Thank your mentor and then . . .


I always hope that “Reading for Leading” stimulates your thinking so that you bring a little different focus or quality to the tasks ahead in the week of leadership that’s dawning for you. This week I invite you to actually add a whole new task to your “to do” list, and I promise you’ll appreciate it. New Task: Thank your mentor!

Thursday the 25th is national “thank your mentor day.” The first task might be to identify a key mentor, a person who guided you in some special way to become the person and leader you are. It might be a teacher, coach, first boss, or just a wise and caring person who took you under their wing.

I think of my dad, Jack Mulhern. Dad respected everyone. His most frequently used word was “love,” often accompanied by its antonym “selfish.” I remember the fondness he had when we’d pull out his shoe box of army pictures, and he would point to and name poor and uneducated soldiers he served with in Korea, the farmers’ sons, and the Korean boys he befriended. Every single one was deserving of respect and kindness. I thank him for his clear lessons, boiling it all down to love. Since he’s passed I’ll call mom and share these thankful thoughts with her.

May I also invite you to consider formally becoming a mentor? Can you imagine being a boy or girl and not having a role model at all – no person who has special care for you, who is helping you find your way? All three of the boys I have formally mentored just did not have any man who consistently cared for them in their lives. In Michigan only one of every three mentors is a man. There are 4,000 kids on waiting lists, hoping to be matched; most are boys. As you thank a mentor, please consider being one. Across the country you can call 1-800-VOLUNTEER. In Michigan you can do that or go to

Mentoring offers an extraordinary opportunity to give back and to. . .

Lead with your best self,


P.S. There have been some GREAT comments on my RFL blogsite, which you can click above. I was a little surprised not to see many comments after last week’s column on Dr. King day. Hope you’ll consider commenting on that one or on today’s column on mentoring!

  • Dan

    I enjoyed your column this week very much, it truly struck home. For the past ten years or so, I have taken a day or two each year to contemplate the past year and the success that has come into my life. More importantly, I contemplate the success and who the people were who affected my life that led to that success.

    Sometimes the person is a recent friend or mentor other times it is a childhood friends parents. Regardless of the period, I write each person to thank him or her for the profound impact they had on my life and to thank them for the kindness, leadership and hope that they extended to me.

    Writing these letters has become one of the greatest gifts that I give myself each year.

    Thank you for your weekly inspiration.

    Ron Kitchens
    Chief Executive Officer
    Southwest Michigan First

  • How ironic that you reported fewer responses to your MLK article than expected. I thought you would receive so many that I did not comment.
    M. L. King was a great leader and a true inspiration. I have always stood in awe of his morals and personal strength. He touched my life! I have attempted to treat all people is ways that would respect his teachings. He truly lives on in all of us. Thank you for honoring him with your recognition.

  • Dan,

    Last spring, the Greater Ann Arbor Society of Human Resource Management (GAASHRM) in cooperation with the American Society of Employers made a number of awards for best practices in mentoring by SE Michigan organizations. The top award went to American Axle & Manufacturing a global automotive supplier. For more information, contact Leila St. Clair at 313-758-4928 or email her at:

    For those readers wanting an answer to the question, “What is Mentoring?”, an answer is at:


    • I appreciate John’s offer of help when it comes to “what is mentoring.” John’s reference is to mentoring in the field of adult coaching. As I was writing a little bit more on the mentoring of youth, I thought I’d share the definition of mentoring from the National Mentoring Partnership: “Mentoring is a structured and trusting relationship that brings young people together with caring individuals who offer guidance, support and encouragement aimed at developing the competence and character of the mentee.”
      I love this emphasis on “competence and character.”

