Do you remember who your mentors were? Do you currently have a mentor? Is there someone in your organization whose actions and words have a real impact on how you live your life, perform your job and think about your future? If you do, whether you or they know it or not, they are mentoring you. Or, you may be mentoring them. Of course it is much more effective if it is done in the conscious state and both of you acknowledge your independent obligations to the process.
Regardless, today mentoring is becoming more popular within organizations as an effective leadership tool for both the mentor and the recipient.
Impact on Lives
How much have mentors impacted your life? How are they currently helping you or how much are you currently helping others as a mentor? I remembered a former BOSS who was really nasty to me early on in my career and I clearly remember him screaming at me loudly in front of a bunch of other workers. I was just an inside sales person at the time but his words cut deeply. “You'll never get promoted to outside sales until you learn to pull your head out of your ---!”
I probably did something to deserve some kind of comment but not in public. Funny, I have no idea now exactly what I did to deserve his reprimand but I can still hear his words clearly in my mind as if it were yesterday. The loudness of his voice, the tremor in the tone and the disgusting look on his face just seem to be burnt into my brain. Thank goodness I didn't believe him, and went on to become a top performing salesperson and then sales manager after he was fired. But, his words still had an impact. I often shared that experience with employees of my own company as a way of challenging them to become better leaders. He was a perfect example of what a mentor isn’t.
Of course, I also remember just as clearly those mentors in my life that have had a very positive impact on my leadership model.
I am sometimes described as, “A person that doesn’t pull punches but once you begin to work with him, he is dedicated to helping you succeed and become all that you can become.”
That describes my personal “Servant Type” leadership model. Recently, out of the blue, I received a phone call from someone I haven’t seen or heard from in over 15 years. I was in total shock because it seems the sole reason this person called was to say thanks for the way I treated them over 15 years ago. He actually gave me credit for being part of his success in becoming a high level executive at a multi million dollar corporation.
I told my wife Tracy about the phone call and repeated every word he said to me. I felt proud; everybody has an ego. It really made me feel good and I was walking on cloud nine. Then I started feeling bad. I began to think of at least five specific mentors in my life that I should really acknowledge and give credit to. In fact there is currently one that I am modeling that really has no idea that I admire and look up to him and his business model, integrity and ethics.
So, why did these thoughts make me feel bad? Four of the five mentors that have had a dramatic impact on my success and my career have since passed on from this life. The sad part is I don’t know if they ever realized how important they were to me. I don’t think I ever said thank you.
These mentors made a big difference. I was a kid that grew up on the streets, ran in a gang, had no father figure and walked a fine line that could have led to disaster and even prison. One of those mentors was a Sergeant of mine in the Air Force, another was a fireman that volunteered at the Boy’s Club of Toledo, Ohio, when I was just 10 years old and the other three were at various companies I have worked for along the way.
Stop and Think
Someone very close to me (Tracy) reminded me of what I often talk about in leadership seminars: It is never being too late to change, to finish college and to make a difference. So I actually picked up the phone and called that former mentor that is still alive. He is 82 years old now and still as intelligent and impressive as he was when he was 60 and taught me about leadership.
He answered the phone and was in shock because he hadn’t heard or seen me in over 20 years.
I asked him, “What is the neatest thing about retirement and living into your 80s?”
He replied, “I can’t really say what the neatest thing about retirement is but I can tell you that I really miss the weekends because everyday is a weekend.”
He was thrilled to hear from me and I was thrilled to have a conversation that lasted more than an hour.
I wanted to tell this story to remind everyone that being a mentor is a primary responsibility of being a leader. If you are currently mentoring someone, remember you can have a dramatic impact on their life. If you are being mentored, don’t be afraid to say thank you every once in awhile.
I also want to challenge all executives and leaders that are successful today to think about the mentors in your past.
Pick up the phone, call them and say thank you. Let them know they deserve at least part of the credit for your success. You’ll be very glad you did.
Dr. Rick Johnson is the founder of CEO Strategist and a veteran of the wholesale distribution industry with more than 30 years of executive management experience. To learn more or to arrage to have him speak to your company, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.