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Legendary University of California basketball coach John Wooden once said, “Whatever you do in life, surround yourself with smart people who’ll argue with you.” 

Whether you find yourself in the midst of a long haul, on the verge of breaking through to a new phase, or at a fork in the road, surrounding yourself with allies makes the challenges less daunting and the victories sweeter. In the Hero’s Journey narrative arc, the protagonist of the story will at some point decide to leave the “ordinary world” for the “strange world” — this part is often long and arduous, appearing before the hero arrives at the pinnacle of “the innermost cave” for the ultimate battle. This stage is important to the character development of the hero because it offers challenges and learning experiences, as well as the introduction of pivotal helpers, mentors, and allies.

Journeys are not made for traveling alone. As the protagonist or hero of your own story, there is importance and necessity in finding allies and building a team that shares your vision. In 1992, McKinsey & Company published a commentary by the former captain of New Zealand’s mighty All Blacks rugby team, David Kirk. In it, he discussed a team’s “qualities of greatness,” which included vision, ability, divine discontent, discipline, and politics — building around and embodying these qualities resulted in fewer mistakes, greater margins of victory, and the team getting “a charge from what they do” (i.e., enjoyment, perspective, and balance).

Your team can be a panoply of characters, but there are five key roles to fill that ensure a foundation for even greater success.

  1. Providential Mentor/Teacher – This mentor/teacher role must be filled by someone who truly sees your potential, believes you have the right stuff, and is willing to vouch for your commitment, talent, smarts, etc. The savvy mentor has traversed a similar or parallel path and opens doors of opportunities to help you in your pursuit. They broaden your perspective to include the periphery or help crystallize an idea into something even more cohesive and perfect. The mentor may not always physically be at your side but they are reachable and available. Forbes says that four important things to look for and consider in a mentor include compatibility, contrast, expertise, and trust.

  2. Seasoned Expert – This is your trail guide. They have the abilities, the know-how, and the clever ingenuity to help you navigate. This person may come in the form of a professional services person or an industry veteran. Experts are especially useful for the tricky parts when you need solid advice, experience, and a unique wheelhouse. This person is capable of doing some of the heavy-lifting simply by their acumen around a particular topic.

  3. Creative Specialist – This is your think-outside-the-box, innovative person. They perceive problems as intriguing challenges, and the solutions they come up with are varied and plenty. This person operates with clarity, intuition, and an open-mind, channeling creative alternatives when the route is obscure. A creative specialist will undoubtedly spark new possibilities, helping you arrive at the next milestone with a new awareness, experience, and/or skill set.

  4. Staunch Supporter – This is your ride-or-die person. They are as relentless as a pitbull and have tenacity, strength, and courage. When you are in the trenches, this person and their loyalty will sustain and uplift you. They get you, and they want to see you succeed. The staunch supporter may not always see eye-to-eye with you but they are unfailingly present to help get you across the finish line.

  5. Relentless Challenger – As the saying goes, “Iron sharpens iron.”You may have recognized by now that true growth along the path does not come from the easy days. Choose an ally that shares your vision but won’t let you settle for mediocrity, shortcuts, or compromise; a challenger brings out your best by pushing you to achieve exceptional milestones.

Learning from others offers a wealth of opportunity to grow and exceed even the goals that you originally set at the beginning of leaving the “ordinary world.” Find a mentor, expert, specialist, supporter, and challenger that will help navigate and prepare you for the various learning experiences on the road to destiny. Kirk notes, “A team that is knee-deep in problems, challenges, fears, and hopes, and that is reveling in them, convinced it will win, and excited about the prospect, is well on the way. The truth is simple. You can’t be world-class unless you have world-class problems. The opposition is the opportunity. Take it.”