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Sam Davidson's blog

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Posts in Leadership
The High Art of Mentoring

Mentoring seems to be more art than science. Those who have had a mentor or been a mentor often have mixed experiences. Some relationships and arrangements are great; others didn't quite work out so well for either party.

As such, I tend to stay away form formulas or rigid framework on this topic. In my experience, the best mentor-mentored relationships seem to be organic and even haphazard in forming. And, like art, what appeals to one person may not appeal to another.  

That's why I want to share part of two recent articles I read. Each offers suggestions for how to find a mentor or develop as one. Perhaps both articles will serve as a guide to you, no matter where you are on this journey.

The first is from Jeff Cornwall. He suggests that entrepreneurs in particular find two mentors:

What I can offer them is help on the issues and challenges that all entrepreneurs face, such as financing options, growing pains, partnership issues, ethical quandaries, and so forth. I can be their “process mentor.”
But, what I can offer them is not always enough. Sometimes there are issues that they face that are specific to their industry. That is why I always encourage entrepreneurs to also find a “content mentor” – someone with a depth of experience in their industry.

Go read his full post, including his perspective on what mentors get out of a mentoring relationship.

The second piece comes from Kneale Mann and he discusses the most effective mentors in his life, determining that each seemed to embody three distinct roles:

  • Teacher
  • Student
  • Graduate

Each mentor inhabited these roles to varying degrees, offering advice and action dependent upon the stage of the relationship.

Mentors can be great assets, but only if the relationship benefits each party. As you look for someone to mentor or someone to be mentored by, don't settle for what doesn't work for you. Like that large canvas hanging over your fireplace you glance at everyday, you need to find a mentor that helps your soul sing and makes you proud to claim it.

That Thing You Do

As it turns out, if you want to be known for that thing you do, you don't have to do it all the time. The best poets, carpenters, leaders, and teachers are also wives, dog walkers, vacationers, and parishioners.

There's more to life than what we do, but we can get caught up so much in our doing that we neglect our being. I often have to keep this at the forefront of my mind, especially as I work on Leadership Does. All of our doing - even doing the important things that leaders must do - is for naught if it's not also making us better people.

Do what you want, but only if it allows you to become who you must.

Leadership Does

Now that I've been at this a year, it's time to do something with what I've learned. Knowledge, after all, is just trivia if it's not applied.

So I'm writing a book. I'm taking the best of these Daily Doses, adding in some other ideas I've been mulling over this past year, and packaging it all into a book, Leadership Does

This will be a book about action, not theory. It's a book for anyone who's ready to lead. It's a book that proves you don't have to get elected to lead; you just have to be willing to take the action needed to make a difference.

So, you may notice some programming changes around here. For example, this is your first "Daily Dose of Does." These daily thoughts will keep coming your way, but the majority of them will now be focused on helping you get in gear and take the action needed to help others, lead well, and make an impact.

Next week, I'll be rebooting my podcast called - you guessed - The Leadership Does podcast.

And, I plan on writing this book in a very public way. There will be points where I'd like your input. I'll be taking the action needed to get this and the end goal will be - I hope - a book that's useful to you, enjoyable to read, and meaningful in its application.

Thanks for journeying with me this far. We've come a long way, but there's still so much awesome stuff on the horizon.

My Responsibility to Encourage Female Leadership

As the father to a daughter, I found this video powerful and arresting:

Of course, this reality isn't simply the fault of the media. It's also my responsibility as a parent to help my daughter navigate the media and her consumption of it.

Moreover, if 8 is the "peak age for girls' leadership ambitions," I have a duty to help my daughter continue to chase that ambition once she's left second grade, should she choose to continue down that path.

The ultimate lesson and takeaway for leaders and parents, isn't one of working hard to beat the odds. It's one of working hard to change the odds.

We've got to create a world where leadership ambition for any gender doesn't peak at age 8 and the lucky ones fight hard to be in the minority.

How to Change the World

I finally slogged through How to Change the World by David Bornstein. I say slogged because this book is weighty and its content is rich. Think of it like that super awesome piece of cheesecake. It's delicious, but if you're smart, you'll back up off of it, take a nap, do some crunches, and then come back to it when you're ready for more.

