What Yoda taught me about being a mentor

Like I mentioned in my blog post, What I’ve Learned from Mr. Miyagi, the elderly, wise, green alien creature from the Star Wars saga, Yoda, was another model for how I learned to be a great mentor. I didn’t know it at the time, but while I watched The Empire Strikes Back when I was a young boy, I was learning many life skills while I dreamed of being Luke Skywalker flying an X-Wing, commanding the force, taking on the bag guys, and learning to overcome the dark side, and in particular, Darth Vader.

Yoda was introduced into the story when Luke Skywalker crash lands into Dagobah, a swampy forest planet. After a moment trying to gather his surroundings, Yoda arrives in scene as a quirky, curious, alien creature who speaks in broken english, but still shows some sarcastic and quippy wisdom when he speaks. For instance, when Yoda asks Luke why he is there, after some banter, Luke states, “I’m looking for a great warrior.” Yoda immediately in his broken english language states, “Great warrior? War’s not make one great.”

You can watch the entire dialog above, but the truth of the introduction is that Luke is overconfident, and almost cocky. He has many thoughts about how everything works, how he is supposed to become a Jedi Knight, how his destiny is supposed to pan out, and in reality, he has much growing up to do. Luke is like many of us when we start out on our career paths. We have a small education and maybe some bits and pieces of real world experience, but in practice, we don’t have much experience at all.

Many of us, when seeking mentorship, are ready to receive it. Luke, on the other hand, was not. He argues with Yoda and Obi Wan Kenobi’s force ghost about whether he is ready to be a Jedi Knight or not. Eventually, they all agree he will finish what he starts and become the Jedi Knight he is meant to become. This submission of will is important, because being a good mentee is about submitting to the process, knowing that in the future you’ll be able to expand your wings and fly on your own.

Yoda trained Luke on calming his mind and approaching challenges in a clear frame of mind and to stay focused. He also taught Luke small concepts and allowed him to build upon them later, even though he didn’t know why he was doing them in the first place. This idea of foundational building was something I explored with how Mr. Miyagi trained Daniel in The Karate Kid. This was the same with Yoda. He started by having Luke move small objects with the force. Later in the training scenes, he had Luke try and move his X-Wing from the swamp as it began to sink. He utters some of his best lines during this scene, “No. Try not. Do or do not, there is no try.” or Luke saying, “I don’t believe it,” when Yoda uses the force to move his X-Wing from the swamp and Yoda replies, “That is why you fail.”

I use these same techniques when I mentor. I often only give out bite size pieces of information which are enough to get the job at hand completed. This allows my mentees to become masters of that technique faster, and later one we can connect the dots. Keeping things simple is a core value of mine. Not only is it the best way to keep things progressing, but there are many times I learn new techniques as well. As I have explored in many of my previous posts, including Teach a Man To Fish, I point out that the best leaders and mentors surround themselves with smart people, and allow them permission to fail. Everyone gets an opportunity for growth this way.

In conclusion, Yoda and many other wise sages in many movies taught me much about how I mentor today. Lessons such as keeping things simple, staying focused and submitting to the process are all key to growth. We will explore this more in the future, but for now, venture out and try these things out for your teams.  May the force be with you.

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What I’ve Learned From Mr. Miyagi

Like many kids who grew up in the 1980’s, I learned a lot about life from two wise sages. First, was Yoda, the green, grumpy, 900 year old Jedi master, who trained Luke Skywalker to reach his potential and overcome against all odds to destroy the dark side forever (Well, at least until Episode VII came out in 2015, because the dark side somehow came back again). I often quote Yoda to my wife’s dismay with, “No. Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

We’ll tackle Yoda in a future post, but in the interest of staying more grounded in reality, I’d like to focus on my second choice, and that is Mr. Kesuke Miyagi or Mr. Nariyoshi Miyagi, as he went by both names in the movie series. For the purposes of how I knew him, Daniel Laruso, his student in most of the movies, called him Mr. Miyagi, so that is how I knew him as well.

Mr. Miyagi was a fictional character, but the things he did and said in the three Karate Kid movies (I know there was a fourth one much later and then a remake after Pat Morita died featuring Jackie Chan as the Karate mentor) were very much things that shaped who I am and how I live my own life, even today. I constantly find myself quoting Mr. Miyagi as well. “Walk on the road? Walk right side safe. Walk left side safe. Walk middle, sooner or later get squished just like grape.”

Mr. Miyagi seemed to always have a solution, but I think it was just a confidence in his response, even if he didn’t know how the outcome might play out. In the first movie, there was a scene on the beach where some racist drunk guys didn’t want to move from their spot so Mr. Miyagi and Daniel could leave. They had taken up shop on Mr. Miyagi’s truck and had placed several empty beer bottles there. Mr. Miyagi asks them to remove the bottles so they can leave and they refuse. He then proceeds to Karate chop the beer bottles in half, and the guys remove them and scurry off. Daniel asks Mr. Miyagi how he did that, and he simply replies, “I don’t know. First time.” You can watch below, skip ahead to about 2:36 for the scene.

This scene is perfect Mr. Miyagi with a little humor and humility, simplicity and yet in complete control. This is a theme with Mr. Miyagi throughout the entire series. Another scene that demonstrates this is when he takes Daniel to the Cobra Kai dojo to talk to the bully kids and their sensei in hopes that they might leave Daniel alone. When Mr. Miyagi realizes this won’t happen he volunteers Daniel to fight in the All Valley Karate Tournament in return for no more bullying. The sensei agrees. After leaving Daniel is furious that he has to fight, and Mr. Miyagi says something to the effect of, “I just saved you two months beatings!”

