Sunday, November 11, 2007

Who is your Guru?

If someone were to ask me that question I would most likely answer no one. I am not the guru type, I don’t tend to follow trends too readily and I do not put all my faith in one person. However my life has been filled with mentors, and I have no doubt that I would have progressed further and faster had my arrogance not so often stood in my way.

Over the years, I have noticed a strange tendency among successful people and that is if they don’t follow a ‘guru’ then they very often have a ‘life coach’ or Personal Advisor. The really brilliant ‘life coaches’ are usually to be found very far away and are used to working in a one to many environment (i.e. in an auditorium of hundreds or even thousands of people). They write books and make dvd’s that are sold worldwide.

All this might seem ridiculous to you, but if you think about it logically, it’s only the arrogant or non ambitious people who do not see the need for life coaches and personal advisors. Take the example of a tennis player, no matter how naturally talented they might be, without a coach, they will never truly know their weak points and will certainly not be able to progress very far on a competitive basis. And yet business is far more complex than tennis. For a start there are no fixed rules and business takes place everywhere, not just in a well defined arena. Of course the modern tennis player needs to have PR skills, and legal advisors etc. But they shine on the court, not in a boardroom or a management meeting or across the negotiation table. To add to all this complexity a business person has so many options, which direction to take, career choices: expand or consolidate, raise more capital or sell? All these challenges need to be faced and tackled masterfully. So it is little wonder that successful business people surround themselves not only with their trusty advisors, but also a ‘life coach’ or Personal Advisor or even a guru to whom they refer when needed.

So why is it that we are surprised when we hear that a colleague follows a guru or has a personal advisor? Many of us think of it as absurd or even a sign of weakness. The fact that someone recognizes themselves as inadequate in some way and wants to overcome the issue is, to me, a sign of great strength and determination. In today’s world we need experienced professional advisors, not just friendly amateurs who tell us only what we want to hear, or who have a hidden agenda wrapped in jealousy or some other off the track ambition for us.

I recently met a man who was so impressive, who had achieved so much, so young, that he really blew my socks off. My lunch companion kept in his wallet his own personal mission statement, neatly written on a plasticized piece of paper. On the back he had written down a list of key words that gave his life meaning. Now if you think that is not that impressive, try this: The guy is just a little over thirty, he earns about 300KEuro per year, he recently sold a business he developed for a heap of cash, and he sold it only because it was getting in the way of his future plans. It had served its purpose and cashing it in saved him all the hassle of daily management of teams of staff and suppliers. Before he sold it, however, he realized he was facing some major decisions, so he took some time out to consider them carefully and to put his life into some kind of context. He stopped everything for six weeks, left his wife and family at home and went on an 800km walk across southern France and Spain, with nothing more than a simple rucksack.

Now my lunch companion is not going to become my new guru, but we did decide to turn to one another, when we need professional counseling and I have started reading the book he advised me to read ‘The Monk who sold his Ferrari’ by Robin S. Sharma. The first pages seem very promising; I’ll let you know how I get on.

I am a personal advisor to many people and I believe I have been able to offer my clients solid advice that has very often helped them achieve increased self fulfillment and personal wealth. If you think the idea of a Personal Advisor is daft or unnecessary, then at least take some time out to ask yourself why it is you find the idea so un-attractive?

To repeat my opening question: "Who is your Guru?"


Peter Vandenabeele said...

I prefer to call it a "mentor". A mentor to me has the connotation of a person that has lived experiences that I still have to live and can give me some wise advise about professional life. I believe a nice situation can exist if you can see a higher level manager of your employer as your "mentor". But the mentor can also come from other professional or personal relationships.

During my Ph.D., my professors where certainly my mentors (Prof. Karen Maex and Prof. De Keersmaecker). At SensArray and up to this day, the founder and CEO of SensArray, Wayne Renken, is my most prominent mentor that I will ask for advice on fundamental professional choices. During my time as CEO of Mind, I learned a lot from our non-exec director, Bruno Denys. An interesting finding is that the link to mentors in a certain company form one of the strongest positive memories I have about those companies. (

Francis said...

Nearly 27 years ago I started my career as a motivated sales guy. Liking my work as I did, every working day was rather a holiday than a “working day”. My motivation inspired people to “buy easy”. Before I realised it, and without really having the ambition, I soon became a sales manager. As a sales manager, I saw it as my roll to inspire & motivate my team members. I helped my team members with developing a problem solving mentality by eliminating obstacles & focus on constructive solutions.
By finding pleasure & satisfaction in their work, my team members interpreted budget figures as a motivating challenge, rather than as an unreachable “order” from “authorities”. As a result, I am pretty proud to say that my team performed mostly more than budgeted.

