“The only thing that matters is what you choose to be now”
Po from Kung Fu Panda

The number 2 film on my “all time most watched” list is Kung Fu Panda 2.  It was my daughter’s favourite during many of our travels together over the last decade.  It is a film that had something for a young girl and something for her father.

We begin with Po, the Kung Fu Panda, frustrated with his life and feeling lost.  Over the course of 90 minutes, Po learns to accept who he is and find inner peace.

Any guesses on the film I have watched most in my entire life?  Check out this comment on the blog post for the answer!

Last week, my 13 year old niece Natia asked me: “what is the most important lesson you have learnt in your life?”

Natia was clearly quite serious (and had thought about her own answer), so I took a few minutes before responding. The video below explains my answer to her question.

How would you answer this question? What’s your lesson?

Leave it in the comments below 😉

Getting out of your Comfort Zone.

I’m on a Sunday hike with Florian and his son Alvaro. We’re on our way toward the restaurant for lunch, when we find the river is overflowing and the foot bridge is under fast flowing water…  What do we do?

Are you waiting for permission? For the important things in life, there is nobody who can give you the permission that you need.

There comes a moment when you must commit even though you lack clarity.

“If you knew how to achieve it and could guarantee success: it is a task, not a dream” Alden Mills

Useful Links:

Chris Brogan’s recent post had a section that said “you are at one of these 5 places in your life”

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The 5 Places of Life

  1. You know your goal and you’re going after it.
  2. You know your goal and you’re stuck and can’t find your way there.
  3. You know your goal and you are letting distractions win.
  4. You don’t know your goal and you’re miserable.
  5. You’ve given up on your goals and you’re miserable.

Recipe for Today:

If in state 1)

Enjoy it.  (Find someone you can help.)

If in state 2)

Find a Mentor. Ask someone who has already had success about how they overcame this obstacle.

If in state 3)

Use the Pomodoro Method.

If in state 4)

Ask a few friends (not the cynical ones) what they think you are good at and what they think you should work on

If in state 5)

Move your body: Go for a walk.

PS if you can’t decide which state you are it, you in state 4.

Find a goal. Aim at it.

Let me know a) which place you are at and b) the goal you choose in the comments below 😉

Two Approaches to Life

My friends live their lives in one of two contrasting ways:

  1. Guided by a Long term Vision for their Lives
  2. Take Opportunities as they come

In the short term, the opportunists made great early progress.  I have one friend who changed job every 1-2 years in the investment banking industry.  Each job change achieved an increase of 30-50% in salary.  Problem: he is now stuck and has no serious chances of moving up to the really senior ranks.

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Another friend in investment banking has stuck it out in the same bank for 14 years.  He didn’t take each opportunistic head-hunter call looking to get him to switch jobs.  His salary languished behind our opportunistic friend.  Today he is moving into the senior ranks of the bank and has enormous political support to take job choices that improve his work-life balance.

It was a hard choice when I was young.  I worked for Accenture for 9 years.  Every year I watched peers leave to join competitors for 30-50% increases in salary.  I had offers and I thought about leaving.  In the end, I valued flexibility over salary and used my network in Accenture to live in London, Chicago and Sydney.

Case: Henry Kissinger and US Foreign Policy

I finished reading Kissinger’s biography by Niall Ferguson before the summer. The central debate in the book: Was Kissinger:

  1. an idealist hit by impossible problems? or
  2. a realist who responded as best he could to opportunities?

Remember the 1960s?  I don’t…  only through my history courses and books.  I highly recommend a Coursera course with Professor Philip Zelikow: The Modern World, Part 2: Global History since 1910.  It is one of my 3 favourite MOOC courses that I have studied over the last 5 years.  Prof Zelikow is passionate and engaging.

Kissinger’s Major Criticism of US Foreign Policy: 100% Opportunist

Kissinger’s criticisms of the Kennedy and LBJ presidencies was that they were pragmatic opportunists, but there was no overall vision of what they stood for. The Soviet Union (at the time) stood for fairness, and the US argument was that its economic policies would make citizens wealthier.

It was a lost argument.

