Today we discuss how humans are growing together: We, our clients, mentors and also some of our closer peers. Nobody can live in the long run without interaction and support from others. This is true for a family setting. But it is also true in the context of business. And this is our topic today:
How do we connect to the right people and structure our relationships in a way, that helps us growing together? I focus this discussion in this podcast episode on the business context.
Categories of Business Relationships
We begin by categorizing people according to our business relationships into five categories:
- Our clients
- Our peers and suppliers
- Mentors, Coaches, Guides and Trainers
Then, I defined the term growing in two dimensions: growing in strength and goodness. I created a graph to illustrate that concept. Growing together means moving from the lower left corner in the graph towards the upper right corner.
It is important to note, that the term “good” does not mean the same for everybody. Growing together means that we in our convoy agree at least to a certain extent about the meaning of the word “good”. This means that we share in our lives some core values.
I defined for the purpose of this discussion the category “others” for people, who do not share those core values but still have some influence on our life. They should not belong to our convoy, because growing has for them a different meaning. They are going in a different direction, even if our paths cross. That does not mean that we should loath them, call them names or think they are inferior. We just let them go their way, while we follow ours.
Growing Together with Whom?
Sharing core values is not enough. Growing together needs an arrangement, where everybody finds his place according to his unique abilities to contribute.
Even if everybody has his own convoy, there are four necessary roles present. I have listed them above, but now it is time to have a closer look. I start with the Me.
This convoy belongs to you. It is your creation; you are responsible for your convoy. You set the direction and define, what is meant for your convoy by good and by strong.
It is your responsibility to decide, whom to invite to join your convoy. This is important, because the energy and aspirations of all members will influence the direction of your common journey.
In fact, setting the directions and defining the common values has nothing to do with bossing people around and giving orders, what they should feel, think, or do. If you would try to behave as a boss, you would impede all hope for growing together.
Therefore, the best method to set the direction of your convoy is to choose the right people travelling with you. If you want to adjust the direction, you can build new relationships and drop others, who pull you into another direction or hold you back.
Your Vanguard Unit
You need for your convoy something a vanguard. People who know more than you can guide you, highlight common pitfalls, introduce you to shortcuts and techniques for overcoming obstacles. They help you creating a road map and challenge you to keep going. In one word, they are your teachers.
You will pay some of them for your service. Others published part of their knowledge in books – you buy and read the books. Some are paid by others to teach you, like teachers in public schools or trainers provided by some suppliers. Then, there are some leaders from earlier generations who might inspire you, like Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, or Nelson Mandela.
Whom to Appoint into Your Vanguard
When choosing your trainers, you should have things in mind:
- You are the one to appoint and dismiss your mentors at your own pleasure.
- You need to stay aware of the agenda of your teachers. They have a self-interest, they can and must have it. But you have to be aware of it and act, if that self-interest of your trainer becomes a distraction or starts to obstruct your development.
- You have to pay your closer mentors and teachers in one way or another. If their students do not provide the resources to them, they can no longer learn and teach.
- Growing together implies that your teachers continue to grow. If he stops learning, there comes a time for you to leave him behind.
- You can appoint some sages as role models into your vanguard unit, even if they do not know anything about you. They may have even died a long time ago, but they can still provide inspiration and orientation. The input they provide is probably less actionable and more abstract. On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson has no current interest and no incentive to mislead you to serve his hidden agenda. But such remote sages should have only a limited impact. Either you move closer to them and build a real relationship, or they morph into passive landmarks.
- One of the most important benefits coming from your mentors is orientation. You certainly experienced, that your GPS provides reliable location data only as long as there is a connectivity with a handful of satellites.
- Never follow a single “guru” who maintains that he knows it all. Keep your mind open, question and validate the input from your teachers even if they seem far ahead. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as unbiased information.
Peers are generally on the same level with you. In a business context your peers are colleagues, business partners, suppliers sometimes competitors. You work and grow together. You share notes and tips, support each other. Maybe you do some cross promotions, they promote your stuff, and you theirs. Together, you have a decent product lineup.