  • Dear Dan,
    Thank you for bringing to my inbox, every Monday morning, some ‘food for thought’. I have found this a beneficial read the majority of the time, and have shared your views and weekly note with my pastor, amongst others.
    You know a little about me from previous direct email interactions. Growing up in the Detroit suburbs, attending a private parochial school, kept me insulated from a diverse ethnicity. After moving to Ohio for high school, then Florida to make my own way in life, I, through basketball, became increasingly interactive with black men. I played for 6 years as the only ‘white boy’ on a team that played throughout Florida. Great times, great opportunity to lead down the road, by example, that prejudice was not part of my persona! Everyone grew from the experience.
    Reflecting back onto the days in Florida, I had a mentor there, whom I played ball with, by the name of Pistol Pete Marovich. I knew him in the last years of his life. He gave me direction on how to live life, fully, committed, and with zeal. His walk with the Lord, using his talents to glorify Him, will always be with me as an example. Same holds true for my cousin’s husband, Bob Freehan. His brother, Bill, was iconic, but Bob was real, taking time to spend with his nephews, going on Boy Scout camping trips with us. I’ll always remember that…….giving…..from love…..that is THE most important legacy that one can leave behind. I have taken these experiences, and used them as impetus for doing for youth what was done for me. I never ‘formally’ mentored a single individual, from an organizational standpoint, but have hopefully had a positive influence on scores of young men and women, through coaching basktball and baseball, and playing pick up ball over the decades with youth from church, etc. What I long for, and strive for, as an imperfect human being, is, when all is said and done, that God has forgiven my transgresions, and states to me, “well done, my good and faithful servant.” When I get the opportunity to see my old friend, Pete, in heaven, I will thank him for being such an inspiration to me, and thus, to others.

  • Dan,

    I can’t agree with you more regarding the importance of and the urge for all to mentor. As a young professional woman, I am surrounded by incredible mentors who have helped me along the way. They have not only taught me the “ropes” in terms of my organization and professional life but they help me navigate the complex issues of female identity in and out of the workplace. We are in such a complex era of equal opportunity and biological reality that I am just beginning to contemplate. Whew, without my mentors, I would be lost! Thankfully, I’m in a space where I can now mentor and am giving back with relish. The idea of lifting as we climb is simply crital regardless of gender, ethnicity or any affiliation. Please all, share your knowledge and mentor!

  • Dear Dan,

    Thank you for spot lighting mentoring in your message this week. As a mentor to young mothers I have learned so much that they also deserve my thanks for showing me the many blessings in my childhood and in my adult life. In the couple of hours a week that I spend with these young women they have shown me their compassion and concern for others and courage in the face of nearly insurmountable life setbacks, some of their own making but more often the makings of a life of poverty and ill parenting on the part of their caregivers. Each of these young parents struggles with the issues that all parents do at the same time that they are also dealing with the agonies of being a teenage high school student. Hats off to the mentees as mentors…

    • Kathleen,
      You reveal a fundamental spiritual truth — often missed by us material beings: When things are right, the distinction between who’s the “giver” and who’s the “receiver” evaporates. It’s why in two surveys of youth mentoring done by Time/AOL, 99% and 97% of mentors said they would recommend mentoring to others.
      How wonderful that you are leading (and learning) from young mothers who are in turn molding character in their children!
      — Dan

  • Thank you again for challenging me to keep working on what can be done in my world around me in a positive way. It made me remember back about 25 years ago in Holland Michigan when the EdPsych Professor from Hope College and I did a mentorship program in the West Ottawa Middle School with his students and the gifted students at the Middle School. While a challenge to interview them all and then match them, the projects they worked on and the time they had together made it all worthwhile. Being a mentor to mentors was a different role for me from the volunteer work and teaching that was my usual way.
    It is hard to single out any one person for myself because the idea of mentoring -as such-was not prevalent during my growing up years. Still, there are always moments when someone or something ‘connects’ in an aha moment and changes you forever.
    You are mentoring in your emails, very definitely. Thank you

