How My Mentors Help Me Focus
If you want to go far, travel in a straight line.
My mentors help me combat overwhelm. They don’t dump ideas on me. Instead, they help me trim my branches and grow higher.
Here are some of the lessons learned from my mentors over the last decade:
1. Denis Turcotte
My first paid mentor, Denis had me focus on the operations side of the business. I thought I needed more marketing; Denis taught me I’d built a system that couldn’t handle the weight of one more client.
Actually, I hadn’t built any systems at all, so I was just piling every new client onto my back and struggling under the load.
Denis had me focus on systems, and under his care I built a real business instead of just working the job I’d bought myself.
2. Mike Warkentin
While working for CrossFit Media, I learned how to “cut.” I learned that good writing requires fewer words, not more. I learned that editing is the hard part—but it’s the important part. I learned that simpler is better.
I took those lessons to business writing and then to business systems.
Mike also taught me that powerful leaders can stay in the background. Over his 10 years at CrossFit, Mike was the foundation of the Media department, propping up writers and videographers with standards and systems. We got the byline, most of the time; he got the real work of editing. But Mike has the incredible skill of correcting people tactfully.
3. Dan Martell
Dan taught me to stay in my lane.
This blog is popular with gym owners because I am one.
As Two-Brain grew from startup to—well, we’re still a really big startup—new ideas and opportunities started popping up everywhere. Every software company wanted us to be a partner, every person on staff had a great new idea, and money seemed to wait around every corner.
Dan’s greatest gift was keeping me focused on one thing at a time and cutting out the distractions to move forward. Dan taught me how to say “no” to good ideas, to say “not yet” to great ideas and to trust my own vision.
4. Marcy Swenson
Marcy taught me how to get the people around me focused.
Marcy had me tie everything—my ideas, my systems and my team—to my vision. That meant some powerful team upgrades. It also meant editing my team.
Marcy brought clarity to my conversations: Instead of saying “good job” all the time, she taught me that honesty was the best gift I could give my staff. It’s hard to give people critical feedback. But those conversations make a huge difference: The best staff will take your candor and use it to grow. The worst staff will feel attacked and leave. Clarity is a wedge between greatness and mediocrity.
At this level, a business needs radical clarity. Marcy mentored me to it.
5. Todd Herman
Todd Herman helped me build a leadership persona.
I have a clear picture of the leader I want to be now, and when I’m faced with a decision, I ask myself “What would Chris do?”
Herman calls this “The Alter Ego Effect,” and although it’s a powerful new idea, the exercise is really not a creation but an edit: You filter through every person in your life, find the aspirational characters and then put them together into one Alter Ego.
6. Brian Strump
Brian, a Certified Two-Brain Mentor, took my call yesterday. I pitched a new idea for the mentors on the Two-Brain team. I thought he’d love it. I thought it was a great idea. I’d already invested time and money researching the idea with our legal team.
Brian said, “Don’t do it.”
He said, “The system we have right now is way too powerful. No one else can build it. No one else wants to.”
So I stopped my plans, saved a few thousand dollars on legal fees, and stopped myself from wasting a year of focus in the wrong direction.
Dial in Your Focus
In every case, the mentor had me focus more.
None of them gave me a big, new idea.
All of them took me back to the basics: Turcotte had me write out the roles in my company; Warkentin made me ask “Is this process or person necessary?”; Martell had me define and hire a COO; Marcy had me edit my conversations with my team; Herman had me edit myself as a leader.
Strump gave me the greatest gift of all: “No.”
Want a really great example? Todd Herman has a program he calls “Start Up.” It’s for people who are thinking about starting a company. I don’t know the cost of the program, but fewer than half the enrollees actually go on to start a business at the end.
That doesn’t mean people complain; in fact, many people say, “Thanks for saving my life!”
Finding out that you don’t really want to do the work of entrepreneurship before it’s too late? That’s worth $500. Or $5 million.
Good writers have ideas. Great writers have editors. Good consultants pontificate. Great mentors cut.
Clarity creates focus. Focus creates results.