I'd dare say the book is one of the definitive works out there related to social entrepreneurship. And whether you're just getting started investigating this world or you're knee-deep in it as I am, I recommend this book as a fantastic primer and examination of what's possible when you look for collaborative, market-based, or scalable approaches to solving some of the world's biggest problems.

Bornstein mainly looks at the work of Ashoka fellows around the world and the good and innovate work their doing. This may or may not be of interest to you - the detailed ins and outs of an approach to poverty or child welfare or medical care - so thankfully Bornstein also includes his own conclusions drawn about what makes social entrepreneurs successful, what types of people are drawn to this work, and what you can do to get your idea off the ground.

As I usually do, here are some of the best quotes I found in the book (emphasis added):

In the United States and Canada alone, more than two hundred universities have established centers, courses, competitions, scholarships or speaker series focusing on this field [of social entrepreneurship].

Social entrepreneurship is not about a few extraordinary people saving the day for everyone else. At its deepest level, it is about revealing possibilities that are currently unseen and releasing the capacity within each person to reshape a part of the world. It does not require an elite education; it requires a backpack. The corpus of knowledge in social entrepreneurship comes from first-hand engagement with the world - from asking lots of questions and listening and observing with a deep caring to understand.

"I am an entrepreneur, and as an entrepreneur, I am always possessed by an idea." - Fabio Rosa, an entrepreneur profiled in the book

Changing a system means changing attitudes, expectations, and behaviors. It means overcoming disbelief, prejudice, and fear. Old systems do not readily embrace new ideas or information; defenders of the status quo can be stubbornly impervious to common sense.

"The laws don't matter if you don't have the institution to enforce them." - Bill Drayton

"If we take a charity approach, we will be here for 50,000 years and nothing will be different." - Jeroo Billimoria, an entrepreneur profiled in the book

[Change occurs with] an obsessive individual working behind the scenes - a person with vision, drive, integrity of purpose, great persuasive powers, and remarkable stamina.

"When I hold lectures, I tell people, 'If you really believe in something, you just have to do it and do it and do it, because if I had given up one month prior to 1989, I would have ended up with nothing.'" - Erzsebet Szekeres, an entrepreneur profiled in the book

I think the heart of it is that entrepreneurs, for some reason deep in their personality know, from the time they are little, that they are on this world to change it in a fundamental way.

"I had faith that if people told a part of their story that was important to them, it would convey their strengths to another human being in a way that nothing else could." - J. B. Schramm, an entrepreneur profiled in the book

One of the most important qualities of innovative organizations, I have found, is a strong commitment to listening.

It is said that chance only favors the prepared mind.

The most successful entrepreneurs were the ones most determined to achieve a long-term goal that was deeply meaningful to them.

Although it is probably impossible to fully explain why people become social entrepreneurs, it is certainly possible to identify them. And society stands to benefit by finding these people, encouraging them, and helping them to do what they need to do.

Numbers are problematic to the extent that they give the illusion of providing more truth than they actually do. They also favor what is easiest to measure, not what is most important.

Without a doubt, the past twenty years had produced far more social entrepreneurs than terrorists.

There is No Such Thing as a Young Leader

We need to put a stop to dismissing today's leaders due to their age. 

I see it time and again - a well-meaning university official or a pastor or a reporter calls attention to the remarkable work done by a teenager or college student and then bestows upon them the title of "young" leader.

Certainly it's impressive when a person under the age of 25 accomplishes something great, but marring that person's accomplishments with the adjective "young" takes something away.

I feel the same way about calling today's students "future leaders."

Those of us who teach, speak on, write about, or encourage leadership need to eliminate the adjectives "future" and "young" when describing people younger than us who are leading and leading well.

The fraternity president who motivates the entire brotherhood to recruit high quality new members is not a young leader. He is a leader.

The philanthropy chair of the sorority that just set a campus record for money raised to fight cancer is not a future leader. She is a leader.

The high school student who starts a blog to end human trafficking, the person who motivates his church youth group to clean up a lake this Sunday afternoon, the section chair who lets it be known that bullying isn't allowed in this band, the high school senior who writes letters to the editor - these aren't student leaders or young leaders or future leaders or leaders of tomorrow.

They are leaders.

Right now.

Please call them such.

