Learning from books feeds our brains. Experience builds skills and expertise. Effective coaching shapes and drives the way we work and see the world. And then there is that wonderful, elusive sort of mentoring that leaves an indelible imprint on the soul. Here are the stories of two people who have provided me with the sort of coaching that leaves an indelible imprint on the soul, and a powerful impact on my life.
Maggie was a tiny fireball, a real force of nature. She started a national movement after she retired from the Presbyterian Church, which she called forced termination from employment due to age. A number of us lived in shared housing with her in Philadelphia, and often worked with her on different projects. A savvy optimist with no rose-colored glasses, she would often say: “When you’re working on something important, you never let roadblocks deter you from your goal. If there’s a rock in the road, move it, go around it, or over it. And, if nothing else works, then tunnel under it.” And she did. In her old age, she was elected to the National Giraffe Heroes Project for sticking neck out, a commendation which was always a badge of honor for her.
Maggie led by example, demonstrating a model of passion, persistence and power. Whenever she would meet people after speaking engagements or workshops, she would ask them about what they were doing, show them why their work was important, and encourage them. People would walk away from those conversations excited and empowered, because Maggie had validated them, and told them their work had impact and value. She was very supportive to people working to make a positive difference in the world – and a well-researched, dramatic critic of those she found to be creating harm. When she died, a major national newspaper wrote that Maggie had no children. The newspaper was corrected by her friend and foundation executive who said “Maggie had thousands of children she nurtured over the years, spread across the country and the world.”
Michael is a retired publishing executive who has built many large publishing businesses over the years. An extremely successful businessman, he is surprisingly humble and self-deprecating about his many achievements. Even when he has been quite busy, Michael has always found the time to focus on his friends and colleagues with undivided attention. In talking with him, you feel like he has all the time in the world for you. He listens in such a way that, when he responds to you, it is with a very deep level of understanding.
Gentle with his suggestions and advice, Michael would share about strategies he had used that were successful without saying “you should do it this way.” He lets you figure out the connection between the strategies he used to successfully surmount challenges, and your own situation. When he suggests something, it is with grace and tact. Michael often says, “well, I’m sure you’ve already thought of this, and I was thinking… ” He would go on to describe an idea or solution that you hadn’t considered at all.
Michael has also been tireless in his giving to those in need, serving on many boards, and becoming involved in supporting and funding a wide range of community economic development projects. Some of our most well-known social enterprise and economic development nonprofits have grown under his tutelage. Almost always, he leverages both his volunteering and his philanthropy by involving others, and he’s engaged an untold number over the years. By doing so, he has shown many people new and exciting ways to make a difference in the world while building his base of support for those causes most dear to his heart.
Why This is Coaching That Leaves an Indelible Imprint on the Soul
Over the years, these two coaches became dear friends, and part of my “family of choice,” as Maggie so aptly termed it. Michael and I still talk on a regular basis, now more as peers who share about our lives, our work, our spiritual practice and those causes that are our passions. And though she is long gone, Maggie’s legacy can still be seen everywhere, and I often consider what she might say about an issue I find challenging. Modelling skills and strategies helpful to my professional development, they served as powerful coaches and examples. They have demonstrated purposeful and value-driven lives. Lives that make a difference in the world. And they have left an indelible imprint on my soul.