Mentors: Fixing the disconnect

Haven’t we all experienced the disconnect when someone that we know is a poor leader posts something about leadership online?  Or, in a conversation, they quote some leadership maxim as though as though they own it?  I am always amazed at the leaders who talk leadership, read and share leadership but are horrible leaders.  They read leadership books.  They quote magazine articles on leadership.  They post leadership quotes.  

But they are poor leaders. 

Their people remain undeveloped and never reach their potential.  Their companies don’t produce better people and superior service or products.  

These people talk leadership but don’t walk it.

What is the problem?  In my estimation, they lack true mentors.  

They lack the kinds of relationships that require personal openness and evaluation of their strengths and their weaknesses.  These kinds of relationships can sound scary. There must be a real desire to work on areas of weakness under someone else’s tutelage. 

These kinds of relationships can sound scary but the payoff is HUGE.

Studies tell us that leaders that accomplish great things and finish well all have one thing in common; they have all had great mentors in their lives.  According to Ron Lee David, the one most common characteristic in Nobel winners lives is that they were influenced by, and mentored by, someone else who had won a Nobel.  

So, mentors are good for us.  But how do we get them? 

Years ago, I remember meeting the Sr. VP of a very large international corporation in our city.  I knew that he managed millions of dollars and a very large work force that included a dozen or more VP’s that reported directly to him.  At that time our church only consisted of a few hundred people, and I was overwhelmed with the responsibility.  I couldn’t imagine managing all the resources that he directed here and abroad without living totally insane.  

It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.  I asked to meet with him and asked if he would give me some time and let me probe him about how he managed.  Would he give me a lunch hour?  Would he give me two lunch hours?  Three?  Would he consider more?  I would be grateful for anything he would give.  I also made it clear that anytime he would meet with me over lunch, it was on me!  

His response pleasantly surprised me.  He said that the moment we met, he knew I was being sent into his life to mentor him.  ME MENTOR HIM?  “I can teach you a lot about leadership and administration, David, but there are a lot of things about relationships that you can teach me.  Come to my office every Wednesday, my secretary will have a lunch waiting for us.”

“And,” he said, “I am paying, I insist!”

That executive met with me for about a year.  We enjoyed each other.  He examined my life and habits and I his.  When the time was up we both moved on.  We both were larger for our commitment.  

How do we get these kind of mentors? 



Just ask them.

Find someone who handles their money exceptionally well, and ask them to coach you in that area.

Find someone who has the kind of marriage you admire and ask them to coach you in being a good marriage partner.

Find someone who is a great public speaker and ask them to coach you in public speaking.

Find someone who knows how to invest money in the stock market and ask them to coach you.

Find someone who you admire in the way they parent their kids and ask them for some time.

Find someone who communes closely with God in prayer and ask them to teach you.

ASK someone to monitor your attitude and be honest with you.

ASK someone to monitor your calendar and be honest with you.

ASK someone to examine your parenting style and be honest with you.  

ASK someone to examine your business and be honest with you.

ASK someone to be real with you about your needed growth areas.

I have had mentors help me learn to read P&L and Balance sheets.

I have had mentors help me learn basic accounting.

I have had mentors help me learn parenting skills.

I have had wonderful mentors coach me in leadership.

I have had mentors coach me in administration.

I have had great mentors show me the path to God in prayer.

John Maxwell defines mentoring as "A willingness to pour our life into another person and share our life with them. A desire to live for the next generation.”

John Crosby's definition: "A brain to pick, a shoulder to cry on and a kick in the pants." 

How To Get Great Mentors:

Step one:  Make the quality decision to incorporate mentors into your life.

Step two:  Look for the mentors to show up in your life.

Step three: ASK them for some time.