Put Me In, Coach!

It seems like I’ve been coaching all my life. Even as a kid, I would coach my little brother and his friends playing backyard football. Part of the great fun in growing up in East Point, a southside suburb of Atlanta, was having a neighborhood chocked full of kids, ready for pick up baseball, basketball or football games at all hours of the day. Danny, Tony, Ricky, Collie, even Johnny were characters in my own Sandlot production.

Later, when I was in seminary, I coached a local YMCA team that played soccer in the highly competitive environment of Decatur, Georgia. This was back before there were girl leagues, so I happened to have two girls that I coached, Jennifer and Leah, the only two girls in the league. They were at that age when they had grown faster than boys. And obviously, it goes without saying, they were smarter and more mature than the boys. It also goes without saying, they were my favorites.

I taught them a defensive formation I learned in college, a “diamond”, that is simple but effective in preventing the offensive advances of opponents, like a magical web. Most coaches at that level are dads, so we were pretty much ahead of the curve in sophistication of game plans. A number of them went on from the mighty, mighty Panthers to play for Decatur High and won a state championship. And one of my girls wound up playing in college. As impressive as that is, those achievements were tertiary to the sense of team we experienced.

Later, I moved to Texas and was coaxed into coaching my son’s soccer team. Once again, I installed the diamond that Richie Warren had taught to me at Emory. There was one kid who was a little bigger than the other kids, but he lacked focus and aggressiveness.  He reminded me of Michael Oher of the real-life movie called The Blind Side, and I was cast in the Sandra Bullock role of pulling out his native gifts. Yeah, that’s right….me as Sandra Bullock. Deal with it!

I convinced Russell that he was the fiercest person on the field, in fact,  in the world as we knew it.  When an opponent came on his side of the field, his mission was to take the ball away from the intruder. I looked him square in his eyes and said, “You are the destroyer! Got that. Who are you?” And Russell would respond dutifully, “I am the Destroyer.” And he was transformed from tentative, reserved Russell into The Destroyer,  becoming aggressive during those games, destroying the offense of our opponents. A couple of years ago, he asked me to officiate at his wedding in Park Cities, Utah. As I drove up to the rehearsal at the tiny Episcopal chapel downtown, his mother greeted me, “The Destroyer is waiting for you!”. She had remembered, and reminded me of the coaching transformation I had wrought years ago, and we laughed. Luckily for the bride, The Destroyer had throttled back and expanded his repertoire of behavior to become The Lover. A good man, this Russell.

I have been a coach all my life. I coached young people who were trying on “the fit” of  adulthood, being a young man or young woman in a demanding world. I coached couples who were trying to get prepared to launch their marriage; worked with scared partners scrambling to keep their young marriages together; sat with folks to negotiate breaches in trust and promises broken; and counseled with older couples that were trying to bring life back into their intimacy. I coached people who were struggling with their identity, people who had experienced some sort of breakthrough or breakdown. And I’ve even coached people through their process of dying, as well as  those that had to say goodbye to a loved one. Coaching, it turned out, is part of being a priest.

It’s ironic. I’ve often had athletic coaches schedule time to talk to me about becoming a priest. I take them seriously and listen to their story as they tell me about the circumstances of their sense of calling to the priesthood. I always try to help them understand their unique position of being with young people, and the peculiar advantage of being with a human being as they are early in the developmental process. I attempt to get them to see what a noble job they have already and what they will be giving up by putting on a collar. But I have to admit, most of them don’t listen to my coaching, and they move forward with their plans. Foolish mortals.

At one time in my career, I was charged with coaching clergy that were graduating from seminary and heading off for their first work in a parish. My colleague, Kevin and I would meet with them for a couple of days each month, over a year, and assist them in thinking through this awesome and awful role of being a priest in community of faith, comprised of people who were mixtures of  sinners and saints. It was one of my favorite times, helping them figure out how to lead, how to challenge, how to comfort, how to be present to others. I did that coaching for five years, and it was such a gift from the Bishop of Texas and these emergent priests. Not surprisingly, I learned a lot about how to be a priest by coaching them to do the same.