People were not inspired to fight in order to improve their economic situation. This was not a psychologically motivating appeal.

Kissinger identified freedom as the value that the US most espoused. He felt that the foreign policy decisions should be taken in the framework of whether the individual decisions improved individual freedom – not on a case by case basis.

Opportunism leads to a Dead End

Those who know why they are fighting will win over those who don’t.

The Vietnam war was militarily un-winnable, and Ho Chi Minh was always a step ahead of what the US were interested in negotiating.   He understood that the US would always be short term and opportunistic. He was fighting for a cause, the US had got themselves into Vietnam bit by bit by bit and then found themselves stuck fighting for a cause that didn’t exist.

I’m no history or politics expert, but I would suggest that the US role in the world from the end of the Vietnam war up until 2000 was largely positive.  The recent decade has seen the US fall back into an Opportunistic foreign policy – George Bush’s photo opportunity driven foreign policy was the start of a collapse in Visionary and values driven US foreign policy.  Trump is here because the political consensus had gradually become what is politically easy, not what is right.  The increasing polarization of the US political system makes it hard to establish a long term vision.

Only a life led towards a vision based on your own set of values can lead to work you love in the second half of your career.  A life led entirely on the basis of opportunism will inevitably take you towards a dead end (or Trump).

How do you Establish a Framework for your Life?

Kissinger began by identifying the most important value that he believed represented the US culture: Freedom.

What is your single most important value?  

Is your life showing this?  Is the majority of your time going to your most important value?  Are you spending your money on your most important value?  Are you building friendships and mentors that support your most important value?

You need a coach or a mentor to help you work out your vision, framework and how to take the tough decisions to orient your life around this vision.  I have never seen someone do it alone.

One of my favourite examples of a powerful personal Vision comes from Cameron Herold. He calls it his Vivid Vision. You can read his updated 2016 Vivid Vision Statement here.

“Leadership is about communicating with people, uniting them behind a shared mission and values, and mobilizing energies toward accomplishing the mission or purpose of an Organization.” Peter Drucker

Leadership is a means to an end–the mission it serves is the end.

People who accomplish great things have a combined passion for a single mission with an unswerving dedication to achieve that mission, whatever the obstacles and however long it might take.

In “Leading Change”, John Kotter outlines 6 aspects of a good vision
statement:

  1. Imaginable. It needs to paint a visual picture of the desired future in the minds of those who read it.
  2. Desirable. It should appeal to the people that are striving to reach it and the customers they are serving.
  3. Feasible. While aspirational in nature, it needs to articulate a realistic and achievable future purpose.
  4. Focused. It should provide concentrated direction to those following it.
  5. Flexible. By being broad in scope, it allows for modifications due to the dynamic nature of the business environment.
  6. Communicable. The vision statement should be easy to articulate to others.

We need to be careful about taking the easy path and not the right path.  We need people that practice it in their own lives, and we need to reward leaders who practice it in the public arena.

If you liked this post, you will also like Freedom is not Fun and Meaningful Contribution.

 

 

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Isaac Newton

In the words of Sir Isaac Newton, mentors extend our vision, enable us to attain greater heights. Mentors provide counsel and expand our resourcefulness.

The word itself is inspired by the character of Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey. The goddess Athena takes on his appearance in order to guide Odysseus’ son Telemachus in his time of difficulty.

In the famed Hero Journey works of Joseph Campbell, the hero always requires a mentor to give him the push onto the path of adventure. We cannot have self-belief until we have seen another believe in us. My earliest mentor was Mr Matz, a biology teacher. I was 14. He believed in me and my potential in a way no adult ever had before. (ReadThe best teacher I had in school for more Mr Matz)

Every challenge you face was once faced by someone older. Every life choice has been lived by someone older. We have the choice to accelerate our growth by bringing mentors into our life.

How important is it for you to find a mentor? I recall an entrepreneurship lesson from Brad Feld: “Rule #1 for business: Get a mentor. Love your mentor. Embrace your mentor. Stay close to your mentor. Listen. Ask questions.”

