You’re not as smart as you think you are, trust me. And You Are Not Going To Get Any Smarter By Yourself.
There are few realizations as important as this one in our lives – that we need someone else’s help. Recognizing this fact is often the difference between stagnancy and growth, mediocrity and excellence, failure and success. We all have blind spots and weaknesses that aren’t addressable by opening another book or taking another class. Some weaknesses can only be addressed by someone who has spent enough time with us to know the patterns of behavior that need to be addressed and changed before we can grow any further. It takes a trusted Mentor.
My only purpose in writing today is to encourage you to find one if you don’t have one already. If you do, I hope you’ll simply enjoy this story.
I’m lucky to have found a great mentor early in my career.
Here’s what prompted me to write about this today. Leaving the NAR convention in New Orleans, my business partner, Bill Leider, and I were standing in the lobby of the Marriott Hotel talking about the differences between what we hear real estate agents say about the Internet and what they actually do. Bill casually said, “Behavior is the only authentic form of communication. Our words either confirm or contradict it.”
He wasn’t trying to be profound. We were just gabbing. But, I’ve not been able to get that phrase out of my head since.
I’ve known Bill for almost 15 years and I can just about predict what story he’s going to tell in any given situation. The moment a business meeting heads down a familiar path, I know what anecdote he’s going to share. It’s both comforting and annoying. And you can bet I’ll take every opportunity to point out how many times I’ve heard any given story.
But I had never heard him say this particular line before and it instantly reminded me of why I chose him to be my mentor and why he and I are so good for one another.
When I was in the early growth phases of my last business venture, I was invited to a young presidents event of some sort. I can’t even remember what it was about today. (I’m getting old and it was almost 15 years ago!) What I do remember is that Bill was one of the featured speakers that day and he was laying out his unique approach to business strategy. I remember thinking to myself, “I have no idea what he just said.”
It was as if a lightning bolt had come down from the heavens and instantly what I thought was reality was just a fantasy that was living in my head. The notion that I could build my business to any level of significance by myself, that I had all the tools necessary to succeed in a meaninful way, just fell apart. Oprah would call it an “ah hah” moment.
I wanted to meet Bill. I knew right then that I needed to meet Bill.
As fate would have it, he turned out to be an associate of the person who invited me and we were able to chat that very day. Unfortunately that lightning bolt didn’t give me any other insight. I had no idea what I wanted or needed at the time. So I walked away from the meeting knowing that I needed help and having no idea where to begin.
Ready. Fire. Aim.
Close to six months would pass before Bill and I met again.We found ourselves working on two different ends of a marketing campaign for a major retailer in Los Angeles. He was handling the strategic consulting and my company was handling the design production. I was once again impressed by what he knew and perplexed by how much I didn’t.
I knew Bill was charging some stupid large amount of money per hour for consulting services. We were a very young company and I couldn’t afford his retainer, this was right around the same time we were factoring our accounts receivable just to stay alive. But I thought I might be able to swing one hour per month into my budget. So I begged Bill to be my mentor. I simply told him I had no idea what I didn’t know or how he could help me. I just knew he could. I asked if he would charge me for one hour per month and allow me to take him to breakfast to pick his brain. No agenda. Just be honest with me and see where it goes. Thankfully, he agreed.
Once a month we would meet at Jerry’s Deli in Encino, CA and I’d tell him about the decisions I was making and how I came to them. Bill had a technique he used with me that worked. He would never disagree with me. He started every response with, “That’s one way to look at it. Here’s another way.” And I would choose to listen or not listen. He instinctively knew that head-on confrontation probably wasn’t going to get the job done with me. Believe me, at first it was hard to pay the bill for breakfast and his hourly fee, but I knew, and still know, one thing for sure – I am not as smart as I think I am. And I think I’m pretty smart. And Bill knows things I don’t know.
Pick A Mentor Who Shares Your Core Values, Not Just Someone Who Is A More Successful Version Of Yourself.
One of the things that attracted me to Bill was how different we were. It still attracts me today. We have totally different work styles, completely different decision making styles, different skill sets, different hobbies, different entertainment likes and dislikes, different taste in clothes. His areas of expertise are not my areas of expertise. We are as different as two people can be.
Except for one thing.
This one thing is the key to success with any mentor, with any relationship for that matter. The one thing we do share without compromise, is our core values. Sharing core values is the key to making the difference work to your advantage. We disagree on many issues, but it doesn’t divide us. It sharpens each of us.
Hold On To Them For As Long As You Can.
When you’ve chosen someone who can truly add value and make you better, they are going to grow through time in ways you are not going to grow. The original relationship changes, but the benefits don’t need to.
I was eventually able to hire Bill and put him on retainer. He has been an invaluable asset and a key contributor to any success I’ve had as a business person. Even after the sale of the company, Bill stayed and became and advisor to the Chairman of the company that purchased us and continued as mine as well. Over time, we simply became friends, best friends, and then business partners.
That casual conversation in New Orleans was a reminder of how powerful picking the right mentor can be. It is my wish for each of you.
If You Don’t Have A Mentor. Get One.
Find someone who shares your core values. Find someone who is not like you, who is smart in ways you’re not, who forces you to think differently. Find someone who will be willing to challenge you and call your bluffs and force you to grow and get better, even when every fiber of your being is satisfied with where you are. You will never regret it.
If you do have one, I’d love to hear your story too. If you’ve written about this already on ActiveRain, please feel free to hijack my comments and lead all of us to more knowledge!
(This post was originally written on 12/08/2006 on ActiveRain.)