10 Things I learned from my mentor, Michel Vallier (3/3)

8) “Ne prends pas ta viande où tu prends ton pain.”
“Don’t take your meat where you take your bread.”

Michel was big on ethics and integrity.

Before I explain this one, I have to situate it in the context of the mass retail sector, which is  highly masculine (although evolving), and in some areas quite macho and patriarchal (especially in the 80’s and 90’s and early 2000’s, when Michel operated).

Michel told me early on, to never mess with trainees. Temptation can be big for a young trainer who is treated like a king. He told me:

“Don’t flirt or date a trainee, unless you intend to marry her.”

Indeed, Michel had flirted with and dated one of his trainees, and they married soon after !

Yes, this saying is very direct, and it would be easy to judge this principle or Michel and get all revved up by how outrageous such a statement can be (comparing a woman to a piece of meat?!). Obviously, I don’t agree with the comparison, and would not use this expression myself. But I find it interesting to extract the wisdom from the image, instead on focusing on what could trigger us.

Furthermore, it helps to replace this expression in its context: mass retail with a bakery section, a butchery section, with men trying to figure out what is the right thing to do vs the wrong one, and how to convey it effectively and directly to other men.

If you felt triggered, great! Let’s use this principle to help you shift your perceptions.

This is part of mindset training.

Last year, as I was visiting some friends in San Francisco. One of them was outraged by Donald Trump who tweeted:

“It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.”

This quote was attributed to Mussolini, the Italian Fascist leader.

I actually found that a great quote (I don’t get triggered by Donald Trump), and said to my friends:

“I actually find that quite wise of him [Donald Trump] to say that he will learn from anybody.”

Wisdom is not in the person saying it, it is in the person seeing it.

Or as Paulo Coelho puts it:

“A fool will learn nothing from a wise man, but a wise man will learn a lot from a fool.”

If you can see some wisdom in a sentence (not any sentence) from anybody, you can learn from any situation.

For instance, here are a few quotes. For each of them, try to guess the author:

“The art of reading and studying consists in remembering the essentials and forgetting what is not essential.”

“Think Thousand times before taking a decision But – After taking decision never turn back even if you get Thousand difficulties!!”

“Anyone can deal with victory. Only the mighty can bear defeat.”

“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”

“When diplomacy ends, War begins.”

So, who do you think these quotes are attributed to?

Lao Tzu? Sun Tzu? Ben Franklin?

Well, the truth is, they were all from Adolf Hitler.

Yes, himself.

Obviously, he is not a role model for me, and will never be.

Obviously, I prefer quotes by positive role models.

Obviously, I had to sift through the quotes I searched, and ignore a lot of hatred-injected quotes.

I believe that every human being possesses wisdom and benevolence. For some, unfortunately, it is darkly clouded in the murky swamps of hatred, fear, anger, bitterness and resentment.

In my view, it is impossible that people who we label as “Evil” never uttered a single sentence of wisdom or truth in their life. Maybe we haven’t heard of these examples. Maybe History hasn’t recorded them. Maybe, it is easier for us to paint the world in black and white, Good and Evil.

So now, let’s make this practical.

Who is a person you dislike a lot, or even hate?

Would you be open to seeing one thing they said or one action they did that was actually good, wise or beneficial?

If so, what is the wisdom or the gift in their action or sentence, or way of thinking?

9) “Toujours aller au bout du bout du bout des choses.”
“Always go to the end of the end of the end of things.”

Precious advice. Michel was a firm advocate of going all the way to the end. Go as far as you can: “To infinity, and beyond”, as Buzz Lightyear said in Toy Story.

As a trainer, Michel would challenge his trainees to the end of their thought process, to show them sometimes how their thinking got in the way of their performance and skill development. For instance, he told me how he used to walk in a hypermarket in France, with the management team who was training with him. He would visit one section, and notice how dirty it was on the floor. He would question the trainees about the importance of cleanliness, and lecture them about the importance of this standard, and maintaining high standards. Then, he would say:

“When I come back this afternoon, I want this floor to be clean [he emphasized on this word and marked a pause]. And I mean “eat-off-the-floor” clean.