Mr. Miyagi taught Daniel lessons using cryptic methods, but it all came back to simplicity. I’m sure nearly everyone knows “Wax on. Wax off.” or “Sand the floor.” or “Paint the fence.” or “Side to side”. These being his way of instructing Daniel in the basics of self defense. He also had him do manual labor to build strength and endurance.

Mr. Miyagi understood how to live a rewarding life, even though you knew throughout the films that he struggled with this himself. He was an immigrant and veteran of World War II. He lost his wife and unborn child during the time he was away at war and never really let go of this, and while they never stated it directly in the movie, they definitely implied he probably battled some sort of alcohol abuse grieving these losses. He at least commemorates the anniversary each year by dressing up in his military uniform and by getting hammered to the point he passes out. Daniel finds him during an anniversary and sees a side of his friend and mentor to show he is just a man with flaws who is doing the best he can.

In the second movie, we discover that Mr. Miyagi also had a relationship before he left Okinawa. He and his best friend were going to fight to the death over a woman, and Mr. Miyagi knew he couldn’t kill his friend, so he gave up his love and left the island. When he returns he finds that he still loves her and she never married and never stopped loving him either. Of course, as these things go, he leaves to go back home at the end, but he and his friend patch up their relationship before he leaves, and all is well (I guess?).

Mr. Miyagi, while a man with flaws, also shows great wisdom in the entirety of the series (even the fourth film I suppose). He says statements of simplicity and devises simple challenges to get his points across and be the best mentor and friend to Daniel he can be. As a leader, there is much to be learned from Mr. Miyagi’s approach to leadership. Keeping things simple is often the best way to empower those you lead to take ownership themselves and become the best they can be while you nudge them in the right direction from time to time.

SPOILER FREE: A Lesson We Should Take From Captain America: Civil War

As of writing this post, I have not seen the upcoming Marvel Studios movie, Captain America: Civil War. I will, however, be seeing it very soon.

I love what Marvel has done with the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). This continuing storyline of movies over the past 8 years or so has been quite a fantastic ride and it is also a ride that doesn’t seem to be coming to an end any time soon. It has been very exciting seeing the characters grow, and I am super excited about Spider-Man joining the fray.

My excitement for the upcoming movie got me thinking about, as a leader in an organization, what lessons should I take from Captain America: Civil War based on what I know about the movie today?  The short synopsis for the movie is that the superheroes are divided against each other on whether to accept government regulation or should they continue to act as vigilantes. In a movie twist, Team Captain America is against government regulation and Team Iron Man is in favor of regulation. This is kind of the opposite of how the characters have acted up until now in the MCU. Iron Man/Tony Stark has been a symbol for flipping the bird against the government and acting however he pleases. In Iron Man 2 he claims to have privatised world peace and in The Avengers: Age of Ultron he creates the robot Ultron using alien technology, who ends up terrorizing the world. Captain America is a product of the military and has always put his nation above his own relationships, desires and existence and would never seem to be someone who would stand in the way of a governmental regulation.  However, maybe this isn’t that farfetched as Cap has seen government organizations corrupt all around him in his dealings with both S.H.I.E.L.D. and Hydra.

In some ways, being a leader in an organization is akin to Team Iron Man and accepting regulation. This could come in the form of a boss’s directives, company rules, government regulations, board decisions, stockholder decisions, or your peers thoughts. Rules and regulations protect us in many ways. I guess you could say, in some ways being a good leader is being a good follower. The first thing that comes to mind is information security. We can’t be reckless with information security. It’s not the right thing to do. Our corporations and their partners and clients depend on us to make sure we have things under lock and key and are following industry standards to make sure of it. This is a prime example where paving your way just doesn’t make sense. Another way might be with spending. When operating under a budget, it is our responsibility to make that budget work because the rest of the organization is counting on us to do so. Sometimes we need to check our ego at the door and realize that everything we do is not always going to be about coming in with guns a blazing.

As fun as being a follower is, being a leader is also a lot like Team Cap and continuing to be a vigilante, and fighting for truth, justice and the American way, right? Part of being a leader is most definitely being a pioneer, and paving new roads. Innovation is a huge part of being a technology leader. We need to think and rethink what it means to do whatever it is we do, and constantly reinvent ourselves from a technological standpoint. Technology is moving at such a rapid pace, if we become content with a certain pattern, practice, or technology, we already are behind our competition.

I have always related my role as a leader as someone who walks a tightrope between the sides of chaos and order. Perhaps, this tightrope is not only where I belong as a technology leader, but ultimately where we find both Team Cap and Team Iron Man at the end of their movie? Those of us heading out to the theaters this week will find out soon enough, but until then, can we agree that both Team Captain America and Team Iron Man are quite possibly both correct? There is a time and a place for everything. Sometimes it is best to follow in line and follow your marching orders to a tee, and other times it’s best to stand on your own even if that means there might be consequences. After all, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a couple of eggs, right?

Just for the record, going into the movie, I’m #TeamIronMan

*********** UPDATE – 5/6/2016 ***********

I saw the movie last night, and I think my take on the movie before watching it was a good one, but there are so many more lessons to take from the movie. I’ll have to write about more of these in the future, but I’m keeping it spoiler free for now. Go out and see the movie!  It’s a really good movie with really good character usage and I enjoyed the villain and his master plan. All of the new characters are great! I’m a huge Spider-Man fan, and the new one is excellent. I am so excited to see Spider-Man Homecoming next year!