Five hallmarks of your ideal mentor

It’s not easy to find someone who can reliably enable your greatness to soar.

An intriguing common factor in the history of virtually all visionary leaders is the wisdom they gleaned from a trusted mentor at some crucial point in their personal evolution. It’s not all that difficult to choose a dedicated coach who can help you start a business or develop an athletic physique. However, enabling you to focus your talents into ultimately leading a revolution in thought on a global scale is an altogether more demanding prospect.

Learning from someone who not only identifies with your dreams but also the problems you face can enable you to think of your roadblocks as challenges to be conquered. This can help you engender the habit of seeing eventual triumph as being implicit in every problem you face on your journey to becoming the change-maker you are destined to be. Here are five defining qualities to look for in a person who can help you unlock your potential as a revolutionary leader.

1. Your ideal mentor will immediately get you.

When you find the right mentor, you will notice an immediate and natural rapport. They will innately identify with your desire to make a difference — they have been there themselves and personally know what it feels like. They understand that sometimes your vision is clear, but sometimes it is a gnawing feeling within you that doesn’t provide you with any practical clues of what it is, let alone what steps you must take to resolve it.

They understand your belief that you serve the world best by knowing and serving your own deepest purpose. They know that within you there is a call to serve something much greater than yourself, to improve the lives of others in some way. They are aware that your drive to discover and live this purpose in the world is what underpins your calling to lead yourself and others. They realize that by helping you access your deepest knowledge and uniqueness, they can enable you to play a meaningful role in the evolution of humanity.

2. They will understand and respect your dedication to self-development.

Another hallmark of the ideal mentor is the way they will support and share your passion for developing yourself socio-emotionally and cognitively. They understand implicitly that such
self-improvement requires courage and a unique degree of readiness.

They will realize you have already invested considerable efforts towards this aim. And you have done your best. Your shelves are creaking under the weight of books on meditation, integral theory and practice, adaptive leadership and change, and countless other things. But they will also appreciate that while you have an intellectual commitment to all of these topics, you have struggled with incorporating them at a practical level into your daily life, to a genuinely transformative extent.

They will sense your awareness that your own thought processes and emotional reactions are limiting you, and they know you are ready to intentionally remake yourself.

3. They will naturally share your deepest values.

It takes an exceptional mentor to recognize that you your world is organized on the basis of values, rather than goals. They will understand how much you value personal freedom, the space you need to move freely and act for the sake of something bigger than yourself.

They will not have any difficulty reconciling the idea that you value your heart and your mind equally. They will effortlessly perceive that the value you place on cooperating with others stems from your belief that by working together, you can move mountains. They understand that you love learning, and share your conviction that when you tap into your infinite reservoir of knowledge and wisdom, anything is possible.

4. They will understand the implications of having world-sized revolutionary ideas.

An ambitious mindset is common to many coaches and mentors. But very few intrinsically understand what it’s like to have big, bold visionary and revolutionary ideas about the future, the planet, evolution and humanity. Your ideal mentor will not be fazed by your love of developing concepts on a global scale, and you will never have to justify to them why you allocate time to brainstorming and philosophizing about complex problems.

Like you, they will see the world as a complex, self-organizing, natural system that requires a very advanced level of thinking if it is to be understood. They will support your love of looking at a problem from different angles, because that is how their mind works as well.

They will also have the flexibility to adapt with you to variable, fluid conditions, because they share your perception of change as being an intrinsic aspect of life. They will have no trouble balancing the fact you love direction with your aversion to being locked into rigid structures that offer you no space for conceptualizing and long-term thinking.

They will be capable of empowering you to conceive and build an inspiring, over-arching vision that people can connect with, and which will bring genuine benefit to the world.

5. Your ideal mentor will know what you must do to make your visionary idea a reality.

Leading a revolution in thought demands new ways of being, rationalizing and doing, to ensure a lasting and meaningful impact on the increasingly complex, contradictory and entrenched forces dominating our planet. It takes a unique kind of mentor to appreciate the intellectual, interpersonal, and even spiritual depth of maturity that is needed to generate sophisticated and sustainable responses to daunting social, economic and environmental challenges.

They will certainly know you need to learn about and access leading-edge practices and frameworks for personal change. Yet they will also realize you require access to the reins of your own internal development, so that you can break through any limitations your current thinking may be imposing on your progress. Your ideal mentor will be keenly attuned to the notion that the only true enemies of a sustainable future for the planet are the limiting mental models that keep humanity from deeply understanding and effectively bringing their wisest visions to the world.


Meta-systemic thinking

To create meaningful and lasting global change, our leaders must embrace a higher level of cognition: one which allows them to perceive the world as it truly is, appreciating its intertwined intricacies in all their detail.

When we look at the world, we find ourselves in a period of unprecedented complexity. The world is changing at an astonishing rate: the entire planet is interconnected in ways that it has never been before. It is hard for us to make sense of our world in a single day, let alone what it means for tomorrow. Individually and collectively, our uncertainty about the future — indeed even the present — is mounting. History is truly in motion, unfolding before us at a pace we can barely keep up with, leaving us to wonder about what will come next.

We are at a genuine crossroads: what was once familiar is becoming increasingly foreign and unpredictable. There is a pressing need to move at right angles to all that has defined our worldview up to now. There is a real challenge to build resilience and adapt; the price for trial and error is now too high.

