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A s k  t h e   E x p e r t

First published in Business Coaching Worldwide, Ask the Expert is a regular column of stories from the offbeat life of coach's coach Dr. Xavier Fink (his mother calls him Melvyn) as his colleagues interact at the sharp end of the business world.

Dr. Fink
Illustration ©
Janet Schatzman 2007-9

Midnight Express or the Strange Case at the End of the Contract

By Dr. Laurence S. Lyons

(Strange=a weird story; Case=crazy Capitalization)

As this will be his last visit to the company, Filomena has booked a limousine to Central Station. Her instructions are to accompany Dr. Fink, buy his ticket, and see him safely on his way. She isn't sure if her boss intends this as a respectful act of kindness or to make absolutely certain Fink never comes back.

"Thank you so much for coming along with me to the station," says Fink. "In a world that's so hard to comprehend and full of trouble, perhaps the greatest service one human can bestow on another is to accompany them on their Final Journey."

While Filomena has gone off to buy his ticket, Fink muses that it is past Close of Business, that magic time when all daily toil is formally suspended. In the perforated reality of corporate life, offices are closed at this hour yet Fink realises that he's still engaged in business transit. He often says that in all planned journeys the psychological departure always precedes the physical. Mind moves first, then Body follows after it. This causes Fink to reflect that while the substance of This Evening is rightly counted as part of Today, its spirit has been borrowed over from Tomorrow.

Whilst he knows that consumption of food would be totally inappropriate at a grave juncture such as this, Fink feels obliged to consider his duty of parental respect. As his journey will take far in excess of the stipulated fifteen minutes, Fink's promise to his mother compels him to purchase an assortment of filled bagels, a family bag of lightly salted potato chips, and two cans of root beer to help him on his way.

Back from the Ticket Office, Filomena hands over the Final Artefact, something that is familiar (Fink has held many train tickets in his time) but is also different - its bold sans-serif lettering announcing the stark fact that he is never to return: Today. One Way. The Last Train. By confronting the Undelayable Inevitable in the Undeniable Indelible, Fink is overwhelmed with a profound sense of Moment -- that rich intermingling of Achievement and of Hope; of Separation and of Survival, all condensed into an Inescapable Immediate: The Now.

For the Convenience and Comfort of Our Customers, the Train Company recommends Reserved Seating on all Long Distance journeys. Or so it says in the Ticket Office. And there's choice. He can face forwards or back. Today marks the only occasion when Fink states a preference for a Coach that's Internal.

Due to the strict requirements of client confidentiality, the reason for his departure must remain unclear, although there is certainly no question of any ill-feeling. Perhaps his client has developed to the point where Fink has done himself out of a job, in which case this journey is a fitting celebration of resounding success. On the other hand, it's equally likely that the business simply ran out of budget in these stressful economic times. Perhaps we shall never know.

Fink defines Emotion as the feeling that (along with Logic, Interest, and Values) informs our Motivation towards a person, object or situation. He notices evidence of emotion right now as he observes in his companion a formative tear.

"Don't  cry for me, Filomena," says Fink reassuringly. "The truth is I never left you."

"Wot?" she asks.

"Although I'll be gone, I never really left."

A wicked thought passes through Filomena's mind together with the words absolutely certain he never comes back. "What?" she asks again.

"It is all to do with our attachment to organizations. When I was young there was Company Man. You were either a loyal Company Man or a Dastardly Rogue who was out only for his own ends. Incidentally," declares Fink, "it was never Company Woman; that was unthinkable back then. I personally consider the access available to women to share power to be the Litmus Test for any liberal society..."

Filomena is momentarily distracted by a spec of dust recently landed on her sleeve.

"Then there was Job for Life: Join us now and we'll look after you forever. Of course that's all changed. Now it's all rogues and dented glass ceilings. But my point is..."

There are only a few minutes to go before Fink has to get aboard. Filomena forces herself to look interested for the duration.

"In the short time individuals have together we exchange and share value. In some small way your life has changed as a result of knowing me. The converse is certainly true. That's all about the osmosis of Learning and Development. Hopefully the same it true between me and my clients; this dynamic is at the very heart of the Coaching Experience. And the thing is this: we can't turn back the clock, we can't rewrite history. Once exchanged, that value endures whether a person is physically present or not. So although I'm off, if I've done my job properly I haven't really left at all. In perplexing times you will still ask: What would Fink have to say about this? and I'll be there to show you a way. And hopefully, that will be helpful. You see, we've simply substituted Linear Career with Rotation in our clover-leaf world."

Filomena has become curious. "Rotation," she asks, "what's that?"

"It's the new model of corporate relationships where the individual acts like a honey-bee collecting pollen-goodies from the Jamboree-Bag flowers in the institutional garden. She sucks out the best and chucks out the rest. Her life is a constant rotation of fresh flowers."

"But how can the uncultivated garden be sustained if there's never any continuity or caring in such a relationship?" asks Filomena.

"How indeed," observes Fink.

Filomena pauses for a moment to think about her own company, her job, her boss, and her garden. Unexpectedly, she comes to a profound realization: she knows exactly why Fink is leaving.

"Wait!" she shouts. "Dr. Fink!. Dr. Fink... I'm coming with you!!"

"Smoked salmon or cream cheese?" he asks.

And then they were gone.

Citations
With acknowledgement to Charles Handy for the Clover Leaf concept.

The motivational model mentioned in this story is explained more fully (and more formally) in the hot-off-the-press AMA Handbook of Leadership 2010, Goldsmith, Baldoni, McArthur eds., Chapter 20, Situational Intelligence by Dr. Laurence S. Lyons

A personal message from Dr. Laurence S. Lyons. This is the last Dr. Fink story in the series. I hope you have enjoyed reading about Fink as he meanders through our complex and interesting world of business coaching. Perhaps you have learned something or reflected again on some idea you once took to be obvious. I do hope so. Anyway, I certainly expect you will have laughed once or twice, and hopefully in the right places! Dr. Fink is alive and well. Look out for Dr. Fink's Fan Club, and Dr. Fink's Casebook (hopefully to be published later this year). Announcements on www.lslyons.com, or write me if you want to comment or have a topic suggestion for new stories. Larry Lyons.

Dr. Laurence S. Lyons, unlike Dr. Fink and his friends, is a real person and internationally renowned expert in organizational transformation and leadership development. He is a member of WABC's International Advisory Committee, the Leader to Leader Thought Leaders' Forum (formerly Peter F. Drucker Foundation), and is a Visiting Academic Fellow at Henley Management College. He is the author of Creating Tomorrow's Organization (Pitman) and Coaching for Leadership (Jossey-Bass). A library of his work is available at www.lslyons.com. Read more about Larry in the WABC Coach Directory. Contact Larry.


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