Monday, May 11, 2009

“Melted water pipes”

Dave Hansen is a big dude about 60 years old with motorcycle oil in his blood. He calls himself the Proprietor Extraordinaire of “The Shop” in Ventura. Specializing in Indian motorcycles, he shared some great history of the big shots in Indian motorcycle lore. Most famous of those was Burt Munro from Invercargill, New Zealand. You might remember Burt from the movie “The World’s Fastest Indian” (2005) where Anthony Hopkins portrayed him. Multiple times when Dave was talking he referred to his mentor. He did this enough times that I asked him who and where this mentor was. Dave pointed to the framed photo above the door and said “that is Sam Pierce and he taught me everything I know about Indians, running a shop and just about everything else important.” Dave even told us the story of the time that Burt Munro was passing through Sam’s house on his way to the Bonneville Salt Flats. Sam called Dave and told him to get over to the house right away, sit down, shut up, listen and be in the presence of greatness. Burt was melting old Ventura county water pipes and making piston sleeves for his motorcycles. Burt said Ventura pipes used the best materials. Per Dave, he learned so much that afternoon from Burt and Sam.

I thought about what had just happened for the next 30 miles while I cruised up Hwy 1. It would be amazing to have a mentor so important and influential in our careers that we frame a photo of this person and hang it over the door of our business/office! Wouldn’t we all want such a strong role model? I am fortunate enough to have such a person, and while I stay in touch and thank him often, I do not have his photo proudly displayed (something I might consider). Then it struck me – I’ve really got it backwards. Each of us should strive to be a mentor so positive, so effective, so influential that our mentees see it within themselves long after we are gone to hang a photo of us so others know the role we had. This could be the ultimate test of our leadership ability.

I enjoy when I learn something important when I’m not looking. What are your thoughts on the importance of finding or being a mentor?


Bjorn Nilsen said...


Another great topic!

Rather than seek to be a mentor, I would submit we allow ourselves open to such an honor and should seek to be leaders of such a degree that mentees will seek us was the case of Burt Munro, and, I suspect, your own mentor.

While it was a "warm and fuzzy" that so many of my former team wanted to follow me on to my current job, it was not the reason I led them as I did; hence, my reason for mentoring those who seek me out has nothing to do with wanting to be so honored (and it is something I appreciate and cherish), but rather everything with being the kind of leader I expect myself to be.

So, I guess the bottom line is "If I were to lead and mentor myself, am I the kind of mentor and leader whose picture I'd feel inspired to hang in my doorway?".

Bjorn Nilsen

Rosie Zaldatte said...

Both are important. To have a mentor and to be the kind of mentor you already have for someone else. Give back what has been freely given to you. It requires humility.


Tim Edwards said...


One dimension I would like to stress is the balance of goodwill mentoring and self praise at the expense of the mentored.

Goodwill being; I provide this advice and guidance gently and in the best interests of the mentee. I expect nothing in return excepting perhaps goodwill.

Self praise being; I provide this advice because it makes me feel good rather than serving the mentee.

A general rule - more goodwill / less self praise. Let us all help each other, help each other.

Leslie Kohler said...

I think mentoring is very important, and the presence (or absence) of one seems directly correlated to my career successes--and to my less stunning ones. I'm not implying that I've always relied upon someone to "hold my hand." But several times, without seeking them out, mentors have come into my life, and their presence has always helped me tremendously.

And, I love your depiction of Dave Hansen. He'd make a great character in a novel. Ever write fiction?

Michael Beason said...

I just watched the movie, "The Soloist" - a true story I'm told, about Nathaniel Ayers, a down and out black homeless schizophrenic living on the streets of L.A. played by Jamie Foxx, and Steve Lopez, played by Robert Downey Jr., a reporter for a failing local newspaper who needs a story.

At first Steve sees Nathaniel as that story, but as he continues to observe he suddenly realizes he is in the presence of a savant musician - a master on the violin, cello, piano, and more.

Seeing the potential, Steve tries to help Nathaniel achieve his dreams and fails miserably and even manages to make things worse for a while.

Finally Steve learns that he can't help anyone, he can only give his friendship, and his respect.

I believe this illustrates the plight of managers who aspire to mentoring - we can rarely help others create our idea of what it means to be successful. Our role as a mentor doesn't consist of "helping" at all. Our greatest asset is our ability to live the right examples. How could we hope to become the picture over the door when we ourselves don't have that picture over the door?