I have coached persons in how to be people of faith, of finding and being their True Self, fighting off the temptation to just “get by”. Some people call it spiritual direction but it’s really the same as coaching soccer. I am just trying to bring out the very best of what may be undiscovered.  Rather than calling out another soccer player, I call out humans who are gifted, talented, compassionate, creative persons who have a special path to follow.

I have worked with other priests, a bunch of faithful lay folks, people who were figuring out where they fit in the vocations as doctors, lawyers, or tribal chiefs. I was fortunate to work with Trappist monks who were struggling to live out their vows within the crucible of community.  And recently,  I have worked with people whose careers had ended, and were trying to make sense and joy  out of retirement. Still coaching.

For the past few years, I have been coaching people in healthcare. I have loved working with executives who want to make healthcare a place of better quality care and more compassionate, more humane. Again, I have been fortunate to work with a team of colleagues who know the particular and peculiar challenge of healthcare, from both business and clinical sides. I’ve enjoyed working with a CEO who was retiring after a long successful career, moving on to another chapter of life. And I’ve coached a brand new CEO, taking on an unfamiliar role and trying to make good on a promise to transform healthcare, providing a model for the nation. I have worked with execs, docs, nurses, and administrators as they try to live out their vocation in the healthcare arena. Still coaching.

These days, I continue my coaching, therapy, and spiritual direction with a wide variety of folks. I still work with clergy who are trying the be faithful in their calling of leadership. I work with people who are trying to make sense out of a life that is not neat, but messy. And I work with folks that are seeking a way to live before they die. Still coaching.

Coach. It’s who I am.  I have been called Father, Doctor, Professor, Reverend, Canon, and in Texas, sumbitch. But it’s “Coach” that I love, “Coach” that I relish. It is where I get my juice, my psychic pay.

The best way I can describe it is to say that as a coach, I have the unusual privilege of coming alongside a fellow person, attending to what is going on, listening carefully to the story someone tells me, asking powerful questions that clarify, helping them make sense of their experience, and design plans for the living of their days. Building capacity. It’s good work, this being a coach. That’s why I am still coaching.

Self Awareness

To say I am a Springsteen fan is an understatement. His recent run on Broadway made me verge on coveting the tickets that several of my friends scored to see the Boss “live” and in person. I had to wait for Netflix to tape one of the last shows and put it on the air before Christmas….Merry Christmas to me!

The show is superb. I enjoyed his music, playing solo with guitar, with a little help from his wife, Patti on a couple of songs. Raw, live music…as good as it gets. The connection of his lyrics to his surroundings was remarkable as he was the poet of an era on the New Jersey shore. I was moved by his description of his friends who were drafted and died in Vietnam, as well as his thanksgiving that his name was not on the memorial wall in DC. And when he talked of the Big Man, Clarence, he brought me to tears as to his sense of brotherhood, the type that only happens in a band. His lyrics evoke a depth of feeling in me that I can’t quite explain, from the brash Born to Run  all the way to plaintive The Rising, which he recorded in Atlanta at Southern Stages after 9/11. I love me some Bruce.

But the thing that grabbed me about this special Broadway performance was his honesty. Honest, not only with his fans, and his audience in the theater, but more importantly, with himself. Simply, he knows himself.

He owned up in his autobiography that he was from a boardwalk town that was tinged with fraud. In his show, he is even more explicit, admitting that he had written songs about fast cars, when he didn’t even drive; written songs about blue collar workers without ever setting foot inside a factory. And he laughs about it as he fooled us all with his lyrics….because, as he quips, he’s just that good! The ability to be honest with oneself is a rare gift, I think. No, I know.

