Life is too short to figure everything out on your own.
Humans spend the years from birth to 12 learning how to survive. Our parents have a vested interest in helping us develop the Stop there: we merely survive.
We live in a highly complex society. There is intense competition for status in whatever hierarchy you compete in. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to compete or not, society and humanity are designed to compete for resources. It is not those born strong that rise to the top of status hierarchies in today’s human society. It is those who learn to use their capacities most effectively and adapt quickly to changes in the environment.
There are two ways we learn to make positive progress in this society – 1) our own experience, or 2) through the experiences of others. Our own experience is a slow and expensive way of learning.
If I am to choose to learn most effectively, through the experiences of others, I must learn the art of meaningful conversation. Through my work with Entrepreneurs’ Organisation forum and Vistage groups I have worked extensively over the last 15 years on creating the type of meaningful conversation that allows one to learn from the experiences of another.
I’m sharing 4 ideas that I took from Jordan Peterson’s book the 12 Rules for Life when I read it this year.
“Your current knowledge has neither made you perfect nor kept you safe”
Your knowledge is insufficient. You must accept this before you can converse philosophically, instead of pushing opinions, convincing, oppressing, dominating or joking.
“Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t”
It is necessary to respect the personal experience of your conversational partners. You must assume that they have reached careful, thoughtful, genuine conclusions (and, perhaps, they must have done the work that justifies this assumption). You must believe that if they shared their conclusions with you, you could bypass at least some of the pain of personally learning the same things (as learning from the experience of others can be quicker and much less dangerous).
It takes conversation to organise a mind
“people organize their brains with conversation. If they don’t have anyone to tell their story to, they lose their minds.” The input of the community is required for the integrity of the individual psyche.
“Life is short, and you don’t have time to figure everything out on your own”
They say Aristotle was the last man who knew everything there was to know. Since the time of Aristotle (over 2300 years ago) society has become too complex for any one individual to know all that is known.
When I was in school, I took huge value in solving from first principles. I would prefer to solve mathematic problems from first principles and avoid using formulaic recipes that allowed you to shortcut to a solution. This was symptomatic of my whole approach to life. If I hadn’t figured it out myself, I didn’t value the knowledge. There is a heroic valor to this approach, but it is dumb heroics.
If Life is hard, it is especially challenging for rugged individualists.
Rugged individualism, derived from “individualism”, is a term that indicates the virtuous ideal where an individual is totally self-reliant and independent from outside assistance.
I was a proud rugged individualist through school, into my first corporate job, and into my first 2 entrepreneurial ventures.
In 2006 I came across Entrepreneurs Organisation (or better, they came across me…) and I began to change. I learnt that you can make much wiser decisions when you allow others to guide you with their experiences and their questions.
I have had many mentors in these last 12 years. I have been asked to be the mentor to others. I feel underprepared to be a mentor. David Cohen, founder of TechStars, wrote about the lessons he has learnt over 11 years of day to day experience in identifying great mentors for the entrepreneurs that form part of TechStars.
LinkedIn is testing out a new free service for members that will match them with other professionals who can give them career advice. LinkedIn will help to make matches between mentees and mentors via its online platform.
Mentorship is a significant part of the careers of every successful person that I know. I personally have sought out and found mentors since my early 20s working in Accenture. I used to think this was normal, but I discovered over the last decade that many talented friends have never found a formal mentor relationship.
I have run the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Mentorship Program in Barcelona for the last 3 years and have learnt a lot as we have got 15 mentor-mentee pairs connected and working together to achieve specific goals. Personally I have have benefitted from some wonderful mentors throughout my life – in particular Michael (my first long-term manager at Accenture), Brian (the reason I teach at IESE Business School), Harry (helped me take a big decision last year). I personally mentor 5 people each year and it is hugely valuable for me to reflect on my own life as I listen to the challenges and opportunities of these inspiring individuals.
How will Mentorship work on LinkedIn?
Hari Srinivasan, director of product management at LinkedIn, says, “As people spend less and less time at a company, it’s hard to find people you need to talk to.” LinkedIn user analysis shows that 89% of senior leaders (on LinkedIn) would be interested in giving advice.
This is how it works: There will be a section on your profile called “dashboard”. This will display the “career advice hub” where you can sign up to be a mentor or a mentee.
The first screen is a basic overview of the function and its value for both those giving and getting advice. From there, you are instructed to provide specifics on who you’d like to talk to with parameters such as region, industry, school, etc.
LinkedIn is working on ways to make the conversation flow more smoothly so both sides get what they need. LinkedIn say that it’s not meant to be a replacement for long-term mentorship. It’s meant to tackle those “quick question” requests such as whether you are taking the right approach in different scenarios.
Do you have a mentor? Are you searching for a mentor? Are you interested in becoming a mentor?
My friends live their lives in one of two contrasting ways:
Guided by a Long term Vision for their Lives
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.
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.
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.
“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:
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.
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.
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:
Companion: supporting in a caring way, standing side-by-side with you.
Plant Seeds: preparing you for a future change, pushing you to gather resources for an upcoming project.
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.
Demonstrator: using their own experience and example to demonstrate a skill or activity.
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:
Fact – What was your first leadership role?
Opinion – What were the best and worst aspects of the role?
Impact – What impact did those experiences have on you today?
Change – If you could go back, is there anything you would have done differently?
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:
What is it that you really want to be and do?
What are you doing really well that is helping you get there?
What are you not doing well that is preventing you from getting there?
What will you do differently tomorrow to meet those challenges?
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.
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