The Importance of a Mentor

I’ve admittedly been very fortunate to receive an excellent education. Sometimes I took advantage of the excellent opportunities to learn and sometimes I didn’t. I suppose I wasn’t that different than most students; I did better at subjects I liked and not as good at the ones I didn’t. 

My education made it possible for me to make a living. It didn’t really do much to help me make a life. 

Making a life required a whole different level of education. A level that can only come from a mentor. As fortunate as I was to have a formal education, I have been, throughout my life, blessed to have excellent mentors. 

Knowing what I know now, if my younger self had to choose between a formal education or a series of outstanding mentors I’d go with the mentors every time. That’s because working to make a living often doesn’t open a door to making a life. However, working to make a life often opens the door to earning a living. 

You can make resolutions forever and accomplish nothing. You can set squishy goals and mushy plans til the end of time and they will lead to nowhere land. Or…

You can get serious about building the life that was meant for you. The first step in that process is getting yourself a mentor. A good mentor. A mentor who cares about you. A mentor who cares so much that they will be honest with you. Even when it hurts. 

As you begin your search for  mentor here are a few things to keep in mind.

Your mentor should be enthusiastic about being a mentor. They should be passionate about helping others, namely you. The reward they seek should be in seeing you grow and become successful. Don’t attempt to drag someone into a mentoring role, if they aren’t all in from the beginning it’s likely they will never be all in for you. 

A good mentor should help lead you where you want and need to go. They should align with your needs, your desires and your talents. They should not push you to be a clone of themselves. They should be focused on helping you be the best version of yourself. 

A good mentor will push you out of your comfort zone. They know that “comfortable” is the enemy of growth. They will encourage you to try new things, to experiment and even to fail. 

Your mentor will need to know you, maybe even better than you know yourself. That means they will be an excellent listener. They will not allow themselves to be distracted when listening to you and they won’t be afraid of a little silence while they are considering what you’ve said. 

Good mentors provide great feedback. They “tell it like it is.” They may not always provide you with the feedback you were hoping for but that’s actually a sign of a mentor who cares. 

The best mentors I’ve had in my life seldom told me straight out I was wrong. They asked question after question to open my eyes so that I could see I was wrong without being told. Those were the “lessons” that really stuck with me. 

When you’re mentor “shopping” look for a person with those traits and abilities. When you find one ASK them about their willingness to mentor you. Ask if they would be willing to help you grow into the person you’re capable of becoming. 

You may be able to go it alone but you are FAR more likely to reach your full potential if you have a little help along the way. 

Mentoring Future Leaders

Here’s a little secret most consultants, especially those who “teach” leadership, don’t want you to know. 

Leadership cannot be taught, it must be experienced. 

You can teach people about the various characteristics of effective leaders. You can teach them about personality types and how that determines a person’s response to different leadership styles. You can teach them about those different leadership styles and when to apply them. 

You can and should teach them all of that. But you can’t actually teach them to use any of it. They must see that knowledge in action and they must experience what it feels like when they are led. 

That’s why one of the most important parts of any future leadership development program has to involve the current leadership. Every leader, every single leader in an organization must be involved in mentoring the organization’s future leaders. 

Every senior level leader should be mentoring a mid-level leader. Every mid-level leader should be mentoring an entry level leader. Yes, that means people being mentored are also mentoring others. That all assumes of course that the leadership mentors are indeed effective Authentic Leaders. Assigning a poor leader as a mentor might actually be worse than letting a new leader figure it out for themselves. 

If you think you can send a person to some leadership classes and then sit back and watch them lead then you need to seriously reconsider your thinking. You can learn about leadership in a classroom but you only learn to lead by seeing and experiencing leadership in action.

Most people lead the way they were led. A great leadership class or even a lengthy leadership program doesn’t do much to change that. That’s a shame but it’s also reality. If a person was led by poor leaders throughout their careers then it’s very likely they will be a poor leader themselves. That’s because their “model” of leadership was poor. 

People learn about driving in a classroom but they learn to drive by driving. You can’t learn to fly without a plane and you can’t learn to swim without water. Why anyone would think you can learn to lead without actually leading is beyond my ability to comprehend.

If you want to develop future leaders then allow them the opportunity to lead while being mentored by a proven Authentic Leader. Any other type of leadership “training” will miss the mark. 

