A self-made leader doesn’t make much.
I first wrote that statement in 2008, in my book, Leadership Gold. Eight years later, I still believe it. After all, I’m not a self-made man. It took a lot of people investing in me to get me where I am today.
You may wonder: Who helped you, John?
Well, I’ll tell you: Mentors.
A mentor is someone who teaches, guides and lifts you up by virtue of his or her experience and insight. They’re usually someone a little farther ahead of you on the path—though that doesn’t always mean they’re older! A mentor is someone with a head full of experience and heart full of generosity that brings those things together in your life.
One of the reasons I know that no one gets to the top alone is because I’ve had help all along my journey. I’ve been blessed with some amazing mentors who have poured wisdom and insight into my life to help me at crucial times.
I Started Close to Home
My first mentor was my father, Melvin. His investment into me as an individual was the foundation for everything I’ve achieved. My father’s encouragement, observation and advice helped shape everything from my mindset to my belief about the future. Without him, I’m not sure where I would’ve ended up.
Another mentor was my brother Larry. From our wrestling matches, I learned not to give up. From our business dealings, I learned to look at situations realistically and to prepare for the unexpected. From our friendship, I learned much about generosity and giving yourself away to other people.
From my mother Laura I learned the value of listening. No one taught me more about that subject than her! I also learned about unconditional love—the value of believing in another person even if they disappoint you.
But not every mentor in my life was a family member! There came a time when I had to seek mentors beyond my family tree in order to be successful. That required me to have the self-awareness necessary to choose mentors who could help me be the best version of myself possible.
So I spent some time preparing myself to be mentored—first I learned about myself, which taught me what I knew and what I didn’t know; and then I went out to find the mentors who could fill in the gaps.
For me, there have been three types of mentors:
Those Who Knew Me and Knew They Made a Difference
The greatest example of this type of mentor in my life was Coach John Wooden. I intentionally sought Coach out to learn about teamwork, leadership, vision, and character. I’ll never forget how much work I put into our first meeting—I came armed with pages of questions that took me hours to write! And the preparation paid off; not only did I come away from that initial meeting with a thousand ideas to consider, I also earned the right to sit down again with Coach Wooden several more times before he passed away.
But there have been other mentors who saw my potential as a leader and partnered with me for a season to help me grow. Others have joined me to keep my thinking sharp and focused on growth. Like Coach Wooden, each mentor knew his or her words made a difference in my life, and also knew those words made a difference to the people I served. For that reason, they were happy to help me on my journey.
Those Who Knew Me and Didn’t Know They Made a Difference
But not everyone who knows you knows how much of a difference they make. For me, the greatest example of this in my life is Kurt Campmeier, who introduced me to the concept of having a personal growth plan way back at the beginning of my career. Kurt’s influence on my life and work is far greater than the amount of time he spent with me, but time isn’t always equal to impact. For years, I don’t think Kurt had any idea of the impression he’d made on me. But a few years ago, my team tracked him down, and I had the opportunity to see him again and thank him.
The reality is that a host of people in my life have shown me wise paths or challenged me to grow without ever knowing that I was watching their lives. In fact, if I were to name their names right now, they might respond by saying, “John, what are you talking about?” They weren’t looking to mentor me, but I was looking to be mentored by them—I was intentional in seeking out the wisdom that they often weren’t even aware they were offering.
Those Who Didn’t Know Me and Yet Made a Difference
And that intentionality extends even to those mentors whom I’ve never met. That may sound strange, but the truth is that all of us have access to long-distance mentors we may never meet in person! Speakers, books, magazine articles, webinars – the list of available mentors is endless.
In this age of digital experiences, there are more opportunities available for mentoring than ever before. All you have to do is search for people who are achieving in your area of interest, and you’ll have a wealth of potential mentors at your disposal. Just make sure that what they say translates into actions or principles you can follow in your real life. After all, the point of any mentor is to help you take steps to get better!
That’s why I’ve been so relentless about pursuing mentors—I need all the help I can get if I want to continue getting better. And if you want to get to the places you dream of for your life, you’ll need help too. Some mentors are in our lives for a short season, others are for longer ones; the length is determined by what you need to learn and what the mentor has to offer!
Be Intentional about Finding Your Own Mentors
That’s why I encourage everyone to begin looking for a mentor to help them. And whenever someone asks the inevitable question of How do I find a mentor? I point them in the same direction: who can you think of who is successful in an area where you’re trying to grow? Start there and see how you can access that person’s insights—maybe it’s through a blog, maybe it’s a book, or just maybe it’s just a phone call away. You won’t know until you start looking and asking.
No one gets to the top alone. We all have help. It’s why I’ve made mentoring such a crucial part of my growth—and it’s why I mentor people along the way. It’s the inspiration for my Maximum Impact Mentoring call each month, and the reason I continue to write and speak to audiences each year. I want to help as many people as possible become all they can be.