Rare, and yet it is the essential ingredient in life, particularly if you aspire to lead. Just who do you think you are kidding? is a damning self-indictment if you are found to be caught unaware of your mixed motives, or your darker sides. There’s the face that you present to the world in order to gain what it is you want, what you desire. It’s a face that you have been perfecting since you emerged from the body of your mother in utero. It’s a face that you use to attract, to get reaction in a way that gets you what you need. And by the time you reach mid-life, say forty, there’s very little you have to learn to perfect that face. You have it down. Carl Jung, a depth psychologist, called it one’s persona. And everyone has one. If you are reading this and thinking that you don’t….that is a sign that you are in trouble.

Most people have some awareness of the mask they wear, but many have only a slight conscious sense of how they use it to get what they want.

That’s the first step of self awareness: What is it that you want? It’s an existential question that goes to your heart of hearts. When I am teaching or training a group of leaders, it is often my FIRST question, because I think self awareness is the starting point for leadership, for that matter,  for authentic being. What is it that you want? Do you know?

Bruce tells a funny story about taking a rented guitar to his backyard with his neighborhood kids when he was eight or nine years of age. He didn’t know how to play the guitar, but it did not matter. He banged on his six string box, known as a guitar, and made noise to get the attention of the other kids. But more importantly, Bruce said, he used the guitar to pose, that is, to present himself in a way that got attention. And that was when he was hooked. That’s what he wanted, and he rode that  intention all the way to to the stage. He was honest with himself then, and now. Attention is what he wanted, what he craved. What do you want? Do you have that awareness?

When I work with people in therapy, coaching or teaching, I often demonstrate this principle by coming clean as to my own driving motivation. I spent years and thousands in analysis and therapy to get clean with myself and Self as to what was driving me. There’s a host of nuances to my drivers but it come down to a need to be chosen. To be “the one” that is chosen from the others, the one who is anointed by choice. Imagine the power of the chase to get someone, like my wife, to choose me, David Galloway, over her other suitors. Imagine the thrill of getting a call from a predominantly black congregation to call me as their leader, me, a white guy from Atlanta. It was the stuff of my dreams….to be chosen. To know was is subconsciously driving you gives you the opportunity to be aware of what’s happening, and if you are good, as good as Bruce, you can avoid making some bad decisions.

My brother, Mitch, remembers a time in high school when he received a standing ovation for his superb, and surprising performance in the musical Carnival. He loved it. And he is self aware enough to recognize that when he is presenting in corporate settings, he is wanting another standing ovation. It drives him to be an outstanding presenter that delivers good information in an accessible way. It makes him one of the best presenters in the healthcare industry. But he knows what drives him. He is self aware enough to throttle back when the situation is not appropriate for his Broadway flair. He also knows when to “turn it up” when his best performance is demanded.

Some of the folks I worked with articulate other drivers. A minister friend of mine admits, sheepishly, that he wants to be adored…..not just liked, but adored. If you were to watch him in action, you would know he’s telling the truth. It has led him to some heights of leadership and popularity, but it has also led him down some roads that almost destroyed him.

Another person told me that what drives her was just a need to survive. Her early abuse, lack of self confidence drives her to be cautious, careful, and this too makes it known in her everyday existence. She has worked hard to recognize that driver and change her mindset.  Knowing what drives you is the beginning. You can know it, recognize it when it emerges, deal with it, turning it “up” or “down”.  And you can change it. It’s not easy, but the work I do with many folks is to help them examine and then transform that driver.

What is your driving motivation? How did it come about, what’s its source? How has it worked for you and how is it limiting you? These are worthy questions that are some initial steps toward self awareness as you move into the New Year.


Pause for the Cause

One of my close friends died this past year, Elgin Wells,  a noted Atlanta musician.
We grew up next to each other on a lake in East Point, both of our dads worked for Delta Airlines. Elgin was a good bit older and went to a private school, what is now called Woodward Academy. He went on to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Elgin may be the most talented person I’ve ever met,  a superb musician on multiple instruments, a fine vocalist, and he even built his own electric violin, just to play the haunting Icarus, by Paul Winter. He performed all over Atlanta, notably a jazz club at the top of the CNN building called Max’s. He was a favorite at Ray’s on the River, overlooking the famed Chattahoochee.

