How can a great mentor make a difference in your life?

Being a great mentor can change your life.Being a great mentor can change your life.
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It’s Black History Month. Let’s celebrate the possibilities. Can serving leaders help younger black leaders achieve their potential? I’ve noticed that many serving leaders have had great mentors.

People who help individuals see their potential before they do. Today I share a great mentoring story you may not know. I hope to inspire you to take the risk of becoming a mentor.

You just might change the world, like The Mentors Who Inspired the Dreams of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Can a mentor make a difference in your life? Definitely. Maybe not in the way you expect. Today I share the story of an odd couple, an unlikely relationship between a mentor and mentee that helped transform many lives.

This unlikely mentoring relationship lasted over 50 years. I’m certain that neither man would have expected it, but each helped transform our world. It’s the partnership between Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Coach John Wooden. It is a perfect example of how a mentor can help transform your world view.

There is a fantastic book about this lifelong relationship called Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. A relationship that started as a coach-player, evolved into mentorship, and ultimately culminated in lifetime friendship. If you ever need proof why you should be a mentor to others, this book will convince you.

Good mentoring goes both ways

One thing that strikes me about being a mentor is that good mentorships go both ways. With so many things going on in the world today I’m asking more of my clients to step into mentoring relationships. It’s not always easy but the rewards are long lasting. I’ve had many great mentors. I believe a mentor can transform your world view. A good mentor can help you be all you can be.  Sounds easy doesn’t it?

 But as I enter my 60th year I see  the role of mentor differently. I see it being about creating a lasting leadership legacy that can last forever. As I get older, I continue to find new mentors. They keep getting younger and younger.

I’ve written about this topic before. You can learn How to Master The Magic Of Being A Mentor  

Simple rules to be a great mentor

I’d like to share three simple ideas about how to be a great mentor.

The first idea of being a good mentor is to be true to yourself. So many people try to become someone else when they mentor. By this I mean, a good mentor is about sharing wisdom without becoming old. The only constant in life is change. Good mentors understand that what they went through is important, but it pales in comparison to why you’re in the mentee’s life.

When the student arrives, the mentor grows

When the student is ready the teacher arrives. This doesn’t always mean the teacher is prepared for the student’s arrival. Sometimes the relationship starts in another way. With Kareem and Coach Wooden they started out in clearly defined roles. Both bringing their unique gifts to the relationship.  It’s not always equal at the start.

Many times, the first phase of the relationship has clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Often it doesn’t seem fair to both parties. At this stage of the relationship the mentor serves as teacher or coach. They try to provide critical ideas to help set their mentee’s life on a good path. Critical lessons are shared. A solid foundation is put in place for additional growth.

It’s important that the mentor develops new skills to help accelerate learning and understanding.

A mentor helps grow your worldview

Mentoring helps the mentee create their own unique view of the world. These new ideas begin creeping into the mentee’s lives.  They may start to challenge traditional thinking. Sometimes it is a  life altering event.

A good mentoring relationship allows for growth. It’s not static. You become less of an expert and more of a guide.

The mentor’s role begins to diminish. Many times, this is when a mentoring relationship begins to wane. Time and distance becomes greater. The mentor may feel ill prepared to help the other person. A new fear may enter the relationship. The mentee may grow beyond their mentor.

A mentor supports the new direction

The mentee shares what they are feeling but may not have yet mastered it in a way they can share it with others. Even with people they trust. The mentor must allow for the growth. I find being a good listener helps but only so far. At this stage, the mentor must be willing to listen for the unsaid in the room. A good mentor must be willing to let go.  

The mentee becomes the mentor

The final change doesn’t always happen in many mentoring relationships. It doesn’t always have to be sequential. The best mentoring relationships provide opportunities for both people to grow.

The mentee becomes the mentor. This is a transformational moment in the relationship. In many cases the mentees new purpose is transformed. They become clear about what their role is.

Now what should a mentor do? Here’s where you see a true partnership forming. The mentee shares what knowledge they have found. They look to the mentor to help them become who they are by the mentor becoming the student.

Diverging paths offer growth

Many times, the mentee has found a different path than the one they started down. They have found their unique voice. They’ve found their way in the world. At times leaving to go a different direction that changes their life.

This is where Kareem and Coach Wooden diverge. Many of the causes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar chooses are foreign to the coach. Kareem’s direction provides a different worldview than the Coach has experienced.

From racial injustice to sharing his faith, Kareem becomes a person that is destined to change the way we see the world. His new platform finds support in new communities. Many of his old friends are perplexed by what he says and, more importantly, does.

The mentor sees new ways

What do you do as the mentor? This new direction challenges many of the mentors long held beliefs. This is the test of worldviews. What did John Wooden do? He did something that few mentors could do. He becomes the student, the mentee. The relationship evolves and is transformed.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has been able to impact the world more in his off the court activities than he did as a player. This is saying a lot given he was one of the greatest basketball players ever. Because of him, we see many more professional athletes willing to talk about the tough topics in our society.

Who do you inspire?

I’m not the only person who believes this. No less President Barack Obama called Kareem one of the people who made him who he was when presenting the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2016.

President Obama commended him for his advocation for civil rights, cancer research, science education, and social justice. President Obama said ”Physically, intellectually, spiritually –Kareem is one-of-a-kind. An American who both illuminates our most basic freedoms and our highest aspirations.”

The former president feels so strongly about mentoring,  Obama makes life commitment to mentorship program

Open your heart and mind and consider helping someone else grow into the person they were meant to be.  Be a mentor today.

See you next week.

About the Author

Tripp Braden partners with entrepreneurs and senior executives on their high engagement C-Suite communication and content marketing strategies. He believes client education is the best way of building trust and long term sustainable growth. His consulting practice focuses on second stage entrepreneurs, technology organizations, and senior level business executives. Tripp partners with clients to develop high impact C-Suite communication and account based marketing strategies. If you’re interested in learning more, contact Tripp at tbraden@marketleadership.net or send him an invite on LinkedIn. You can find Tripp’s business growth blog at Market Leadership Journal.

Tripp Braden – who has written posts on Empowering Serving Leaders.


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