The trainees would agree, and when Michel returned in the afternoon, he would pick up a tart in the pastries section, and lift it out of its box. He would put it on the floor and ask the trainees: “Are you willing to eat it?”

What strikes me the most was Michel’s commitment to communicating effectively and directly, and using unorthodox ways of proceeding in one’s teachings. Trainees knew about Michel’s reputation,  and when he entered a section, he would notice staff people scurrying to make the sections impeccable. This reminds me of an imposing army general inspecting the troops and the materiel.

Yes,  I agree, today, things could be done differently to empower people without using techniques which can be perceived as humiliating. Again, this was done in the 80’s and 90’s. But the point is to remember:

How far are you willing to go to make your point clear?

How far are you willing to challenge other people, and hold them accountable to what they commit to?

How far are you willing to go to fulfil your Life Mission?

10) “Former sans ennuyer.”
“Training without boring”

Have you ever sat in a training session where you wished that it was over five minutes after it started?

Actually, have you ever sat in a training or in a coaching session where you felt so captivated, that you felt that it was designed just for you? Where you wished that it continued forever, and you didn’t see the time pass?

I have sat in both:

I have been in a training conducted in an organization I was working for, which had the potential to be of interest to me: a personality type tool training. But I felt bored and thought that I would never use that tool nor recommend it to anybody in my life. This training lasted for two days.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, I have sat with Rich Litvin, and 10 other coaches, where Rich coached us for 3 days in a row, in Santa Monica, California.

Yes, after 3 days, I felt so full(filled), that I was glad that it ended, because I had so much work to do to transform my insights into action. But during the 3 days, I was full on. I was absorbing every piece of information and insight I could. I leaned into my edge. I played full out. I took 7 pages of notes. I connected deeply with other fellow world-class coaches. In fact, this transformational space was so important to me that I had been having it on my mind for 1 year or more. During that time, I prepared myself by writing down everything I would want to get from this event, for that to be worth the $5000 I invested (that was the most money I had ever invested in my coaching business, outside of my Integral Associate Coach certification). Rich and his amazing Event-Planner Wendy made that worth several times the investment. In fact, in the afternoon of the first day, I felt that I had an experience and insights already worth my investment.

What Rich and Wendy had created, was exactly what Michel called:

“Former sans ennuyer”.

Training (or today, coaching), without boring.

Michel used all sorts of props in his trainings, to make them entertaining, fun and challenging. He designed games specially for his trainees, to teach them about time management, team work, leadership, communication, and other important organization skills.

Michel showed me how to design training sessions where the trainees painted, and drew. We had lovely time where they had time for themselves, lying on their bellies on the floor, drawing like children, with classical music playing (Michel gave me a lovely playlist of music and I expanded it for each occasion: concentration, dynamism, challenge, victory, …).

He also created training booklets with very little text, so the trainees would have a lot of space to take notes, and draw.

His trainings were memorable, and people deeply appreciated them.

After a training I delivered, in Iraq, I remember one of the participants. He was Kurdish, and was one of the high performers of the group. He came to me at the end of the 2 or 3 days, and said:

“Thank you so much for giving me what even my father could not give me.”

I felt touched, deeply at my core.

I had become a Missionary too, without knowing.

This is the power of training, and coaching.


Michel was a mentor to me.

On October 6, 2015, the day before a workshop we were about to give together, with a team of 15 facilitators at ESSEC Business School. We had dinner together in a restaurant, and Michel passed away during the night, at peace in his bed, before he could meet his students the next day.

Yet, his spirit has inspired so much of this workshop, and stays with me every day. Thanks to Michel, his pedagogy, and his training, I created the Productive Behaviours workshop at ESSEC Business School, so that promising students didn’t have to wait 10-20 years to get great training in Soft Skills. This highly dynamic, fun, and contents-rich workshop has planted positive seeds for thousands of students in 11 business schools.

Michel, I am so grateful for everything that you have taught me and given me, thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

Michel, surrounded by his right arm (me, back in the day), and two organizers of a Financial Controller convention.
Aye Aye Captain !

If you would like to learn more on Management and Leadership through humour and provocative thinking from Michel Vallier, read his book in French, Confidences d’un Manager or visit his blog, in French as well.

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