I would find it hard to believe that any successful person achieved that success without having at least one mentor along their journey – someone who was instrumental and influential in the life journey of the person being mentored (the mentee). But what is mentorship?
Mentorship is a semi-formal relationship between someone who has wisdom (knowledge plus experience) and is willing to share that wisdom with another (the mentor) and a person who seeks wisdom and insights to fill gaps in experience or to accelerate their journey. A healthy mentor/mentee relationship will be one where there is no expectation that the advice offered by the mentor will be heeded by the mentee, only that there is an openness to share and to consider.
And this is different from a “coach” in that a coach will expect the person being coached to accept the wisdom and advice being shared (think a sports coach). A coach will emphasize the strengthening or eliminating of specific behaviors with the expectation of improvement in the near-term. And a mentor is also different from a consultant in that a mentor has no expectation of (and will refuse) compensation.
The majority of mentorship relationships are never announced. Rarely does it occur that a person will ask another; “Will you be my mentor?” Nor will a person ask; “Can I mentor you?” If these questions are ever asked, the relationship will usually gravitate towards coaching rather than mentoring.
Also, most mentorship relationships do not have a “hard beginning” or “hard ending”. Instead, a mentorship relationship will start with two people having shared values and the mentee having some aspect of their life that is tracking that of the mentor. The relationship builds over time with both the mentor and the mentee becoming increasingly comfortable showing their vulnerability until they reach a point where they can have real conversations; raw, unfiltered, unguarded.
The importance and benefits of a mentorship relationship is rather obvious and tangible for the mentee; they get the opportunity to accelerate the arrival of their future state without having to pay as much tuition to the “University of Life” as they would otherwise need to pay. While the importance and benefits to the mentor are less obvious and tangible; they get personal the satisfaction of having helped someone else – something that is more important later in a career when it’s less about achievement and “things” and more about comfort for the soul.
But is it possible for a mentor to be a mentor and not know it?
I would propose the answer to this question is “yes”.
I write. I write a lot. Except for those whose job it is to write, I certainly write more than the average person. I have 132 articles on my blog (including this one). With almost all of my articles being substantive works (averaging close to 2000 words) as compared to the average blog posts and articles of others being 500-700 words or even less.
In addition to my writing, I produce and host a couple of podcasts; The Outliers Inn (with my co-producer and co-host, Benjamin Taylor) and State of Readiness. And I also deliver many masterclasses, workshops, and plenary sessions at conferences, corporate retreats and events, and academia (where I am on the advisory board of a couple of Universities). Although there are some on-going relationships that are established, and some of those relationships becoming close, there are not too many when you consider the number people I meet as a result of these efforts. But does that mean that it is unlikely that I (or you) can establish a mentor/mentee relationship?
For your consideration, I would like to propose that there is such a thing as “Stealth Mentorship” where either the mentor or the mentee – or even both – don’t realize they are in a mentorship relationship.
There is rarely a week that goes by that I don’t receive a message from someone who I don’t know – or don’t know very well – who tells me how much I have helped them or have been of value to them over some period of time. Some of the messages are brief and casual and some are more detailed and heartfelt. They are always a bright-spot of my day. It’s very satisfying to know you made a positive and indelible mark on someone’s life.
And sometimes someone in whom I see potential will catch my attention and I will make it a point to follow their journey and offer some guidance when I see them pondering or reaching-out.
This is Stealth Mentorship. Being a mentor, or being mentored, and not realizing it.
So why am I sharing this with you and proposing that Stealth Mentorship is a thing?
I recently received an email from someone I don’t know very well. We might have met once and we might have spoken once, but I can’t be sure of either. I found the message to be very profound and heartfelt. It really got me thinking about what it is that I do, why I do it, and the reach my efforts have beyond the obvious and known. It also gave me a heightened sense of the responsibility I have. And it’s demonstrative of the existence of Stealth Mentorship – at least anecdotally. But when I combine it with the other messages I have received over the years, I firmly believe in its existence.