I would often take dates to go hear him, and he would dutifully make time to come over on his break and chat up the young unsuspecting woman, playing up my street cred with her, even asking if I would sit in during the next set. It was a Southside freeze-out that I loved to play.

Elgin introduced me to jazz, notably Horace Silver through Song For My Father, which can still bring me to tears. George Benson’s jazz guitar, Quincy Jones’ soulful writing, Paul Desmond, Trane and Miles, just to name a few. He was part of my education and was a patient prof..

He died this year practicing for an air show in China. Elgin and I had talked prior to shipping his aerobatic plane to China about his excitement for the show….he loved to fly, particularly  the demanding aerobatic maneuvers that pressed the limits of precision. We also talked of his love of teaching music to hungry students, like the ones to came to my friend, Eddie Owens’ Red Clay Foundry in Duluth. He was so gifted and felt a calling to pass it on, and he did with enthusiasm and boundless support. I am particularly missing him on this gloomy day, listening to some plaintive Trane.

Elgin’s band was called Extravaganza, which tipped his hand to his deep need to entertain. He was going to “bring it” every time he took to the stage. He usually had a great supporting cast, sometimes with Doc Samuels, a killer bassist, Professor Bennie Goss on keys, and the tastiest drummer,  Jimmy Jackson. An amazing constellation of talent, I always wondered why they did not go further up the entertainment chain. Now, I think I know.

Elgin had a signature way of introducing a needed break for the band’s performance. He would say, with that winsome smile of his that I am seeing as I write, “Time to take a pause for the cause!”. And then, they would take five, or ten, or fifteen, depending on the crowd. But then they would get right back to work, bringing their magic in order to trip the light fantastic.

A pause for the cause. I am trying to do a bit of that after Christmas. It’s what I normally do this time of year. Between the craziness of tag-teaming family Christmas gatherings and the festive beginning of a New Year, I take Elgin’s lead and make a pause for the cause.

For me, it takes the form of a full 24 hour period when I review the year, the goals achieved and the misses. I prefer to do it in solitude which forces my focus and puts distractions aside. I try to look with honesty at the goals I set a year ago, assess my progress, and note my own failures, asking a pressing “why”.

The review is important as it brings a self reflection that I value highly. But I value the planning for the new year even more. I write down the major goals I have for the coming year, adding the specifics, the timelines, and metrics by which to measure my progress. What will it look like if I am successful? And, what is the cost of failure?

I also assess my balance. Where am I overly functioning in my life, and where might I be under-investing my time and energy? I do this work with others that I coach in running healthcare systems, serving as ministers and priests, doing business, and leading organizations. To be honest with oneself is problematic, particularly when you suffer with the illusion that you are, indeed, courageously honest. It requires the “third eye” of another who I will use to review my own review, to keep this dealer honest. And so, my coach will visit the work of my “pause” to insure I am not just kidding myself.

I will take a pause to assess my relationships, namely, my family. How am I doing with my spouse; how am I supporting her growth, or inhibiting it.? What goals does she have, what dreams, what fears? I had some good time with both of my children at Christmas on the island and did some thinking as to how my role has changed. What do they need in this particular time in their development? What about my other relationships: my  brother, my fabulous sister-in-law, my nieces and nephews, my close friends, my colleagues, the people I coach, guide, and support? I will discuss all these with an old therapist friend who has observed my trajectory of self through time to check my course.

Finally, I will assess my personal mission statement which makes explicit the values that I intend to live out in my existence. I love having a mission statement that I keep in front of me every day, beginning when I wake and reviewed before I sleep. I find this helps me stay on True North even when pressures and busyness lurk. And for this review at the end of the year, I visit my spiritual director  who asks the tough questions of my soul’s healthiness, a spiritual proctoscopic examination, sans the tranquilizers. It always grants me a sense of being clean as I begin afresh in a New Year.

