These days finding a guru to guide the way for you is a shortcut to success. That’s why it is important to be aware of who the experts are in your field. They can help you grow and meet your goals. However, you can’t subscribe to just anyone’s help. The relationship—even if it is based on watching videos or reading a book—has to click.
A guru is a master of a certain skill or knowledge area. They have perfected a technique or simply know more than anyone else on the matter. We need gurus because they can show us what we aren’t seeing or accepting and spare us a great deal of pain.
You cannot, however, expect a guru to teach you everything. A good deal of learning comes from doing and you need to experience that for yourself.
Minimize the Endless Possibilities
You’ve heard the saying a million times, that “the possibilities are endless” to achieve or acquire what you want. As Terry Cole Whittaker explains in her motivational CDs, you do not want to go through endless possibilities. Instead, follow an expert! The experts, the gurus, have already exhausted many of the ways that don’t work. In other words, if you want to build a better mousetrap, you start with the best mousetrap that exists.
Watching videos are great for exercise, crafts, software programs, or other how-to DIY guidance, and there are many sources of free information out there. But, when you need more than the 10-minute video or a one-hour free webinar, you need to hire an expert you can talk to on the phone or through a video conference, one-on-one. You are now moving “beyond the pay wall,” as they say, to get the good stuff.
In searching for a master to follow, I have noticed four main categories to describe gurus or leaders in any field. Whether they specialize in diet and fitness, business success, personal growth, or crocheting an afghan, know what you need and then find the person who is truly doing the thing you want to master, and communicates in a way that you can understand. Ask yourself if you need a consultant, a trainer, a coach, or a thought leader, or some combination of these.
Do your research and make sure they are what they say they are. What I mean is that there are a lot of “coaches” out there who are simply “consultants.” And “trainers” need more than a published book to market themselves as a “thought leader.” Read their bios and some blog posts if they have those. If possible, sample their free class so you know if their style and tone resonates with you.
Consultant – When you need to get it done
A consultant has acumen and experience in a certain area and is compensated for doing work that supports your goals. Most of them can be hired for a specific project or long-term, continuous help. At the end of the day: did the consultant do what you hired them to do? Deadlines and budgets are usually more important than the process when hiring a consultant. They don’t require much supervision after you have given them the info and access they need.
I’m a consultant. I’ve been working in communications since I graduated college many, many years ago. Sometimes people want me to review their marketing and promotional plans as a third-party review. Sometimes I create plans for them, and if I’m lucky I get to create it then implement their whole plan. Usually, I am brought in for one avenue of promotion, like media relations, or to do all of the promotion around one initiative or event.
As a consultant, I bring expertise that my client doesn’t have. My tasks are clearly defined from the beginning. Though they may change or expand, it’s all within the realm of marketing and public relations. This includes when I am the trainer of a class. There are learning objectives and whether the participants acquired that understanding determines whether it was successful. “Scope of work” is the guiding light when consulting.
Trainer – Show and tell, but no doing
A trainer is typically a consultant who is willing to share. Typically, training happens in a group but can also include personal one-on-one training. Think of the Zumba teacher versus the personal fitness trainer. Both are trainers but the level of attention (and the pricing) changes.
A trainer, like a consultant, is telling you what to do and expects you to do what they say. That’s how the system or program works best. Especially in group training, a trainer is not necessarily tied to the outcome. They present the curriculum and then it’s up to the person who participated to do the work that gets results. It will be evident to both the trainer and trainee if things aren’t working. In a training situation, there may be repeated drills and new habits to form, but they are prescriptive more so than in a coaching situation.
“Wax on, wax off,” instructs Sensei Miyagi to the young Karate Kid. Eventually the repetitive circular motion of waxing a car becomes martial arts technique. If you don’t do the work, you don’t see the results and the guru knows.
When training isn’t working, it may be that there’s a disconnect or simply a blocked channel that is holding back the progress. The person not getting the desired results might need a coach.
Coach – Looking behind the curtain
A coach’s expertise is to motivate and discover or develop confidence and skill within their clients. We first learn about coaching in terms of sports. The beginning days of coaching to play a sport is usually about conditioning. Repetitive drills to build a skill and cardio to build endurance. It’s process-related and those initial training rituals help create a mindset, and, in terms of sports, it creates a team. When it comes to a team, the players showing the most potential may draw extra coaching.
