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“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.

Lots of people are searching for short cuts.

If you are going through something just to get the diploma, then by all means take short cuts. You don’t really care about the journey.

If you are determined to grow a life that becomes more and more fulfilling and you have a sense of growth and contribution – pick an important problem and don’t take any short cuts.

Maybe, we should pick something we really care about and take the long cut. We choose to make the full journey with no short cuts, no skipping sections, no jumping ahead.  (The term “long cut” comes from Seth Godin.  Here is Seth Godin’s interview on the Tim Ferriss’ podcast.)

Don’t spend your whole life picking some thing you don’t really want and then take short cuts to get it finished and get the piece of paper or diploma.

At least once, pick something you really care about and commit to the full journey taking in all the steps, all the hills, all the stops.

Where are you taking the long cut?

I’ve just added another great Commencement speech to my youtube playlist: Commencement Speeches

Emmanuel Faber gave the commencement address at HEC this year, 2016.

The first half is in french, the last in english.  Emmanuel tells a powerful personal story, describes 3 diseases, and asks us a question…

This is a powerful speech.  You’ve got to watch the video to hear Emmanuel’s story…

The 3 Diseases…

  1. Power – People who have power but do nothing with it, only protect their hold on power… Power makes sense only if you serve a purpose.
  2. Money – You chase money, you become a prisoner of money. Remember why you chase the money.
  3. Glory – Hall of fame is so that people can look at their own name.  Don’t lose yourself just to see your name on a wall.

The Question

Who will you allow to ask you the important questions?   (Who is your brother?)

Watch Emmanuel’s speech here:

I have the privilege of teaching at a number of top business schools around the world.  Last week I gave classes at Harvard and at MIT.  This is a video from IEEM Business School in Montevideo, Uruguay where I spend a week each October teaching on their MBA and Executive Leadership programs.

The video is a good short (90 seconds) description of what I want participants to learn through my Leadership Communications program.

The 4 Keys to Great Communication

  1. Have something to say
  2. Say it well
  3. Say it with intensity
  4. Connect with the audience

Check out the video

and here’s a gratuitous photo of me at Harvard last week…

The mission of the IESE Business School, where I teach about 1,000 EMBA, MBA and Senior Management participants each year, is to “develop leaders who aspire to have a deep, lasting and positive impact on people, firms and society” and I have spent a lot of the last 13 years attempting to find a way to achieve this mission.

A leadership decision will always look wrong from somebody’s perspective.  Leadership decisions are always difficult because they play off between values.  We learn from Homer’s great hero Odysseus is that a leadership decision is always a decision between two bad outcomes.  If one path led to a good outcome, then the decision is an excel spreadsheet decision…  not a leadership decision.  Leadership will always be hard because you can never be right from all perspectives.

What stops someone developing as a leader?  What is the single greatest obstacle we face in developing Leaders?

Self-Delusion.

We are born aware of how we view others, but unaware of how others view us.

Some learn quickly to see how others see them.

Some never learn.

Some face an insurmountable challenge (psychologists call this a “boundary experience”) and realise that it is they themselves that must change.  It is they themselves that act in ways that make their goals unachievable.  It is only a major failure in their life that forces them to reflect and see that they are responsible for the behaviours that are causing failure.

Overcoming Self-Delusion

How do those institutions that develop leaders open human beings up to the nature of their self-delusion?  How do I as a teacher help someone realise that they don’t know everything?

I was reading “Return on Character”, a book by Fred Kiel this week – it is a 10 year study into the financial impact of having a leader who behaves with 4 “leadership character qualities”.  He worked with many CEOs.  He surveyed the CEOs, and he surveyed the direct reports of CEOs.

  • Great CEOs think they behave well 80% of the time, and their direct reports say 80%.
  • Poor CEOs think they behave well 80% of the time, and their direct reports say 50%.

Every one of his CEOs think they show these 4 categories of behaviour over 80% of the time…

  • Integrity – clear sense of right & wrong; tells the truth; seeks the truth
  • Responsibility – self control; fixes own mistakes
  • Forgiveness – cooperation; conflict resolution
  • Compassion – empathy; builds attachments; shows and receives affection

And, by the way, the answer was yes, leadership character matters to direct reports.  In a big way.

The Challenge of Self-Delusion

An individual is delusional about their qualities as a leader.  

This is the teaching challenge – students do not believe that they have poor behaviours around integrity, responsibility, forgiveness and compassion. 

How do you get people to realise that they are not as good as they think they are?  (how to get them to actually listen to direct reports and to team mates feedback?)  Now… that is our teaching challenge.

“There is magic in front of us… if we pay attention.” Mariano Torrente

This is the first video released by the TED organisation from the recent TEDxIESEBarcelona event. Mariano Torrente is a magician who will graduate with the MBA class of 2016.  (Watch it here.)

Where Amazing Happens

Amazing things happen right in front of us every day, but human beings have lost the capability to become inspired by the little things. Mariano uses magic to show us that everyone has the ability to cultivate awe and wonder from their daily lives.

Mariano was born in Huesca, a small town in the North of Spain, and moved to Madrid when he was 18. He is a professional business person with a twinkle in his eye; his experience is in consulting, and his passion is in magic and the art of Illusion. Mariano’s capability of mixing those two world in his daily life is truly inspiring, and he takes the TEDxIESEBarcelona stage at IESE Business School in Barcelona, to describe the lens through which he views life.

cagekentThis was posted at Maria Popova’s blog Brainpickings back in 2012.  I’m not a big fan of John Cage as a composer (he is most famous for over 4 minutes of silence…) but he was an inspiration for (and promoter of) these 10 rules:

10 Rules for Students and Teachers

RULE ONE: Find a place you trust, and then try trusting it for awhile.

