The importance of having mentors throughout your lifetime – not just as a young adult

The importance of having mentors throughout your lifetime – not just as a young adult

I was in my early-to-mid 30’s when I was trusted with the top spot for IT in my former employer, a healthcare system, and I was 38 when I was named vice president for my current health system. 

I worked hard to earn this position, came up quick, and still have a lot of learning and growing to do. The journey will never be done, and I still make and learn from mistakes all the time.

The biggest influence on my career has been the relationships I’ve had with friends and mentors. These key relationships have helped me avoid having to learn things in a harder way than I need to, at times. The steep learning curve of leadership never goes away. Through friendship and mentors, you canflatten the curve a little, but learning through experience is still required.

Many of my mentor relationships become friendships,and I am now proud to call each of these folks I’ll share with you today my friends.

Mr. T

Mr. T was the first mentor I ever had. He was the partner of a patient I had when I was a home health professional many years ago. As a storied professional who changed his career from the performing arts to an extremely prominent international IT group, he took an interest in me. This really impacted my life as I was someone who came up with little and didn’t think I’d accomplish very much at that point in my life.

His biggest lesson was to value yourself first or else no one around you will value you.

I really struggled to believe in myself, I didn’t think I gave value to others or even brought value to myself. Mr. T saw value in me, would pay me more than I asked for when he gave me side work, and would constantly coach me to see potential in myself.

Without him, I would have never started my business,and I likely wouldn’t have applied for a spot at my previous health system; thus, a host of dominoes in my life would have potentially fallen differently. 

Though he doesn’t think he did much, he taught me that my past doesn’t determine my future. Mr. T has since retired and is again influencing others in the performing arts. He proves to me that you write your own story, you don’t let others write it for you.

E., the forever teacher 

E. was the head of IT for my former health system before he handed me the reigns just before he retired. We spent hours talking about leadership and life, and still do to this day. He frequently gave me projects to move forward without a title to make it happen, instead challenging me to make people want to complete them.

His biggest lesson was to learn how to lead without a title so that you can use influence over authority. Authority is easy, while influence brings intrinsic effort. I have recently had to relearn this after using authority to make it through COVID-19, because influence is always better.

E. is at our house every Christmas, and we talk almost weekly during my commute home. I see him as my family, and my kids know him. This man has become like a father to me and his advice has guided my life.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have learned from him for so long.

C., the learning listener.

My time with C. was short, but I learned a lot from her. On the rare occasion we talk, I still get a lot from her. She would do coffee clutches with me in the morning at my former health system. Once a week we’d sit down and talk about a life, work, or a professional development topic. Sometimes we’d hit all three and more. I sought that from her and she gave that time to me freely.

Her biggest lesson was to observe more, slow down and think, and not feel pressure to respond in the moment, but to understand and always improve on a plan until it was right. Giving up is failure, but the things you try while getting to completion – that’s learning.

We still talk on occasion, but C. is out there in her own health system trying to do good and influence the leaders where she is. When I try to help others and hear their struggles, I most often try to emulate her.

D, the logic leader.

D. would interweave psychology into leadership. Strangely enough, his lessons were the least structured of all of my mentor relationships. What’s strange about that is he was likely the most structured person of them all. I have met D. on phone calls, in coffee shops, Mexican restaurants, and bars. 

His biggest lesson – always look to the why in a situation. 

Behind anger is fear, and behind fear is uncertainty. If you encounter an angry leader, find the uncertainty. They aren’t always going to tell you what’s wrong – they won’t always know themselves. Sometimes to solve it, you have to seek that out.

D. now teaches leaders process improvement at multiple organizations. He’s helping many and he chooses who he helps. One of his best lessons was to look for the common thread in people to help draw disparity together. 

I’m thankful every time he gives me a nugget he typically charges people for.

Final thoughts:

I keep this sticker on the frame of my office door; it says, “have faith.” I look at that sticker a lot. In addition to these wonderful people and what they give to me, there are so many more. 

There are so many tremendous things we’ve all been blessed with, but you have to choose to see it and learn from it.

This stuff is all about perspective.

The best advice I can give you, and myself, is to count your blessings each and every day, to admit to yourself and others that you make mistakes, and to give yourself grace if you are working to improve. 

The lessons I’ve taken away from my mentors are as such: 

  1. Value yourself enough to not give up 
  2. Learn what it’ll take to influence change
  3. Slow down, think about what you see, and always work on improvement; never give up on finding a solution
  4. Remember that behind anger is fear, behind fear is uncertainty – knowing the why will always help you help others - that's what leadership is (opinion)

See the good and let that help you be the good for someone who needs it.