Who Has a Quality or Trait You’d Like to Have?
For as I long as I can remember, I’ve spotted people who have qualities I want to develop in myself. I’ve been very intentional in spotting these
people, and learning from them. I’d like to mention two of these people to you, to illustrate what I’ve done, and to encourage you to do something similar for the benefit it will provide you.
I started my law practice in my late 20’s, as an Assistant Attorney General in Pennsylvania, assigned to the Pollution Control Strike Force. I was task-driven and results oriented, as were the other young attorneys in our small office. We focused on the facts and on winning our cases.
One day, Bettsy joined our office. She was different. First, she was old – in her 40’s. To complicate things, she was our first paralegal and we didn’t know how to use a paralegal. On the one hand, it didn’t seem right to ask Bettsy to type our briefs. On the other hand, it didn’t seem right to ask her to do what lawyers do. So, we didn’t know how to use Bettsy.
Bettsy was different in a more subtle and important way. She was a real people person. Wherever she went, people were drawn to Bettsy. She was able to “read” people and “see” the hidden agendas in a gathering of people. It seemed like she had 3-D vision. (Today, we would describe her as having a highly developed emotional intelligence.)
Let me give you an example. We asked Bettsy to attend a public meeting. “Go and see whether there’s a quorum. Tell us about any votes that are taken. Come back with the facts.”
When Bettsy returned to the office, we assembled in the conference room, and she reported about the quorum and the outcome of the votes that were taken. But before she did, Bettsy talked about the mood in the room. She talked about who the leaders were. She talked about how people influenced each other. She spotted what was unsaid and what the real agenda appeared to be.
I was dazzled. I was dazzled that Bettsy could see so much in that room and that she had the ability to describe what actually happened there. In that moment, I decided I wanted to see what Bettsy was able to see. I wanted her 3-D vision. I knew I had a lot to learn from her. So, I decided to observe Bettsy in action whenever I could, and to get to know her. Another way to say this is that I became, in effect, Bettsy’s mentee.
In the coming months and years, we attended many meetings and we often debriefed afterwards. I learned to better “read” people, be aware of mood, and observe how people influence one another. Sometimes, I tagged-along when Bettsy ran some errands. I observed how she greeted people, how they warmed to her, and how she so often received exceptional service. Over time, I became less cold and task-driven. More and more, the qualities I had observed in Bettsy became my own.
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot from Bettsy, and we’ve shared much of life. Along the way, I’ve joined Bettsy and her family to celebrate her 70th birthday. That week-end, she also received her Ph.D., with distinction, from the University of Pennsylvania, in psychology. Today, Bettsy is in her 80’s and serves as a faculty member at a community college where she teaches women’s studies and counsels students. I am happy to say that Bettsy and I have become the best of friends. To this day, she inspires me and I continue to learn from her.
I met Billy in his late 20’s, when he was a personal trainer at a local health club. He was fit and comfortable in his own skin, open-minded and curious about me and what I might get out of working with him. At the time, I was a student at the Strozzi Institute, studying leadership and personal mastery. I wanted to become more confident, increase my stamina, and be better able to deliver on my commitments. I wanted to develop a leadership presence.
Billy is an athlete and he knows his anatomy. More importantly, he understands the integration of the mind, body and spirit – how whole we are.
It’s that integration that I wanted for myself. As a lawyer, I had been trained to believe that being smart was everything; the body was irrelevant. Now, I didn’t want to be just brainy; I wanted to be whole.
I thought Billy could help me. I was right. As I worked with him, I noted how keenly Billy was able to observe, correct, challenge and inspire me. All of our work was for the sake of my becoming an embodied leader.
Our work together has extended beyond the health club, and we’ve become friends. Billy continues to challenge and inspire me. For example, even though he knew that I am afraid of water, Billy taught me how to kayak.
Overturning a kayak in the middle of the lake and doing a self-rescue was a huge accomplishment. It wouldn’t have been possible without Billy’s coaching and his belief in me. Recently, Billy encouraged me to begin training with him in Aikido. Doing so has enabled me to learn first-hand how I can move with my body to transform conflict into harmony. More and more, I am embodying the principles of Aikido in how I live.
Who are the people who have attracted your attention? What qualities do you see in others that you’d like to develop in yourself? Sometimes these are people you’ve met in an educational setting. Frederic Hudson of the Hudson Institute and Richard Strozzi-Heckler of the Strozzi Institute are important mentors of mine. Other times, you might find people in a formal mentoring program at work. But very often, these are people you’ve met in other settings. Wherever you meet these people, be curious. Observe them and learn from them. Let them be your informal mentors.
And remember, you are likely a mentor for others, whether you know it or not.