Wednesday, 19 February 2014


Background - The Opaques, Translucents and Transparents
As kids in school, most of us were in either of three categories: The opaque, the translucent or the transparent. Each of these three categories comes in a positive and a negative variety. Everything we did revolved around which category we found ourselves in. During those years, it was a make-it or break-it experience for some of us. Our decisions, big and small, were dependent on the truth of what category we were in. The opaques were the strong ones, they made great decisions; always. They were the valedictorians and the most popular people in our classes. They were also our bullies and big shots who always must be the center of attention; they must stand out. They had a sense of confidence about themselves that bordered overconfidence in the case of many. The translucent were the blenders and the adapters. They were the ones who could hang out with either of the two other types. They would take the shape of those they spent time with. Very much like water. It has a character of its own but it’s ready to blend and become that which it’s introduced to. Then there is the third category. The transparents; these are people who don’t necessarily have an identity of their own. They are nearly unknown to the world. In an average class their presence won’t be noticed immediately.  They never made their presence known through any form of rambunctious behavior. They would be OK with an opaque taking credit for a task they may have accomplished. Though they were smart and talented, they were also timid. They were quiet and always wanted to steer away from any and all kinds of trouble. They were soft-hearted and tender in their action, nature and being.

Amongst the three categories, perhaps the most envied were the opaques. They were envied not by the
translucent or the transparent because neither of them wanted what they had. They were envied by themselves. So each opaque went out of his way to set new standards and create new pathways, new breakthroughs and most definitely new benchmarks in both, positive and negative, ways. To them; an impression must be made, someone has to be impressed. But who? If you know anything about an opaque, you know that they aren’t easily impressed by anyone but them-self. Impressing the translucent does not have as much a market value as they blend with nearly anyone. Besides, translucents were very good at blending which made them friends of the opaques. Hence, their choice of people to put an impression on remains very simple: the transparent because their mysterious characteristic is almost attractive.

Each opaque has his/her own way of impressing people but for the sake of this discussion we shall speak of the bullies here. The bullies impress by telling others what to do. They get their way every time. No transparent ever wanted to know what would happen if the opaque bully didn’t get his way. As a result they allowed themselves to be bullied; willingly. They would have to live their life according to what the bully told them. The bullies did it for the perks; the best stuff from the transparent’s lunchbox, getting homework assignments done, small and big errands that need to be run, etc… For most transparents it is a tough battle and rather discomforting initially to take orders from the opaque bully. Eventually, their desire to resist subsides and they stop fighting, though they ever only resisted internally. Their sense of freedom is killed and along with it their creativity to think beyond what’s being told. This leads the transparent to either bend or break. Some who bend bounce back with retaliation and find a new sense of identity while those who break fall deeper into the abyss of responsive numbness. Both outcomes are chronic and destructive. If they bend far enough, they bounce back and become the protege as the next bully in town and the cycle continues. If they break, which is the case of many, they become something of a static nature; stagnant in the mind, not unwilling to think, rather; unable.

This seems to be the lot of one too many professionals in our organizations too. They’re either the opaque bully or the transparent victim. Yet the need of the hour remains for us to be able to work together in unison. “None of us is as smart as all of us” says Ken Blanchard. Unity is created through trust and credibility. A sense of unison never existed where there was bickering and backbiting. The four ways of building trust have been understood and expounded upon since Aristotle pointed them out in his philosophy of ethos, pathos and logos in 350 BCE. He said ethos is the essence of trust and credibility and stated the four ways to develop ethos when interacting with people: Authority, Similarity, Reputation and Trustworthiness. Perhaps most managers didn’t know these four ways of developing ethos by these terms but they certainly knew about it in one form or another. We know the usage of authority more than any other form of ethos. Each day we lead or are led in our organizations with authority. People do what we ask them to do and they do it simply because we’re their boss. The goal still remains for us to be able to work together to achieve greater goals while creating a sense of intrinsic accountability so people work because they ‘want to’ rather than because they ‘have to’. So the question remains: How do we create intrinsic accountability?

Philosophy - The Master-Apprentice Relationship
Have you ever had a boss who never made you feel like he/she was your boss? Rather you felt like this person was more of a mentor or a coach who was put there to make your life easier. You felt like you could share almost anything with this person. He/she was able and willing to help you with your personal and professional challenges. On the other hand, many of us have also had bosses who banked on them being bosses. You felt like you had to report to them because they were people of authority over you. They sometimes made you feel uncomfortable with their demands though the demands were legitimate. Knowing these two types of bosses, one cannot help but wonder what is it that the former boss does that brings him loyalty of his/her people that cannot be attained by the latter. He/she is either consciously or unconsciously using the Master-Apprentice Philosophy which is built on a mutual win-win scenario that is greatly expounded by Stephen Covey in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

If you've ever watched Star Wars then you know where this is coming from. The Master-Apprentice Philosophy simply states a relationship which is a blend of three major relations: friendship, mentorship and companionship. These three potential relations, when combined into one relation, lead to the ideal Master-Apprentice relationship. The Master-Apprentice relationship demands a few preconditions: 1. Each person in the relationship has to be growth oriented. Without growth orientation either of the two will be frustrated while steering the relationship to positive ends. 2. The Master has to be willing to take the responsibility to teach. 3. The Apprentice has to be willing to put his/her ego down in order to make the best of the learning environment. As a result each person will have achieved the cornerstone of a healthy relationship: respect. Mutual respect is one of those loaded terms that most people think they have in their professional relationships but in reality there is dearth thereof. That is because the depth of most professionals' circumstance is deeper than the depth of their relationships which is why many people are forced to lead from authority rather than similarity and trustworthiness. With mutual trust among the people of the organization, no one person is ever wondering if "I'm being taken for a ride?"or "I hope this pays off in someway" or even when things are in their favor, thinking some version of "what's in it for him/her..." Though these statements are never actually uttered but they certainly are thought in the confines of one's mind. And if one was to tally up the instances when such thoughts emerged, one would be convinced that they stem from lack of trust which is the fruit of the respect we have for the other. When we respect we trust and it could never be the other way around except under compulsion.

Master - The Wistful Teacher
At this point, it is important for the one to understand the mentality of the master to truly know why the master does what he does. Without getting inside the mind of a master, one won't be able to rationally justify the master's actions.

The challenges we come across in life, in general, are not always new and innovative in nature. When objectively looked at, one realizes they're quite redundant. They simply revolve around management of time and/or effort. Many of the problems we face are in some way, shape or form a version of the two broad categories. And as we mature into a more sophisticated lifestyle, though we're learning lessons along the way, we tend to forget the mistakes of the past that we once learned from and vowed to never make again. When the master takes on an apprentice, he now has the opportunity to consciously think about the errors of his past as he strategizes to help his apprentice.This allows him to recollect his errors of the past and avoid pitfalls of the future because he's able to see the intangibles associated with those errors which he then -when erred- didn't understand due to his lack of maturity. In this sense, the master, for his own growth, takes on an apprentice as the apprentice does more, through his ignorance, for the master than the master, through his competence, will ever do for the apprentice.

The mentality of a life-altering master can be likened to that of a Zen monk who's been there and done that. S/he's forgiving and patient. S/he does not expect the apprentice to change the world or move mountains overnight. Sure, every master wants his apprentice to change the world and move mountains but many expect that unreasonably out of irrational expectations without equipping the apprentice with enough heart to make tough decisions. Ironically, the life-altering master does that by lowering the bar rather than raising it. The root of equipping the apprentice with a heart comes from enabling the apprentice's trust in the master. The master gains trust by allowing the apprentice to believe in himself through the achievement of his planned goals. With every achieved goal, the apprentice believes more and more in his own ability to succeed and inevitably in his master's capacity to guide this success.

Moreover,the life-altering master thoroughly understands the difference between encouragement and empowerment. He empowers his apprentice with his example and by first making the tough choices. Choices which may not be visibly in favor of the master himself but have two distinct characteristics: 1. A direct benefit for the apprentice 2. It is the right thing to do. To the life-altering master, the withholding of a tangible gain is not an end in itself but a byproduct of his larger commitment to ensure success for his apprentice. He understands that nearly all powerful forces are intangible, hence he does not consider the tangible loss but considers the intangible benefit in his transactions.

Apprentice - The Eager Learner
The apprentice recognizes that the master is crucial for his/her growth. Without the master, the apprentice is lost. Many may argue: there are plenty of books and resources available that one can take advantage of. Though yes, they undoubtedly help one bring about positive change, yet they lack a crucial edge that is brought by the Master-Apprentice relation; real-time responsiveness. The situation of an individual without a master can be likened to the situation of someone trying to walk through a minefield by reading a manual on how to detect mines buried in a field. With the assistance of a Master the road is charted because the master has walked the minefield the apprentice is about walk through.

An important facet of the Master-Apprentice relationship, the apprentice must understand, is that the master is not obligated to serve the apprentice. There could be a thousand other things that the master could be doing. The apprentice must seek out the master more than as and when he/she feels the need for assistance. One of the more prominent flaw of growing leaders is their sense of independence. In today's world, with excess of available resources and information, its easy for an individual to think he/she does not need mentorship. When we compare ourselves to the leaders of the past from any era before ours when information wasn't as abundant; we see some of the most concrete Master-Apprentice relationships. And as a result, the apprentice's core values, even 2 generations later, are in a direct alignment with that of the original master who's long gone. That is because the master has invested himself into the relationship and his core values have trickled into the life of the apprentice through a holistic interaction through generations because each master invested himself in each relationship respectively. However, the investment of the master is purely dependent on the applicability of the apprentice. The determined apprentice has a greater desire to learn from the master than the master himself has to teach. This isn't a new or foreign concept, we've all seen ideal Master-Apprentice relationships at work in some of the greatest Hollywood movies like The Karate Kid where the kid is determined to learn from a man who is an expert martial artist, while the master himself has little or no desire to teach. But it is the determination of the apprentice that the master eventually commits to.

