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Anniversary Special: The River Guides of Our Lives

Anniversary Special: The River Guides of Our Lives
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We launched our book, “The Shift from Me to Team: Achieving Sustainable Greatness,” one year ago. The fifteen years of work that went into preparing and writing it were worth it. The feedback from leaders on how it resonates with them is fulfilling.

This blog post shares my book launch talk from May 2023, which was dedicated to the mentors of our lives. Reflecting on the then-recent loss of Don McMillan, my professional mentor of more than thirty years, made me realize the power of mentors in guiding our lives.

The River Guides of Our Lives

Life is like a river. At times, it has tranquil, calm waters we enjoy effortlessly, and at other times, it has challenging parts where we must call on all our abilities to manage and maneuver effectively. And then, the river has surprises, requiring us to react swiftly to survive.

If we are lucky, we have river guides—mentors—who prepare us for the challenges we face. They coach, support, and stretch us to maneuver the river effectively, even preparing us for the sudden, unexpected, and sometimes life-threatening challenges we encounter.

Our mentors stretch us to realize greatness we did not see in ourselves. These mentors may know us better than we know ourselves, and they see what is best for us before we understand it ourselves.

Some of the Cherished Mentors Who Have Impacted My Life

My Mother

My mom was my first mentor. Although I was in the 4th grade, I was reading at the 1st grade level when we moved from Covina, California, to Swarthmore, Pennsylvania. The school wanted to hold me back, but my parents insisted it would be awkward, given I was bigger than most of the other 4th graders. So, before I could go out to play, all my homework had to be done, and my mom took it upon herself to help me. Looking back now, I realize I most likely was dyslexic. To do the homework, I would talk to my mom about what I was learning and thinking, and she would capture my thoughts in pencil on our white Formica kitchen tabletop. Then, based on what she had written, I would create my homework. These were tough times for me, yet she often said, “I can see you becoming President of the United States someday.”

My Father

My father traveled Monday-Friday for his work. Upon returning one Friday, he asked how football practice was going, and I told him I did not go out for the high school football team. They were State Champions the previous year, and I was only second string on the junior high school team. My father told me, “You can fail in trying, but you will never fail to try. You get your haircut and ask the coach if he will permit you to come out for the team.” I wonder where I would be today without my father seeing something in me I did not see in myself…

Bo Schembechler

I was fortunate to play football for Head Coach Bo Schembechler at Michigan Football and then work for him for twelve years. Having Bo as a coach was extremely challenging. His high expectations on the field, in the classroom, and the community were extraordinary. His demanding style was intimidating. Interestingly, his demonstration of love for you was comforting and reassuring when off the field. His coaching was not for himself but for you.

Bo’s deep purpose in life was to challenge others to be all they could be in service of something greater. Even when we were dining out, Bo would often engage with the server, challenging them to be better or congratulating them on something done well.  He wanted to help everyone he encountered perform closer to their potential for their personal development.

Don McMillan

For more than thirty years, Don McMillan was my executive coaching mentor. He had a deeper understanding of human nature than any person I know. Don was hard on me like Bo was, challenging me to be the best executive coach I could be. He knew what buttons to push and when to back off. I would get five to ten emails and three to five phone calls a week from him informing me of the latest research on human nature that I needed to learn and know.

Don was the last long-term mentor I will have. On the evening Don passed away this year, I had over 800 unopened emails from him, including one from that evening. I have not opened that last email—it remains too difficult to accept that the last of the mentors who seemed to dedicate their lives to my development is gone.

Who are the mentors who helped shape you this far on your journey? Appreciate them, recognize them, and continue to learn and grow from them. They will not always be there for you, and then it will be up to you to honor them with how you move forward in life.

Thank you to all who purchased the book. May your continued journey be fulfilling as you realize the unique, magnificent leader you are meant to be.

#Leadership #Team #PeakPerformance #CoreIdentity #TeamDevelopment #ShiftFromMeToTeam #Purpose