Upgrading Your Mentors

There have been some really fun, entertaining, and throught-provoking books published recently and I’m loving it!

For instance, I was riveted to my chair as I read through Bad Blood (not this one, lol) and I was just as enthralled by Zucked by Roger McNamee, but for many different reasons.

For starters, the narrative styles couldn’t be more different (or, at least, the pacing and feel) as the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her lies reads like an out-of-control, runaway train while the story of Mark Zuckerberg’s evil surveillance behemoth reads like a methodical and calculated march towards doomsday.

Strangely, I was able to walk away with a sense of hope; I believe that the story of Facebook will eventually play itself out, just like Theranos, and we will all be better for it… maybe.

But the reason I’ve enjoyed Roger McNamee’s book slightly more is because of the incredible lessons that Roger shares along the way as he details his experience with the company, the ebbs and flows of his relationship with the founder, and the evolution of his thinking as his opinion changes over time.

It’s honestly an incredible gift for entrepreneurs (and investors too!) as it demands that builders in a post-Facebook world take seriously the concerns of data and privacy and the impact we have on the people that ultimately use the very things we build.

Zucked is not a long book but it’s packed with details which forced me to move a bit slower through the pages as I wanted to appreciate and intentionally digest what I was reading.

And, despite the fact that I had walked away from Facebook 7 years ago and had firmly made up my mind on the product and platform, Roger’s book upped the ante even more and before I even finished I felt absolutely compelled to write Roger a note and asking him if we could have even the smallest of chats, especially since I’m in the process of building a social platform myself.

He hasn’t responded (and I don’t expect him to).

But, if he happens to read this blog post, I just want to say “Thank You” for all of your work and especially for your integrity as I can’t imagine the internal battle that must have been waged (and you still may be warring inside) to get you to the point of writing a book that publicly acknowledges your own (moral) culpability to the rise of the largest surveillance company ever.

Courage? LOL. Roger, you have some serious stones.

Who doesn’t love Ace Ventura, Pet Detective!

But it really is McNamee’s courage and integrity that inspired me the most, and I particularly love the part where he shares how he took a step back from leading and mentoring Zuckerberg because he recognized Mark’s need for “upgraded” versions:

With Sheryl on board as chief operating officer in charge of delivering revenues, Facebook quickly developed its infrastructure to enable rapid growth.

This simplified Zuck’s life so he could focus on strategic issues. Facebook had transitioned from startup to serious business. This coming-of-age had implications for me, too. Effectively, Zuck had graduated.

With Sheryl as his partner, I did not think Zuck would need mentoring from me any longer. My domain expertise in mobile made me valuable as a strategy advisor, but even that would be a temporary gig.

Like most successful entrepreneurs and executives, Zuck is brilliant (and ruthless) about upgrading his closest advisors as he goes along.

In the earliest days of Facebook, Sean Parker played an essential role as President, but his skills stopped matching the company’s needs, so Zuck moved on from him. He also dropped the chief operating officer who followed Parker and replaced him with Sheryl.

The process is Darwinian in every sense. It is natural and necessary. I have encountered it so many times that I can usually anticipate the right moment to step back. I never give it a moment’s thought.

via Zucked, page 64

I love this for so many reasons, the first of which is how it clearly shows the incredible emotional intelligence, awareness, and serious helping of humility on McNamee’s part, his understanding that we need to, sometimes ruthlessly, prune our relationship network in order that we might grow and accelerate even faster with better support personnel.

I’ve talked about this before in previous posts, like this one:

There will be people who in the past had been colleagues and associates, even friends, whom we will no longer be able to spend time with if our intention is to grow and to evolve. We will have to choose between the life we want for our future and the life we have left behind.

The application of this truth in terms of coaches and mentors makes complete sense and I’ve even done this myself as I have “upgraded” my own coaching team and network of mentors as my career has grown, evolved, and progressed.

I immediately think of the many amazing mentors that I’ve had in the past and how, for many different and varying reasons, we jointly decided that it no longer made sense for us to spend a lot of time together and the “changing of the guard” was natural and easy – I love and appreciate these men and women so much as my success, both personally and professionally, has been the direct result of the conversations that we had.

I also have spent time firing my mentees as well, essentially downgrading myself as a coach and mentor for folks that I’ve worked with because I realized that I was no longer (as) relevant to their specific needs and could no longer provide the most value for their time and circumstance.

The more emotionally mature mentees see this coming way in advance and it’s a pretty simple conversation and breakup.

But I have had to tell a few folks who were not as intellectually and emotionally honest or mature with themselves that it no longer made sense for us to meet as a mentor / mentee because it had become crystal clear that my time (and theirs) could be best used elsewhere.

The point is this: It’s entirely good, right, and proper to upgrade your mentors as you grow and as the circumstances of your business and life naturally change.

An obvious and easy-to-digest example of this in my own life is when I first got married: I immediately sought out mentors who had been married for a while and I also looked for a few men who had not only managed to stay married for 10+ years but also men who were fathers as well, since that was “in the cards” for me as well (my wife got pregnant 3 months after we got married – almost a shotgun wedding…! … just kidding…).

You see, the mentors that I had had who were single and unmarried (without kids) were no longer as useful to me as male mentors who had profound and deep experience as husbands and fathers.

It just makes good sense to upgrade!

I know that feel…

And, I can appreciate how delicate and how difficult it can be to make these transitions since I’ve been on both sides of the equation, as both a mentor and as a mentee.

But, the foundational motivation is nothing but positive: I want to go further, faster and I want to only work with folks that are going to accelerate my growth in the best ways possible. I also want this for the folks that I mentor as well.

You see, when we intentionally prune our relationships (not just for mentors and coaches, but all relationships in our respective orbits), we honor people’s most valuable asset – their time.

There’s nothing more respectful in a mentor / mentee relationship than being able to say (as a mentor to the mentee):

I believe that I no longer can provide you with the most relevant, timely, and useful coaching because of your current situation and the needs that you and your organization have.

Consequently, you’re going to need someone who’s more experienced and more adequately equipped to take you to the next level and my final assignment as your mentor is to help you connect with that person.

How refreshing that would be! It’s rare that folks even talk about these types of transitions and even rarer still to actually execute against it!

This is why I have really enjoyed McNamee’s book: It’s a refreshing and thought-provoking read that can challenge readers to think better and more clearly about leadership, personal development, and personal responsibility around the things that we’re making and building; I was not expecting that from this type of book!

Regardless, the concept of upgrading and downgrading (or replacing) old systems, tools, and even people shouldn’t be a surprise and shouldn’t necessarily upset most folks – this is how life operates as the only truly consistent thing that happens is change.

Of course, there should always be a few people that remain constant in one’s life but I’d argue that the number of folks who ultimately land in that bucket is a much smaller amount than most of us probably realize (or are willing to admit). True friendship is something that I meditate on all the time and, on occasion, I write about it like here, here, and here and here.

Everyone’s different but the point is to critically think about one’s relationship network as something you must actively and intentionally work on, removing the old “debris” of life to make room for the new.

In addition, I think that the folks who are more open and honest about this life-giving dynamic will fare much better in the short and long-run and be better positioned to find the best opportunities to accelerate their growth both personally and professionally.

Besides, changing one’s mind is a powerful tool and asset:

Good luck and godspeed.