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Earl R Smith II, PhD

(Read More From My Blog)

“Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.” Yoda

A significant part of my mentoring practice is focused on a clients’ personal growth. Even when the executive mentoring engagement is centered on the company, the client and I spend a lot of time working on improving personal habits, behaviors and productivity. This is true particularly during the early stages of each engagement. It doesn’t seem to matter whether we are working on developing a strategic plan, expanding a senior team, building an advisory board as a business development engine or evolving an exit strategy, the growth of the CEO always becomes an integral part of the process.

Partially this is because, as an organization grows, it is necessary for founders to re-invent themselves – to become what it is the larger and more rapidly growing company needs them to become in order to effectively manage and direct growth. The culture of the business begins to change, additional people are added with new and more professional skill sets, management of the business becomes a more important issue and the CEO needs to fill a different role.

Another reason is that the founder needs to grow personally and professionally in order to understand and support that accelerating growth. Many of my clients have started out as experts in technology only to find, as the company grew, they were less and less involved in the doing of the company’s business and more and more involved in managing the business of the company. This new role requires a rather different person – and the really good CEOs put in the effort to make that metamorphic journey in advance of the need.

So where does our old friend Yoda come in? Well, the quote above can morph into a myriad of variations – each of which illustrates a different aspect of the process. Here are just three that come to mind. Let’s start with the original.

“Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.”

What is the old saying? Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades! Well in business, trying is the same as not trying. In a very meaningful sense there is no try. You either do or it doesn’t matter. I have worked with clients who have spent months (and sometimes even years) trying to master the concepts behind marketing or business development only to find that the ‘trying’ has become a profession in and of itself. The idea of marketing or business development has become a kind of intellectual puzzle while the process of implementing those concepts finds no sponsor.

In truth none of these areas are nearly as complex as rocket science for instance – let alone cosmology (an area that I have some passing experience with). Marketing is not something you study it is something that you do. Business development is not something you consider and then reconsider or delegate. It is something that you do. And, if you are the CEO of an emerging business, you do them better than your competition or you lose!

“Always in motion is the future.”

One of the challenges that I frequently face is to stop a CEO from incessantly moving the flatware around on the table and calling it progress. This ‘constantly getting ready’ is, in its simplest form, an avoidance of doing by repeatedly getting ready to do. I am big on avoiding avoidance!

I have started engagements with clients who have spent years going from one management theory to another – fervently espousing the wisdom of this or that old fart who is well past his prime and in the business of selling books and looking to his legacy. But when I ask for specific examples of how the company has benefited (and by that I mean at either the top or bottom line) the examples offered are insubstantial and mostly obvious attempts to justify the wasted time and expense and organizational confusion that has resulted.

Any football fan who has watched the parade of coaches and schemes march through the Washington Redskin organization in recent years will know exactly what I mean by this. Football is about winning and, if you don’t win, it doesn’t make any difference how many pages there are in your play book. In business, as in football, you either do or it’s irrelevant that you tried.

“Want not. Have or do not have, there is no want.”

I have worked with clients who said (and some had been saying for years) that they wanted to build their company up to the one hundred million dollar annual revenue level. Like spice in a dish, wanting is a good thing in very small amounts. But as a main ingredient it is corrosive of future possibilities. Wanting without the direct and effective action that leads to having is a dark path indeed and, according to Yoda “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny, consume you it will.”

Wanting the same thing over a long period of time is either a delusion or a calculated avoidance of having. To quote Mr. Spock, “Wanting is not the same as having. It is not logical but I have found it to be true.” At its base, such wanting is simply having which has been indefinitely differed. There may be a complex series of reasons why this is true for a particular individual but the net effect on the people who depend on you to turn wanting into having is that they are disappointed and robbed of their future. Ask them if your wanting and their having are the same thing.

There is another thing about perennial wanting that I have found. Wanting as deferred having can become a central tenant of your company’s corporate culture. If you are a skilled ‘wanter’, your senior team will tend to emulate your behavior and the company will defer its future in favor of a needy and wanting culture.

“Pontificate not. Lead or do not lead, there is no pontification.”

One of the shocks that some of my clients get in the early stages of our engagement is that they quickly come to realize that I don’t much listen to what they say – but that I do watch very carefully what they do. In a society of highly educated (and therefore highly literate) individuals, dissimulation through an overextended use of language is a frequent interpersonal transgression. In my youth we used to refer to it as ‘blowing smoke’. In most human interactions it is what happens, not what is said, that is important.

Leadership is, if nothing else, intentionality translated into effective action. The intention to do is translated into doing. The results of doing are constantly improved by ongoing and intentional efforts. Even mentoring or coaching must have this characteristic if it is to be potent. And potency is the central characteristic of leadership. “Always two there are, no more, no less: a master and an apprentice.” But the master is not just master because of superior knowledge or experience – the master is also intentionality to teach and an insistence to have learning occur. And a leader is not a leader simply because they own the most stock or the company is owned by their mother. The intention to act is the predecessor of action and action is the essence of leadership.

“Not if anything to say about it I have”

A successful struggle for personal growth is so central to a CEO’s efforts to grow their company that it is a serious mistake to consider one without the other. Growth means, at least in part, a re-making. It implies a metamorphosis – a shedding of the old ways of seeing and doing and an adopting of a new. For the CEO, “You must unlearn what you have learned,” on the way to personal growth. Your company’s future depends on your ability to do this.

As an executive mentor, I engage both on the level of the company and the individual. The danger is always that one growth will outpace the other and the results will be less than they might be with better balance. For the most part it is the personal growth that is the bigger challenge. Clients that cannot make the journey become a liability to their own company. That is an unacceptable outcome and an embarrassment to both the client and the mentor.

“Lost a planet Master Obi-Wan has. How embarrassing.”

© Earl R. Smith II, PhD

I look back on the first three months of my work with Dr. Smith with wonder. My journal reflects a journey of self-discovery so vast that I hardly recognize the person who wrote the first entries. It's been a year now and I am happier now than I have ever been.

PJ, Mentoring Client

"It's the most amazing experience I have ever had. I needed to find a new path. A friend recommended Dr. Smith. What was most amazing was the wisdom and perception that he brought. New vistas have opened up and, as a result, a new chapter in my life. There's no way that I could put a value on what he has contributed to my life."

Mentoring Client, CEO and Serial Entrepreneur

"Chief - that's how Dr.Smith was introduced to me and, based on our work together, I have come to understand why - helped me focus on the possibilities that I had been missing in my life. He guided through developing a new vision for my life. My life is richer because of working with him."

Mentoring Client

"Earl is a wise mentor with lots of experience. He has a great way of explaining things and getting you to look at them from another perspective. Dr. Smith is a tough mentor, but, if you can learn just some of what he knows, your life will change forever."

Mentoring Client, Deloitte

“Dr. Smith is a very different kind of mentor. If you’re looking for a warm and fuzzy adviser, this is the wrong guy for you. But if you are dedicated to change and want to be challenged by a very experienced mentor Earl may be just what you are looking for.”

CEO of Croix Connect and Host of ABC Radio’s ‘Taking Care of Business’

“Dr. Smith's mentorship has been of great value and inspiration to my personal and professional development. I felt the need to take a new direction. He helped me sort out the possibilities and showed me ones that I never considered. Working with him has been a truly life-changing experience.”

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