The Magic of Mentors

The year 2011 has begun with preparation for a trip abroad with an international sports team, coaching with a number of people that want to start the year with a bang and with my desire to start with a clear plan of action.

When I begin each six month block of time I always look at the following elements.

  • I State a purpose in a form that I can actually see it accomplished.
  • Think of every single reason why I want to achieve this result.
  • Visualise achieving the result. Making the “pictures” as vivid as I can.
  • List the specific, immediate, high impact actions that i will take (within the next 28 days).
  • List what support I need, from whom, in order to keep me on track.

I do this so that I can judge myself against a set of objective criteria; I make the plan testing but realistic and achievable.  I always give myself a time frame in which to operate to keep myself focussed.

If the purpose is well thought through I will not need to change this during the six months that I have set myself as a target nor will the visualisation element or the reason why this is important to me change either. The only thing that will change is the action that I need to take after each 28 day period and possibly the support that I need to continue with achieving the plan.

I like to do this because it gives me focus. I also ensure that I am balanced in other areas of my life to give me the stability that I need to concentrate and not be distracted.  The areas I score myself on (1-10) are health, family, friends, finance, diet, hobbies, technical, tactical, mental toughness, personal development.  I imagine each element is the spoke of a wheel and I judge how long the spoke is against my score. If it is a ten then the spoke will be the correct length, if it is less than 10 the spokes length becomes shorter. A score of one is very short. Once I have completed my score, I imagine a wheel around the spokes and I judge how well the wheel spins.  If I am out of balance and a number of occasions during 2010 I was out of balance I can adjust the time that I need to spend in each area to correct a fault and give me greater stability.

It is rare we that will have all areas of our life in balance especially if we really want to push our potential. There are however a few key areas that are vital if we intend to be out of balance for a long period of time.  One of the key areas for me is my desire to ensure that I am healthy (diet) and in good shape physically. There are others that are important but each of us will have unique elements that we need to be in place (basic components that if in place allow us to perform at a high level of ability).

The next element is that of support and I think your own individual review of the points below will emphasise why having support is always crucial to how we move forward in life.

The Magic of Mentors – continuing Richard Cross’s guest blog on What it takes to be a Champion

Pushing the boundaries of one’s potential is not an individual affair. Sometimes it needs to be unleashed, occasionally it needs to be reined in, and at times people need to be challenged, at others supported.  What I have discovered from the research is that the quality (not quantity) of an individual’s mentors can make all the difference in accelerating people’s progress, opening doors and ensuring their life pattern does not resemble Sisyphus who as soon as he has pushed the boulder up  to the top has to start again. (Sadly I’ve seen a number of those types in the research)  It is true we have to make our own mistakes but great mentors can mitigate them. Whereas the 10,000 hours rule is more concerned with efficiency, mentors can radically transform effectiveness and the arena and possibility of playing in the field of dreams. They are underrated though often in corporate contexts overhyped. Floyd’s Response, I learnt early on in my career to look at the key things that make a person/organisation stand out (the difference that makes a difference). In my experience there are one, two or three skills/things a person does to make them stand out.  The rest of their skill set is usually the same as everyone else’s.  By spending a little time finding out these key differences can save you years of learning.  It is also called modelling (Modelling involves transferring what an expert thinks they know and what they unconsciously know. It involves being able to produce the outcome and transferring the behaviour to others).  My mentors exhibited certain behaviours/skills that I needed, the better I became at modelling the best methods the quicker I took on new skills and developed. Comment ends

Looking at the data  I am starting to sense different patterns of  World Champion progress as well as a continuum from the My Way self-made route to the With a  Lot of help from my mentors  approach. Simple as it may seem and a touch of the obvious but those who push the boundaries to World Champion level often but not always have mentors with character and gravitas. Others don’t (and that can be because one of their parents was a champion in the sport!). Same applies in big corporates too.

So when I asked many who just hadn’t quite made the grade who their mentors are or were a blank stare and pregnant pause said it all.  When I interviewed those on the dark side early mentors were missing. I remember one who identified his problems dating to inspiration from Jim Morrison! It explained his sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle but boy was he paying for it. The best on the other hand to borrow a phrase from Richard Olivier have ‘a stable of mentors’.  And when they start to discuss them you just knew they had enormous advantages over their competitors as they reel off with alacrity a Who’s Who in their field.

As for you own first fifteen (you are going to invite for dinner.) Mentors you mentioned pre-Christmas  Floyd  just like a rugby team I would imagine your mentors come in all shapes and sizes and perform different roles. Here’s some analysis of the archetypal mentors I’m sensing and their impact. In fact what I have learned is that many in sports do not realise the value of either their networks or mentors. If I was advising athletes who were competing in 2012 I’d be focussing on this both for their sports career as well as when they think it’s all over and retire. Sure the Gold medallists are made. They are in the club, but others equally talented are not. Floyds response, my mentors not only came in different shapes and sizes but also ages and gender including some below the age of 12. In the case of one young person they said something so profound it has been a power statement I still use to this day. Response ends.

