Re-Post: What Would Your Mentor Do?

October 2, 2010

This post was originally published on June 23, 2009 on the early version of this blog.  As part of my project to save some of the better posts, I am republishing here today.

I was perusing a recent issue of Entertainment Weekly when I stumbled upon a quick writeup on actress Amy Adams who is listed as a “must sizzling star.” She has a movie coming out later this summer called Julia and Julia which costars Meryl Streep.  In the piece, she reveals, “When I am in a hard scene, I always go, ‘What would Meryl do?’  Whether she’s there or not, she is my invisible mentor.”

This brings to mind an exercise that I first read about in Michael Michalko’s Thinkertoys.  This “Board of Directors” exercise involves several steps:

1. Select three to five people you admire.  Although Michalko specifically mentions business movers and shakers, they could include writers, artists, athletes or even family members.

2. Get photos of your Board and pin them to your wall.

3. Research your heroes.  This means reading their biography, autobiography, news clips, quotes, etc.

4. Take notes.  Look for ways your heroes overcame an obstacle and anything you find interesting about their lives and how they solved problems.  Keep these notes in a file that is easy to refer back to.

5. When you encounter a problem or challenge, consult your Board of Directors.  Think of ways that your mentor overcame these problems and challenges and apply them to your life.

I’m sure many of us do this exercise already, although less formally.  For example, when I first joined Toastmasters nearly five years ago, there was an excellent speaker at the club who told us about the secret to his speaking success – practice.  He revealed that he practiced each speech more than 30 times before he delivered it to our club.  For me, this was interesting to learn.

As someone who took improvisation classes and often had an “I’ll wing it” attitude, I realized I would need to put in more work and preparation to become a better speaker.  While I’m still working on this, I still remember the wisdom he shared with us even though he is no longer a member of our club.

Who are your Board of Directors? What have they taught you? How are you applying their wisdom to your life?