You are a mentor and are being mentored every day – Part 2

In my last post I discussed how we came to use the word mentor to mean a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.  It originated with the Greek classic The Odyssey where Mentor was a man whom the king appointed to protect and counsel his family while he was away at war.

Through that story we saw that until Mentor was filled with wisdom, he fell far short of his role as protector and counselor.

If you are a mentor to someone else, how can you be sure you are giving wise counsel?

If you have a mentor, how can you be sure you are receiving wise counsel?

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You are a mentor and are being mentored every day

What is a mentor? I looked up the word on and found a definition of a mentor that makes perfect sense: A mentor is a “wise and trusted counselor or teacher.”

I found another rather strange definition of a mentor on the Miriam Webster site: Mentor was a “friend of Odysseus entrusted with the education of Odysseus’ son Telemachus”

The name Mentor refers to a man from the Greek classic The Odyssey.  In this story, Mentor is described as “The close companion to whom Odysseus, when he set forth, had entrusted his family, and charged to keep all safe till his return.” The king had “set forth” to fight the Trojan War and left behind his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus.

Since we now use the name Mentor to describe “a wise and trusted counselor or teacher” you could assume that Mentor did a tremendous job in protecting and guiding young Telemachus – Let’s see.

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The Cycle of Leadership: Give to Receive

There is a cycle to energy.  It can’t be created or destroyed; it simply changes forms.  According to The Law of Conservation of Energy, potential energy can be converted to kinetic energy, which can be converted to thermal energy, but the original energy remains.

There is a cycle to water.  The limited amount of water continuously cycles through its various forms: evaporation, condensation, and precipitation


There is also a cycle to Successful leadership:  Give that which you have received and open the pathway to receive even more.

It’s now part of everyday knowledge that Steve Jobs received the idea for the computer mouse at a visit to Xerox labs. He gave that idea to the world through the Apple Macintosh, and the mouse became part of every computer.  The mouse lasted until the cycle of inspiration came around and the world received the touch screen in the iPhone and iPad.

The successful leader will teach, speak and write about the leadership lessons they know and receive so that they can be part of the cycle of leadership.

Look for ways to pass on knowledge as fast you can and as fast as your audience can receive.  Trust me, you will receive more than you can imagine in return.

Now Is The Time To Share What You Know

Each year I get together with about one hundred leaders from around the world to be mentored by John Maxwell over several days.

John and his team take us places we might never see on our own, where we learn about leadership from the best. This year was Boston’s Fenway Park where we talked with Hall of Fame Red Sox great Jim Rice.

Along with lessons on leadership from Jim Rice, we all took batting practice and had the chance to shag fly balls in the outfield.

Jim told us how he was mentored as a ball player throughout his life. He honed his athletic ability in his neighborhood growing up with older kids where he learned how to work hard to be better every day. The art of catching a fly ball off the Green Monster came from Carl Yastrzemski when Jim was a rookie. Ted Williams showed him how to hit out of a slump before Rice was in a slump.

He then showed all one hundred of us how to swing the bat to ensure a single the way Ted Williams taught him. Wow, batting lessons from a hall of famer – it doesn’t get better than that.

Jim Rice taught me that sharing what you know with others is best done before they need to use your knowledge.

Those who have learned from past mistakes—their own or others’—are better prepared to lead than those who have never experienced mistakes at all.


(Photo credit: elycefeliz)

Fred Brooks, the man who managed the development of IBM’s System/360 family of computers knows a thing or two about good judgment, he wrote the book on it. Brooks wrote about his experiences managing systems development at IBM in the book The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering.

The book coined what is known as “Brook’s law,” which states that “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.” Brooks discovered this law when he himself added more programmers to a project falling behind schedule, then concluded that it delayed the project even further. Using this and other examples of what he learned in his career, Brooks is quoted as saying, “Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.”

What are you doing to prepare yourself for leadership?  Making some mistakes on your own is inevitable and one way to learn; but learning from the mistakes of others is the easier route.  Are you reading books?  Do you have a mentor?

