We all have mentors at various times in our career. I have been fortunate to have hung-out with, worked for, been influenced by, and loved, a few. My life, professional and private, would look very different without them. Here’s my shortlist of learning from a few cool people who have stretched me over the years, and still do:
David Maister in True Professionalism writes:
‘There are relatively few new ideas in business, if any at all. How often can you repeat the basic advice of “Listen to your clients, provide outstanding service, train your people, look for and eliminate inefficiencies, and act like team players?” The problem, clearly, is not in figuring out what to do. Rather, the problem is to find the strength and courage to do what we know to be right.’
I love this thought. I have lost count of the number of times that I have ‘sat on’ something until the pain got so great that I just had to act. With a bit of courage I just might have got going on that project sooner.
2. Smart people bring clarity
Our lives are cluttered with jargon and complexity, whether it is working through major business issues or managing the family logistics. People who speak plain English and have the ability to see past the irrelevant are to be cherished.
Jeffery Pfefer and Bob Sutton in the excellent book The Knowing Doing Gap, find that one of the five principle reasons why great ideas in business never get off the ground is because ‘talk substitutes for action’. They urge us to beware of ‘status seeking through jargon.’
3. Pot-fillers and Pot-drillers
If you are passionate about something - then show it. The author of The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes says, ‘You can’t pay people enough to care.’ Business needs people who share what they are thinking and wear their heart on their sleeve. Tom Peters encourages us to hang out with people who ‘vibrate’. People who transmit energy. Mike Pegg calls them ‘Pot-fillers.’
Take care not to share all your problems at the water-cooler though. Boyd Clarke and Ron Crossland in The Leaders Voice tell us: ‘It is naïve to believe that we should share all of our emotions all of the time. We once heard ‘Don’t tell people your problems. 80% don’t care and the other 20% are glad you have got them!’
4. People who can execute have value too
Vision, creativity, innovation and ‘blue-sky’ thinking are often regarded as being in short supply in business. People who have these skills in their armoury have long been the stars. What leaders who really get results are doing is making heroes out of people who can get stuff done: people who can execute projects; people who have an eye for detail; people who live and breathe quality.
I recently overheard a young leader (ear-marked for greatness by the folks at the top of the organisation), defending the lack of progress of his ‘mission critical’ project to a colleague. He said it ‘just evaporated!’ We all know how he feels and it does happen. But it should happen to us only once.
5. Be there!
Be early for appointments and be prepared. Show-up for the early morning meeting even if it is against the odds. Get to the power-breakfast even if you have been up all night partying with colleagues – maybe you have go straight from the party to the office to pull it off! It seems like small stuff but people will be looking for clues as to whether they can trust you.
Bill Beswick, Sport Psychologist and Assistant Manager at Middlesbrough F.C., summed this point up best: ‘Winning is about what we do today’.
6. Give stuff away
Be generous when you can. Give away your knowledge, your time, your cherished book, the link to your favourite website, anything to get a new relationship rolling. David Maister, Professional Service Firm guru, says: If you want to get something from another human being you must first do something for them. In other words you can’t win influence unless you first invest in the relationship.’
7. Look for the talent in others
Sure, it’s cool to demonstrate mastery yourself. But learning to look for and expose others to the talent of friends and colleagues not only feels great but get you results as well.
Phil Jackson, winning coach of both Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers, once said to Michael Jordan early in his career; ‘The sign of a great player is not how much he scores, but how much he lifts his teammate’s performance.’ The ‘Bulls’ and Jordan never looked back. Even the greatest performers revel in the talent of others.
8. Take the best and leave the rest
Read, scan, listen and watch those who have experience and wisdom. Not everything they say will work for you, but the gems can be life changing. Tom Peter’s talks about his desire to have one person leave every one of his 600 person, one-day seminars with a thought that gives them the energy to go on and do something different. Mike Pegg shares a vast amount of knowledge and material with his students, on the basis that somewhere in there is the trigger to set you off and running. There is not a gem on every page – you have to go look for the bit that matters most to you.
9. Don’t try to imitate
Listen, watch and learn but at the end of the day you have to be ‘YOU’ to be credible and authentic. Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan get to the heart of this in Execution: ‘Who you are is the same as what you do and say. Only authenticity builds trust, because sooner or later people spot the fakers.’
10. Lighten –up
I got this message (AGAIN!) loud and clear from a wise and trusted source just a few days ago. I know I can become obsessive with the search for meaning in everything I do. The constant search for success can drain us and take-away the real essence of who we are. By all means work hard but be sure to play hard as well! Don’t take yourself too seriously.
When Tom Peters tragically lost a mentor to illness early in his career he reflected, ‘What a rotten thing to do to a mentee!’ I know where he’s coming from.