Why A Leader Needs Mentors and Paid Consultants

A Leader Needs to Read More... and Not Only Books

Thoughts on Leadership—Part 2 of 4

In my last post on leadership, I explained two principles I find essential to being a true and effective leader: lead through your personal values in every aspect of your life (not only at work), and become the culture you want your company to represent.

Today I’m going to expand upon these ideas with two concrete practices I’ve found highly valuable in my pursuit of excellence in my life as a leader:

  • Learn to Read People
  • Leverage People Who are Smarter Than You.

A leader doesn’t have to know everything. In fact, a leader who thinks they know everything is probably not much of a leader. (I’ll explore this pitfall more in my next post on humility!). A true leader cultivates an excellent team. But how?

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Don’t just read books: Learn to read people.

Learn to read those who follow you, who depend on you, and those who you admire and think are great. When you read people, you pay attention to their reactions to how you behave. And you change your behavior to what you want people to read on you. Once you’ve established your values, and believe you’re acting them out in your behavior, pay attention to how this behavior is received, and change if needed.

Remember last post, when I told the story of my friend D, the dentist, who would slip into partying mode and risk losing his professional credibility? If he’d been paying attention, he might have noticed our shaking heads, downcast eyes, his ‘unliked’ posts on social media when he was in a bathing suit and/or holding a beer. He’d have seen and noticed our reactions and been able to modulate his behavior to match the values he wants his dental practice to represent.

You can do the same in life and at work. I recommend you try it. You don’t have to be fake, but you do have to behave according to who you want to be in that specific moment in life—and if it’s a leader, act accordingly.

The only way to know if you’re living up to your own standards is to pay attention to the effect your words and behaviors are having on other people.

Leverage People Who are Smarter than you.

The second key to reading people is reading the right people. If D only pays attention to other friends who love partying, he’ll never be presented the lesson he needs to learn about modulating his behavior. He could be an expert people-reader and miss the necessary lesson entirely.

Reading people also means surrounding yourself with great people and paying attention to how they lead. When you find yourself admiring someone, ask yourself not only “why” but “what” and “how:” investigate and take note of how they behave, how they move, their body language and communication skills. How do they act on social media? How do they treat their families? How do they treat you? Then do the same yourself. Emulate, practice, and pay attention. Read how people respond to you. Make sure you are studying those who represent themselves how you want to be read and understood. It’s a circle.

Once you have a sense of what you want to become....collect people and practice. You can’t do it alone. A leader always comes with many people—helpers and followers. In my case, I have done two things that have helped my leadership:

  • Find mentors and hire consultants.

The Difference Between Mentors and Consultants

When possible, mentorship is a highly valuable way to surround yourself with quality leaders and to learn from them in a formal and continuous way. Know someone who runs a business or does work you admire? Ask them to mentor you. I’ve done this many times throughout my career, and every time I’ve gained a massive amount of insight, and even a few friends.

But, I hear you say, it can be hard to ask people to give up their time and energy to help me learn! Sure it is. My advice: don’t be shy about it—and make it formal!

If they’re high quality people, chances are they’ll be busy. That’s OK. Chances are they will also respect the importance of sharing their learning, just as they surely learned from leaders before them.

So be mindful, be respectful, and ask for what’s reasonable: once a month for an hour, one every-other week for a coffee. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to ask. Let them tell you what they can afford. (If you don’t ask, you’ll certainly get nothing.)

When mentorship isn’t possible, either because of personal commitments or because the people you want to learn from aren’t in a position to offer you advice/time/or learning for free, hire them as a consultant.

A consultant is anyone who can offer you tangible learning on a topic, industry, practice, or knowledge base and who you are willing to pay for their time.

Ask yourself: How much value do they bring to the table? If it’s significant, create a contract, set a rate, hours, a level of engagement, and then learn. Remember: don’t be cheap! Paying people for their expertise is a powerful way to ensure you are living out the values of leader, growing your own leadership concretely and efficiently, and surrounding yourself with high-quality people to learn from.

Now Get to Work Listening

Once you have a few mentors and/or consultants that are smart and share your values, get to work valuing and following their advice. It’s not enough just to have them around, but you have to study what they say--read them like you would a book.

In other words: How do you leverage smart people? Do what they say!

If you dedicate time and effort to learn from quality mentors and impassioned consultants, you’ll not only grow your leadership abilities, but you’ll also grow your business.

It’s a surefire way to leverage people who are smarter than you. And to make sure you’re the smartest leader possible.

Stay tuned for my next installment; I’ll look at the importance of humility, and what it means for your leadership.


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