“A self-made leader doesn’t make much.”
John C. Maxwell first wrote that statement in 2008, in his book Leadership Gold. If you were to ask him today, 14 years later, we are sure he would say this is still true. John would be the first to admit that he is not a self-made man. In fact, he credits much of his success to having strong mentors at different stages of his life.
A mentor is more than just a business coach or someone guiding you in your professional development. A mentor is someone who teaches, guides and lifts you up in any aspect of your life by virtue of their 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 John knows that no one gets to the top alone is because he has had help all along his own journey. It took a lot of people investing in him to get him to where he is today.
These are John’s thoughts on the power of having mentors and guides in your life who can help you become the best leader you can be.
My Mentors Started Close to Home
My first mentor was my father, Melvin. His investment in 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 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, and not everyone has the family I was lucky to have! There came a time when I had to seek mentors beyond my family tree 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:
1. 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 in my personal growth. Others have joined me to keep my thinking sharp and focused on growth. Like Coach Wooden, each mentor knew their words made a difference in my life and knew those words made a difference to the people I served. For that reason, they were happy to help me on my journey.
2. 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.
3. 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 to be a better person, both personally and professionally. 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. That’s why I encourage everyone to begin looking for a mentor to help them.
Be Intentional about Finding Your Own Mentors
As he shared, John is a strong advocate for personal growth and allowing others to help you along the way. And whenever someone asks the inevitable question of, “How do I find a mentor?”, we point them in this 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 we have worked along with John to distill his life-long lessons of personal and professional growth into an exciting, new program called C.L.E.A.R. In this program, you will be able to engage with the five areas John believes every successful leader must master: Communication, Leadership, Equipping, Attitude and Relationships. At the heart of this leaderhip development program are our C.L.E.A.R. guides – mentors and leadership experts, hand-picked by John, who will guide you every step of the way. John knows a few things about the power of mentoring as it relates to success, and we can hardly wait for you to experience your very own C.L.E.A.R. plan for personal growth.
Be sure to download the C.L.E.A.R. app and be the first to learn about the program as soon as its available.
Grow Your Potential with Maxwell Leadership
Are you searching for other ways to grow your potential or your team’s potential? Explore what Maxwell Leadership has to offer and choose the right solution for you and your leadership journey. If you’d like to hear more about John’s mentor and friend Coach John Wooden, we invite you to listen to the Maxwell Leadership Podcast and this two-part series with guest co-host, Don Yaeger in which we celebrate one of the greatest basketball coaches of all time and the principles behind his success as leader and coach.