Thoughts: On the incredible influence of mentors

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This post was originally going to be a carping vent about other people who’s out-of-context assumptions about my ability to manage my own time hold me back from reaching my full potential. But as I sat down on the patio at a Queen St West pub, cider in hand, the negativity drained right out of me (faster than I could drain my pint glass). So instead, this is a post about the people who enable me.

“When you die, the most important thing you will have done with your life is mentor other people.” – Al Craig (paraphrased)

I just finished an eight-hour meeting of the MedicAlert Board of Directors. This group of 12 women and men are responsible for strategic direction and governance of a Foundation who’s mission is to save lives by providing emergency personnel with critical information at the time of need. During our meeting we discussed what we were looking for in prospective board members, and it got me thinking.

Like MedicAlert, I have a board of directors. It is a group of diverse and intelligent people who all place my interests in high regard. They believe in me even when I don’t believe in myself. They are a diverse group of experts from various fields that directly or indirectly play a role in my professional and personal lives.

One member of my Board once said something that I will never forget. We were at his retirement party at a yacht club and it was all very fancy. He stood up, thanked the crowd, and offered a reflection on his industrious 40 year career of saving lives, transforming systems, making scientific discoveries, and managing a half-billion dollar organization. These accomplishments, he said, were very nice. But the most rewarding part of his curriculum vitae wasn’t his war stories from the medical trenches, his political wins, or his list of publications. It was watching his mentees succeed.

Yep. His legacy, he sincerely believes, is evidenced in those he mentored.

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Climbing Kilimanjaro is not possible without mentors.


As one of those mentees, I felt incredible privilege to have access to his wisdom, insight and investment and horribly responsible for my future endeavours lest I should let him down.

If my Board, which is spread around the globe in at least half a dozen time zones, were to meet in person, he would surely be the Chair.


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Climbing mountains sucks sometimes.  Mentors tell you to keep trekking.

My Board

My Board is fluid, but most of the people on it have known me for a decade or two. They know who I am. They know what I am. And they know what I can do. Most importantly, they place my interests above their own, every time they give me advice. They make up most of the very short list of people I trust completely.

Why?  My mentors challenge me to articulate my crazy ideas. They expose weaknesses that could lead to disaster and make connections that lead to brilliance. Sometimes this puts a brakes on my plans, and other times it accelerates my path. In a few instances, it has completely revolutionized my life, putting me on a path I never would have found on my own.

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The view from the top is always worth it.  My mentors know that before I do.

How?  My mentors encourage me when I’m down, pat me on the back when I succeed, scold me when I’m insincere. They keep me honest, demand integrity and never let me forget where I came from.

Sometimes my mentors disagree with each other, but they never force me to pick favourites; I have the autonomy to accept, reject or modify their wishes so that I can choose my own path. If that path ends in disaster, they are right there to help me execute a U-turn, or pave a new way forward.

Life is complicated. My Board guides me through the ups, downs and in-betweens. I am eternally grateful to them for what can only be described as unconditional love. They care. Today’s interactions in the Board meeting opened my eyes to the importance of having a smart, diverse team of deeply committed experts behind you.  I understand what my mentor meant that night at the yacht club when he confidently preached that the most important thing you can do with your life is mentor other people.

As I move through my career, I do my best to mentor others using the examples taught to me by my Board. Those a big shoes to fill, but thanks to them I am on solid footing.


Who’s on your Board?

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