Mirror Mirror on the Wall

Once upon a time there lived a lovely princess named Snow White. Her vain and wicked stepmother, the Queen, feared that some day Snow White’s beauty would surpass her own. So she dressed the princess in rags and forced her to work as a maid. Each day the vain queen consulted her magic mirror, “Magic Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?”… and as long as the mirror answered, “You are the fairest of them all,” Snow White was safe from the Queen’s cruel jealousy.

Wouldn’t we all like a mirror that would tell us each day just how great we are. The thing is, some people really do seem to have one. They look in the mirror and the image they see is far different than the image they project to other people.

When we see ourselves we are most often crystal clear on exactly what we meant to say. We make good, appropriate decisions and when we look in the mirror we see somebody worth far more than they are being paid and someone not fully appreciated for the greatness they bring into the world everyday. We know precisely how to leverage our strengths and how to eliminate our weaknesses.

Or perhaps you look into the mirror and the person who looks back adds no value to their world, they are misunderstood and are destined to just wander through life until their time on earth is done.

It’s very likely that neither of those “reflections” is accurate. They are not accurate because hardly anyone sees themselves in the same way others see them. Their mirrors are not providing a reflection that truly shows the reality of their life.

So as we near the end of 2014 here is the best advice I could ever give anyone for a better 2015: get yourself an accurate mirror.

That “mirror” I’m talking about is actually a mentor or coach. Your mentor should be someone who cares about you enough to be open and honest with you about your strengths and weaknesses.

Your mentor needs to be self-reflective because if you want someone to share their wisdom with you, they need to have wisdom to share. Some people simply don’t spend much time thinking about their own experience. You’ll want a mentor that can explain what worked in their life AND why it worked. Your mentor can’t pass along what they don’t know so self-reflection is a key.

If you want a mentor that trusts you then you must be able to trust your mentor. In a good mentor relationship, you need to be able to be honest about your own life and circumstances – and you need to be certain that what you share won’t go beyond your mentor. If they can’t be trusted to keep confidences, your relationship will be superficial at best – actually damaging at worst.

If you’re brave enough to ask your mentor for advice then your mentor needs to be brave enough to give you a straight answer. Don’t look for a mentor who will sugar-coat the truth. Take your advice straight-up, with no sweetness and no politically correct wishy-washy coaching added.
Look for a generous, giving mentor, a mentor who truly wants the best for you. A true mentor will never feel threatened by your success. A generous mentor will invest the time required to help you become your very best. Your success will actually be a priority for them.

Some individuals may choose to hire a coach or a mentor. The same requirements apply; the one big difference is a professional coach may work with you for a predetermined amount of time, on one area of your life in particular or to help you achieve one big goal. Hiring a professional coach is not an expense, it is one of the best investments you can make, it’s an investment in yourself.

Either way you should know this: you will be more successful with someone to help you smooth out life’s bumps then you will ever be by going it alone.

I’m not sure I was clear enough with that so let me repeat it: you WILL be more successful with a coach or a mentor in your life than you will be without one. No matter how successful you are today you WILL be more successful when you add a coach or mentor to your life.

Got it? Then get one!

The Problem With Problems

A very long time ago I worked for a company that offered the finest training available anywhere. They still do. It is simply life-changing training that no other training organization has been able to duplicate, despite the fact that many have tried.

I was tasked with penetrating a very large account, one of the largest companies in the world, that we had done virtually no business with. They were all very nice people, happy to grant me time and “answer” any question I asked. The question I asked most frequently was: what type of problems do you face in your role?

The answer was always the same: nothing, not a thing, no problems at all.

With tens of thousands of employees spread around the world I knew that just wasn’t possible. But everyone answered the same. I asked my father, a 40 year employee of this large organization why they wouldn’t share with me.

He told me that they were being open, there just wasn’t any “problems.” There were issues, challenges, and opportunities but no problems, absolutely zero problems.

I changed my tactics and began to ask about challenges and issues. The combination of that new strategy on my part, and a change in leadership near the top of the organization resulted in it becoming the largest account ever for the world renowned training company.

It turns out the management team at the company I was trying to sell to was well-coached to think not in terms of problems but rather challenges and opportunities. Maybe too well coached.

Problems are real, they need to be addressed differently than mere challenges and opportunities. Left unattended problems almost always grow. Left unattended problems can destroy even the best organizations.

Here’s why I’m writing about this now. I wrote a post on problem solving a while back and in the post I recommended “living” with a problem a bit before trying to solve it. There are many benefits to getting to know a problem before rushing to eliminate it. When we “solution jump” we may address a symptom but miss the real underlying cause. Getting to know the problem makes that less likely.

So here’s the problem with my problem solving advice. Sometimes when we live with a problem too long we stop noticing the problem. We get too cozy with it. We see newer, fresher problems and begin to focus on those. Meanwhile, the first problem begins to grow under the surface until it is much harder to solve. Sometimes much much harder.

So here’s an addendum to my advice. Yes, live with a problem a bit before rushing to solve it. But LIVE with it, don’t get comfortable with it. Put a deadline on how long you’re willing to live with it. When the deadline arrives take action. Even if you have no additional insights or information take action based on what you do have. Even if you don’t have the total solution ACT on the information you have. A partial solution is better than no solution. The key is action.

That large organization I referred to had many unsolved problems because mere “challenges” didn’t seem so urgent. When we used that ugly word “problem” many things changed for the better. Working with that company is how I learned that semantics do matter.

Problem solving requires action, never put up with a problem for so long that it convinces you that it’s not really a problem. Don’t mistake a challenge for a problem. The first can help you grow, the second can help you grow or be the death of you. The first one can be your friend, the second most certainly is not.

Now, go deal with that problem you’ve been tolerating way too long!