Don’t seek great mentors, seek great influences

Mentorship is a luxury. A great mentor relationship requires many favorable conditions – chemistry, good timing, and proximity among them. And, yes, when it works, it can have a magical effect on the learning curves of both the mentor and the mentee. But, so much of finding that great mentor relationship is outside our control that it is a reactive approach to learning at best, and lazy at worst.

Great influences, on the other hand, are all around us. We have more access to admirable folks than ever before. The life, work, and thought processes of luminaries like Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Marcus Aurelius are just a book away. That person you admire likely has a blog, a book, or an active twitter account. If we are the average of the five folks we spend our time with, it is easier than ever to be exceptional by simply letting ourselves being influenced by the wisest minds in human history.

The best part about great influences don’t have to be famous people. Your inspirational co-worker or parent can do the job as well.

We can, of course, wait for that great, uber successful, mentor to pick us and continue to let ourselves off the hook until they do.

Or, we can go seek great influences, learn from them, and keep plugging away.

Our choice.

What they remember

Over the years, I’ve heard many people recount memorable meetings with people they considered great. For some, it was a famous athlete and, for others, it was a favorite author or leader. And, I always find it interesting to observe what they remember.

They rarely recount the big speech or the fantastic performance during the game. Instead, they remember the smallest of details. They talk about how the warmth they experienced when they shook hands or how their hero treated everyone around them with respect. I’ve heard how Bill Clinton made everyone in the room feel special. Rafael Nadal is always gracious and respectful to the folks on the side who hand him towels during the game. And, Indra Nooyi, known to be incredibly smart and tough, can give memorable compliments.

I’ve experienced this myself as well. With folks I consider my heroes, it is always the small things that I remember. The big things are expected.

While we all seek to have impact on the organizations we work for, most of us strive to have an impact on the people we work with. It is part of being human. We like to be liked and appreciated.

And, my biggest lesson from the “what they remember” stories is that, in the long run, the big meeting or presentation today won’t have the impact we think it will. It will all be about the small things. It will be how we chose to work, treat people and approach the day.

So, today, let’s stay engaged, pay attention, and commit to doing the small things with extraordinary love. Then, let’s do that again tomorrow.

For, it is the small things that are the big things.

In praise of heroes

Mentorship is an all-encompassing relationship. It works for some and doesn’t work for others. And, even for those whom it works for, it brings all sorts of complications with it – for example, ‘letting go’ / the eventual break is problematic in many mentor-mentee relationships.

However, we can all have heroes. While Seth Godin defines heroes as folks who live their life in public and broadcast their model to anyone who likes to follow, I tend to think that that’s just a part of the equation. A hero, in my definition, is anybody who inspires you to be your best self. While heroes can be people who live their life in public, they can also be people you’ve met for a short while, they can be your friends – just about anyone who inspires you to be better, learn more, and take action.

For example, I met a friend on a recent project in Japan. Let’s call him Jan. Jan is my hero for banishing procrastination. I have a sneaking suspicion that he has no clue what procrastination is (I didn’t proceed to define it for him). You give Jan a task and it is done. There is just no delay. No hangups. He substitutes the usual groans at having to do an annoying task with enthusiasm and a fantastic attitude. I was blown away.

Since spending time with Jan, I’ve made many changes in my life to follow his example. I clear emails when I see them now – no dilly-dallying. I remember him every morning when I look at the list of things to do. I attempt a Jan-esque smile at the annoying tasks and then work to plough through them. His example has inspired me to be the best I can be… and, for that, I am really grateful.

That’s the best part about heroes. You can have hundreds of heroes and they can help inspire you to do the little things better. Almost everyday, when I hit publish on this blog post, I ask myself – “Would this be a blog post that Seth Godin would consider worthy?” It inspires me to take another look at the post and do my best every day.