And so, I encourage you to take your own pause for the cause. Mine takes place usually at a Trappist monastery, in my cabin in the Cherokee woods, just to be suggestive of the spiritual dimensions I am pressing against. But it has happened on a cross country flight, in a Marriott hotel room, even in my own study. The place is not as crucial as the time dedicated. Make the time for your SELF.

Take a Pause for the Cause…which is you.

Magic to Do

Music is magic for me. It is the secret elixir that brings spirit to the ordinary, especially potent when I am in the very space where it is being performed. Music infuses the normal with the effervescence of enthusiasm. Live music does that magical alchemy of transforming time and space into a dynamic  moment of bliss. My friend, Eddie Owen, has made a career and changed a city, powered by that insight.

My love affair with music began with the Southern gospel harmonies of my childhood, sitting with my grandfather watching Gospel Jubilee early on Sunday mornings. That harmony would find its way into the Memphis soul of Elvis and Stax that just made people move. I was tied at the  ear to my beloved Philco radio and my Japanese transistor that broadcast a wide variety of music, from rock to classical. Country and bluegrass were also part of my pedigree out in my ancestral west Georgia. Coming to it naturally, music was in my soul from the beginning, but live music quickened my spirit regardless of genre. It’s one of the places I find that magic happens. Watching Springsteen on Broadway, Bruce knows about the magic trick of music. When I get to listen to my son play his music on stage, like this weekend, I am transported to heaven. The magic is palpable.

It was in college that my friend, Tom Greenbaum, introduced me to a new form of music, trio jazz. with his own inimitable style playing the Baby Grand in our fraternity parlor. In addition, he opened up a new chapter in my musical life as he hipped me to the music from the Broadway musical, Pippen, with music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz, who had previously written Godspell. The story is about a Prince ma,ed Pippen, the son of Charlemagne, who is in search of his identity, his life purpose…not far off from my own quest at that time in my life. Timing is everything.

In what serves as Pippen’s overture, Magic to Do, the cast suggestively asks the audience to suspend their sense of reality for the next couple of hours in order to enter into the life drama of this play. The cast literally implores the audience to “Join us” with an enthusiastic call. Actually they are asking for something much more exciting: heighten your awareness. Tune into the magic that surrounds you. Lean into the mystery that is breaking in over your head.

The lyrics: Join us….leave your fields to flower; Join us……leave your cheese to sour; Join us……Come and waste an hour or two! Magic to do.

I was lucky enough to see the original cast with the amazing Ben Vereen as the charismatic storyteller/trickster. Bob Fosse was the choreographer for the original production….can you say “jazz hands”? If you are so inclined, google “Pippin” and “Magic to Do” for a treat and observe the superb staging. You will thank me, much as I thanked Tom.

This song, “Magic to Do”, became the opening song for our jazz trio, which seemed only appropriate. While we relied on Tom’s Sheldon-like eidetic memory of the Sinatra catalog to power our group through the requests for songs I had never heard of, “Magic to Do” had a lilt, a suggestive power to begin our engagement with a sense of wonderment and upbeat promise. With Tom noodling the melody, Mark Jones laying down the rhythm, and me, playing little bass and delivering a winsome personality, there was indeed magic to do.

These moments in life are worthy of notice. Moments in live music, particularly if you are playing; pausing in the mystical silence of nature; catching a whiff of ethereal air from the sea or an incense censor; the intimate touch of the loved other: all contain the possibility of magic, a moment of breakthrough from the normal to the sublime. What’s your special place to sense that magic, those “thin spaces” where the boundary between the ordinary and sacred merge.

Are you able to see magic these days, or are you numbed by the busy blur of activity? Are you able to see what’s going on around you? Has the drive for rationality and sensibility lulled you into the sleep of normalcy.? In this chaotic time approaching Christmas, are you catching glimpses of the magic around you?

