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April 2010

The mentoring stories

I am a great critic of the Government’s – Conservative when introduced in 1988, but compounded further by Labour subsequently – National Curriculum for Schools in Britain. A more pointless, disabling, ineffective piece of educational legislation has scarcely ever been passed. That it was – to use a technical term – ‘naff’ right from the start is evident in the simple fact that it was never obligatory for private schools to follow it. ‘Nuff said. They of course knew far better than to follow that pointless piper.

However, given the millions of words of documentation and legislation that it generated it was inevitable that there would be one crumb of comfort. I have long held that there was one good sentence in the entire documentation; and it was to be found, appropriately, in the Cox Report underpinning the English National Curriculum. The sentence went as follows: ‘Narrative may be regarded as a primary act of mind’. Oh – beautiful – what profundities are inlaid in that simple sentence; of course, the National Curriculum proceeded to disregard its one and only profundity and substitute assessment of 7 year olds for a credible narrative.

But that was then, and why am I harping on about it now? Because the power of narrative is a healing power and can be used in an infinite number of contexts to resolve difficult problems. I am a professional mentor and get called in to deal with people’s problems: relationship, achievement and growth issues.

Recently I was asked by a married couple to help them with some severe family problems. One drunken incident, one unwise comment, and nothing really serious happening had led to a massive fracture between the couple and the wife’s sister and mother. Acrimonious indeed. I was shown a 33 page email audit trail of accusation and counter-accusation.

At the first meeting they fleshed in some more background, but I interrupted and asked them to answer a simple question: Why has this happened? Immediately, I was given a whole load of stuff – the drink, the background, the long running sense of hurt, and – so it would have gone on. No, I said, this is not why this has happened; this has happened because you – collectively – are Joseph.

I saw a strange look in their faces: what? You are Joseph. Remember the story – the narrative - the envy of the brothers, the wicked plot to kill him, and finally the selling him off to slavery in Egypt? Yes, and ultimately why did this happen? Because some great good was scheduled to come out of it – some deliverance from hunger and death for all of them, which would not have happened without the evil that proceeded it.

This was a staggering idea, difficult to accept initially, but as we talked through its implications I could see them beginning to make sense of their life, and the choices they would need to make. It led to specific acts they would do that week in the light of that story. But also, the story made sense, was easy to understand.

I saw them a week later, and some great progress had been made; their own relationship had massively improved and the independence from the matriarchal family influence had begun to be asserted. I said to them, Where are we now? And they said – this had happened, then that, and then more details emerged. No, where are we now?

We are, I said, with Moses coming out of Egypt. The pharaonic bondage of the family is about to be destroyed. However, watch out because there is always a hard wilderness when you break loose and the temptation is to go back to the comfort of what we know. The Promised Land is some way off. They now immediately ‘got it’.

They still have a way to go – but the narratives flag up all our own journeys. This is why they are so powerful, and why great mentors use them.

Motivating the troops

They are now running at it. People – politicians – are even trying to persuade me to part with money to support their campaign. Jeez, haven’t I given enough in taxes? Do you feel weary? Do they? You wouldn’t guess it from the spring in their steps as their step up to the microphone.


Who will win the election? Who has the most money? Who has the most ideas? Or, perhaps more basically, who has the most energy – the most perceived energy. And what is energy? It is motivation writ large. They call it mobilising their troops, but critically it is energising all those around us.


What, then, are the best management tips for motivating others? Let me in the free spirit of democracy offer my crumbs to all Parties. You want to win the Election? Then make sure that everybody in your camp is motivated – because if you do, then a process of osmosis sets in, and everyone around feels it, wants it, and finds it credible to vote for.


Here are ten top tips for the Party leaders to use on a minute by minute basis.


Number 1: always be motivated yourself, and give the lead – it’s infectious. Do that corny but effective ritual first thing in the morning: look in the mirror and say, I feel great, I am full of energy, I am the conqueror. Tell yourself with conviction, then go out and live the dream.


Two: look for and find members of your team doing things right – catch them – praise them immediately.


Three: treat everybody with respect, which means – difficult lesson coming up – listen a lot. Yes, listen a lot, and stop the cackle.


Four: help your people learn – you know why you should be PM, but their view may be much more limited – limited to: if he’s in power then I get this job – widen their horizons! Increases in learning produce increases in self-esteem and performance.


Five: make them feel they belong – they are part of your exclusive club – avoid the sense of cabals and inner circles.


Six: stop micro-managing with central directives, give them more control, allow them to do things their way.


Seven: acknowledge their ideas, publicly where possible, and reward achievement. Remember, ‘strokes’ are rewards too – see Nine.


Eight: give them a challenge – it’s challenging enough winning a seat – add to that in some way, and talk as if you know they can do it.


Nine: say thank you, and make strong eye contact when you do.

Ten: try to understand their motivations and feed them – review the above suggestions and work out which suit which individuals. Treat them personally.


