It’s common for people on quests for self-improvement to seek out mentors.
For every area of life where we need some direction or fine-tuning, there should be a mentor available. Health, faith, finance, sports, and careers are some of the aspects of life where people want and need to develop most. Finding the right mentor can make a huge difference in the level of achievement they’re able to reach.
Mentors, like everyone else, are human. They may possess brilliance that shines like the sun but more than likely, they’ll also have an equal balance of faults. A good apprentice needs to know how to take the good and leave the bad, learning key lessons from their mentor that will aid them in making the best possible decisions from a position of inexperience.
You may want to know your mentor personally, and if you are lucky enough to work alongside your mentor in real-time, you’ll find your relationship with them to be one of the most valuable gifts life has given you.
Still, there’s a substitute for this experience when a live mentor is not available – the priceless gems of guidance in the stories about people of our past. So many of us today miss taking advantage of these, but we’re lucky to live on the earth during the Information Age, a time when most of us can easily access these stories with minimal effort.
People & Guidance We Should Not Forget
Whether they were villains or legends, let’s be objective. The few people I will mention here, like our live mentors, possessed both good traits and defects.
These people from the past were exceptional compared to everyday people (no offense to anyone, me included). If they hadn’t been, their legacies wouldn’t have endured through time for however long as they have.
These people did great or interesting things in many areas of their lives, but as with most of my articles, the purpose of this post is to help with professional aspects of life and in business. So, we will talk about them, but we’ll be focused on their ideas or experiences where they set examples that can help us flourish in these areas:
Management & Delegation
Tolerance & Diplomacy
Aristotle – Mindset
Volumes of perpetual deliberations written in Ancient Greek that are older than 300 BC, at times piecemealed together, then translated into modern English may not sound like a barrel of fun to anyone. I’ll just be honest- I did not find Aristotle’s books fun. But I did find them interesting.
It’s taken me over a year to get through Aristotle’s Politics because I have no self-imposed deadline and my mind can only process a page or two at a time. However, the basics of political structure, the ideas, and questions mentioned in the book should be familiar subject matter for all adults that dwell in contemporary society.
While Aristotle thought sexism and slavery were OK, (I think most of us agree today that they are not) he made some good points. His idea from this volume that has had the most impact on me:
Wealth-building as an art.
If you grew up believing that only bad people are rich, are afraid of greed for any reason, or are a free-spirited creative type that’s ashamed to be compensated for their work, this idea can help you to shift your frame of mind.
Seeing wealth-building as an art or skill can stop you from viewing the accumulation of money and valuables as “wrong” and instead, see it as a talent and vital endeavor that should be pursued by anyone who cares to be financially independent, avoid working to the endpoint of their life expectancy, and provide a better future for their children and community overall.
The lesson: When doing business, never feel guilty for the need or desire to earn a fair, honest, living and build wealth. After all, doing so is only a natural result of conducting business well.
Bruce Lee – Management, Delegation, & Continuous Learning
In his book Striking Thoughts. Bruce Lee says something to the effect of: “A teacher, a really good teacher, is never a giver of truth; he is a guide, a pointer to truth.”
Over and over again, he tells his students that there is no one way, encourages them to question him even though he’s the teacher, and continue searching for answers.
As a manager, this philosophy can help you deal with your most “defiant” subordinates. They may drive you crazy with their questions and the fact that they always seem to be challenging you, but if they do it with some humility, you can be OK with cutting them some slack. Questioning is part of their learning process. Within reason, each employee needs to be allowed some freedom to find the best ways to achieve company goals.
I believe that people who are willing to think on their own are the best kinds of employees no matter where on the org chart their titles may sit. From the jobs that are repetitious that require little thought to be executed, to the positions with a high level of autonomy, Bruce Lee’s teachings of being formless, flexible, and having “no way as a way” are beneficial.
A customer service representative that stops reading the script and in good judgment makes genuine connections with customers is beneficial. A member of maintenance that sees weakness in their process and comes up with a more efficient system to manage equipment or operations is beneficial. And so is a marketing person that dares to defy the current trends and identifies a breakthrough strategy to grab consumers’ attention. The examples extend to every position in a company that we can fathom.
In the realm of continuous learning, no matter what position in life we achieve, there will always be room for us to discover new things and make improvements. For this reason, we should always see ourselves as being students in some way and avoid settling under the belief that we have the best and final answers for everything.
Octavian – Endurance, Strategy, Tolerance, and Diplomacy
I first learned details about Octavian, better known as Caesar Augustus, while reading Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra: A Life. This is a book which covers the story of Cleopatra, the last Pharaonic leader. While many others had tried and failed, Octavian managed her defeat, conquered Egypt as a Roman territory, and unified Rome becoming the first Roman Emperor.
Octavian was painted as the villain in this story, but what I read was a story of an underdog who endured taunting, ridicule, managed to dodge enemies from all directions, and grew useful alliances -sometimes from the heart and sometimes as a matter of strategy. He brought his country out of primitivity into an unprecedented period of growth and success. You might say my interest in him has grown out of empathy and partial admiration.
Entire books have been dedicated to this man and his journey, so when it comes to him there is plenty to be said and analyzed. This will be the longest section of the article, and that’s because it’s easy to cover the bulk of the attributes that I mentioned earlier on just by telling the story of how he got started. Without going too deep, I’ll provide brief specific examples of actions he took that I perceive to be good.
Octavian was chosen by Julius Caesar in his will as an adopted son and heir and as it’s told, he wasn’t taken seriously by his peers who had numerous reasons for dismissing him as a potential leader.
The reasons included his physical appearance and his age. (He was a pallid, informidable-looking teenager when he took his position after Julius Caesar was murdered.) He did not let the naysayers derail him, and instead of spending energy on proving them wrong, he spent years raising funds and an army until he became a force to be reckoned with. This is an example of what I see as exceptional endurance.
Endurance was key to him being able to craft and carry out worthwhile strategies. Part of Rome’s problem in these times was that there were a few leaders in place with equal power that probably secretly wished to eventually overthrow one another.
Octavian made some apparently sincere gestures of diplomacy in order to manage good relationships with his peers. To one of them, Marc Anthony, he married his sister to strengthen their ties and alliance. It could be my naivete, but I tend to believe that someone would only take this kind of action as a result of openness, tolerance, and a willingness to share power.
It was only after Marc Anthony betrayed this alliance by abandoning Octavian’s sister and their three children born of the marriage, and pretty much abandoned his responsibilities in Rome to live as a whole to live with Cleopatra in Egypt that Octavian aggressively pursued the opportunity to remove him.
After Octavian defeated Marc Anthony and Cleopatra, he continued to defeat the rest of his opposition in Rome and eventually became the country’s sole ruler.
In his last days, Octavian was recorded as reflecting on his life and achievements, and I think he found himself in a place where he could barely trust anyone. He did good but was also rumored to have committed quite a bit of treachery throughout his reign. So, please understand that I’m not suggesting that we simply follow Octavian.
What I am suggesting is that the amount of patience and thoughtfulness that Octavian often exercised should be admired. We also should consider the fact that these virtues, which are not easy for most people to exercise even in small measure, when employed can allow a person to make a tremendous impact.
Applying Their Examples
There are so many other people in ancient and modern history that have provided us with great examples which can be applied in present-day and for all times.
Not only are their positive qualities the ones we should look to for advancement of the human experience as a whole, but isn’t it true that they can also help us with any of the following: career planning, business planning, networking, professional relationships, managing our frustrations at work, adjusting expectations we have of ourselves, and so much more?
What did you think of these examples? Who the mentors or leaders from the past that have inspired you, and how?