yourself to contribute to your clients in ways neither you nor they would ever have imagined.
Tony Mulkern, Ph.D.
818 249 0147