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Excerpt from The Storytelling Coach

A book for all who use oral communication!

by Doug Lipman

You can order this item via my on-line order form!

Cover of book



Coaching Principles

Why coaching? Why not critiquing, instructing, directing, or evaluating?

Because the word “coaching” reminds us that the coach succeeds only when the team succeeds.

As your coach, my success depends entirely on yours. Every thing I do as an effective coach is calculated to contribute to your success.

Coaching is supportive and cooperative. We work together to create success for both of us.

Believe In Success

If you can’t succeed, then I can’t succeed as your coach, either.

Therefore, to accept the job of coaching you, I need to believe in the possibility of your success.

Believing in your success can mean one of two things.

Some believe there is only one way to succeed. For them, success means being the best, going to the Olympics, winning the Nobel Prize, or becoming the CEO. In other words, success means capturing something that is scarce, that not every one can have.

Others believe there are many ways to succeed. They believe it is not better to be Picasso than to be Rembrandt, to be Mozart rather than Beethoven.

In this second view, we each have something unique to offer. To develop it, to offer it clearly, fully, and powerfully—is to succeed. Beethoven did not fail to become another Mozart; he succeeded at becoming Beethoven.

Seen this way, success comes from developing your uniqueness. It is rare but not scarce. Every one, potentially, can succeed.

In some endeavors, the belief in a single form of success may make sense. Professional sports, for example, hold our attention over a defined time period because we agree to focus on some narrow objective: getting the ball through the hoop more times, or being the first in a line of skaters.

In most areas of life, however, it makes more sense to believe in the diversity of success.

Art, learning, spirituality, and family life—to choose just a few examples—are all complex endeavors. They are interesting precisely because the focus is broad. There is no single goal. There are many ways to “win” at life. (Even in sports, we can choose to measure success by multiple goals, including enjoyment or progress.)

The coach who defines success as winning the Olympics must choose athletes carefully, since only a few have such potential. But the coach of students, of storytellers, of artists, of athletes who value something more than winning, can freely take on anyone willing to try.

We can all be coached, because we all have the ability to succeed.

When I, as your coach, treat you as though I expect you to succeed, you are actually more likely to succeed. When you do succeed, I am more likely to continue to expect you to succeed. My belief in your success carries within it the seed of an upward spiral.

The Diversity of Success

In the case of storytellers, the diversity of success is especially easy to notice.

Let us suppose, for example, that each of three excellent storytellers tells a version of the same folktale, such as “Cinderella.” One tells it with deep pathos, leading us to cry at Cinderella’s trials and rage at her abusers. Another tells it with quiet confidence, leading us to hope for Cinderella’s survival and to cheer at her triumph. A third tells it with humor, mocking the conventions of the fairy tale itself, leading us to laugh at our own expectations.

To be sure, any particular listener may prefer one of these three performances over the others. After all, some prefer Mozart over Beethoven. Just as Mozart and Beethoven both succeeded as composers, however, all three storytellers have succeeded artistically.

Most human endeavors resemble storytelling more than they resemble the Olympics. Artists of all kinds, parents, teachers, administrators, therapists, organizational development consultants, and politicians all can succeed in unique ways.


Once, the great Hassidic leader, Zusia, came to his followers. His eyes were red with tears, and his face was pale with fear.

“Zusia, what’s the matter? You look frightened!”

“The other day, I had a vision. In it, I learned the question that the angels will one day ask me about my life.”

The followers were puzzled. “Zusia, you are pious. You are scholarly and humble. You have helped so many of us. What question about your life could be so terrifying that you would be frightened to answer it?”

Zusia turned his gaze to heaven. “I have learned that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Moses, leading your people out of slavery?’”

His followers persisted. “So, what will they ask you?”

“And I have learned,” Zusia sighed, “that the angels will not ask me, ‘Why weren’t you a Joshua, leading your people into the promised land?’”

One of his followers approached Zusia and faced him squarely. Looking him in the eyes, the follower demanded, “But what will they ask you?”

“They will say to me, ‘Zusia, there was only one thing that no power of heaven or earth could have prevented you from becoming.’ They will say, ‘Zusia, why weren’t you Zusia?’”

No More Mr. Right

Believing in the diversity of success flies directly in the face of an attitude that seemed to underlie many of the literature classes I attended from high school to graduate school. This unspoken assumption might be phrased: there is only one correct meaning of a piece of literature, and our job is to determine it.

A more helpful attitude for the coach might be phrased like this: there are an infinite number of interpretations of each story, and my job is to help the storyteller discover her unique interpretation and present it beautifully.

More generally, the coach’s attitude is that there are an infinite number of ways to accomplish any task in a meaningful way.

The coach’s job is not to be right, but to be helpful.

If There’s No Right Way, Which Way Do We Go?

If many kinds of success are possible, which kind of success should I help you pursue? How can the coach know whether a particular storyteller will succeed better through pathos or through humor? How do I know whether an administrator will lead best through visible leadership or behind-the-scenes encouragement?

Fortunately, the coach is not primarily responsible for this decision. In most cases, it is not my decision at all; it is yours


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Doug Lipman

152 Wenonah Road, Longmeadow, MA 01106 U.S.A.
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This page was last updated on Friday, November 28, 2003