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Beware the Guru Trap – Comment on a comment by Michael Port

I received an interesting blog post by Michael Port about the incident during a retreat led by James Ray last October in Sedona that resulted in three deaths and several injuries. Today (January 8) is the 90-day anniversary of this tragedy.

Michael decries the silence of the personal development profession about this tragic incident. He starts his article:

“The tragic death of three people attending a “spiritual retreat” with James Arthur Ray has made me so angry that I’m having trouble finding words to express myself. But I’m going to try because, to me, silence is acceptance—and there has been a deafening level of silence from other “teachers” in the spiritual-help “community.” Though, I am not in the “spiritual-help” business, I do write business-help books, and am close enough to, and sometimes, much to my annoyance, associated with James Ray’s corner of the self-help market, that I’m embarrassed and ashamed that I haven’t spoken up earlier about these teachers and their tactics. What happened in Sedona on Oct 8, 2009 was unacceptable. This is not the first time a narcissistic sociopath with a god-complex has lead people to their deaths and unfortunately it won’t be the last time.”

The post continues with a condemnation of James Ray’s tactics:

From all accounts, James Arthur Ray’s tactics at this retreat and elsewhere, are coercive and manipulative, designed to strip followers of their power, and might I add, money. (…) Not only was Ray presenting himself as a spiritual guru promising spiritual enlightenment, but also as a business advisor offering profound economic improvement in business. According to an article on cbsnews.com, “The self-stylized success guru says people are ready for his wisdom if “You simply (and deeply) want to make more money and become more successful” and “want to double, triple, and even multiply by ten the size of your business.” “

I notice, especially among coaches, that we try to promise bold transformations in material wealth, by using “spiritual” words.  Obviously, if this kind of marketing talk works for the big guns in the industry, it should work for us, right?

But there lies a road that leads to the dead-end of the “guru trap”, when we get too wrapped up in our own hype that instead of being focused on meeting the needs and expectations of our clients, we crave the attention – and adulation – of our clients.

Avoid projecting a positioning that promises that people can get something for nothing – promoting the “big lie” that entitlement comes before effort.  Its sexy but dishonest.

The message of my previous blog post about under-promising and over-delivering fits well in this discussion.

When you market your services you must keep it real. By avoiding the hype, and staying grounded and real, you will attract clients who value what you offer and who are willing to fully commit to you. And these are the best types of clients, because their clear-eyed commitment makes them partners for the long term.

Here is the response I posted on Michael’s blog:

“Michael, I share many feelings with you about this whole affair.

This debacle has made me hyper-aware of falling into the “overpromising” trap. Last fall, I went through some soul-searching about my positioning and my promises, and I actually pulled out of an event that I felt was going into a super-hypey marketing mode.

What you’ve reminded me through Book Yourself Solid is to focus on communicating compelling, relevant and grounded results…and to make sure that I have the means to follow through and deliver on these promises. I invite my clients to adopt a “healthy skeptic” viewpoint on the work we do together: test what I recommend, see if it works for you. If it does, keep it, if not, modify it so that it does. Seek to understand the principles behind what I’m proposing, and use them to develop your own “philosophy” or approach.

I don’t want clients who see me as a “guru” (although I have the right name for one 🙂 I want clients who want a partner in their development, who see me as a real person on the path they want to take. And I want clients who will become colleagues and peers as we share the journey towards transforming our dreams and our projects into reality.

I love watching your evolution, Michael, as you say or do things which work and say or do other things that don’t work as well. I don’t agree with you all the time…but it’s the nuggets that are pure gold that make our relationship very worthwhile. You are human, and you let the people around you be human also. Watching you in action inspires me to Think Big and Act Even Bigger. And that’s who a Role Model should be.

Thanks for sharing your heartfelt message.

success
-davender”

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