The world is filled with those who wish to jump over the hard work of becoming a powerful example of a principled leader. Thousands would give advice they didn't take themselves. How many motivational speakers are skipping the part where they achieve the successful life they wish to teach us.

John Bishop is one of those rare leaders who takes his role as a mentor seriously. John's stories are engaging and full of life's lessons. We wait anxiously to here each new story and learn.

Fred Dimock said...

Interesting story – Fantastic conclusion.

I have always strived to have someone in my life that I could look up to. They needed to be true role models with knowledge, wisdom, and ethics, with wisdom and ethics being the most important factors. Each one had a positive influence on my life.

You will notice that I used the plural form - not singular. I did this because my mentors/roll models changed as my life progressed and I moved to different companies. The first was my dad, a tool and die maker that had true pride in his work and a love for his family. Then there was Wendell Blanding, Ed Wellick, William Weber, and Roy Nixon at Corning, followed by Al Hegedus at GE, and Bill Rhodes at Osram-Sylvania. In an effort to not embarrass my current role models, I will not name them, but will mention that I recently lost Roland Kimball an ethical man with true wisdom that I have called a friend for over 10 years.

While listing these names, I realized that I owe each one more than a thank you. What I owe them is to maintain the strength of character (wisdom & ethics) they gave me and somehow pass it on to others.

Therefore, I vote a resounding YES to the implied question about each of us striving to be an effective, positive mentor to others.

As for a photo – Their images are etched in my mind and it is a rare week that I don’t ask myself what one of them would do if they were dealing with an opportunity (problem) I am wrestling with. (See I just did it – Wendell Blanding once told me that a problem is just an opportunity in work clothes.)

Fred Szibdat said...

Hi John,

Well, I can go on both sides of this discussion.

So... I'll start with a mentor of mine. Its funny, I have worked at a big 4 accounting firm, and though they formalize the mentoring or coaching. For me, they did an awful job of it. Why? because they didn't invest. Making it formal, doesn't make it good. Getting investment is what matters. So my best ever Mentor, was also my boss. Good Old George, who rammed it into my thick skull about the ABC method of writing audit reports. And he also taught me that if you upset someone in an audit interview. Don't stop, they are already upset, and just press on (smartly, he realized that some used anger, to avoid difficult questions).

But beyond those few examples, you learned that when you had his trust, you had his character. He was fiercely loyal and would always support you. That is missing in todays world. A former colleague and I moved on at different times, to again work together, and at a dinner reception, we regaled our new colleagues with stories of George. Both good and bad, and in all that, it was clear that we both had a fondness for George. Through the years, and changes in jobs, we all still circle back to George when we have to make hard career decisions.

On the flip side, at the big 4, I was also a coach. ANd my coachee (awful word) and I developed a good bond. Again one, that survives us both not being at the same employer. Recently, he called me to tell me that he had gotten engaged to his HS sweetheart, and I noted my pride in his good fortune.

But the more endearing note for this post, has to do with a woman who worked on my assignments. She was great to work with, and was always so happy and eager. She was bright and just a good person I thought. After a particularly hard week at work, we were traveling for a client and as I was taught to do by George, we all got together for dinner. To share life, and not so much work. Nicole asked me to meet her at the restaurant. When I got there, she gave me a small book. ANd said, Don't forget who you are Fred. I opened the book, and it was motivational and leadership book. Called "The Fred Factor". As I later came to learn. This author had a mailman "Fred" who would do the most remarkable things for his patrons. Like holding mail at home, or delivering it across town if it was important. I still cherish that book. And the life lesson. Its not about the big title or the more money. At some point, life and work, is about giving back. Whether it is noticed or not. And teaching and sharing, and being of service. I still remember getting the book.

I even ordered a t-shirt that says... Hello my name is Fred. It just so happens, that my name is Fred, but that isn't the point of the t shirt. Fred's come in many varieties. In colors and shapes, like a great mosaic. And they give. Not because there is something attached to it, but just because it is their nature. And for that brief time in my life, at a big 4 firm. To my coachee and to this young woman. I was a "Fred" and I had the "Fred Factor" and they rewarded me with their feedback. I taught them, that "Work is what I do, it is not who I am."

Daniel Lobb said...

Nice reflection. I have personally found that there are many situations in life where the input from a business mentor increased my learning exponentially. Often a friend or colleague can play the role of helping me see it from another point of view, but mentors seem to have an insight into the personality that makes that "other point of view" so succinct. Oddly enough, insights gleaned from a mentor often have application beyond a professional career, if we're willing to look at our personal lives.

