Mentors And Self Confidence
Mentorship is the single greatest act of value creation in life.
The people we researched plug into wise and transformational leaders and also the support of teams to help them realize opportunities. The origin of the word “mentor” suggests the ways in which they actually help. It is a Greek word from the Odyssey in which Mentor counsels Odysseus, and from which we get its modern meaning of advisor. The Latin root refers to “one who thinks” and in Sanskrit, “one who admonishes.” They form a palimpsest of what we look for in mentors whether in the form of parents, coaches, bosses, and even strangers who help guide us to the promised land.
The first plate to come out of the kitchen told me all I needed to know. He was a ranch cook. The problem was that he was our executive chef at Forbes magazine. The beef was swimming in gravy, alongside three russet potatoes mashed in butter. My kind of food. But not the kind of Forbes wanted to serve their executive guests. What began as a culinary disaster ended in triumph because of leadership.
Malcolm Forbes was not a teacher per se, but great leaders know how to teach. He couldn’t show the chef how to cook but could instruct him to learn how to cook. Instead of firing him as many bosses would do, he gave the assignment to visit the top 10 restaurants in Manhattan. Order specials and meet the chefs. They would show him everything. Our Chef came back as a three-star phenom and spent the next ten years cooking for Forbes’s guests. After every meal, Malcolm asked the chef to take a bow. He exemplified the mantra that a leader instructs then extols.
Of the fifty extraordinary lives we researched (twenty-five from the group are featured in this book), everyone benefitted greatly from leaders at key inflection points in their lives.
“Yes, lick ’em tomorrow, though.” — Ulysses GrantGeneral Mentorship
We discovered that mentors can be found in history. For example, General David Petreaus battled a vicious terrorist insurgency in Iraq in which he famously asked, “tell me how does this end.” The American four-star general called on the words of Ulysses S. Grant, his historical mentor, for inspiration. In our interview, Petreaus was able to recite Grant’s language during the first day of the Battle of Shiloh when it appeared all was lost:
“Amid the chaos, General Grant gathered himself beneath a large oak tree just atop the high ground. After midnight. he walked over to the small cabin used as a hospital for the wounded, and a weak-stomached Grant could take no more than a few seconds amid the screams of the wounded. Grant returned to his “tree in the rain,” and General Sherman stopped by and admitted he was thinking of retreat. He blurted out, “Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Grant, his mind already made up, responded, “Yes, lick ’em tomorrow, though.”
The Battle of Shiloh turned the tide of war as the Union Army commanded the Mississippi River valley and its ability to provide or deny resources to the enemy. When Petreaus faced similar odds in Iraq, he had to find a “tree in the rain” to prepare his troops to do battle. The thing Grant did and what he helped Petreaus to do in Iraq was one of our strategic mindsets, “get in the game.”
The result was the greatest counterinsurgency in history.
Think of mentors as lovers, some last a day while others may stay for life. Extraordinary success requires leaders and mentors to help us get off the ground. It is unlikely to obtain these qualities later in life, although they can be refined and reinvigorated.
Mentors can give us the self-confidence to change our lives as we see in the stories of General Petraeus and the Forbes chef. Here are the key benefits of having, choosing, and finding model mentors: