I feel sorry for anyone who does not recognize and appreciate that our journey has a master guide behind it. I speak often of being on a leadership journey and how we all are on that journey to become the best possible versions of ourselves. A particular event happened today that made that point all the more poignant for me.
I have met a great number of people on social media. I am mostly on Twitter and somewhat on LinkedIn. Occasionally I have engaged with these new friends outside of social media, and in some cases, we have met in person. Building your network happens like that.
The New Old Friend
There is one person with whom I connected on Twitter some time back. We had similar interests and engaged in some great discussions on leadership, teaching, and training. We were each on our own leadership journey and found benefit in sharing our experiences and adventures. We often planned to talk directly, and for a variety of reasons that never happened. It was a bit frustrating, but again, each on our leadership journey and properly setting our own priorities.
Exactly the Same, Only Different
He would often tell me how beneficial he had found my book and our engagement. I would share the same with him – that our discussions were very useful and provided me considerable insight. I am not sure he believed me. True – we are from different backgrounds and in different professions. We are probably more dissimilar than we are similar. Which to say – we are each our own unique individuals whose leadership journeys have happened to cross and we are each trying, in our own way, to become the best possible versions of ourselves. He tells me that he uses my book for guidance and understanding frequently. I think often of his role as an educator of children as compared to my role in educating adults. He is completing his PhD dissertation and I continue to write blogs and other content related to my fields. He is asked to present to larger and larger groups more and more frequently, and he is getting great reviews as he discovers that he has something of genuine value to offer his audience. I have been speaking to groups of all sizes for many, any years. We both suffer from impostor syndrome in our own way, and draw strength from others, including each other, as we progress on our leadership journey.
We scheduled an hour-long talk today and we finally connected. It was great to hear his voice and feel the passion in his heart. As we spoke, I made notes as I usually do in conversations. Before we were done I had a full page of notes and thoughts that had occurred to me as we spoke. And we did not speak for an hour. We spoke for two.
I appreciate our growing relationship and I gain a great deal from it. I am not sure he believes me completely. I am very glad that he finds benefit in my writings and our engagement. It is perhaps trite to restate that the teacher learns as much from the student as the student learns from the teacher. Perhaps more. Triteness aside, it is true whether we choose to believe it or not. The same is true for a mentoring relationship.
You have a network of people with whom you associate. You learn from them. They learn from you. Your journeys are quite different and your position on yours as compared to theirs might be very different. Our respective journeys will take us past many of the same mile markers, lampposts, billboards, and rest stops. There will be similarities and differences. The point is, however, that in any relationship, whether formally called a mentoring relationship or not, both parties are there to learn and gain what they can from the other.
I observe this frequently when teaching negotiations. Some parties perceive that the other party holds all the power. That is rarely true. They are sitting at the table with you because they have a need that must be filled just as you do. You each believe that the other has the ways and means to address your needs. That is the basis of a bargain as well as a relationship. Mentoring and friendships are no different. Both parties have needs and things of value to trade for the fulfillment of their needs. Never assume that the relationship is one-sided. It almost never is. Both parties are in a position to contribute and to benefit.
The sustained leader recognizes the value that comes from mutually beneficial relationships. While there might be some perceived imbalance by one or even both parties, the fact remains that people pursue and maintain relationships because they hold value. The astute observer will find benefit that others ignore or prevent themselves from seeing. There is value in all relationships. You just have to be willing to find it and then accept it. It’s not always what you want, but it is almost always what you need.
Introverts will say that they do not need or want many relationships. It is more than they can handle. They claim to go for quality over quantity. I am one of those people. And I have said that. Never forget, however, that a relationship exists, if at all, because both parties see benefit. It might be the same benefit that you perceive, or even seem in no way balanced or equitable. That is not for you to judge. Do you gain benefit and are you contributing whatever it is you have to offer? If you are doing your best and being generous with your gifts, be they time, talent, or treasure, then you can be comfortable that you are giving more than you are receiving. Stick with that.
Mentors and Mentoring
This post is supposed to be about mentors and mentoring. I was asked if I would serve as a mentor to someone who, in my opinion is already far ahead of me in many respects. I am honored that he asked. And honored that he respects his relationship with me as much as I respect my relationship with him. We probably will not have any greater success arranging our second conversation than we had setting up the first one. That’s OK. We will continue to engage on social media and via email. Our journeys have intersected and we have decided to cover this portion of it together. That is good for both of us. He will work on his dissertation and a new job opportunity that he has been offered. I will continue to pursue my leadership development passion and fill my pipeline with teaching, speaking, and consulting opportunities. He will continue to shape young minds and I will try to reshape some adult ones.
The Divergent Paths
Our paths will eventually diverge, but I have a sense that we will view each other from our respective roads not taken, and wave through the trees. And we will both be enriched from the time we have spent learning from each other. We both believe that our paths are guided by One far smarter than either of us. Whatever it is we are supposed to gain from each other, we will absorb and hold until it is time to share it with yet another traveler. Perhaps many of them. And perhaps someday we will both stand on a stage and share our wisdom and experiences with 20,000 other travelers. And if not, I am enriched from our interchange today and for whatever the future holds.
Do you view the relationships you have today with the same respect and expectation? Or do you fail to gain the real value that is sitting there for the taking because you have not yet humbled yourself sufficiently to understand that you can and should learn from everyone? Where are you missing opportunities to move further along your leadership journey? Go tell someone how much you appreciate the relationship you have with them. I assure you, they need to hear it. Today.
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