You'd never call a CEO with record returns an old leader. You wouldn't describe a politician who stands her ground a female leader. And you wouldn't call a university president who makes college more open and affordable a leader of yesterday.

Let's give leaders their due and use the right language when describing their work and actions. Let's don't limit their impact by assuming their skills are only of use when in the company of their peers. Rather, let's properly account for their work and their drive to make things better for anyone around them.

Remember - leadership does. It is active. It is in motion and looks like hard work, late nights, calculated risks, and new ideas.

Leadership knows no age. It only knows action.

Do Leaders Have to Be Liked? (podcast)

It's a question I get asked a lot: Do leaders have to be liked?

If we're leading our peers (like if you're a student leader), the answer can be tricky. Usually, we were elected because people like us. Will they still like us when we try to lead?

I think that's the wrong question to ask first, and I share what you should be asking yourself in today's podcast (the 15th episode!). I also share other lessons from firefighters. Give it a listen.

As you'll hear, I tackle questions like:

  • Should leaders be liked?
  • How does one lead in the midst of a crisis?
  • Why do leaders need to keep learning?

And, here are a few links I promised:

As always, be sure to subscribe via iTunes. And, if you have any comments or questions, leave them below. Thanks for listening!

Why You Should Own Your Home

This isn't a post about real estate - at least not physical real estate - and the financial benefits of a house. It's about why now is the time to claim your digital land, especially if you're looking to lead well for years to come.

The announcement last week that Google is shutting down its Reader was disappointing, but I've come to expect such change from the tech titans we all trust these days. Facebook modifies its layouts regularly; Twitter changes how promoted tweets or RTs work from time to time; Netflix, Apple, and Hulu can all switch up what they do, how they do it, and why they do it as they see fit.

And while there can be consumer outcry, the stark truth is that we don't own these tools; the companies do. They are not our toys to manipulate as we see fit. We use them only after fitting into their framework.

Don't believe me? Tweet something longer than 140 characters. Try to understand Facebook's privacy settings. Keep all your RSS subscriptions in Reader come July.

The time has never been better to set up your own website and start sharing ideas with the world. Invite people over to your house once in a while; don't just meet them at the mall.

Only sharing ideas on Facebook or Twitter is like always meeting your friends for drinks at that one restaurant you like. But, even if you love it, one day it closes (business wasn't that good; shady tax deals were going on; the place went up in smoke). Then you're scrambling for a new spot, but it's too far away from some people and someone else doesn't like the salad there, and let's face it - it'll never be the same.

Until you open your front door and invite people over.

I'm committing now (maybe again) to letting this site - SamDavidson.net - be my home base and the first line of introduction of me to the world. Sure, I'll still tweet and post on Facebook as long as those platforms let me share ideas in a way that is most beneficial to people looking for the kinds of ideas I share (about leadership and service). But best of all to me and this audience is to share as many ideas as possible here, where I control the content and the context, the media and the message.

You're better poised to shape something if you can control the process. It's one thing to tell a sculptor how you want the vase to come out of the kiln; it's another (better) thing to get your fingers in the clay, put your foot on that pedal, and then shove the pot in the fire and see what you made when you were at the wheel from start to finish.

The future will definitely belong to those big social networks. But if you want, it can belong to you, too.

Leaders Change the Conversation
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There was an excellent op-ed that ran over the weekend in The New York Times by Thomas Friedman. I've been a fan of his since college, even though I don't agree with every idea of his.

Nonetheless, his lengthy essay pushes hard for a carbon tax while acknowledging the difficulty of getting something like this (or anything) passed in Washington these days. He lays out the case compellingly, and I'm on board, especially since I think taxing behavior we want to curb or reign in (like energy usage) is a better move than taxing things we want to encourage (like earnings and wealth creation).

To solidify his position, Friedman interviews Adam Garfinkle, editor of The American Interest. In discussing the hard work needed to achieve progress in Congress and beyond, Garfinkle says:

“This is what real leaders do,” said Garfinkle. “They change the conversation.”

Friedman adds:

They don’t just read the polls; they shape the polls.

This is some beautiful leadership poetry to start your week. Remember that what's important and what's popular rarely overlap. So it's up to the leader to take the people where they need to go to do something great. 

Onward.