You might know Dr. Cook’s name from a little book titled “Seven Days in Utopia”. The book was made into a movie starring Robert Duvall and Lucas Black. The story is a fictional journey of a young aspiring golf superstar (Black) who has a colossal meltdown on the world stage of golf, suffering a series of bad choices and shots that take him to a score of 15 on the final hole of a big tournament.
Angry and frustrated at the game that seems to have betrayed him, he wrecks his car while driving thru the scrub brush of the Texas Hill Country northwest of San Antonio. Destiny introduces him to an old cowboy (Duvall) who himself was once an aspiring golfer with a lot of growing up to do. For the next seven days, Duvall takes Black under his wing to teach him a few things about golf and, more importantly, life.
What do you think of when someone says something about a stepping stone? The origin comes from placement of stones across a stream so that a pedestrian can walk across the flow of the water without getting wet.
Often the stones are placed by hikers trying to make a crossing in a river. The stones can be randomly placed or symmetrical.
I like to picture these stones when I think of key people who have been major influencers in my life. Likely, you too have had mentors or significant personalities that have played a role as a stepping stone in your life.
The Back Story
When someone stands up or stands in to provide support, they become a stepping stone. For me, I grew up the only child of a single Mom. My Father passed away when I was only 2 years old. Mom was determined to provide me with significant male role models to aid in my development as a man.
As a result, my stepping stones evolved thanks to the contributions of at least 6 of these caring and giving men. The time they spent teaching me things like baseball, golf, fishing, tennis, woodworking, and camping, taught me much more than the basics. Yes, I learned how to hit a fastball, bait a hook, fly a plane, light a good fire, and varnish a mahogany cabinet, but more importantly, I learned about hard work, seeking wisdom, and living by faith.
The other interesting aspect of this mentoring experience is that these men were not rock stars. They were neither Titans of business nor famous celebrity motivators like a Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy or John Maxwell. They were regular guys who lived life day-by-day, attempting as best they could to do the right thing.
Ladies, I do not want to forget you. What I am saying here applies to women as well. I have known plenty of young ladies who likewise received counsel from a mentor. Everything I am suggesting about this principle applies to both genders.
If you have been blessed by someone, a stepping stone, I hope you now have a desire to mentor. You don’t have to achieve some big celebrity status or have a big footprint in the media. You can make a huge difference in some young person’s life.
Here are the basic parts of being a mentor (in no particular order).
1. Availability – Just showing up is a good place to start. Whatever the strength or skill set, whatever the core values you possess, making yourself available is key to setting the stage and the environment for mentoring.
2. Trust – Earning the trust of your mentee is so necessary in order to make the sharing work. It will not matter how wise or helpful your experience may be if the person does not trust you.
3. Reliability – Once a trust expectation begins to develop, your reliability to engage and respond is critical. Nothing does a young heart more harm than an unmet promise. Promises like “I’ll be there at 3:00” then no-show.
4. Patience – Young students will do dumb things. Roll with it. Yes, you can assert some form of discipline, but gauge your student and apply the firmness wisely.
5. Candor – Being open to share who and what you are is important. That is the ultimate teaching tool. Mentoring is about giving the mentee someone to emulate. If they don’t know YOU, then the best is not coming out.
6. Honesty – Don’t make stuff up. If your candidate asks something you don’t know, admit it. Guide the person in exploring together where and how to find the answer.
7. Giving – Be able to give. This is not about money. It requires all of the attributes above. A giving, servant’s heart and open mind is what makes you a good mentor.
One last note. I believe mentoring is different from coaching. Coaches can be good mentors, but a mentor can be effective without the more stern and disciplined aspects of what a coach should be doing for you. Mentors have a special passion about their gift. The way they give to others and inspire those around them to grow, is the center of a great mentorship experience.
The point is, there are very effective mentoring opportunities that do not require coaching skills. So do not hold back when a situation comes up where you could be a mentor to a young person. You, too, can be a stepping stone for someone’s greatness.
In closing, I will tell you it has been over 40 years since I last saw some of the men I mentioned above. Yet almost every day some small aspect of my life reminds me of something they taught me or showed me. Their work and their gifts became a part of my actual psyche and emotional intelligence. The stepping stones they laid in my life remain strong.
If you are wondering about leaving a legacy, become a mentor to those around you.
Soon will be Christmas, December 25. I’m not really ashamed to admit that I still celebrate Christmas. It has been in my family tradition for many decades. I respect the needs of saying ‘happy holidays’ to those who may not be of Christian descent and choose not to celebrate in the tradition of Christmas, but for me and my family, today still has special meaning on several levels.
I would like to ask you a somewhat personal question.
Since the Christmas season often is associated with the giving of gifts, what have you done to be the gift for someone?
Yes, I mean you, personally, unashamedly, and individually, being the gift for someone in your life. They could be family, work, or community members.
It seems we don’t think about that personal, really personal touch anymore. There are so many great technological gadgets to buy for one another. We share things that have material value, maybe a special meaning, or other reasons for identifying a material gift. Yet I find it interesting that it is difficult to think of ourselves as being a gift for someone we care about.
Last year the virtual mentor, Michael Hyatt, wrote a new book called “Living Forward”. In that book, he and his co-author, Daniel Harkovy, introduce a continuum of human existence that goes like this. In their model, Michael and Daniel talk about three distinct phases of life. The first phase is drift.