  • I would have to count several mentors. First my stepfather, John Robert Scott, who served in Vietnam. He was a drill sargeant and later a green beret instructor. In Thailand he worked for U.S.-Thai operations doing what was called “teaching tigers”: working with Thai soldiers to make U.S. special forces-standard berets out of them. He would do things like show them how to take four guys and build a headquarters out of bamboo in a day, stuff like that. He made a lot of Vietnamese friends. When I was growing up living in his home, I had a lot of Vietnamese friends around Lansing. He always said the weapon that won Vietnam was the punji stick, reminding me that working with the least materials with a focused purpose would produce better results than throwing massive resources at a problem hoping to solve it. He had three kids with my mother and then killed himself when I was 13, so I ended up sort of being surrogate father to them for awhile, the oldest being five or so at the time, and while that did railroad my life somewhat, I think it did provide sort of an extension to his “mentoring”. He was running for president of a local teamsters at the time, with Jim Petroff as his running mate, both truck drivers, car haulers. After awhile an author came to the house asking if we’d like for his death to be investigated, but neither my mother nor I felt that would be necessary. I don’t know, as I learned more about life I realized, maybe we were wrong in some ways, but we were right in others, including his ways. He never wanted to talk about who died in Vietnam.

    There’s also my stepgrandfather, Bill Green, a carpenter/plumber/electrician. He married my mother’s mother and built her a beautiful house, all himself, on Portage Lake in Pinckney. Bill died of alzheimer’s some time ago. For awhile after my mother was put into a nursing home, my half-siblings stayed with my grandmother there. They’re all grown up now, living other places, but the house is still there, a very nice house. Bill once called me a “loser”, because when he explained to me, driving the Pontiac 2000ste that my stepfather killed himself in to the Sundance dealership to sell, that my stepfather’s death hadn’t been asphyxiation as my mother and grandmother had convinced me, but was actually a self-inclicted gunshot wound (which explains why he chose his gun-enthusiast friend’s place up on business 69, the place with the vine-covered windmill), he made me promise not to tell my mother or grandmother who told me the truth. I did, and he always resented that. But he was a mentor for me, in showing me that honesty is more powerful than lies. Even when he called me a “loser” later, I don’t think he meant it personally. Some time after I’d long left my family behind, wanting nothing else to do with them, I remembered his words and it seemed to me he was explaining something about “like kinds”, and the company I was keeping in my family.

    My mother’s father, my grandfather, was sort of like a mentor for awhile even though he turned out to be completely different than the persona he projected to people, even to me. He was still completely honest about many things that nobody else was willing to be honest about. He showed me that not everybody I meet in life is going to lack honesty where it’s important.

  • A few years ago I watched a televised interview with a man who was in his early twenties. He was being interviewed in the prison where he would stay the rest of his life. The reporter asked him if there is anything that might have changed his life, so that he would not have committed the crimes. The young man had been in prison enough time to think about his situation and life. With no hesitation, the young man answered, that if one person, just one person had shown an interest in him, he did not think he would be in prison. It was the sense of not being of value or importance to anyone that had made him as he was.

  • I have mentored new teachers, student teachers and now teachers seeking National Board Certification. I could list all of the important aspects of mentoring for those that I mentor, but what is also important is my personal growth because of my work with my mentees. I mentor to pass forward the favors of the many mentors in my life. But equally important is that I have a continuous debt to those that trust me enough to allow me into their lives as their mentor. Each person I mentor enriches my teaching practice as well a me personally.


  • Your columns always inspire me, Dan!
    Thank you for tapping me on the shoulder to think about this subject.

    The mentor who comes to mind was the Governor I worked for in the formative part of my career — Ohio Governor Dick Celeste who is now president of Colorado College. My life and work lessons being associated with him were many. Here’s one:

    As his press secretary and spokesperson I had made a mistake that could have reflected badly on him and I felt awful. He never said a word. He simply wrote me a little note, “Ouch, let’s not let that happen again. Thanks.”

    The combination of his even temperament and we’re-all-in-this-together clarity earned my loyalty and strengthened my commitment. And, it provided me in the 20 years since an excellent example of how to give an appropriate measure of clear and direct (negative) feedback.

    Thanks for this terrific forum, Dan.

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