It’s been said that Michael Jordan, the greatest basketball player ever, never won a championship until Phil Jackson came along. Muhammad Ali was a raw fighter when Angelo Dundee entered the picture and made him into a world champion and arguably, the greatest fighter of all time. What both of these two mega-stars had that many of us struggle to find is a great MENTOR. Mentors are absolutely crucial to your success or failure in your chosen career.
I love the game of golf and although I am nothing more than a duffer, it is a wonderful metaphor for life. You see, in golf you can get immediate and, many times brutal, feedback. As soon as the ball leaves your club, you know if you hit it good, or if it was horrible. What if we had that same feedback in life? Actually, we do, if you know where to look. It is called a good mentor. Mentors are ones who can see in us what we cannot see in ourselves. We are not the best judge of our abilities. We tend to have blind spots. Having a great mentor allows us to evaluate our skills and to see our blind spots in hopes of offering us a plan for improvement.
During my career, I have sought mentors many times. I was always taught the value of mentorship from an early age. I have learned that whatever your responsibilities, you can learn from those with more experience. When I was a young police officer, I sponged as much knowledge from the more veteran officers as I could. I saw how they were able to handle people with their communication skills. I saw how they comforted the weak and the young and bought groceries or gas for those who were less fortunate…and never wanted to be recognized. As I started to grow into my own as a leader, I surrounded myself with people who were always smarter than me. I figured, if I hung around people who were smarter or better leaders, I would see how they handle things and dealt with the stresses of everyday life. I read one time a quote that said, “Mentors are not there to make us happy. They are there to guide us to the best of their knowledge.”
Before looking for a leadership mentor, you need to understand how to use them to grow. You need to have figured out your leadership needs. Once you know your goals, you can make the most of the time with your mentor. However, we must also be open to changing our goals as we uncover more opportunities for growth. To end with another golf analogy, golf looks really easy, after all it is just hitting a round ball, which is sitting perfectly still, with a big stick. Life is exactly the same way. We tend to make things much more difficult than they really are. After all, everyone else is doing it and it looks so simple. But, to be truly successful like the pros, we need someone to teach and coach us along the way.
Region III Leadership Fellow