When teaching leadership to both our youth and adults, we spend a fair amount of time discussing what it is that leaders do. Being a Teacher, Coach, Trainer, and Mentor is found within the job description of any leader. We find ourselves as leaders focusing on being a good teacher of skills, coaching as those skills are applied, and training our leaders to be effective. But what of being a mentor?
Not every leader is a mentor. We tend to throw that around a bit too much in Scouting. We have “Eagle Mentors” We have “Unit mentors”, we even consider “Troop Guides” in the context of Wood Badge as a mentor. But are they really mentors in the sense of having a lasting impact on the life of someone else.
Webster defines the word Mentor as; a trusted guide or counselor. Other words are Tutor or Coach.
I think that a lot of leaders consider themselves as mentors, but as I look back on those that I consider my mentors I can’t help but go back to the definition. Trusted guide. And again,I ask myself what impact if any did this person have on my life.
Looking back, I honestly consider only a few people as a mentor.
In my life I break it down to a few areas. Work, Spiritual life, Scouting, and becoming a man.
At UPS I do not consider any one person a mentor. The work environment tends not to value leadership, rather there is a need to manage everything at UPS as material. In the Army however, I have had a few mentors. Men that really made a big impact on my leadership style and ability to lead.
In the Army there is a program that places fellow soldiers, leaders, in a position to develop their subordinates. The Non Commissioned Officer Development Program (NCODP) is designed to make junior leaders better. I had a First Sergeant named Ted Godwin that showed me how to use the tool box of leadership to care for soldiers. He instilled in me the concept of Mission First, Men always. This may seem like a little thing, but at the end of the day, that is what makes for effective leaders. In the Army, with the division of leadership roles between the Officer Corps and the Non Commissioned Officer Corps it is the NCO that ensures the men are ready for the mission. If the men are not ready, there is little chance for the mission to be accomplished.
The basic understanding of being a caring leader, one that truly understands those that he leads became one of the hallmarks of my leadership and a lesson that I passed on to those that I lead when I was placed in a position to mentor younger soldiers.
It was his trusted leadership style that inspired me to be a leader. When he spoke, we listened. When he instructed, we learned.
Another mentor of mine in the Army was Command Sergeant Major Cliff Neil. He was a technical leader and understood why people act the way they do. He was not a tactical superstar, but when it came to behavior, he was provided hours of lessons on how to be an effective counselor and dig deeper into the reasons why a soldier acted the way he did. He showed me that everything is not always black or white… grey sneaks in to leadership and it is the effective leader that understands that will change behavior. Changing behavior is the goal of discipline in the sense of punishment. It is not a sign of weak leadership to know why. CSM Neil was tough, but fair and made me an outstanding First Sergeant. His impact on me was manifest when I became a Sergeant Major and was placed in a position to teaching my First Sergeants. I adopted the grey area when the First Sergeants saw only black and white. Typically we could change behavior without destroying a soldier’s career and livelihood.
Again, a leader that I trusted was leading me in the direction of becoming an effective leader.
In my Spiritual Life, I developed a friendship and allowed Fr. Rick Sarianni to be a trusted adviser. I valued our talks and his understanding of me and my walk in faith. I have known many Pastors, but Fr. Rick was a special friend that lead me to a clearer understanding of just what I believe and why I believe it.
In Scouting I have many friends that have helped me along the way and some that really made an impact on the Scoutmaster that I have become. I won’t go into the specifics as there are many, but it I feel it important that I name at least two of the men that have made a big impact on me as a Scouter. Tim Steenbergen gave me sage advise when I was a new Scoutmaster. Program, Program, Program was his mantra and I have taken that to the bank. John Caputo is the other. John is the ultimate Scouter. I had the absolute privilege to serve on his Wood Badge staff. I met John the first time as a learner at Wood Badge in 2005. He left an impression on me and we became friends. I always looked to him as a role model in Scouting. His wisdom and knowledge of the program and how to deliver the promise. Over the past 10 years, John has always been there with advise and instruction. Watching him as I have staffed on two Wood Badge Courses has been a pleasure and I have learned and taken many lessons from him along the way.
Again, two trusted counselors that left a large impact on me as a Scout leader. Along the way as a Wood badge staffer I have been blessed to learn from dedicated leaders and folks that have an equal love for Scouting.
Being a Man.
There are four people who made me the man who I am today. The first is my Dad. He showed me the value of family and how to treat people. I can go on and on about the lessons learned from him.
The other three are my two sons and my daughter. Little did they know, but they guided me to being the Dad and man that I am. They forced me to lead them and be consistent in how I raised them. Without their pushing my life could have been different. The obligation of being a Father was something that I could not take lightly. The proof is in the pudding as they say. I am a good man for them and they turned out to be fantastic young adults.
When a young man becomes an Eagle Scout we challenge him to prove that he earned it every day. My wife has done that for me daily as we challenge on another to be good parents and people who can show our kids the way to being good adults.
So being a mentor is not something that just comes with leadership, it is something that has to be taken on as an obligation with the understanding that you will be impacting the life of someone else. As I said, not all leaders are mentors. I can think of many leaders that have come and gone throughout my life that I will never consider a mentor. They were neither a trusted counselor nor would I consider them wise in the lessons learned. By definition these leaders just lead. In so far as their impact on me, I can not measure it.
Being a mentor is leaving your legacy. That in and of itself seems to be lofty, but in the end, it is what mentor-ship is all about. Passing on what I have to the next the generation. Giving the gift of knowledge, of life skills and lessons, of whatever wisdom I have acquired to the next generation.
The other night after our latest Eagle Court of Honor I removed the Mentor Pin from my shirt that had just been placed there by our newest Eagle Scout. This pin means the world to me, as do the other mentor pins I have received over the years. I took a mental inventory of those pins and the Scouts that felt as though I had made an impact on their lives. A pin from one of the Scouts of my Jamboree Troop back in 2010. He gave me the pin stating that had it not been for me being his Scoutmaster at Jamboree he would have quit Scouting all together and would have never finished his Eagle Award. Another Scout from my Troop presented me a mentor pin along with a picture of the two of us on a camp out. He shared that the life lessons he learned from me are shaping him into the man who he wants to be. Yet another pin reminded me of the young man that I have known all of his Scouting life. He had always been a work in progress, but in the end blossomed into a fine young man. He credited my straight talk and insistence on taking care of the little things to insure success. He is well on his way to being a good man and I look forward to seeing him continue to grow.
It is that obligation to making an impact that I take serious. Not every Scout, or person for that matter seeks guidance. Sometimes it comes without a plea, it is a young man who hovers in the background taking it all in, that one day shakes your hand and thanks you for what you have done.
Understand this, Your actions, Your wisdom, Your behavior, and Your willingness to make a real difference in the life of someone else is what matters when in comes to being a mentor.
Trust, Competence, Being a Friend, these are qualities of being a mentor. It is not the patch that you wear or the position that you hold. It is your willingness to serve.
Leaving your legacy must be important to you, not for ego or pride, but for the future of those you mentor.
What is your impact, what is your legacy? Are you a mentor?
Have a Great Scouting Day!