Stewing Over Mentorship
By John Blumberg, Andersen Alumnus and author of Return On Integrity (www.BlumbergROI.com)
Discussions about mentorship have been coming-up a lot lately. Maybe it’s the time of year – the reflective nature that cooler winds and falling leaves seem to bring. I love to lean into such discussions because they always call to mind people who have meant so much.
One advantage of getting older is the perspective uniquely gifted by the arc of time – the experience of many seasons. And over that arc of time, it seems to me that mentors often pass through our lives for specific reasons in specific seasons.
My parents were certainly my first guides. And then Kaye, like a second mom, came along to teach me to swim, golf and drive a car. Mr. Lenahan became like a second dad when my father passed away the summer following my 13th birthday. I made it a practice to send him a card every Father’s Day well into my adult years, up to and including the year of his own passing. They were all loving teachers, anchors, and guides each in their own self-giving way.
Yet, it was in my early years at Arthur Andersen that I began to discover and understand the value of a mentor. I was deeply fortunate that a new mentor arrived in every season … actually, in every city … across the course of my 18-year career there. It was Jerry West and Garland Irwin in Houston, Jim LaBorde in Albuquerque, Jack Henry in Phoenix, and Denny Reigle in my years in Firmwide Recruiting in Andersen’s World Headquarters in Chicago. Then there were mentors like Dave Houser and Pete Pesce who guided me across many seasons. In the early years of my transition into the speaking profession, Kevin Freiberg, Barbara Glanz and Mark LeBlanc each showed up at the perfect time. Deep into my speaking and writing, Sister Madelyn and Al Gustafson spoke into my life. I have loved the guidance from season-to-season from each and every one of them.
And in their genuine guidance, I came to love them.
Recently, in a group conversation with my long-time business coach, Mark LeBlanc, he posed the question: Who is on your own personal Mount Rushmore? It was a great question that stimulated a meaningful, vulnerable, and authentic conversation amongst the group. No doubt, it calls us to think beyond what we have done – to the more important realization – who have we come from.
I believe the concept of being a self-made anything is just another illusion – a deceptive expression of arrogance and pride, rather than a realization that we are a blended stew of those who have poured themselves into us. Most importantly, it robs us of the joy of honoring others. This isn’t to diminish the endless hours and incredibly hard work individuals put into whatever they are building. But it is to say that all of it is seeded and nourished by mentors in some form or fashion – directly or indirectly. In many ways, it is the essence of their legacy.
You can’t repay a mentor … you can only pay it forward.
In my years at Arthur Andersen, I always tried to discourage the concept of “mentor programs” because it undermines the truth of mentorship. Mentorship is a naturally evolved relationship. It is not a program or an assignment. Assignments have their place, yet mentors and mentees are never assigned to each other – they discover each other.
I have now lived long enough for others to bestow the mentor title upon me. At first, it always takes me by surprise … and then it makes me realize that there is nothing to repay … for the relationship itself was the payment. In the most genuine mentorships, it is never a transaction – it is a transformation. For both.
In July 2021, I had the honor to deliver the eulogy of my great friend and mentor, Jim LaBorde. It was rich and meaningful experience to discern what to share – what words to use. For words can sometimes seem inadequate to describe the worth of someone as priceless as a mentor.
No doubt, each mentoring relationship is a gift. A gift that has the possibility to keep on giving. Who is on your Mount Rushmore?
As always, I’d love for you to share your thoughts! We could all benefit, if you would be so kind to share your thoughts email me at John@BlumbergROI.com!