Some people do not seem well suited to become mentors, others are perfect. If we are in the latter, I agree whole-heartedly: serve as a mentor to the best of our capacity. On a related note, most of us have someone who has been a mentor or at least had a significant influence on our life. Becoming more like that person is a goal that many people identify with.

Best, Daniel

Rosie Zaldatte said...

Thanks for your post. I think that mentoring is important for anyone who is in a leadership role. Perhaps I take it to the extreme, but I feel anyone in leadership should make a point of being mentored and of course mentoring others.

What I hear from others is that having a mentor as a professional is "a little less" than the desired state, perhaps that leader or professional isn't that well "put together" and needs that extra assistance. Nonsense. No one should think of themselves as being so important that they can't use a reality check from someone else.

So where am I going with this? Good mentors know that being in a leadership role or a position that carries responsibility requires that the job start from the inside out. In other words it is personal. To separate one from the other is counter productive and everyone concerned loses out. Your comment about being willing to look at our personal lives is a key attitude.

Thanks for your sharing.

Grace and Truth
Rosie Zaldatte

Peter Bender said...

Nice article John,

To be honest I joined linkedin to find peers that I could converse with and maybe a few subject matter experts I could talk with on occassion. This is progressing slowly. Finding a mentor is a bit harder again due to the quality of person I am looking for. There are lots of wannabe's out there and a few one hit wonders but true quality is hard to find.

Take care and God bless,


Michael Kotowski said...

John -

Yet another though provoking discussion! Thanks.

I fully subscribe to the value and importance of a mentor. I am blessed to have known a wonderful man - Dennis Allen - he passed away a few years ago, but his legacy, reach and influence live on in regular reference and reflection in the Print & Publishing industry. Born in Jamaica, raised and schooled in the States with his Aunt & Uncle, working his way up from a maintenance position in a $150M Print company, he was the VP of Sales when I met him in my first job out of college.

He would always reflect back to his simple roots, and clearly a lesson he learned early on. When you were faced with an issue, or delivered a surprise/different outcome, he would say "How do it know?!" in a Jamaican accent.

The true value and benefit in life is learning what you didn't know you didn't know. Having someone to help turn on those lights is invaluable!

My soon to be 13 y/o son and I had this very same discussion yesterday while he was doing web-searches and was provided narrow focused responses to his inquiries via the technology. I think today he better understands the value of "looking outside the box". I caught him flipping through the pages of my NY Times at the breakfast table before school today. He'd never touched it before except to bring it in off the driveway. It was something little, but it made me smile and appreciate life a little bit more.

Brian Kelly said...

Peter, in four simple sentences, you've pretty much summarized my own feelings as well about "our" LI, my motivation to join, and its members. Regardless of industry, group profile, or actual membership...

"There are lots of wannabe's out there and a few one hit wonders but true quality is hard to find."

Really, a random slice of any group (Leaders & Thinkers notwithstanding), of any network, seems to continually fall under one bell curve or another. I've seen no "mother load", no "main vein" to tap. I just keep sifting, and along the way I hope to help / support / inspire where and if ever I can.

Josh McLeod said...

Excellent opening vignette John. Touches a particular area of motorcycle/chopper culture that I have always been fascinated with (ever since reading the bio of Ralph "Sonny" Barger). The element of the story that resonates with me is that it seems that Sam was a mentor for Dave without title. What I mean by this is that even though Dave held Sam in the highest regard, I believe Sam mentored Dave with little to no self interest. Certainly, he never asked to be placed in a frame and hung above a door.

Becoming a mentor to someone is effortless if you have a natural intent to share, coach and advise people with a purpose to help them achieve their goals. Should we ever have an end goal of being placed on a pedestal given the impact of our mentorship? I think this is similar to counting commissions before a sale while you should be focused on the value you are creating for the customer.

We all are mentors and have numerous mentors - Friends, Parents, Pastors, Colleagues, Veterans...etc. I do believe the most successful people are those that recognize the value of mentors and leverage them during times of challenge and opportunity to broaden their perspective. I also believe being a successful mentor is one of the most fulfilling relationships/engagements a person can have.

There is something very special about giving something to positively impact another person with no expectation for anything in return.

Great topic and thanks for getting me to think about this a bit.

Yours in Success,

Amy Tiemann said...

To expand on this comment further - wouldn't it be great if there will still official apprenticeship/journeyman positions that would pass down knowledge, training and provide mentorship? In most unions/trades that is still the case, but most companies have gone away from this practice.

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