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Ted Cadsby, in a June 4th 2014 Harvard Business review article titled The Hidden Enemy of Productive Conversations, defines Path dependence as “the tendency for things (such as events, belief systems, personalities, evolution, and conversations) to unfold in ways that are constrained by the parameters of the path they are on.” He says “it represents the enormous influence of the past on the future.” He argues that Path Dependence is that hidden enemy of productive conversations as it stands in the way of creativity and results.
If groups are hindered by path dependency, individuals are most assuredly hindered by it exponentially. We are strongly adverse to deviations from the paths upon which we walk and the trajectory of those paths are most certainly influenced by our past. This is why so many of us get stuck in ruts, settle for mediocrity, shy away from taking new and divergent paths in life, and basically adopt a strong aversion to risk, and this is why we need advisors, but not just any advisors. We need advisors who will disagree with us, challenge our assumptions and beliefs, and argue the case for divergent paths.
Allowing such advisors into our lives is itself a divergent path fraught with risks, but it is one of the first steps we must take if we are going to live transformed lives full of peace and purpose. I feel that I am getting better at letting these divergent voices into my life, but I’m not there completely. I still tend to seek advice from people who are on similar thought paths with me, and I avoid those advisors that I know see the world differently and aren’t afraid to challenge my perspective. I say I’ve gotten better because I used to not only avoid these types of advisors, but get mad at them when they took divergent paths or challenged me to do so. Their advice felt threatening, not because they were trying to hurt me, but because they were challenging me to move into uncomfortable paths and take perceived risks. Looking back, I now see that their advice, if followed, would have truly transformed me for the good. In fact, in some cases I find myself on the paths they urged me too follow so long ago. With time I have received their advice, followed their counsel, and stepped on to the divergent paths they urged me to, and I am better for it.
So what makes a good advisor and how do you find one, or two, or three? Yes, I think having multiple advisors is important and three seems to be a good number. Any more and the multitude of voices starts to sound like clanging symbols. Any less and you risk becoming dependent on somebody else’s path, thus replacing one path dependency for another.
A good advisor has the following traits:
- They are genuinely interested in seeing you succeed.
- They are known for integrity and a trustworthy character.
- They are infused with confident humility and thus don’t need your approval to feel fulfilled.
- They are willing to say things to you that you won’t like, but that you need to hear.
- They have a proven track record of making sound decisions.
- They are wise enough to have their own advisors.
Finding these people takes time and some investment on your part in them. Start by being observant of the people around you. Who do others seem to gravitate toward for counsel? Who seems to know where they are going and why? Who, by their actions, demonstrates an interest in serving others? Who would you like to be like? Once you’ve identified someone, take the time to get to know them, ask them to lunch or coffee and spend the time just discovering who they are. Ask lots of questions that are truly sincere. Approach the time without an agenda – namely getting an advisor. Approach the time as relationship building. I find that as I work on building a genuine relationship with a person it becomes clear to both of us that we should or should not spend more time together, and it become clear to me whether I want to let this person into my life as an advisor. Over time the advisory nature of your relationship will grow. Show gratitude, humility, and openness. Continue to show an interest in your advisor’s life and person. Continue to cultivate your relationship, and the advice, counsel, and mentoring will happen naturally and with genuineness.
I want to add two thoughts, and then I’ll finish. First, advisors come and go. Rarely do advisors remain so for life or even for very long periods of time. As we travel through the seasons of our lives we will have advisors enter our lives unexpectedly and others exit that role for various reasons. Sometimes an advisor is only meant to be one to help us move from one path to another. That’s expected and OK, although the transition can be painful. My second thought is this, sometimes advisors do come into our lives unexpectedly and against our wishes. Even so, there is always something to be learned. So, when you find yourself the recipient of unwelcome advice, pause and look for the nuggets found there and let the rest go. Like me, you may find yourself one day coming to the realization that the unwanted advice made a greater impact for good upon you than all the sought out and well received advice.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net