Finally, the apprentice must learn the art of appreciation and express it in the master's preferred communication style. If there is any one thing that the apprentice will do to strengthen his/her relationship with his/her master, let it be this: To learn how to express appreciation to the master. It is a form of currency which is unique to each person and it is crucial for the apprentice to know what currency is accepted by his/her master. The determined apprentice understands the importance of appreciating the master because we all know that when one is appreciated, he/she gives more. In this case, the appreciated master becomes more committed to the relationship and assumes more responsibility to help the apprentice grow. After all, growth solves all problems and growth through relationship increases positive outcomes.

So how does one appreciate the master? The master will never bluntly express what form of currency of appreciation he accepts, for all we know he might not even know it himself. It is for the apprentice to figure this out through the process of trial and error. In short, one can express heartfelt gratitude in one of four ways: Gifts, Service, Words and Time. It is important for the apprentice to know which currency of appreciation works best with his/her master because giving the wrong currency of appreciation may not in fact make the master feel as appreciated, just as giving the right currency of appreciation can render multiplied dividends of the apprentice's effort.

Wingman - The Ultimate Comrade
At some point in the Master-Apprentice relationship, both the master and the apprentice realize their relationship's readiness to go to the next level. This very unconsciously happens when both are evidently learning from each other rather than the one-way learning relationship experienced at the beginning of the Master-Apprentice relationship. This relational metamorphosis can be likened to the caterpillar turning into a butterfly who will never again be bound by the restrictions of mobility. At this stage of the relationship, the master and apprentice are now equals in each other's eyes. The master no longer feels the unmentioned obligation to teach  just as the apprentice no longer feels the unmentioned obligation to seek the master. The relationship has now evolved into something of far greater value. Where both parties are aware of the presence of each other and take advantage of it. They are now learning from each other. They are friends, comrades who have been in the trenches together. They meet every so often and share inspiring stories of failure and success, they both grow in their own mediums and meet to create nothing but synergy. Though no self-imposed laws or justified means holds them accountable to each other, they secretly share a covenant to bring out the best in the other forevermore. They draw inspiration from the constancy, the endurance, the values, the ethics, the successes and the failures of the other. To have a wingman is, unconsciously, the ultimate goal of every intellectual being that walks the surface of this earth. It is exactly what separates an inspired from an uninspired soul which makes all the difference in one's life; ask the uninspired and you'll know the deep longing for peer-inspiration. It fuels one's existence and empowers one to strive to do what has never been done before. It creates a healthy, not cutthroat, competition through which stem all forms of tangible and intangible advancements. It enables creativity and focus through the balance of that which one may think unconventionally while drawing conclusions to thoughts rather than running rampant with free-flowing ideas. The relationship is a means and an end in itself.

The desire to give back is evermore after one becomes a wingman to another. And he/she then takes on a new apprentice to begin, once again, the journey of learning, unlearning and relearning as he/she see himself through the eyes of his/her apprentice. It can be likened to the image of a man with one hand stretched upwards to be pulled up by the people that have gone before him and another stretching downwards to bring along others. Such is the perpetual nature of the life-cycle of the Master-Apprentice-Wingman relationship as it creates true intrinsic accountability; one that is independent of any and all external factors.

Entrepreneu - The Application Of
A question that certainly might come to mind at this point is: "Can one enable such a system in their own organization?"  Yes, it can be done. And to add to that, it can be done with low, and in some cases no, monetary costs associated with it. The process goes back to what was mentioned in Why 90% of Training Programs Fail. We must do three fundamental things in order to create a culture of Master-Apprentice relationships in our organizations:
Inspire - Any and all actions stem from some form of motivation. When the motivation is intrinsic (stemming from within), the person is inspired. We must inspire our people to aspire towards such relationships by first spreading awareness and then showcasing and celebrating such successful relationships within the organization/industry.
Teach - The characteristics of the highlighted relationships must be expounded for a thorough understanding of the relationship. It is imperative that participants clearly comply with the mentality of the master or apprentice respectively for the relationship to produce the best possible result.
Enable - Finally, a support system must be created for tying masters with apprentices and vice versa. A place where people can come to give back (be a master) and to learn (be an apprentice). This closes the loop which started with the desire to want to teach/learn.

a note to the inspired
To the individual reading this who is not part of an organization that has embraced this concept; nevermind that the world has not adapted to its need of the hour, you must seek out that master who will guide you in your journey. And while seeking out the master be sure to disregard income, fame, bank balance, etc... Consider lifestyle instead. Ask yourself: "Would I like to live the way he does?" Because a master worth learning from is the one who lives a holistic life and one can only teach what one knows because one cannot give what he does not have.

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article. I am interested in knowing your thoughts on this. Please share them below, let us start a discussion.

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