Some seven years ago, I received a phone call. ‘I’m interested in becoming a speaker on the business circuit, like you. I’d like to pay you to coach me.’

I accepted, met with the individual, and gave the advice I believed he needed. We covered all the opportunities, and all the mistakes to avoid, in great detail. I was confident that he was set for success and needed only to follow the blueprint. But something unexpected happened. My mentee became strangely dependent upon me for ‘permission’ to take each consecutive step.

My own approach to pursuing a goal has always been, ‘Ready, fire!’ I would rather be relentlessly pursuing goals, and making a couple of mistakes along the road, than paralysed by caution and the fear that I could do something wrong. I prefer ‘begin and learn as you go’ to ‘learn and hope to be perfect before starting’.

This individual was not unique in his cautious approach. Since then, I’ve had a number of similar requests and, in each case, I’ve noticed the same thing. A coach actually transformed into a sort of handicap for them. Their desire for approval for everything robbed them of the take-charge-of-my destiny spirit they needed for their own success.

Seeking mentors is a good idea. Waiting for their permission isn’t. In a straight bet between the aspiring expert who doesn’t have a mentor but relentlessly pursues his or her goals and the aspiring expert who does have a mentor but waits for permission, my money is on the former every time. Action generates results. Get started and learn as you go.

Here is a secret that no one tells you at school. Permission is an illusion. Either you take charge and make something happen, or nothing happens. Permission is a crutch that we use to justify our own fears and hesitations. Prioritise action, and you could become the greatest in your game. 


Douglas Kruger is a professional keynote speaker at conferences, and an author of several business books with Penguin. He specialises in expert-positioning and disruptive innovation. See him in action, or sign up for his motivational newsletter at