Every so often, magic seems to break in on me, not due to my careful planning or scheduling, but by what one might say is sheer accident. Others might look at the same facts but come up with a providential cause and effect in play. I tend to simply enjoy the moment rather than ascribing the “woo woo” effect, but that’s just me. But, and make no mistake, I love it when the magic happens, whenever it happens, however it happens.

Just the other day, a moment of magic broke into the normal. My wife was on her way to a gathering of her high school girlfriends.  They do it every year, with a time to catch up and share the latest in the days of their lives. Mary was meeting her friend in a church parking lot just outside the perimeter of Atlanta in order to car pool to their friend’s new condo in Duluth, northeast of the city. Mary had stopped at a gas station to fill up her tank with gas. After she had fueled the intrepid Highlander, she was surprised and dismayed to find that her car door had locked automatically. Her keys were there in the seat, along with her cell phone and her purse. I do not know what words she released as she realized  the fullness of her predicament, but I’m pretty sure it was encapsulated in one syllable.

After assessing the situation, she began to run through a check list of what she could possibly do to save the situation. She was about a mile away from the designated rendezvous spot with her friend. She did not remember the phone number for her friend as it was safely stored in the memory of her iphone. What in the world was she going to do? She spotted the attendant and thought maybe he would let her use his phone. When she explained her situation, the young man, named Jose, offered a simple solution: “take my truck”. Not knowing my wife as a justified, sanctified, teacher-certified, respectable citizen, this young man responded from his heart with compassion, perhaps mixed with a little foolishness.  “Take my truck.”

And there it was, on a Saturday morning in Sandy Springs: Magic. The gift of a human being acting like one. Imagine that! Extending himself across boundaries of the normal, this person gave of himself in an act of care. Rather than the typical, “not my problem”, a simple but profound act of compassion. “Take my truck.” Magic to do.

Now, I won’t bore you with the details of how Mary extricated herself from this bind other than it all worked out after Jose did a little magic. Mary and her friend made it to the gathering in Duluth where more magic could take place among friends gathering. And when she offered Jose a twenty dollar bill for his kindness, he refused. Insisting that he take the twenty, Jose responded with a magical phrase: Pay if forward. And the magic continues…

Do you witness moments of magic in your normal, hectic life? Are you looking, taking the time to notice those random acts of care? My bet is, if you think about it, you can remember some magic that has come your way, some moment in the ordinary when the spirit breaks through. And you might hear Jose’s magic mantra: pay it forward. Magic to do.

Gifts: A Lesson in Perspective Taking

My mother was the best gift giver on the planet. By that, I mean, she had an uncanny way of figuring out just what the person wanted as a gift. I always think of her at this time of year as I am racking my brain to choose “just the right gift” for those people in my life that I care about. Year after year, she would come up with the perfect choice for each person in the family. It was amazing, even baffling.

For awhile, I thought it had something to do with her being a witch! A witch? A Biible-teaching Sunday School teacher at the local Baptist church? She was a godly woman, in the complete Southern sense of the word, but she told me when I was a child that she was a witch. I later figured out her strategy which was to convince me of her supernatural powers, just enough to lodge the thought in my mind that she could see me at all times, in all places, to perhaps dissuade me from doing something that might get me in trouble. It’s the old trick of making kids think that Santa is watching you and making a list of who has been naughty and nice, as a cheap method of behavior modification. That gets extended cosmically with the notion that God is watching, got an EYE on you specifically. Later, some folks carry that over to a sense of being watched by the government or other threatening entity. I’ll leave that alone, but for me, it was the mere suggestion that my mom was a witch, which was enough, to keep me on the straight and narrow.

That strategy worked on me for awhile until I learned from my therapist that what my mother was doing was introjecting herself into my unconscious so that her voice would always be in my head, whether I was at a social gathering, driving alone on a highway, or at the Clermont Lounge. She was there with me, inextricably in my head. Psychoanalytic theory tells us that is the super ego, and it cost me several thousand dollars to get clear about all that and gain some freedom from its tyranny.