There are 3 Types of Mentor

Gandalf, Obi-wan, Dumbledore… mentors come in 3 types:

  1. Sponsor – The Sponsor Mentor puts their personal reputation on the line and takes responsibility for your personal success. Protege means “one who is protected”. The protege is expected to work hard to make the sponsor look good. This mentor must be senior and influential, This mentor must be willing to make a stand for their protege.
  2. Guide – The Guide Mentor asks “so, what’s your next step?” and helps you to learn to trust your own decisions. I personally have learnt to trust in my own decision making processes in people decisions (hiring, firing, recruiting) from my mentors.
  3. Coach – The Coach Mentor puts a focus on your performance improvement. This mentor helps you set clear goals, and asks good questions to widen your perspective; seniority is not necessary.

How do Mentors work together with you?

“A lot of people have gone further than they thought possible because someone else thought they could” Unknown

The 5 most commonly used techniques among mentors are:

  1. Companion: supporting in a caring way, standing side-by-side with you.
  2. Plant Seeds: preparing you for a future change, pushing you to gather resources for an upcoming project.
  3. Catalyst: Here the mentor gives you a push… they might ask for a personal commitment, force you to close a chapter in your life, provoke a different perspective, or suggest a re-ordering of values.
  4. Demonstrator: using their own experience and example to demonstrate a skill or activity.
  5. Mirror: Provoke reflection. Here the mentor asks questions: “What have you learned?”, “How useful is it?”.

How do I find Mentors?

Route #1 not to find a mentor? Write an email to a stranger asking them to be your mentor. Do not start with strangers.

First, get yourself ready

You cannot find a mentor until you have an explicit vision for what you want to achieve. (Read How I set goals) In my teaching, when we work on Vision, I ask participants to define goals in 6 areas of their life: health, peace of mind, relationships, money, contribution and spirituality. What type of life are you working to create in these 6 areas?

Be great at what you do – this is the most important thing you can do to get noticed. (Read The 6 key characteristics of A-players) Promote the success of others – your generosity and openness are critical to your success, and will be remembered.

Second, learn to ask great questions… and to listen

Rob Whittaker, a Vistage Chair from the UK taught me that there are 4 levels of questions when you are learning from the experience of a mentor:

  • FactWhat was your first leadership role?
  • OpinionWhat were the best and worst aspects of the role?
  • ImpactWhat impact did those experiences have on you today?
  • ChangeIf you could go back, is there anything you would have done differently?

You can find many great resources to help you improve your questions. Two great places to start are the books Humble Inquiry by Eduard Schien and Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute.

Third, start with those you already know

Who inspires you? Make a list of people that inspire you to be the best version of yourself. Who has achieved something you would value achieving in each of the 6 Vision areas? Write the names down.

Join organisations that focus on your growth as a leader. If you are an Entrepreneur, join Entrepreneurs’ Organisation. If you are a CEO, join Vistage. If you are a president, join Young Presidents’ Organisation. Find a local Toastmasters chapter. Join Rotary International.

Fourth, build relationships

Are you somebody you yourself would like to mentor? Are you open, flexible, resilient, respectful? Are you eager to learn, and committed to modifying how you’re interacting in the world?

Don’t immediately ask for mentorship. Follow their work, and be helpful and supportive. Tweet out their posts, comment in a positive way on their blogs, share their updates. Bring them a project that will make them look good. Show you are able to be of service to them, and go out and do it.

Fifth, pay it back

“How do we pay back our mentors? We mentor others.” Jim Collins

Jim Collins says that the best way to pay back our mentors is to become a mentor for the next generation. I have 2 questions for you: What positive thing have you said about someone to their face today? What positive thing have you said about someone who isn’t in the room? If I were your Mentor, I would ask you these 5 questions:

  1. What is it that you really want to be and do?
  2. What are you doing really well that is helping you get there?
  3. What are you not doing well that is preventing you from getting there?
  4. What will you do differently tomorrow to meet those challenges?
  5. Where do you need the most help? (Who can help you?)

Who will you ask one of these questions today?

About Conor Neill

Conor Neill is the President of Vistage, Spain and a Professor at IESE Business School. His mission is to improve the effectiveness and enhance the lives of CEOs and key executives.