Out of interest do any of your 15  fall into the following  categories or have similar qualities/impacts?

Front Row – someone who believes

‘Bob Wilson had four and a half years in the wilderness zone before he secured his Arsenal first team place. At times he despaired he would make it. Alf Fields, a winner of the British Empire Medal for bravery on in Italy during the Second World War and on the coaching staff never lost belief in Bob. Alf used to continually remind him of his ability saying ‘you’ll make it. You’ve got something that’s different. I’ve hardly ever seen anyone plunge at people’s feet like you. Keep believing.’ On the occasion Bob was dropped to the thirds and had an open ‘twenty-four carat’ row with Billy Wright his manager. Alf had a decisive impact on Bob.  On the way out of the ground, prepared to give up and take a teaching job , Alf took Bob aside and sat him on a bench in the Marble hall and encouraged to him to stay saying’ I’ve never seen a goalie do what you do. You can walk out on this club but it’ll not be the same anywhere else. Playing for Arsenal’s third team is better than most first teams. You aimed for the best, this is the best.’  The comments struck home. There and then Bob resolved to prove his manager wrong. As Bob says, ‘it turned my career around, really.’ Nobody would have known Bob Wilson except a few Loughborough students if I’d taken that teaching job.’ In the broadcasting world David Coleman was a key mentor. As Bob says ‘he believed in me.’ Floyd’s response, to have someone who believes in you, who trusts you is so important that it give you an edge when you may be thinking of stopping/quitting.  A simple statement to enhance your confidence is so powerful that it can stay with you for the rest of your life.  I have often been helped with someone who believed in me and gave me the support I needed at crucial times. Comment ends


Mentor as Magician- synchronicity at play

‘She had become the new singing teacher at the school I went to her and she…. Talk about people who encourage you throughout your early years. I think there are those key moments aren’t there, those pivotal moments in time when you recognise or someone else recognises or you recognise together that you have a talent that needs to be nurtured. And you know supported and built on that is exactly what she did.  She made me recognise that it was a talent that needed to be developed. And so that was at about14 years of age, 15 years I studied with her and the voice just developed in a classical style, no other style. It just seemed to kind of come out that way and that’s when I realised that I wanted to do this more seriously, professionally. ‘

Mr Chips or Ms Jean Brodie

‘The Headmaster had suggested we become Post Office Telegraph boys. Instead with two classmates we expressed a desire to study Economics. The Geography teacher decided to take a risk and teach us by taking a course in Economics herself. She was always one class ahead of us. A Miss Jean Brodie type character, she was terribly influential on us and we kept in touch with her. She died a few years ago demented. I remember visiting her for the last time in her nursing home. Up till then she was very, very proud of us and had followed our careers closely. She was a Miss Jean Brodie character and she just made all the difference.’ Floyd’s response, I can remember being told that I would not get into the Parachute Regiment at 18 or the SAS at 22, nor would I gain a degree. It was such an impactful moment that this person ceased to have a part to play in my life. “You can only raise someone to the level of your expectation”. I often hear parents make bold statements about their children’s capabilities sometimes detrimentally. This can prevent children from striving for their dreams. Ensure that you do not find reasons why someone can’t do something but encourage them to find the skills to succeed.  Comment ends

The Credible Connector

’He knew it all; his parents had been revolutionaries who had fought with Lenin and Trotsky. They had been out revolutionised because they were in the middle. He always had this saying go to East Europe.’ He urged the MD to go to East Europe because it was the opportunity, a soft market. Our MD listened to him and sent me to run Eastern Europe.’. He started introducing me in those countries. He made new acquaintances with ease because of his background and language ability. He was highly accepted. He started me off; he worked for me then later. He made it easier for me.  It was already open up for me. Yes that’s the truth of the matter. I was one step ahead in terms of contacts through him.’ Floyd’s Response, it is so important to introduce others to talented people.  I know so many people that are willing to give others advice, assistance and training on their journey.  I often think if only I had been given this advice or skill when I was younger. Comment ends.

The Voice of Experience & Scars of Success

‘When you have young skiers, it is still the school of hard knocks, you can try to tell them, but they have to learn it in their own way. There are two young skiers who we’re not putting them in speed events, where their brashness, enthusiasm and ability to carry speed will put them beyond their abilities and they’ll get hurt. We keep them away from that so that when they start they will have the physical capacity and smarts to cope with going really fast. We want to preserve that raw edge. We had a World Junior champion skier who on the final training run blasted his knees and lost two seasons. In terms of trying to second guess about keeping athletes healthy in some respects you can get too cute – some you push, some need a governor.’

