Mentorship: The Best Education

Within the last two weeks I said goodbye to a great friend, and mentor. Gabe was in the prime of his life; a world traveler, a respected entrepreneur and a compassionate human being. Am still processing his passing, and it’s surreal scrolling through the many text messages we sent to each other.  Gabe had very strong opinions, and many ingrained habits and principles. Some I wholeheartedly agreed with, and others I simply respected. He had an impact on my life, without a doubt. I was lucky enough to spend a day with him prior to his passing, and I told him how much he meant to me.

This sad moment also provided a time for contemplation about all the people who’ve been my mentors over the years (whether they knew it or not). When I visualize a timeline of my life, there are certain ‘eras’, and during those times there was always at least one person who I looked up to, and in turn provided both direct and indirect feedback, this feedback changed everything. In fact, I kind of feel like Forrest Gump sometimes, for being so lucky to connect and learn from such a dynamic group of individuals. The great thing about mentors is that they are normally connected to a role or activity your involved with during certain segments of your life. In order words, they not only can provide parts of the ‘operating system’ for navigating your way through life (the strategic), they will most likely impart practical and tactical knowledge that can catapult you in your career or another pursuit. The added advantage of mentors is it normally does require any direct cost. Mentors are the form of education with the highest return on investment.

In the whirlwind of business, it’s easy to forget the importance of quality mentoring with respect to employee development. The mentors are, naturally, being pulled in a million directions. The ‘mentees’ who can most benefit from mentorship are being thrown into the deep end, sometimes without a life jacket. I don’t want to generalize, as I know there are many companies doing a fantastic job with formal mentoring programs. However, they are the exception, not the rule. More companies need to stop giving lip service to the word ‘mentorship’. Stop paying a third party to do something you can better internally, with an emotional connection like no other.

If you’re successful in life or business, some part (small or large) of your success can be linked directly to a little bit of luck, and a connection to some person (or persons) that changed the direction of the arrow on your compass. Conversely, the probability is high that there is someone in your work or life bubble that admires you, and could benefit significantly from just a little bit more of your time. Give them that time, the return on investment doesn’t just accrue to them – it comes back to you.

For a great summer read, and to put the importance of mentors in proper context, I highly recommend the book HillBilly Elegy, by JD Vance. In summary, this book not only provides insight into the strength and enduring nature of ingrained cultural norms and habits (the good and the bad), it also reinforces the significance of mentors in changing the course of peoples lives, and future generations. The author’s ‘Mamaw’ was that person. Mamaw didn’t just change the course of author’s life, she changed the lives of his children, grandchildren etc. That’s my kind of compound interest.

In closing out this post, I want to take the time to say thank-you to all my mentors, past, present and future. These men and women are the true professors of my life. The degrees and designations are meaningless in comparison to the education which they have (and will have) given me.