When I was a young executive in a corporate job I met a woman named Marylin Dyer Blair. Marylin had a PhD in Industrial Psychology that she had earned in the 70’s. She was barely five-feet tall, with short gray hair—the kind of person that it’s easy to underestimate. But to do so would be a mistake! Marylin had great wisdom and insight into people, communication, and culture. She was a tremendous advisor to me in those days.
At that time I had a lot of opinions about—well, everything. But the ones I had (and couldn’t help sharing) about how the business should be run were getting me into trouble. Marylin helped me to tame my mouth. She helped me to make some tough calls and face up to my mistakes; like when I had to let go of someone who was a bad hire. MY bad hire. She was an invaluable mentor in those early “learning experiences”.
When I first started Anchor Advisors, Ltd. I often felt like I was a much less accomplished version of Marylin. Since she was my model, I used some of the assessment tools that she taught me. I would lead conversations the way she led them. I felt that Marylin continued to teach me even after I stopped seeing and talking to her; as I used her approaches, her tools, and even her words (at times).
Since then I’ve had many “teachers”. Some, like David Baker, or David Maister I’ve never met; but I’ve learned so much through their writings and speeches/podcasts. Others have been friends, pastors, and people I’ve met far from the business path; and yet each one has left their mark on what I do professionally and how I live my life.
Great ideas are powerful! I have read books that have completely shaped my thinking, and I’m grateful for those. But there’s something different about a flesh and blood human that you can talk to, watch, learn from, and even imitate. As I continue along my life path, I inevitably come up against different roadblocks. Have you ever realized the problem is YOU? Increasingly I find that I’m the thing that needs fixing or changing; and changing myself feels impossible. In these cases—at least, the vast majority of the time—it’s been seeing another person who has changed in the way I want to change, or overcome the challenge I want to overcome, that has given me hope to try again. It’s only when you see a real person succeed where you are afraid to even try that the “impossible” has a chance to become possible.
There’s a reason that Weight Watchers and Alcoholics Anonymous meet in groups. That flesh and blood example is so powerful. I often wonder if it’s even possible to change at all outside of deep relationship with other people. Where else can we be vulnerable enough to get to the bottom of what’s really driving our behavior? Where else can we experience the love and acceptance and support that we need to make change? I often think, if I didn’t have Marilyn Dyer Blair to give me the right balance of encouragement and straight talk, where would I be today?
So, if I want to be the best version of myself (and I’m just going to assume that to be the kind of leader that my business needs is going to require that best version of me) I need to find some folks that I can depend on. People who are willing to be vulnerable with me and tell me about their challenges—about how it was for them before they had it all together; people who can be my teachers for this part of my life.
Who are your teachers?
If you took a minute to look back I’m sure you’d find a Marilyn Dyer Blair of your own; or some version of her: men and women who were ahead of you on the road of life and had wisdom that you didn’t and the courage to tell you what they saw. Who do you have to do that for you today? Owning a business can be very isolating. Your family doesn’t always want to hear about how 3 clients have left in the last month, or about the guy that you hired (that they never liked) and now have to fire. There aren’t many friends that can relate to the challenges of owning a business, and it always seems like other business owners have it all together. Where can you go to get that kind of relationship; where you can share the things that aren’t working in your life and business, and talk to people who have been through it and can give you hope? Where are you finding a community of business owners? Where are you finding your teachers?
What if your teacher isn’t “just like you”?
If I could meet a mentor who’s business is just like mine (only bigger and more mature), that would be ideal. But we all have unique businesses and it’s not always possible to get that perfect match in a mentor…most of us get that. And yet, we often pass by the opportunity to work with a mentor whose business is nothing like ours—not realizing that the lessons they learned on their journey can still apply to ours! Think about it. People don’t look for AA groups that are homogenous (in my case that would be full of 50 year old white men who have 5 kids and are self-employed). There’s wisdom in seeing problems from different angles, and there’s grace in hearing from people who have walked down different paths. There is more arrogance than good sense in thinking “Oh, they can’t help me. Their business is nothing like MINE…”
Who has been a teacher in your business thus far? Where will you go to find your “teacher” for this leg of the journey?