A good peer network is really important because you work together. Your peer network is the place to create value. This is where the magic happens. You will never reach abundance and financial independence without a good peer network.
You need your peers to provide part of your package for your customers. But you need them also as an early warning system. They see first when you start to make mistakes. If you have the wrong people in your peer network, they will let you run into an open knife. People in a good per network will try to shield you from the consequences of your mistakes. More importantly, they will confront you with your mistakes and warn you before it is too late.
You see that you need a lot of trust in your peer network. It takes a long time and real effort to build such trust. If it takes such a big investment to grow a peer relationship, it will certainly pay to protect and nurture it throughout your career.
The Difference Between Peer and Mentor Relationships
Such a long-lasting relationship can only work on a strong foundation of shared core values. I talked already about shared values in the context of mentors. But with the peers, it is even more important. It does benefit you to have mentors, who are looking at the world from quite different perspectives. They are your guides, in a way also your spies. The higher the quality and variety of your information about the terrain ahead, the better and safer your journey.
Therefore, it pays to have a mentor straying a bit to the left, another one leaning a bit to the right. A third one could be really good in smelling, while the other might have terrific ears. This different points of view in your mentor group will create inevitably some tensions. But in your peer network, you do not need those tensions. You should share not only values, but an approach to the world.
Your clients bring the money into your system. You must find enough customers, otherwise you cannot have a business.
There are two possible approaches you can choose. You can try to milk them, soak, and press them out until they are empty, and then throw them away. While doing so, you have to find the next batch of possible victims.
Alternatively, you can look to find clients for the long run. This second approach demands a bit more thinking and effort, but it is by far more promising.
I did a couple of related videos a few years ago. Here is the link. Maybe, the examples are in the meantime a bit outdated, but the concepts are still valid.
You need for that approach
- a clear definition of your target market
- the ability to listen to your customers
- consistency in your communications and performance
- ongoing credibility
- continuous improvement of your service and the customer experience you offer
Treating your customers decently and continuous learning allows your clients growing together with you. They can stay with you even after learning the skills you offered in the beginning.
The they will not move on, because your solutions turned stale. Instead, they will tell you, where their needs and paint points are, and help you to develop a solution for them.
Here is a nice booklet from Dr. John Brennan explains this concept in detail. You can get it from Amazon.
I mentioned a fourth category of people we meet in our business lives and labeled them as “others”. We must interact with those people, but they care about our values. Most of them do not care about us our well-being, although some of them might wish us well, while others might look for ways to throw some obstacles into our way.
Examples are tax people, maybe banks, some suppliers without strategic importance, you name it. We must deal with them, and we will deal with them. But we do our best not to depend on them.
It is also important to note, that we recruit our clients, peers and even our mentors out of this big pool of others. Therefore, one of the more important skills in your life is the ability to allow the right people moving from the “Other” category into your convoy.
Assembling Your Caravan to Success
Firstly, I want to note that most of us enter this world with their parents as mentors and siblings as peers. While we move through the education system, we broaden the mentor group to include some of our teachers, and the peer group to include some of our fellow students.
Depending of the quality of the schools and universities we went through, they leave us not only with a certificate or degree. They will offer us also an alumni program, helping us to maintain and further develop our relationships with peers and mentors.
In fact, the network people build at universities and the support through the alumni program is frequently more important than the paper with the degree you can now add to your CV. Some of the big success stories like Google and Facebook have their roots in such arrangements.
But even without a university degree and alumni program, you can assemble a caravan for growing together.
Starting from Scratch
There are not many people enjoying the luxury of a successful academic education, providing them with a postgraduate degree and a strong network of peers and mentors. Even if you do not have them, there is no reason to despair. Just start to build your own network.
Looking for Guidance
If you have been reading until here, you are interested in personal growth. And you found probably that it is difficult to sustain this growth without getting lost.
You need a road map and a system of lighthouses and landmarks, which can tell you whether you stay on course. Without a navigation system, you walk in circles.
Your unit of mentors and coaches can provide this road map. Some of them will be far away, seemingly out of reach. But if you place a small number of them – maybe half a dozen – around your horizon, you will be always able to judge your general direction.