These days successful “life coaches” or “success coaches” not only possess strong skills in a certain area of life or business, they have training in coaching and counseling. A certified coach is imperative, in my opinion. Don’t want to overlook their experience when you choose a coach. Not only do they have experience and credentials, they are good with people. Coaches are incredible sounding boards, and create a confidential, judgement-free space for clients where reflection on past and present informs pathways for future growth and opportunity.
In addition, a good coach takes a holistic approach. Where a trainer might suggest you write down your goals and review them every month, a coach will help you discover what you allow to stand in the way of those goals. Coaches are “thinking partners”; they support clients in uncovering answers versus giving them or telling them the answers.
Sales Coach Wendy Leggett, owner of Conflux Business Coaching, LLC, explains that we all have the answers for success within us. She said, “Many times people make a shift into something new, but they bring the old patterns with them. I help my clients examine whether those old patterns are still working and, if not, then develop new ways to replace them.”
There is often something emotional that is blocking the client’s progress such as a limiting belief or fixed mindset. A coach is a partner who walks side-by-side to support clients in drawing upon their own wisdom to move them from where they are now to where they want to be.
Thought Leader – It’s more than your name on the company and a published book.
Thought leaders are the truest forms of the term “guru.” These gurus are in every industry and they are indisputably reputable and respected. They have clout, are well-spoken, and are able to easily gain followers because of these three factors:
1) They have distilled their message succinctly, crafting their message to resonate with their audience,
2) They are willing to share their knowledge, and
3) They are respected.
The most popular thought leaders are also affable, but it really isn’t a requirement in the simplest form of the word term “thought leader.”
They quite often come from a consulting and possibly a coaching background. Many thought leaders create a system and train people to continue their coaching and/or consulting businesses. Their audiences are huge, and they understand how to deliver the astute knowledge they have in an interesting way, if not to entertain, then at least to educate.
Every niche industry has a thought leader who has done the equivalent of what I’ve outlined above relative to their field. The sought-after keynote speaker in waste management matters as much to his industry as Bill Gates matters to business software. It’s all relative.
Which points to an important fact, you can be a thought leader in a very small niche. Not all reach the scale of Brené Brown or Tony Robbins.
Someone like Vanessa Van Edwards, founder of the Science of People, is a good up-and-coming example. Her expertise is in interpersonal communication. Many people see this topic as a side dish to more academic credentials. Those soft skills that work to engage a person in a conversation have not been important until the last ten years when industry professionals noticed those skills were missing in the younger work force. She has developed a highly functioning business around this topic and positioned herself as THE expert, a thought leader. She’s been a Ted Talk speaker and a keynote for several conferences, an expert commentator on body language and other topics for the media, she coordinates “People School” training, and she’s published a book called “Captivate.” She’s unique by her topic and I predict she will continue to grow in a niche that is very small.
Who is Your Guru?
All of these types of gurus can help you. You can choose a combination that is best for you and decide at what entry point you want to take. You might read someone’s book then decide you have to go to their next retreat, then you have to pull together the funds for their elite coaching, and before you know it, you might become certified to teach their system. For some you might see their Ted Talk first, then buy every book they’ve ever written and hire a coach that has never heard of that thought leader.
Do your research before you sign a contract—or buy all the books. Not only do you need to align with your guru, but you also need to be ready to listen and do the work. You have to find time and energy to really benefit from your investment. While you’re researching, pay attention. You might find some nuggets that really speak to you even though overall you know you won’t have an ongoing relationship with that guru.
Listen to your consultants if they identify that you or a member of your team could benefit from some coaching or a training retreat to put you all on the same page. Bring in a trainer or a coach! It holds true that like a chain, your team is only as strong as the weakest link.
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Successful people do it all the time. In the end, they become someone else’s guru.
Leslie A.M. Smith founded McCormick L.A. in 1994 offering public relations and marketing consulting to nonprofits and small businesses. She recently published Laws of Promotion. The 50-page promotional guide for small businesses and local nonprofits is available now on Amazon.