It would have been cheaper if I had just asked her. And I did the day after Christmas one year. “How do you always choose the perfect gift?”. True to form, she replied, “I am a witch!”. I  quickly explained to her my knowledge of psychoanalysis, showing her the receipt from my shrink, and that her ruse was up. She smiled that way she would when she was putting up with my pretense to know more than I did and said, “It’s all about perspective taking”. Okay, I’ll bite. What does that mean?

She explained that perspective taking is the talent of getting in the mind of the other person. The motivation is to understand the world of the other person. It’s as traditional as the old Native American wisdom of walking a mile in the other person’s moccasins.  It’s the gift of seeing the world through another person’s eyes. It is taking the other’s perspective, that is, their way of viewing the world. My mother, who had probably learned from her own mother, had the gift of perspective taking and she righteously applied it to selecting gifts for others.

I learned later in my academic study that there is, in fact, a cognitive skill that can be developed, and even measured, as you consider other people’s view of the world, transcending the limitations of your limited point of view, or perspective. By really focusing on the wants, needs, and interests of the other, one is given a clue as to what make him/her “tick”, why they do what they do, why they think the way they do. Perspective taking. No witchy trick, but it does border on magic.

The sophisticated way of describing this skill, or power, is called empathy, that is, feeling what an other person feels. It means considering the full reality of the other person, and simultaneously suspending, momentarily, the tendency to impose my own way of seeing the world on the other person. Projecting “my view” or my emotions onto the “other” is one of the most prevalent “misses” that occur in the messiness of human relationships.

In business, perspective taking has found its own place. There has emerged a whole discipline called Emotional Intelligence, pioneered by Dr. Daniel Goleman, who has experimented and documented the human ability to treat other people with respect and value. In the workplace, it means that you treat your coworker in ways by which they feel understood and taken seriously. This is particularly true in supervisory relationships where power issues impinge and seek to impose a hierarchy of values on the worth and value of people. Emotional intelligence means that you have “people smarts” in that you treat the other people in the situation with care. Emotional intelligence gives you the important self awareness that you are just one person in the community of others. There are words used to describe those folks, such as caring, thoughtful, respectful. And as I have learned in coaching leaders, there is one particular, distinctive word in the English language that describes those folks who are lacking in the skill of perspective taking……and I will let you fill that word in. I am exercising my emotional intelligence!. Or maybe it’s my mom’s witchy way, unexorcised in my head.

Think of those people in your life, your work environment, or social setting that seem gifted in this human skill of emotional intelligence, or as it’s come to be called in short-hand, EQ. Now, think of those people who are disrespectful, people that act without regard for you or others. And now, the bonus question: how do people think of you? A person who is gifted in perspective taking of others, or one who is stuck in a limiting perspective of self? Your EQ makes all the difference. Business has learned the this has a huge effect on the bottom line.

I have worked with numerous executives who have left a wake of bloodied relationships and broken teams due to a severe lack of emotional intelligence. As I coach them, I sometimes wonder if their mother didn’t teach them these skills. Did they just forget, a bad case of social amnesia? The good news is that one can develop emotional intelligence, and one can increase one’s ability to take the perspective of others. I’ve seen it happen…even without going through the magical incantations of becoming a witch. It’s called perspective taking.

I find Christmas to be a good exercise in perspective taking. Thinking about what might be the “perfect gift” for those you care about is a good way to exercise your empathetic muscle. What to get my island-girl daughter? What would bring a smile to my Nashville musician son? What about my entrepreneurial brother or my fabulous sister-in-law? What would make their Christmas a little more merry? The act of imagining is a gift in and of itself as it gets you out of your own self, to exercise perspective taking.

Now, what might my wife, Mary, want? What would make her happy, or a Merry Mary? Let’s see…..a Fender Stratocaster guitar or a new set of Titleist golf clubs?


