The Spirit of Becoming a Coaching Leader

The Spirit of Becoming a Coaching Leader

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I am currently on a journey to focus my energies on reading more biographies because of an insight I had recently about one of my top five strengths on the StrengthsFinder. I am wired for Individualization according to StrengthsFinder, which means I am highly intrigued with the personal qualities of an individual and how to best multiply their unique gifts and contributions to the world. This is one of the primary reasons I love coaching people.

For the last three months, our family has been invested in basketball and I personally was coaching all four of my girls on three different basketball teams. By default, I begin to reminisce about the decades gone by and my time on the basketball court. It is the primary reason that the first two books in this new journey are basketball-themed books. In complete transparency Decision Points by George Bush and Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey are the few biographies I have read over the years. I normally read practical books, but this new insight has me discovering a place of me that needed to be excavated.

The first book that I got started on down this path of biographies was Shoe Dog: A Memoir of the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight. Enjoyable story and one of the primary insights was to let go of the outcome of having to have it all figured out. It was almost 12 years into the journey before the brand Nike was born and the Swoosh was designed. You do not need a fancy name or logo to get started. Start.

Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s and being 6’4″ I was the kid that had the “basketball is life” shirt. My days and summers were spent playing basketball and going to basketball camp. I can vividly remember watching Phil Jackson coach the Bulls and reading his book Sacred Hoops: Spiritual Lessons of a Hardwood Warrior when I was fourteen.

Recently I finished Phil Jackson’s book Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success and he shares a powerful lesson about when one of the players shared a Harvard Business Review article with him and how deeply it resonated with his posture of becoming one of the greatest coaches of all time. The Sound of the Forest (seen below) is a parable about how one transitions from a transactional leader to a transformational leader.

The greatest coaches will coach beneath the surface. This takes practice, skill, and prayer, and truly becomes an art form. The space of silence and allowing feelings to surface. It is the space of an interlude that the mind that gives way to the heart.

As expressed in the parable below, it is the art of hearing the unheard.

Next time you find yourself desiring to help those around you overcome futility and flourish may you have the courage as a coaching leader to pause and hear the unheard.

Now to the “unseen space of leadership.”

The Sound of the Forest

“Back in the third century A.D., the King Ts’ao sent his son, Prince T’ai, to the temple to study under the great master Pan Ku. Because Prince T’ai was to succeed his father as king, Pan Ku was to teach the boy the basics of being a good ruler. When the prince arrived at the temple, the master sent him alone to the Ming-Li Forest. After one year, the prince was to return to the temple to describe the sound of the forest.

When Prince T’ai returned, Pan Ku asked the boy to describe all that he could hear. “Master,” replied the prince, “I could hear the cuckoos sing, the leaves rustle, the hummingbirds hum, the crickets chirp, the grass blow, the bees buzz, and the wind whisper and holler.” When the prince had finished, the master told him to go back to the forest to listen to what more he could hear. The prince was puzzled by the master’s request. Had he not discerned every sound already?

For days and nights on end, the young prince sat alone in the forest listening. But he heard no sounds other than those he had already heard. Then one morning, as the prince sat silently beneath the trees, he started to discern faint sounds unlike those he had ever heard before. The more acutely he listened, the clearer the sounds became. The feeling of enlightenment enveloped the boy. “These must be the sounds the master wished me to discern,” he reflected.

When Prince T’ai returned to the temple, the master asked him what more he had heard. “Master,” responded the prince reverently, “when I listened most closely, I could hear the unheard—the sound of flowers opening, the sound of the sun warming the earth, and the sound of the grass drinking the morning dew.” The master nodded approvingly. “To hear the unheard,” remarked Pan Ku, “is a necessary discipline to be a good ruler. For only when a ruler has learned to listen closely to the people’s hearts, hearing their feelings uncommunicated, pains unexpressed, and complaints not spoken of, can he hope to inspire confidence in his people, understand when something is wrong, and meet the true needs of his citizens. The demise of states comes when leaders listen only to superficial words and do not penetrate deeply into the souls of the people to hear their true opinions, feelings, and desires.”

Parables of Leadership Harvard Business Review by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne 1992

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About Lantz Howard