The Second Row  – reliable and opinion shifting

‘The good thing about having xxxxx was because he had been at xxxxxx and was Captain of a Rugby Club; he had a wealth of intelligence, and sensible intelligence. He had perspective, he could see patterns.  He’d use these expressions; let’s get the bedrock and the clichés they used in rugby and his previous company. He  thought about the business rationally, said let’s be number one for, that’s goodness, that’s bedrock, everything will follow how are we going to do that, what do we need to look like when we get there. OK let’s have this as the goal and he did one or two things that completely made this business successful.  He spent quite a lot of time let’s analyse the business , look at what the salesmen are really good and why they are doing that’s better than the competitors, let’s try and replicate that. So when we said hothousing let’s sell, rather than train al the sales force, let’s take one person and train him through all the training courses and then him visit all the accounts and see how they get on., let’s analyse all the feedback. That’s what he was really good at.

Why was he a good adviser? He’s physically big, a former second row, a powerful person and he wasn’t doing it from any egotistical perspective. He was just saying let’s look at your business and try and make it better.  It’ s respect,, at the end of the day you meet  a lot of people in industry some are smart, some not some liars, some boring and dullards, I tend to judge people by energy.  Are you a drain or radiator?’

The  Kick Off- a catalyst for the journey

‘After my first real success Sid said you can be very, very, very, good. I said OK if I can be that good, can you help. It was the first time anybody had put faith in me apart from my father. Sid’s passion was to get young people  involved in cycling and take it to what level they wanted to.  After the start period it wasn’t about racing it was about enjoying. When he died – he crashed on his bike – he said he wanted a cycle procession. Three thousand cyclists turned up. Unfortunately I couldn’t make it but he was a big influence on my career. I have a rule now never be afraid to ask for help……… I used to go to the gym. The national track coach was there. He’d seen me about. He got chatting to me and was quite charismatic. He said you are not making the most of your talents and I said you show me. He said he could get me on the national team. He coached me for seven months and I progressed. He knew hand on heart his limitations. He knew he had to let me go, whereas I have seen other coaches dine out on the success of their cyclists. I appreciate what he did, I respect   him. ‘ Floyd’s response, I have never been afraid to ask for help, time is precious and if someone can give me the answer and any assistance why would I not ask for it. It is why I try to have many friends who have different talents, who are more capable than me and who can help me when I need it. Comment ends.

The Bigger Picture Adviser

‘I was ready to buy an office, had done all the surveys and was about to sign. He called me up and told me not to take that risk. – He had been meeting some Chief Economists of the banks.    Everything was ready to go and had to pull out. If I hadn’t I would be here, we wouldn’t have made it. Another time we hit a cash crisis. The banks were putting me under real pressure; I was mortgaged up to the hilt. I phoned him up the business is really struggling I need another £100k he was short and to the point, bit of a cash flow crisis, help you grow up, goodbye. But I didn’t feel like the weakest link. And it helped me realise I could cope and would never get into that position again.’ Floyds Response, Mentors are also challenging and don’t just make it easy for you. Their role is also to develop you to stand on your own two feet. Comment ends.

Mentor Acquisition and Development

Based on my research and your Dining Out Fifteen Floyd you’ve made me consider how this could be turned into a development exercise for some of your cricketers off to Sri Lanka. Whether they know it or not they are brands. It’s a fancy expression denigrated by one of the participants on the Apprentice.  Whatever you are going to call it it’s a good description. They must ask who am I?  What do I stand for? They must ensure their brand does not become tarnished. They have to understand they are the brand; they must look after it.

As an icon told me, ‘for some it’s innate but you have to keep your brand polished to make progress in life. ‘If you keep it polished, if you understand it and keep the right strides you’re always going to be a success in life. If you play for England, climb a mountain or are a soccer player it’s with you forever. You can make speeches about it or develop speeches about it. It’s worth money providing you look after it.’

And to do that it’s helpful to reflect on our first fifteen. The great thing about mentors too is you can find them yourself as well as come across them accidentally through structured serendipity.

The questions Floyd your extraordinary dinner poses for me are

Who is your first fifteen (or eleven) of mentors for today? Is it the right calibre?

What does your first fifteen for tomorrow need to look like?

What do you offer them and how do you gain their trust?

How can they help you?

There’s another one too which perhaps is more fundamental.

Are there some mentors you have lost track of who could help you be more effective now and over the next years?

And if there are get in touch with at least one one in the New Year. I know I will.

Richard Cross

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