For me, music always has been a trigger for memories. I was listening to one of my favorite songwriters, Mac McAnnaly, the other day.  It took me back to a time in my life when I lived with five other guys, all who were divorced, except me. We called the place Menagerie Farms, for apparent reasons. We would sit around, drink beer, get depressed, and listen to Gordo Lightfoot, Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson, or Mac. Mac told the most truth I knew at the time, all about my love and hate of things Southern. The boy could turn a phrase to the point of my envy. I remember one line in particular about love and marriage: Don’t be swearing on the Bible, cause anything’s liable, to change your opinion on love. Man, I wish I had written that line. I sure knew some folks who lived it.

This weekend, I was with some fraternity brothers for our annual December gathering. I try to get as many folks as I can to come back to Atlanta, to remember our days in the Sigma Chi fraternity at Emory in the 70’s. Each year, a different collection of my menagerie convene, each year a variety of stories get remembered, a new set of embellishments take center stage. We meet at Manuel’s, the quintessential neighborhood bar, on Friday night. Margie Maloof is always kind to set aside the renovated Eagles Nest for as private a place as any group can get in Manuel’s. On Saturday night, we gather for a great meal with spouses/partners to celebrate our friendship through time. It is a highlight of my year.

This year, Jeff from New Orleans, reminded me of a favorite story that occurred during one rush meeting I chaired. It spoke to both the pain and comedy of our embeddedness of being in the South.  Speaking of the South, Peeler, from Mississippi, reminded me of a particular brawl we started and then escaped at Denny McClain’s old bar in the basement of the Georgian Terrace. Peeler’s medical license and my priesthood ordination might not stand up to the details. Luckily for us, phone cameras had not been invented, social media not even imagined.

There are a few memories that I wish were on film, fresh for remembering. But the colors would have certainly faded by now, lacking the embroidery that our memories have stitched to the mere facts. As I learned in Texas, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. It’s so much more fun to listen to the tales retold, in a Mississippi drawl or a New York clip. How rich to hear those old stories regaled by old friends, some bald, some bent, some battered…..but friends spanning decades.

We always bring up the cooking and mothering of Ethyl and Pearl, the painting the E lion, a football championship with a pass from Rob to Deuce, to Phillips over the middle for a last minute touchdown. Streaking at Agnes Scott. And there were the host of girls/women who claimed and claim a place in our common mind.  Sweethearts past, sweethearts present. Good times we shared, hearts broken, dreams followed, deferred, or altered…..or in my case, altared. It was Jim, from Florida, who pointed to a truth that was evident to all but needed to be said, “There is something about this group that transcends the years.”

That “thing” is our shared experience, of learning how to be a person with an identity all our own, of mastering a bank of knowledge under pressure, of struggling to be a friend and learning about loyalty that transcends genetics, to looking for love in all the right and wrong places, to testing our world view to see if it stands up to the exposure to the new, the different. How consequential it was to go to this particular school, in this peculiar culture, at this consequential time. And deciding, in whim or wisdom, to be with this group of folks who will share this defining time. What a long strange trip. I feel blessed.

I had a great weekend. Saw some folks I had not seen since graduation. Talked to my Baton Rouge friend about guitars and thrilled that he found the perfect Martin at Maple Street. Encouraged by a classmate who had gone through the same physical therapy I am enduring. Connected with one of my favorite human beings who shares my love of Big Sky and Montana. Gave thanks for a brother who passed away this year, bringing a smile of gratitude for his being and presence. He had planned to be with us last year, but the rare snow event kept him away. It’s a reminder that life plays for keeps, particularly as we clock more trips around the Sun.


In this season, my hunch, memories will emerge for you. Through music that transports you back to a special time. Memories, through gatherings, planned or unplanned. Smells. Visuals. Prose or poetry. All can spark your memories. Enjoy them.

Let me suggest you take the time to remember. Pause. Allow a silence in your day to flush out hidden memories. Write. Journal.

Reach out to someone who is far away, in space, in time, or both. Give thanks for the gift of relationship that is in close proximity. Take the time to give thanks for the very gift of life, and all it brings. As St. Ferris of Buehler reminds us: Stop.  Take a look around. Things are moving pretty fast. You just might miss it.