If you have found yourself in a period of your life that feels uncertain, without direction, and maybe even without purpose, you, my friend, are drifting. You wake up each day and you allow the day to pass just living through the circumstances and situations that arise on their own. There’s really not a plan. And there’s certainly not a goal. Drifting is a state of our existence that happens to all of us. It’s not uncommon to experience a little bit of drift at some point in your life.
Clearly, it would not be a good thing to live your whole life in a state of drifting. You want to be able to identify a goal or an outcome that has positive meaning for the purpose in your life. So we have to get out of drifting. You need to be able to stop the drift and begin making some more intentional forward progress.
That leads us to the second phase which is the shift. Once you’ve recognized you might be drifting and you agree that you want to stop, you have to make a shift. You have to find a focus, a new goal, and a plan to get you onto a path for forward momentum.
Making a shift can be as simple as changing your mindset. Instead of waking up each day with the thought of repeating yesterday, you start the new day with an intentional statement of purpose. You say I’m going to do something different today. You set the course and you choose to do things differently.
Albert Einstein is attributed with the famous quote that says doing the same thing and expecting different results is the perfect definition of insanity.
Making a shift allows us to break the cycle of monotony and repetition that causes drift. By agreeing to shift, we find a new focus, a new strategy, and a new direction.
Once the shift has begun, you find yourself beginning to experience lift. You experience new accomplishments. You have a sense of progress. Goals are starting to be achieved. You find a new direction and you find levels of success.
The lift in our lives is what gives us the energy to begin to be able to influence those around us. As you experience lift, you have an energy that can be shared with others. Lift is a very interesting physical force. Lift is the principle by which birds fly and airplanes are able to rise into the sky.
Many years ago I decided to tackle a bucket list item that I had carried for some time. I wanted to get a private pilot’s license. I enrolled in a local flight school where I began taking the courses and learning the principles of aerodynamics. There is a very interesting undeniable force that happens with flight.
When a wing is moved forward there is a dynamic of the wind passing over the wings. The variation in pressure that occurs with that forward momentum, we call that thrust. But as the intensity of the wind flowing over the airfoil increases, there is this notion of lift that occurs.
In essence, as a plane gains ground speed during takeoff, there is no denying the force of the wing wanting to lift the whole plane off the ground. If you apply enough power and begin the forward momentum, that wing can do nothing but lift you off the ground. So the essence of flight is the ability to control that natural lift that is occurring.
I see great similarities with having a lift in our own lives. If you begin experiencing lift, there will be an undeniable force that you create. You will have an attraction to you that others cannot deny. You will have the ability to influence people.
The next question is, could there be a fourth phase of human experience? I say yes. I call it the Gift.
As you move away from drifting and you start to shift your life and your presence, you achieve this lift in life. Ultimately you become a gift. With the momentum, you create by shifting and lifting you get to the point of being able to start gifting. This is the stage when you can help others. You can influence them with your thoughts, your ideas, and your compassion.
As you experience lift in your life, you become a gift to those around you. Your families can be enriched. Your workplace can be influenced. Your whole community can receive value and benefit from who and what you are. As you become a gift to the world around you, you become a thing of value; you become an inspiration.
Yes, this is Christmas. But while the rest of the world is thinking about gift giving with boxes and bows, I ask you again, have you been the gift to those around you?
It’s a great time to be that person, be that influence, and bless those around you with the power and the privilege of you being who you are. Now if you’re stuck in a drift, obviously your gifts not going to be that special. Maybe you won’t even feel like doing anything. But if you found a shift in life and you’ve begun to lift, you can become a precious and wonderful gift.
I wish each and every one of you a very blessed and Merry Christmas. Happy holidays. All my best to you, your family, and your business.
PS – Many of my clients consider me their closest confidant. We discuss things that they feel they cannot discuss with anyone else. It’s a tricky balance to build the kind of rapport and relationship that can have the level of trust you may want. If you are looking for just such a confidence, think about giving me a call. Let’s discuss where you are right now at work, with your family or in your community. Perhaps I can offer some encouragement.
Faith is a delicate subject these days. There is so much debate being derived from the religious extremists’ assertions of faith.
I want to dial it down a bit. I want to get more basic. I want to talk with you about faith as an essential element of effective leadership.
Here is my argument.
We all exercise faith every day. We have faith that the chair we are about to sit upon will hold. We have faith our car will start. We have faith the air conditioning will work. We have faith the lights will turn on when we flip the switch.
If we work for a larger company, we have faith the paychecks will not bounce each payday. Faith tells us we can do certain things without fear of failure; crossing at the light, taking a bath in clean water, finding food at our grocery stores, etc.
Our spiritual leaders should guide us and inspire us. Recently, my pastor did just that by sharing a phrase that has captured my interest more than some of the other wise words from this man, Dr. John Lockhart.
The phrase was:
“Your mind’s attention and your heart’s affection”
Dr. Lockhart attributes the context to Dr. Bruce Leafblad, a seminary professor who coined the phrase to talk about a true worship experience.
I was raised as the only child of a hard working single Mom. In my formative years, she taught me so much about life and business. Truthfully, I didn’t know that’s what I was learning until the day came for me to enter the business world.
Then, moment by moment, as the tests and trials of my own career began to unfold, I realized she had done an amazing job at teaching me some very profound wisdom.