I am sharing the message with you here. I have redacted some personal information, information which should remain private, and made other minor edits without making any material changes.
Joe: In my professional life, some of my most rewarding moments are when a colleague approaches me and gives me a heartfelt thank you for helping them in some way either professionally or personally. Over my long career I have ALWAYS maintained true to my personal ethical and professional standards and sought to mentor and guide people with nothing expected in return. Many people helped me in this way and it is what my mentors and parents taught me. My spouse admires how I stick to my personal compass and that’s probably why I never achieved a lofty corporate status of a “VP.” We are both okay with that. When people have approached me with a heartfelt thank you, I know I have done what God and my compass compel me to do.
I am a regular reader of your newsletter and find it both compelling and humorous. In one of your issues you talked about the importance of understanding my own personal brand, ejecting when you are not valued, and going “where the jobs are.“ At my present company I have survived several mergers and acquisitions and the mindless cost cutting that happens in each round. These are all done in the name of efficiencies. All my career, I have been a self-directed change agent seeking to improve efficiencies through improvement in processes and leveraging technology. With all these so called “operational improvements” we are left with an organization of severely broken cross functional processes and many semi-engaged employees. It is very sad. The “process improvement me” is powerless in this environment.
For a few years now, I have expanding my network with nothing in particular in mind. My only target was leaving the post corporate merger playbook apocalypse “zombie land”. A month and a half ago, while waiting for my annual bonus, I asked a friend to “put my name out there.”
I got a call the next day from a Managing Director of a consulting firm. Their HR department screened me within a week. A week and half later I had three 45 minute phone interviews. They canceled the fourth interview and sent me an offer. Armed with my personal network and a well-defined personal value proposition, it was rather easy. I did my due diligence with my network and found that many friends knew my new boss and confirmed he was someone I want to work with.
I sent in my resignation and notice last night. Eckhart Tolle reminds me that I am leaving a place where I do not want to be and not the company I knew when I started 37 years ago. My reality was that I am a well-respected person with considerable value and talent that is not being leveraged due the execution of “the merger and acquisition playbook.” For me, going where the is work is and being able to stay where I am an not have to relocate – working remotely and travelling on business – is a very good solution. It is certainly better than zombie land. In zombie land, eventually everyone becomes a zombie. I never thought I would start a new career at age 60, but I am very engaged and will hit the ground running.
In closing, the purpose of the email is to send you a heartfelt “THANKS FOR MAKING A DIFFERENCE IN MY LIFE.” I think I owe you two things:
- In my new gig, I will keep being who I am and listen to my compass
- When you happen to be back home, I owe you a few beers and maybe some chicken wings
Be well, God bless, and thanks.
I share the detail of this email for a few reasons. The obvious reason is that I became aware that I was a Stealth Mentor and made a difference in someone’s life that was significant enough for the Stealth Mentee to let me know.
But it is also obvious that the person values the idea of mentorship in general, has been helped and been a mentor to others, and recognizes the importance of letting others know that the mentor’s efforts are appreciated.
What did I get from this (and the other messages) other than personal satisfaction of having made a positive impact in someone else’s life? Well, a few things;
- That our words and our deeds are watched and followed by others and, with it, the realization that there is an awesome responsibility we have to serve others.
- An understanding that our reach and the impact we have on others goes far beyond what we can readily see – sometimes even when it is happening right in front of us.
- That for every moment when we discover we have been of service and value to someone, there are countless others who we have helped and will never know.
- When someone has made a difference in our lives, we owe it to them to let them know.
- We make a difference.
The nice thing about getting older is that we care less about what doesn’t matter and more about what does. It’s called perspective – and you cannot become wise without it.
And I know I have had several mentors in my life to whom I am indebted. I also know the best way to honor and pay back a mentor is by becoming a mentor. Mission accomplished.
Paris is an international expert in the field of Operational Excellence, organizational design, strategy design and deployment, and helping companies become high-performance organizations. His vehicles for change include being the Founder of; the XONITEK Group of Companies; the Operational Excellence Society; and the Readiness Institute.