Monday, July 13, 2009

In defense of the guru

Someone called me a "Guru" the other day. It was really weird. I choked on my coffee and wondered to myself, "Is the bar really that low".

The truth is that I live on the edge of my comfort zone and have a constant thirst for knowledge. Not what I would consider the makings of a guru.

This topic has surfaced again in another forum, as my colleagues John Lepp and Laurie Pringle have questioned what the word "guru" means to them. John even referred to a post of mine from last April where I questioned what seemed to me like a bizarre popularity contest in the UK of selecting the "most influential" in the sector in a public poll. (Congrats to the donor for making the top ten!)

So I've started thinking. What makes a guru?

I'm lucky to know a few of your typical guru types. After the first blush of infatuation I learned quickly that they put their pants on one leg at a time. Struggle with their weight. Feel insecure. The really good ones even have to learn new things to stay on top of their game. Like us all. No human being is perfect.

Yet the masses of fundraisers take these individuals and put them up on a plinth. (new word - :-)

Why do we see and treat these individuals differently even when we say it isn't important? What sets these people apart?

This is what I think.

In this world a small minority of people do the following

1. Ask Why?

Perhaps it is time to reTHINK the donor pyramid? Perhaps the cycle of donor engagement isn't a bell curve - maybe it is a loop? Perhaps it is possible that charities can apply learning from the corporate sector to be innovative and breakthrough to new territory - what would that look like? Perhaps fundraising isn't about numbers, maybe it is very simple and we ought to focus on real relationships?

It doesn't matter if you agree, when one person challenges the status quo it helps us all to evolve.

2. Walk in front of the crowd

In this world there are leaders and there are followers. We need them both. Your personality will dictate where you are most comfortable. Some people wake up one day, turn around and find a mass of people behind them. You can't force people to follow you. A rare few find themselves naturally at the front of the crowd. This is not a bad thing. Someone has to be at the front or we wouldn't ever go anywhere.

Leadership is essential to any progress.

3. Teach others

A lot of people are highly educated. Spend decades in school and attain several degrees. A rare few of those people feel compelled to share their knowledge. I've met many who hang onto it as if they somehow are superior to us commoners without formal education. A rare few of these brilliant people see themselves on equal terms as you. They just know more and share it with generosity.

A generous mind is a gift that should not be wasted on those who do not appreciate it.

4. Genuinely care

Mentorship is different than teaching. When someone provides mentorship they genuinely care and want you to be successful. There is a real sincerity in this relationship that is difficult to explain but for those of you who have been on both sides as I have, you can appreciate how special the mentor/mentee relationship can be.

I want to take a moment and stop picking on the Gurus.

Let's take a moment to thank them for their original thought, leadership, teaching and mentorship.

Thank you for spending time here.


  1. I can't speak for John, so I'll address my post.

    I don't believe in worshipping any human. Indeed, I acknowledged and thanked the very experienced people who contribute and share their knowledge.

    What I despise is the notion that because someone is experienced and knowledgeable that people should follow them around like groupies and worship their every word and opionion. Often times, they do so, not because they find value in anything those individuals have to say, but rather to elevate their own position by sucking up (for lack of a better term). In some cases, they'll whisper disagreement, and not have the intestinal fortitude to say so!

    Further - I stated that there are lessons to be learned from all kinds of people. If you consistently look to the same people with an expectation that everything they say is brilliant, you may well miss opportunities to know and learn from people who offer you equally or greater insight, because you've already assumed they're not Guru's.

    There's brilliance all around us - but often times, we don't see it, because we aren't looking for it... particularly when it might come from someone whose position in the world doesn't better our own.

  2. Dear Laurie,

    You are of course absolutely right. There is wisdom all around us. How will we discover those leaders of tomorrow if our eyes are closed.

    You specifically mentioned animals, which made me smile. Last weekend we saw a frog desperately trying to hope across the road to beat traffic. Talk about determination.

    You had an excellence post - so did John. Both of them got me thinking. So thanks for that.

    Concerned about the clock on this blog and hope that you had some sleep last night!

  3. Ha - it was just after 11pm. I think your blog clock may be off :)

    It's funny what you can learn from a frog, a cat or some other creature just doing what it does... the world is a remarkable place!

  4. Learning from nature. Absolutely! That is why I enjoyed Field by the River so much.