I am a strong believer in the fact that happy people are often presenting “happy” business results. Being a general manager of a small but quite profitable division of a larger company, I held on to my proven “inspiration and motivation” philosophy.

I will certainly not claim that I am a “guru”, I myself am not a fan of the “guru” thing either.
I do not believe that one person can claim to have enough knowledge for resolving all problems, as I see is the case for a real “guru”.

On the other hand, I am a strong believer in the fact that certain people can, in one way or another, have an important contributing roll in helping other people to find the right direction & take the right decisions. Those people have the human skills to help others in obtaining their goals & are guiding others when having doubts, as can be the fact for their own future.

During my career, I’ve met only a handful of people that contributed a real added value for my own inspiration & decision making. Most people (& superiors) were to much driven by their assignment and considered in their advice only a small part of the hole context, not seeing what it was really about or simply not interested enough.

Nearly 4 years ago I’ve met by coincidence H. Every time I met H., he surprised me with his clear and unprejudiced view on most diverged situations, especially those about team work & management. Meanwhile, having appreciation for each others way of thinking, our business contacts developed to a more personal level. We do not often meet, only, the few meetings we’ve had, are for myself representing more added value than the sum of all personal career meetings I had during my 27 years during career. Seeing this item on your blog, I could simply not resist to testify about my appreciation for your advice Harley, thanks!


Anonymous said...

I can't say that I have a particular Guru, or that I live my (professional) life in accordance with the writings of any book.
I’m an entrepreneur. Together with two partners, I founded Aventiv in 2004 and developed NomaDesk, the most intuitive solution for small business teams to create a shared team-document workspace that is always secure, synchronized and available – even when disconnected from the web.

Since then, I discovered that the key quality of any entrepreneur is perseverance. BUT, how do you distinguish perseverance from downright stubbornness? How do you set necessary stamina apart from “blind fury”? I found the matter very tricky, because, as Walter Bagehot said: “One of the greatest pains to human nature is the pain of a new idea. It makes you think that after all, your favorite notions may be wrong, your firmest beliefs ill-founded. Naturally, therefore, common men hate a new idea, and are disposed more or less to ill-treat the original man who brings it.” – So who to trust then!?

Well, I guess I learned to listen to countless experienced people from my professional, as well as private, environment; intuitively feeling that none of them had thé wisdom, but collectively they somehow represented a way forward. I particularly learned to probe their mishaps. The fallacy with a “guru” – and idolatry in general – is that one aims to copy his/her success. Yet, this construct is nearly always unique and quite often involves a “stroke of luck”. Therefore, one actually better tries to avoid other peoples’ mistakes in order to become prepared! Because what is luck after all? It’s that particular instance when opportunity meets preparation.

By the way, with respect to guru’s, I guess there’s truth to be found in Cervantes "Don Quichote", learn to tell between the windmills – “windbags” – and the giants.

Chaos Theory said...

Defenetly, I do not have any Guru...
I can be inspired by some theories but those are various and multiple.

I would tend to see "guru people" as being, sonner or later, kind of followers.

What I'd like to explain is that when I hear colleagues admiring a guy like Jack Welsh (Former GE CEO) or Carla Fiori (Former HP CEO) etc... and telling "I 'll do the same"; I just want to tell them that :
- you ARE NOT Jack Welsh
- you are NOT working in the same company
- you are NOT living in the same time
- ...

Jack Welsh or others have been successful at a particular moment in time, in particular circumstance because they could make the best out of it. They were the link between different parameter, they could take control of the situation and influence it because they had a ceratin personality that fitted also with the situation.
They did it because they had an history behind them, experience, intelligence of linking events, theories and allow to let a new model emerge.

A model is usually valid for a particular circumstance at a particular moment of time.

Here, you feel it... you start to get... Einstein, Prigogine etc are not my Guru's... but I see some truth in their theories. those theories, I believe, can be adapted to management.
They are not my Guru's, their theories inspire me, but must each time be adapted to cirtumstances.

The biggest lie I have ever been obliged to learn at school is this stupid phare "Toute chose �tant �gale par ailleurs" (everything being equal ...) Damned... it's the biggest stupidity ever teached to our kids.

NOTHING is equal! Everything is relative...
Never ever try to follow, try to understand why it worked and see how you can take the best out of it to adapt it yourself to your own world...

Anastasios said...

Well, this is a question I’m wondering very often!

Even if I firstly had the same reaction as Peter, Wikipedia gives as definition for the word “teacher”, also mentioned: “the one that removes the darkness of ignorance”. This probably fits better in Harley his intention. It seems the word “guru” has acquired negative connotations in France and Belgium what could explain my feeling.