In less than twenty years, the rules of the game have radically changed, threatening many long-held assumptions regarding how the world works. There is no clear road map or instruction book that easily reduces the complex variables and major decisions that leaders increasingly face. Partial and piecemeal approaches to tough problems adopted by current leadership structures are proving ineffective. Leaders themselves acknowledge the severity of the challenges they encounter in managing issues of paradox, complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity on the global agenda. New leadership solutions are required now more than ever.

The leadership crisis isn’t merely a matter of inadequate training in the realities of global change. It also concerns the fundamental capacities, which leaders bring to their challenges. How clearly, and with how much wisdom, do they see the world around them? How well can they marshal the necessary capacities in themselves to implement effective solutions?

Whether personal or planetary, the need is to be more resourceful in the face of uncertainty — all stemming from mounting complexity. Whether you lead a nation, a business, a community or a family, you are under increasing pressure to apply new capacities to the way you take action in the world.

What I perceive so clearly is that the systems we human beings have built — our governments, our businesses, our ways of sustaining our lives — are not sustainable and, in fact, are headed for collapse. I hasten to add I am not speaking apocalyptically, but extrapolating from current trends. One simple example is to consider our reliance on petrochemical fuel: this is a finite resource which will run out relatively soon. Yet there are no major initiatives to overhaul our transport infrastructure, particularly in the field of air travel, to arrange a functional alternative by the time we will need one.

As many others have observed, it is easy to see that leaders are really struggling to provide solutions to the global-scale problems facing humanity: poverty, environmental degradation, population growth, food production and clean water. It also isn’t difficult to see that the problems are going to become more complex and more difficult for leaders to resolve. Our leaders, trained in conventional ways of operating, are ill-prepared to think and act in the radically different ways required to solve such problems.

I began thinking about the sort of leaders who would be able to solve those big problems — how do they need to think, how would their minds work if they were to make a serious impact on such complex problems?

Through extensive study and research with renowned theorists and practitioners in evolutionary science, human development, adult development and consciousness development over the past 15 years, it became clear to me that humans have reached a point where they need to adapt in order to survive on this planet. The adaptation required is a change in psychological management, and this is a quality leaders must attain if they are to have a meaningful effect on change at a planetary level.

First they need to see that the current social, emotional and cognitive capacities that typify today’s leaders are ultimately the cause of global problems at the expense of the planetary civilization as a whole. Second, they need to recognize that in order to successfully resolve the complex problems that are threatening the planet, they need to radically enhance their own development, in particular their cognitive capacity. Only leaders with a systemic understanding of how the world functions are best-placed to make the greatest impact. Individually and collectively, leaders need to move beyond the limiting analytical mental models that have played a central role in creating the current crisis.

Leaders need to develop higher cognitive capacities that enable them to understand and manipulate the complex, interpenetrating systems that generate the problems. It is only by mastering the ability to build mental models of how these systems will unfold through time that they will be able to identify optimal courses of action.


A missing piece

In the world of business, leaders who actively cultivate meta-systemic thinking consistently represent a competitive edge over organisations who lack this progressive advantage.

Effective responses to global challenges require an advanced level of cognition, not just a more conscious and inclusive approach. The crises and problems that are confronting leaders cannot be understood and cannot be solved without a cognitive capacity that enables the management of complex systems and processes. The conventional model of analytical/rational cognition cannot do this.

True systemic cognition is currently almost non-existent. Most ‘systems thinking’ is done with mental/rational representations and cognition that represents an attempt to reduce phenomena to a collection of relatively unchanging objects that interact according to known rules. Post-modern cognition is incapable of rigorously modelling complex systems because it fails to encompass the role of context, and the fact that in the real world, it is more accurate to describe objects as processes.

Conversely, meta-systemic cognition enables leaders to analyse, model, and understand the interrelating systems affecting the world today — conceptualizing the interaction of social, political, governmental, and economic forces.

Such thinking is more comprehensive and fluid than the linear and rational logic of analytical thinking which produces only limited conclusions, viewed in isolation rather than as part of the complex systems surrounding any given issue. Yet most of us are not even aware that another mode of perceiving and processing information, as a means to navigating complexity, exists.

Consider these examples. An executive has devised a strategic plan, but his attempts to introduce it are subverted by a handful of self-interested senior managers. Thwarted from within, the executive is at a stalemate unable to see that the managers are operating within a system that rewards them for ‘protecting their patch’. In this case, the system actually places them in opposition to the interests of the organization as a whole. Or perhaps, a CEO exhorts the values of a culture that innovates and takes risks, but does not see that the system in which its employees operate does not in fact incentivize risk or innovation.

Meta-systemic thinkers can perceive such connections to factors outside the immediate operating environment. Their thought processes are fluid and far-reaching, comprehending that external systems are in constant flux, requiring businesses to achieve the same state of adaptability. Consequently, meta-systemic thinkers can predict outcomes and foresee opportunities others cannot — and shift strategies accordingly.

These higher cognitive capacities are already essential in the upper echelons of government, as well as in multinational corporations. Strategists at these levels must be able to navigate their organizations through an extraordinarily dynamic and complex global environment comprising co-evolving economic, regulatory and political systems. These higher capacities are currently in very short supply, and many who are in positions that demand higher cognition are simply incapable of delivering it. They are completely out of their depth. Most of the few leaders who possess these capacities to any degree only exercise them intuitively, unaware of how their higher capacities actually operate. Because they have not built these abilities consciously and systematically, they are unable to transmit their capacities to others or explain cogently how they arrive at their insights.

Fortunately, progress is being made in understanding how to intentionally train such capacities in our leaders. ‘Early-adopter’ corporations that implement these new methods to foster meta-systemic thinking in their executives will reap a decisive competitive advantage in our increasingly complex world.