Leadership Slippage

I recently received a call from a very effective sales leader. He was frustrated with the recent performance of his sales team and wanted to talk about a couple of his people in particular. I asked how many of his people he thought were underperforming and he said that actually all of them were but some were doing worse than others. 

I asked him what he thought was going on and he said he wasn’t sure. That’s what he wanted to talk to me about. He was surprised when I said that while I didn’t know exactly where the team went off the rails I was pretty sure I knew the source of the problem. 

I’m thinking he wasn’t too happy when I told him that he was the likely source. 

As with most sales leaders he has always accepted part of the credit for his team’s success. But it must worth both ways. If you’re a sales leader the first place you should look if all or most of your team is underperforming is in the mirror. 

Think if it this way. There is only one thing all your salespeople definitely have in common. Your salespeople are all unique individuals. Depending on the structure of the sales organization they may even sell different products to different markets.

The sales leader is the one thing they definitely have in common. That’s why when an entire sales team is slipping I look at the leader. 

I asked him what HE was doing differently. He said he was doing what he always had. He hadn’t changed and neither had the level of leadership he provided to his team. So we started talking back and forth and I eventually asked about his conversations with his team. He said he had asked several members of his team where they were struggling. He asked about specific customers and where in the sales process they were with particular prospects. 

He said that only added to his frustration because they didn’t seem to know. 

I stopped him cold when I asked him, “when did YOU start accepting ‘I don’t know’ as an acceptable answer?” I pushed my point by asking him when he had stopped holding his team accountable for knowing every detail about their territory and their customers. 

He said he didn’t realize that he had. 

That is an incredibly common mistake among all leaders. Leaders have the same ability to slip into bad habits as the people they lead. Authentic Leaders encourage their people to analyze their own performance from time to time but forget that they must do the same. 

When was the last time you paused to ask yourself the following questions? What’s working for you? What’s not working? What good habit have you let slip away? Have you replaced it with a bad habit? What circumstances have changed that you have not adjusted to? How have you positively impacted the people you lead in the last 30 days? 

It’s human nature for some slippage in performance to happen from time to time. That’s where having a coach or a mentor can really come in handy. They can help you identify the slippage before it becomes a problem. If you’re not willing to ask yourself those questions a caring mentor will. 

What many people in Leadership positions don’t realize is that slippage can happen to them as well as their people. That’s why leaders need mentors too. I’ve never met anyone, regardless of age, experience, or level of success who didn’t benefit from having a coach or a mentor. 

Has your level of leadership slipped lately? Slipping into occasional bad habits doesn’t make you a weak leader, it makes you a human being. Being human is a pretty darn good thing to be, especially when you’re trying to lead other humans.

Your Best Coach

I write from time to time on the importance of having a coach or a mentor. The best mentors show you what to do and how to do it. They don’t do it for you.

At some point all successful people did something to make themselves a success. They likely had a coach or mentor but they had to make the effort to act on the advice they received. THEY HAD TO ACT THEMSELVES!

Taking action to accomplish something requires a whole different kind of coach. It requires a “self-coach.” That would be you!

At some point you must push yourself. You must accept responsibility for your actions and decisions. What you’re taught can’t help you if you don’t apply it. The best advice in the world falls flat if you don’t use it.

If you do nothing then nothing is exactly what you should expect in return.

If you’re a good self-coach then you’re setting goals for yourself. Long-term, medium-term goals and short-term goals. Those short-term goals can be daily or even hourly. As an excellent self-coach you turn large, seemingly insurmountable tasks into a series of smaller tasks that you can accomplish on a daily or weekly basis.

That old city in Italy wasn’t built in a day and neither is long-term success. Doing a little each day will most definitely help you achieve a lot over time.

That’s the best thing about being/having a great self-coach…they are with you every day, all day.

The challenge with your self-coach, or your inner-coach, or whatever you want to call it, is the same as it is with a mentor or outside coach. You MUST listen to their advice and then act on it.

A single pound of action is worth more than a ton of good intentions. One thing highly successful people have in common with less successful people is that they both have good intentions. What most often separates the highly successful people from the less successful is that the most successful people act on those intentions.

So follow this coaches advice and ACT!

Do You Have the Time to Lead?

I consistently hear leaders, or perhaps I should say people in leadership positions, say that they cannot afford the time required to mentor, coach and develop their people. They are too “busy” doing other things. 

 

These types of leaders frequently say that their people are their organization’s greatest asset. Watch them for a week however and you would see almost no evidence to backup that statement.