An enlightened teacher can sometimes makes the difference ;-) and boost you. Finally he helps to ask you the good questions. I had this chance.
The real difficulty in a professional environment is due to the fact that relations are much more influenced by hierarchical positions and political games. All those factors are blurring your perception of other’s advices.

Even if I’m convinced everybody needs those counsels to find his path, they should never directly influence your choices (it’s probably the thin difference I see between a “guru” and a mentor).

It raises also the question of the father-son relationship. Isn’t it every father his objective to enlighten his child’s without distorting their own nature? In fact, let him know himself better?

I personally requires sometimes reviews and feedback on actions I’ve undertaken or decisions I’ve made but, even if evaluations are little by little becoming a standard in all enterprises, it’s difficult to receive quality ones.

I wish to all of us who have the honesty of admitting weaknesses to meet such mentors

So, to answer Harley’s question, let’s say nobody and some people sometimes


Matthijs said...

I do agree that each of them can play an important role in our lives. However, there is a difference between a guru, a mentor and a coach. A guru is someone you can believe in, a mentor is someone who believes in you and gives you advice based on his long-term experience and a coach is someone who believes in you as well, but does not give you advice.

As a coach, I enter into conversations with you for you to acquire insights and for getting you into action in order to improve your performance. I ask questions, which you don’t ask yourself on your own. The result is greater awareness and self steering and learning power.

Commonly, one is proud if one has a mentor. On the contrary, one is ashamed if one has a coach. A manager, which has a coach, is still viewed as a bad manager. However, I fully agree with you Harley that it’s a sign of strength and not of weakness. Robin S. Sharma is a leadership coach and the successful guy you have mentioned has become a coach of himself. In my opinion, the latter is the ultimate goal of coaching.

The older one gets as a manager, the more one can be in need of a coach. In this respect, I would like to refer to the story of Icarus from the Greek mythology. Tempted by his own strength, Icarus made wings of wax and feathers and went flying. However, when he flew to close to the sun, the wax melted and he fell into the sea and drowned.

A lot of us possess just like Icarus very strong points, which are tempting. At the end, we love them and trust upon them to such an extent that we start to cover up our weaknesses. We forget to acknowledge that things, which feel natural and right to us, need to be changed. Especially, when we are very proud of ourselves, it is not easy to see our weaknesses and to change things, which have brought us success in the past. This demands not only to change our determination, but our will to learn as well. (Robert Hargrove: Masterful Coaching)

Erwin said...

Indeed what's a guru? In my line of business which is mobile ICT mainly, I met many gurus. Mobile ICT applied to Intelligent Traffic Systems is a rather new and certainly innovative business where you still find this pioneer spirit. I've had the opportunity to work with many of those pioneers and literally steal from their experience and courage. Some of these guru's get some kind of success. Others struggle or failed to turn their innovative ideas into solid and sound business cases. Still, each of them successful or not, were valuable partners who stood behind their ideas and were all too happy to shared their knowledge, expertise and dreams without any restriction. In one specific case, one of those pioneers started an innovative view on a telematics system which gave life to a new set of specifications and products. This pioneer unfortunately did not make it as a successful entrepreneur. So to answer the question, do I have one guru? Well not exactly I know many. Who are these guru's? They are persons who have the guts to develop their ideas into innovative systems and products without shying away from the huge risks. One thing is sure and certain, keep you eyes open and learn from those who have success but also from those that are a bit less lucky.

Bert Verdonck said...

During the past couple of weeks I am on a magical journey, meeting a lot of interesting people! So many things happening at an incredible speed...

Lately, I met some people's gurus, according to the Leadership Gurus Top 30. OK, I admit, not everyone has a (personal) guru (myself included), but nevertheless, it seems that I am connecting with inspiring individuals...

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a Chris Howard's seminar in London...

Two weeks ago, I met Roger Hamilton in Amsterdam. Yes, Mr. Wealth Dynamics! Impressive...Oh, in case you were still doubting, I am a CREATOR. If you don't believe me, check out my profile.

And last week, I went to attend Tom Peters, the management guru, in Antwerp. Wow, what a strong message he delivered here...truly, a gifted speaker! Download his slides, copy and steal them! That's what he wants you to do ;-) Check out his website for some more goodies!

Today I enrolled to see Robin Sharma in februari. I really hope that Harley loves "the Monk who sold his Ferrari" as much as I did! By the way, you should also read "The Saint, the Surfer and the CEO"...

I hope you are having a great time too! If you don't, I'll mail you some tips...

Enjoy every day,

Bert Verdonck

Network Creator

Read my blog too!