Men of Fort Story operate an azimuth instrument, to measure the angle of splash in sea-target practice. 1942. (reversed)

“Unsuccessful people look for ‘the right person’…”

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Ronna Lichtenberg has written an accessible business book on relationships and their power and threat at work. It’s Not Business, It’s Personal: The 9 Relationship Principles That Power Your Career has much to say for it: she interviewed real executives and business leaders about relationships at work and found some interesting patterns.

What struck me was her comments about successful trust vs. unsuccessful need:

Where successful people ask themselves “What can we do together?” unsuccessful people ask “What can he do for me?”

Unsuccessful people look for the right person — someone who can save them. They don’t have a clear view of their own personal business agenda, so they don’t know how to look for someone to share it. Instead, they search in vain for someone, a rich and powerful mentor, on whose coattails they can ride to the top. They want the magic of someone who will do it for them, instead of looking for a partner they can do it with.

But of course, that never happens. Because the people with the vision and the leadership want to be surrounded by other people with the same qualities. (p 93)

I am struck by how many people I hear looking for “someone to mentor me” as opposed to “someone I can work with”.

I used to think of it as simply a personal shortcoming. These people (including myself at times) were just whiners.

That’s just not borne out by the research.

The attitude comes from the issues I have addressed elsewhere, such as the asynchronous development of hidden high potentials or why you didn’t get a mentor. The need for what I call modal recognition is so high, so primary, that it causes us to get stuck.

Some of you may, though, feel a need to hate on yourselves and tell me how badly you think about business these days. Most of you have done amazing things, work-wise, when you can admit it. People who work with you get promoted soon afterwards because you bring new ways of unboxing complexity. Yet you may have found incredile “unsuccess”.

It may be hard to hear this, knowing that the mentoring you desperately needed and deserved as a child is forever lost to you. But you can no longer look for someone else to solve your problem. That simply is not useful, especially when you seek it in an employer. As Peter Block has said, “Surrender to God, not to some third shift supervisor.”

Take a spin through Lichtenberg’s book. Fairly easy reading but still chock full of nuts.


Image Credit: Men of Fort Story operate an azimuth instrument, to measure the angle of splash in sea-target practice. 1942. Via Library of Congress. (reversed)

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