To be the best, Invest more than the rest. Are you investing in yourself? Are you continuously growing in knowledge and wisdom?

As a leader, you owe it to your team to run the race just as fast, if not faster, than they are.

I attend conferences all over the country to hear from the best.  I recently attended a conference in San Diego where I had the pleasure of hearing great leaders fill me with their wisdom. Leaders like Les Brown, Sharon Lechter, Gene Landrum, Frank Shankwitz, and others, all spoke from their experience.

We were in a packed room sitting close enough that I could see each of these special teachers in their seats before and after their time to speak.  As I was busy taking pages of notes, I could see out of the corner of my eye that each of them was taking just as many notes as I was.  At one point Gene Landrum asked the people at my table if anyone had more paper so he could continue taking notes.

Along with the knowledge I gained from each leader, I learned a life lesson that day:

No matter how much you know; there is always room to grow!

Denis Waitley said, “All of the top achievers are life-long learners…Looking for new skills, insights, and ideas.  If they’re not learning, they’re not growing…not moving toward excellence.”

As a leader, you owe it to your team to run the race just as fast, if not faster, than they are.

What have you done today to invest in yourself?  What will you do tomorrow, the next day…How are you continuously growing in knowledge and wisdom?

The Anam Cara – Friend of the Soul

My family and I went to an Irish goods store over the weekend.  As I skimmed through limerick books, I was reminded of the many stories my Irish Grandmother told.  I bought a book titled Anam Cara, a Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue.  The name comes from the early Celtic tradition of a person who acts as a teacher and guide; that person was called the Anam Cara, or friend of the soul.  The book has many fables that teach Celtic lessons on various aspects of life.  One fable called “The King and the Beggar’s Gift” taught that difficult situations are often disguised opportunities for growth.

As I am reading Anam Cara, I am reminded of one of American History’s most famous leaders, Abraham Lincoln.  It is said that among his favorite books growing up were the Bible, Aesop’s Fables and The Pilgrim’s Progress.  Each one of these great books taught its lessons through parables, fables and allegories.

We know that Abraham Lincoln was a great story-teller. He often disarmed a crowd or an adversary with a folksy tale in which they could see themselves and understand his point of view.

As a leader, you are your team’s teacher and guide.  If you want to be their friend of the soul, their Anam Cara, you have to connect with them personally.   Following the path of great leaders before us, I recommend using parables, fables, or allegories to teach and guide.  Nothing gets to the heart like a well told story.

The Journey of Successful Leadership

Early in my career I thought there would be a point where I could officially call myself a successful leader.  Read one more book, attend one more seminar, or learn from one more mentor and I would know everything.  If I could develop one more team I would have experienced everything.  I have long since realized that leadership is not a destination but a life long journey.

One of my current mentors says, “From this point forward you will go so far, it will take binoculars to see where you started.”  Imagine that, after twenty five years I still have exciting journeys in front of me.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery a French aviator and the author said, “If you want to build a ship, don’t herd people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

On your Journey of Successful Leadership, don’t settle for just what you learned today; long for the endless pursuit of knowledge and wisdom.

If You Want To Love What You Do, Then Do What You Love

In a team mentoring session I was asked this question, “You have been leading teams and mentoring people for over twenty five years.  How do you keep it fresh and exciting, how do you stay engaged?”

I answered the question with a sales strategy; focus on the benefit, not the feature.  Here’s how it works: If I were selling picture hooks, the features could be the weight each hook can support, or the number of hooks in the package.  But as a customer when you go to the hardware store to buy a picture hook, you are not just buying a picture hook.  You are actually buying the feeling you will get each time you pass the picture of your children hanging on the wall in your family room; that’s the benefit.

I view leadership the same way.  I focus each day on the benefits not the features.  Here’s how this works:  Some may view leadership as successfully completing projects using people’s strengths; that’s the feature.  I view leadership as successfully developing people who use their strengths to complete projects, and that’s the benefit.

The successful completion of projects brings short-term rewards, but when you build people, you have an everlasting accomplishment.  Each day in everything I do I am not just completing projects, I am changing lives.  I love what I do.

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