The Stars in the Sky
For my generation, people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Nelson Mandela, or Albert Einstein provide such landmarks. You might add some institutions like the Catholic Church, and some historic figures like Henry Ford and Thomas Jefferson.
There is no need to completely agree with any one of them, they all have their own weaknesses and strengths. And it is good for our purpose, that they are far away. When they make now or then a small step to one side or the other, we will barely note it. We can still use them as fix points in our navigation system.
We use those people and institutions as landmarks like the ancient sailors used the stars to reach their destinations. You can choose them freely. The only cost for you is the attention you need to observe how your position relative to each of them evolves.
It is up to you to appoint them as you want.
The Guides, Coaches and Mentors
Now you can start to use the navigation provided by your stars and move into the direction desired by your heart. You can break out of the endless circle you used to run, always returning to your starting point.
But it will not take long, and you will find an obstacle seemingly blocking your way. It might be a river, a mountain, even an ocean – or simply a not so humble tax inspector.
Whatever it is, you know that you can overcome it. Others did so, and so will you. But you need guidance, you need somebody who knows the problem, and who can help you to solve it. These somebodies are the consultants, the trainers, the coaches.
Ask for help, take a training, rise to the challenge! It will cost you some time and money, but you will make it. You have to take care, that you do not entrust yourself to fake guides. But the navigation system provided by your stars will help you to find the good ones and shield you from the ones who try to mislead and use you for their own purpose.
You might wish those obstacles away, but they are not going to leave. But a better use of your energy is turning them into an opportunity. And in fact, they are huge opportunities.
Meeting Your Peers
Those obstacles and barriers in your way are natural meeting points. Those, who want to take a similar direction like you face the same barrier. They will do some research and struggle a bit, but if they are serious, they will find like you the location most promising to overcome the barrier.
This might be a ferry boat, a rest place near a small mountain path or a lawyer’s office. Along those barriers you find like-minded people. These barriers are the places, where you find your peers. You can start to walk together with some of them. A common path and shared struggle can help you to develop strong and deep bonds. This is the meaning of growing together with your peers.
Clients are the ones who bring money into your system. They will pay you for your services. This is important, and in stark contrast to peers, guides, coaches, and mentors.
You will also exchange services and money with your peers, but by and large you pay them roughly as much as you get from them. You help them, and they help you.
For the guides, coaches, and trainers you are yourself a client. They provide value to you, and you pay them with money. But if you want to pay for your guides and for your living, you also need people who are willing to pay with money for the value you provide.
Your business can only be profitable, and your caravan to success can only succeed, if you can create value for your clients. And your cost of providing the value must be remarkably lower than the benefit your clients derive from your service.
Where to Find Your Clients?
Remember the barriers, where you met your peers. Some people found there also their clients:
- the lawyer and accountant shielding you from the appetite of overly hungry tax people
- the ferry operator
- the keeper of the chalet near your mountain path
So, what are you going to do? You watch your market and find out, what kind of people you want to serve. Maybe, they are also travelling, albeit into a slightly different direction?
You could create a travel agency to facilitate and organize the journeys of those aspiring. Show them the barriers on the way and how to overcome them. Provide networking opportunities for them to help them find the right peers.
Or there might be some people, who look for a little entertainment and adventure to sweeten a bit their never-ending circular journey. You could share with them some stories, granting them a few hours of excitement and intensity before they return to their treadmill.
You could teach some people, how to grow this new fruit you found on your way. This way you can help them to access healthy food even in a difficult environment. There is no limit for your opportunities.
I would just rather advise you to emulate the lawyer and accountant instead of the ferry boat operator and the keeper of the guest house in the mountains. Why? It is difficult and expensive to acquire a new client. Therefor you should offer a service, where your clients can stay with you for a long time. The lawyer or medical doctor can help you again and again. If you are growing together with your clients, you can stay together until one of you retires. A business like that should be your goal.
This was the manuscript for episode 14 of the Podcast Success and Inner Growth. You can expect episode 15 in the second half of June. We will discuss the importance of business processes, and how to build them.