RULE TWO: General duties of a student — pull everything out of your teacher; pull everything out of your fellow students.

RULE THREE: General duties of a teacher — pull everything out of your students.

RULE FOUR: Consider everything an experiment.

RULE FIVE: Be self-disciplined — this means finding someone wise or smart and choosing to follow them. To be disciplined is to follow in a good way. To be self-disciplined is to follow in a better way.

RULE SIX: Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail, there’s only make.

RULE SEVEN: The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work all of the time who eventually catch on to things.

RULE EIGHT: Don’t try to create and analyze at the same time. They’re different processes.

RULE NINE: Be happy whenever you can manage it. Enjoy yourself. It’s lighter than you think.

RULE TEN: “We’re breaking all the rules. Even our own rules. And how do we do that? By leaving plenty of room for X quantities.” (John Cage)

HINTS: Always be around. Come or go to everything. Always go to classes. Read anything you can get your hands on. Look at movies carefully, often. Save everything — it might come in handy later.

sistercoritarules1
poster version 😉

The list, commonly titled Some Rules for Students and Teachers, is often attributed to John Cage. The list, however, originates from celebrated artist and educator Sister Corita Kent and was created as part of a project for a class she taught in 1967-1968.

For more of John Cage’s insights, check out Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists.

The basic freedom we have in life is the freedom to make mistakes.  If we can’t make (reasonable) mistakes and learn from them, what freedom do we really have?

“The first time it is an accident, the second time it is a decision.”

My girlfriend likes to say: “The first time it is an accident, the second time it is a decision.”

My daughter is 8.  She is starting to develop the ability to be guilty about something, and expresses anxieties about the world like never before.  I assume this is a normal part of the growing up.  She has a powerful creative imagination and it can develop some pretty powerful scary future scenarios.  She hears about a plane crash and imagines her family on that plane.  She hears about a boat sinking and imagines her family on that boat.  She does something that hurts her friend (accidentally) and now spends 15 minutes feeling guilty and wallowing in the sadness.

Slaves to Guilt?

The limit on our freedom in most western societies has nothing to do with rules or laws or police.  It has to do with guilt, and imagined potential guilt.  Animals have a freedom in that they don’t lay awake at night painfully reliving their mistakes of the day and reliving the crap in a self-destructive guilty wallowing.

The first time you try anything, you should not be able to feel guilty.  I am able to feel guilty about certain things when just imagining them… and then feeling guilty that I even imagined it.  This then puts me in a crappy mood and I give up all efforts to be a better version of myself.

Sometimes it would be good to fall sleep with the guiltless calm of a dog or a cat.  A deer watches another deer being caught by lions without dwelling on the idea: “it could be me.”

Accident or Benefit?

I wonder whether guilt and anxiety are evolutionary advantages or they are accidents that came with the enlarged frontal cortex?  Our ability to imagine the future and plan how we will meet challenges is no doubt a powerful survival advantage.  The agonising feelings of anxiety, of low self worth, of being “bad”, of guilt – do they help?  Maybe they help us survive, but they do not help us thrive.

With my daughter, I don’t try to tell her to not feel the anxiety or the guilt.  What she feels is real.  I loved a conversation she had with a wise 11 year old.  My daughter asked “what is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?”  The older girl replied “I don’t find that a good thing to think about…  I prefer to ask what is the best thing that has happened.”  The older girl has a great imagination but has learnt to direct her imagination towards the positive.  It doesn’t mean that she ignores reality, but it does mean that she doesn’t wallow in the negative feelings of what could go wrong.

Life can be scary and bad things do happen.  We cannot pretend that this is not the case.

We can cultivate the belief that we are resourceful and when we face challenges we will do the best that we can do – but we don’t have to spend our hours, days and years preparing for every horrific potential scenario.

Are you a parent who has seen a child face anxieties and feelings of guilt?  How have you helped them deal with these uncomfortable feelings?

 

Creative Indifference

DSCN3223
My daughter checking the roses in my parent’s garden

A good gardener creates the conditions for growth of a garden, but cannot force the flowers to grow in an exact way.  The good gardener creates the conditions and accepts what arises.

The bad gardener fights what arises.  The bad gardener hacks and chops and fights against the natural growth of nature.

The good gardener changes the conditions and different plant shapes and varieties arise.

In each case the attitude of the gardener is “Interesting!  I wouldn’t have expected that.”  Creative indifference as a gardener is a deep curiosity, and an openness to delight in the million and one ways that nature can arise.

Good Teaching as Good Gardening

I want to teach more as a gardener than as a sculptor.

Up to now I often find that I am trying to remake a participant into my image of what she could be – I am metaphorically hacking off bits of stone and adding bits of paint.

A good gardener allows the plant to grow in its own unique way.  Nature is difference.  Nature is no straight lines, no leaf exactly like any other leaf, no flower exactly like any other flower.

I want to focus more on creating the conditions for growth in the classroom, during the breaks, during the lunches… that would allow the participants to grow in their own individual way – and have less fixed ideas about how each individual will use those conditions.  I want to be willing to allow the person to become who he is to become, rather than my ideal of what he could be.

I came across a wonderful series of explanation videos on youtube this morning (sometimes random internet clicking has its benefits!).  Kurz Gesagt, a Munich based design studio founded by Philipp Dettmer & Stephan Rether in 2013 creates 5 minute animated explanations on some of the most complex topics there are.  Here are 4 of my favourites – on Iraq & ISIS, on Banking, on Fracking and on Time itself!

Iraq Explained — ISIS, Syria and War

Banking Explained – Money and Credit

Fracking explained: opportunity or danger

On Time

Watch More Great Explanations

These videos are all produced by the design studio Kurz Gesagt and take up to 200 hours each to create.  You can subscribe to their youtube channel here