 

Leaders who believe they cannot afford the time to develop their people miss the fact that the primary responsibility of leadership is building people. 

 

Leaders don’t lead companies, they lead the people who make up the company. Leaders don’t lead budgets, they lead the people who manage the budget. Leaders don’t lead plans, they lead the people who follow the plans. 

 

Everything in an organization or business is managed except for the people. The people within an organization or business are responsible for every bit of that organization’s success. Those people need leadership. 

 

Authentic leaders understand that they manage things and lead people. They know that the difference between leadership and management is far more than semantics. They realize that people who feel managed will be significantly less engaged. The morale of people who feel managed will be lower then the morale of people who are led. The growth of people who are led is much greater than that of people who feel managed. In fact, people who are managed have virtually no real growth opportunities. 

 

If you’re in a leadership position and you are not investing a significant portion of your time to coach, mentor and develop the people you lead then you are missing the boat on leadership. 

 

Developing your people is not a question of having the time. It is a question of priorities. If you’ve been telling yourself that you don’t have the time to lead then perhaps your priorities are a bit off. 

 

Make developing your people the priority it needs to be and your leadership will have no end. Fail to develop your people and your leadership will have no beginning. 


The choice is yours to make. Will you choose to Lead Today?


Your Greatest Competition

I like competitive people. I like people who enjoy winning. I’d hire people who hate losing. The desire to compete creates the opportunity to succeed. 

 

While the desire to complete is key understanding who your competition is can be even more important. Successful competitors believe their competition is some other person or some other organization. The most successful competitors know that their greatest competitor is the person they see in the mirror each morning. 

 

Too many people try to be better than someone else. The most successful people worry less about other people and more about themselves. They focus on what they can control and the only thing they have complete control over is themselves. They work to be better tomorrow than they are today. They know that even if it’s only a little better that a lot of littles add up to something big. 

 

The most successful people invest in themselves to ensure consistent improvement. They read more than less successful people. They find training, not just to shore up their weak spots but to further strengthen their strengths. 

 

The most successful people have a coach or a mentor because they know a second sets of eyes, a second opinion and a second set of experiences can make a world of difference in competitive situations. 

 

To be more successful don’t worry about what someone else is doing. You have little to no control over them. Focus on yourself, focus on what you can control. Focus on making yourself a little more effective each day. 


Be better tomorrow than you were today because all those tomorrows create for you the opportunity to put distance between yourself and any competitors not named you.


The Limits of Good Mentoring

I’ve been truly blessed throughout my life to have great mentors. I knew they were great mentors because every now and then they would say “I don’t know, you should probably ask someone else.” 

 

I’ve written several times on the importance of having a mentor. No matter your age, your current level of success, your title or your position within your organization, you will do better tomorrow if you have a mentor today. What’s more you’ll be even better off if you have multiple mentors. 

 

Here’s why. 

 

One of the things that make a great mentor is that they know what they don’t know and they didn’t pretend that they know it. 

 

You can have a mentor who is a brilliant business strategist but not so capable with their people skills. You can have a managerial genius as a mentor but that doesn’t mean they are great leadership coaches. 

 

Those “gaps” don’t mean they are a bad mentor. It’s when they attempt to fill those gaps with guesses, rumors, and plain old BS that they become a poor mentor. I suppose there are mentors who do have a vast amount of knowledge across a very wide spectrum of skill sets and situations…..I just haven’t found one.

 

I’d much rather have a mentor, and much much rather be a mentor, who occasionally has the confidence to say “I just don’t know,” and “I don’t want to steer you wrong so I can’t answer that.” 

 

This may sound a bit counterintuitive but if you have a mentor that has an answer for every question and advice for every single situation then it is very likely you don’t have the right mentor for you. 

 

Having more than one mentor helps overcome the limits that all truly good mentors have. When you have multiple mentors you are more likely to have a mentor with deeper experience in the area(s) where you need help. When you have mentors who look at the same situation but view it from different angles you’re provided with a deeper understanding of what you’re dealing with and that makes a successful outcome much more likely.

 

If you don’t have a mentor today then find one today. Find someone who you feel is successful, someone who cares enough about people to share their “library of experience,” and someone who is willing to invest a part of themselves in your success. 


When you find someone with those characteristics then you have found a mentor and when you’ve found a mentor you’re that much closer to finding an even greater level of success.