What is a mentor?
The term “mentor” has become popular in recent years, although it has been a concept forever. There are countless examples of business, political, religious, and sports leaders who credit their success to their “mentor” or, like I (Tom) like to say, their “coach.” As I’ve reflected on my own life, I have realized that I’ve been blessed with more than my share of coaches.
What are the benefits of a mentor? To us, a mentor is a role model who is someone further along in life than you. The mentor may provide values, skills, techniques, and possibly a network. Most of all, a great mentor tells you things you may not want to hear. Early in my career, one of my mentors suggested I improve my grammar. Instead of using the phrase “constructive criticism,” or “weaknesses,” another mentor emphasized personal and/or professional development. Maybe a rhetorical question you could ask yourself is: Am I a better person because of a mentor?
I’ve been fortunate to have many great mentors over the years, including my dad, my Uncle Pete (Wesley C. Carlos, a successful high school football coach), Coach Bob (my high school wrestling coach), Frank Moran (founder and managing partner of Plante Moran), and Ken Kunkel (my Plante Moran team partner who is still mentoring me today). In addition, I’ve identified close to 20 others who I would say have had a meaningful impact on my life.
As we meet with executives, we’re shocked by how many would say they’ve never had a mentor. This got us thinking and asking ourselves, Why do we have so many and others have none? Is it a matter of pure luck? Last September we posted a newsletter addressing that subject, entitled, What’s luck got to do with it?.
Is it possible we have potential mentors all around us, and that maybe we’re the ones who need to take the first step?
As we reflected more, we thought about the great advice we’ve received from so many “peers” — even those who are “junior” to us. So maybe the real question is: Are you an island? Are you the Marlboro man? (For our younger readers, the Marlboro man was the image of a self-sufficient man who could do it himself; a true loner.)