Now with the above suggestions in your armoury – if you have time – go out and conquer. Remember, feed the motivations of yourself, and your team.

Establishing your purpose

Everybody has a purpose - another word for this would be mission - but not everyone knows what it is. Some people seem to instinctively grasp their purpose early on, and others find that it is slowly revealed to them. There is a third category of course: those who resist their purpose and die unfulfilled, or as we sometimes say - they die with their music still inside them.

There are various ways to help people find their purpose and I'd like to share one small one with you now. Sentences contain - in English - eight kinds of words, and the most important type of word of all is the verb - the doing word. This expresses the very essence of activity, of mood, tense, person and much else besides. Other words are simply static in comparison. Nouns, for example, just point to things and abstractions: the table is just a table, static, until a verb tells us the table crashes into the fridge!

Discovering your purpose is helped by considering what is the verb that is you? Bear in mind, having said that verbs are the 'doing' verbs, which they are, plenty of them 'do' things other than 'doing' - to dream, to think, to be - along with more active ‘doings’ like to paint, to administer, to organise, to nurse, to build, to .. You get my drift?

I ask people I mentor to go back to their teenage years. Think of what they were good at doing, found effortless relative to other people's experience of the same activity, and realise that therein lies the clue, possibly, to what their mission is really about.

Most people come up with about three verbs, often synonyms, and it then takes some careful selection to decide which verb is the ONE. Sometimes this can take a couple of weeks, even longer. Eventually, however, it becomes clear what verb really feels right – expresses what they have always been about, although had never considered it in this way before. BUT, having worked out your verb - voila - all activities in your life, more or less, need to be aligned with it. This is, incidentally, a relief – it represents a form of simplification and focus.

I run two companies, Motivational Maps Ltd, and Motivational Mentoring Ltd. Guess what my verb might be? Yep, to motivate. But it's not just about my work - I need to motivate my friends, my family, and even my enemies. To the degree to which I don't do it is the degree to which I have fallen short. And this applies to any verb we accept as being what we should be about.

There is a wonderful simplicity about finding your verb and so finding your purpose – once you do, the world never looks the same again. Happy hunting – find that verb!

Creating Teams

One of the most important skills of a true leader is the ability to create strong and effective teams. The reason for this is simple and can be summed up in the well known acronym: TEAM – Together Each Achieves More. What this means is that there is a synergy that happens when a true team performs.


I like to think of this as the difference between arithmetic and geometry. People who work together in groups are arithmetic. If there are five people in the group, then the combined productivity is five units – if you are lucky and they all pull their weight. But with a team of five people you have geometric power: it’s not 1+1+1+1+1=5, but 1x2x3x4x5=120 units! As history demonstrates, with twelve people in a real team – and with condition One met: see below - it’s possible to conquer the world!!


Of course, those who are in successful relationships – typically but not exclusively marriage – will know that two people who bond together in love and work together to support each other are also likely to produce extraordinary results in their lives together. Then add children as part of the team and – wow!


There are several aspects to successful teamwork, which includes understanding motivational profiles, and also team skill contributions. But overarching these personal and operational issues, there are four simple things, or conditions that need to be addressed.


Condition One: the team has to have a clear remit, or mission. It is effectively what in military terms is called the Principle of the Objective. What are we trying to do? When I referred to Twelve people conquering the world I had in mind the Twelve disciples of Jesus: whatever else may or may not be true about the story, one thing is certain: twelve people shared an astonishingly clear mission – to spread the message, the gospel, and enable all peoples across the world to hear and respond to it. The results of that are with us today. Thus, if we are leading a team the question we should be asking again and again is: is the mission clear? And we might add, what we are about to attempt needs to be clear, and that is helped by knowing WHY.


Condition Two: interdependency - the understanding that each person's gifts and abilities are needed to achieve the objective. The corollary of this is that it is entirely possible to have redundant team members - their membership of the team is not essential to the outcome. This is bad. Public sectors generally are full of this bloat. Have you checked recently the relevance of your team members to achieving the objective? Too many, or too few, or just about right?


Condition Three: there needs to be a belief that working as a team actually does produce better results than allowing individuality free rein. This is a big belief that must never be taken for granted. On our training courses we like to experientially demonstrate this. It is far too easy to imagine that believing is the same as thinking; it is not. Believing always has a feeling component, and too much team development is arid and intellectual – in short, the sort of thing you learn to do from a book. Developing strong beliefs counters this.


Finally, Condition Four: successful teams are accountable; this is really part of the remit. Great teams understand they are players in the bigger picture; the person who has been in a great team is always aware of that - that something bigger than them is being achieved, which is why it feels so great. Who are your teams accountable to? It is too easy for groups to become self-perpetuating fiefdoms.


If you can review your own team and tick all four Conditions as met, then chances are, you are performing at a high level, and leading extremely well. Let’s hope so!