I write often about the importance of building our ideal audience. To create a community of people who are our true fans, who love our work and presence.
However, that doesn’t mean we should aspire to be their guru…
Here’s what I see as the difference between having a true-fan audience, and being a guru:
In some ancient traditions, a guru is a revered spiritual guide. Some gurus command near-total devotion of their students. I respect the freedom to practice religion however one wishes.
In building our authentic business, however, there’s a danger of aspiring to become a guru. I myself need to pay attention to these warning signs:
- To hate disagreements from students, and ignore or reject critical feedback.
- To expect our true fans to do as we say, and buy what we sell, no matter what it is.
- To disapprove of our students using different strategies than what we teach, even if it’s working well for them.
- We never (or almost never) share the work of our competitors or niche mates.
- We demand that our true fans pay attention primarily to our content.
Do you recognize the above signs from your teachers?
If I ever start displaying any of these symptoms, please let me know. Use my anonymous feedback form if you need to.
Sadly, I’ve seen this kind of behavior again and again in my industry. An extreme example is Dan Lok, a business/marketing trainer like me, who has essentially formed a cult: check out videos about the Dan Lok cult. People easily lose $10,000 to Dan, and many have lost upwards of $50,000 or more.
In his events, Dan asks people “Am I your guru for this season… or for life??” and of course the audience is so hyped up (in some cases, pressured) to treat Dan as a guru for life and to sign up for whatever he recommends.
The truth always eventually emerges. No teacher can hide their shadow for long.
- Free will is increasingly stripped from the students. Their personal agency, and ability to solve problems themselves, are eroded, as they are expected to simply follow the guru’s step-by-step methods exactly as they are taught.
- Students who follow devotedly, year after year, doing almost everything the teacher tells them to do, and who don’t get the results promised, will be devastated. Some of them become the most ardent voices against the ex-teacher’s work.
- If the teacher isn’t welcoming of critical feedback (especially those given with good intentions) and expects students to do everything exactly as told, then the teacher has stopped truly learning and growing. They’ve put themselves in an echo-chamber, ceasing form expanding beyond their own tiny sliver of knowledge.
- Karmic attachments (for those of us who believe it) will create burdens for many lifetimes to come.
So let’s beware of aspiring to be a guru.
Of course we can still teach passionately what we believe, and help our clients and students take the steps toward the transformation they seek.
However, let’s be open and welcoming of their honest feedback. Let’s be diligent about changing our methods and content, as needed, based on the information they share with us, from their own research and learnings outside of our relationship with them.
I aspire to be a “guide on the side” not just a “sage on the stage”.
This is why I prioritize getting feedback from my clients and students. Honest feedback. Sometimes it makes me uncomfortable, sure. But that gives me an opportunity to practice welcoming uncomfortable feelings, valuing the gift within those feelings, and knowing that it is leading me to higher knowledge.
And I don’t mind making mistakes. I don’t mind that I’m sometimes (or often?) unpolished and raw. I know that I am turning some people off, even some of my true fans.
I don’t actually want anyone to like me so much that I become their guru.
After years of being open to my clients’ feedback, and continually making improvements as I’m able to, I’m grateful to be able to report that my business has consistently grown in both impact and income. For sure, it has challenged my own personal growth, and helped me to learn a bit more about compassion, tolerance, curiosity, and flexibility.
There are still important improvements suggested by my clients and students that I haven’t yet had the capacity to work on, and those ideas are certainly on my long-term to-do list.
Observe your teachers: what kind of reverence do they expect from students?