Maximize your mentoring

At last week’s Live 2 Lead conference, speaker John Maxwell encouraged participants to maximize their mentoring.

Mentoring is something we can do at any age, but it is almost essential for people over 50. After all, John explained, each of us was mentored by someone for something during our lives. We almost have a duty to pay their generosity forward by lending our expertise to someone else.

Growing up without a father, I know I was certainly mentored by several people. Even as an adult, it was uncanny how a teacher would often appear as soon as I, the student, was ready. Here are a few of the most important mentors I had:

Keith Larson — My 11th grade English teacher saw something in me I had no idea existed. He knew I had it in me to be an excellent writer. But at that age, I could barely write. So Mr. Larson tutored me once a week during his free period, which coincided with my study hall.

Sitting in his tiny office underneath the B-wing steps at LaFollette High School, he drilled me on the mechanics of grammar. Once I mastered that, he showed me how to use a thesaurus to add variety to my word choices. He alone is responsible for transforming me into the writer I am today.

Mike O’Connor — The general manager of the McDonald’s restaurant where I worked at as a teenager, Mike sort of took me under under his wing. I think it was because I showed up for the interview wearing a suit. He set a very high standard for my future bosses by encouraging me to get better every day, while giving me a very long rope that did not require constant supervision.

He pushed me to become proficient at every workstation to the point I was working nearly full time as a 17-year-old. That was before laws were changed to ensure teenagers get enough TV time everyday. I had a key to the restaurant and was even making bank deposits. He was greatly responsible for instilling in me a very strong work ethic and a desire to own my own business.

Larry Borchert — The Scoutmaster of Troop 67 in Madison, Wis., Larry really encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone to advance all the way to Eagle Scout. He nudged me to take on every leadership position offered in the troop and to earn more merit badges than necessary because he said I’d never know if I would really like something unless I tried it.

David Mond — I had two Big Brothers who didn’t work out before I was matched to David as a high school sophomore. A computer scientist by trade, he opened my eyes to the wonders of technology. He also pushed me to do more than the minimum whenever possible. For example, he preached that I should never miss an opportunity to earn extra credit.

David also role-played with me as I built up courage to ask a classmate to junior prom. Then he helped me pick out a tux and showed me how to act as a gentleman for what was my first real date. Serving as one of the groomsmen at my wedding, David was an important life coach for decades until his untimely death at age 56.

Dennis Ohnstad — Although he is only 9 years older than I am, my uncle was more like an older brother in some aspects and a father in others. He helped teach me to drive and encouraged me to volunteer for the armed forces, although I think he wished I had joined the U.S. Navy instead of the Air Force.

He mentored me in my first business as an event photographer, which is something he did himself when he was my age. He has constantly served as a sounding board for new crazy ideas I dream up. He has supported several other business ventures, and helped provide prospective for their success or failure. My failures can often be attributed to my not following Dennis’ advice.

Chuck Marzahn — I met Chuck just starting out as a magazine editor and he has served as the most consistently supportive professional mentor I have ever had. He provided me with his contact list to start RV Daily Report. He also was the most influential Christian mentor in my life. He has been semi-retired for many years, but will often stop everything to give me an hour of his time to chat about whatever is on my mind.

How to mentor

As seasoned citizens, we have an excellent opportunity to serve as mentors for other people at various stages in their lives simply because we have been there, done that, got the t-shirt and souvenir cup. We should be able to help people avoid the mistakes we made, or achieve success by following the trail we blazed.

When I look at my life experiences, I could very easily mentor:

  • Other writers, editors or photographers.
  • Other fathers, especially dads trying to raise or relate to their daughters.
  • Young men making a decision to marry or contending with that great crucible.
  • People questioning their faith or their need for faith in the first place.
  • Men or boys who grew up without a father, were bullied at school or who were surrounded by females.
  • People wanting to start new businesses, especially a blog or podcast.
  • People struggling to identify a purpose for their lives.

John Maxwell said there is a process for successful mentoring that includes some personal responsibility on behalf of the person being mentored, as well as accountability imposed by the person serving as a mentor. He said it usually follows this script:

  • Here is what you told me.
  • Here is what I did.
  • Did I do it right?
  • Can I ask you more questions?

It seemed rather harsh for John to suggest that mentoring relationships don’t really advance if the person being mentored refuses to implement advice received. Yet, we honor our mentor’s time and expertise by implementing the advice they give us.

Of course we have to discern their advice to make sure it aligns with our worldview, especially for people of faith. But, it’s very frustrating for mentors when their charges continue to struggle and they have not responded to an answer or direction the mentors are positive will change the course of a situation. In those situations, pain generally becomes the best teacher.

The most important thing John stressed during his presentation was the need for each of us to pour into someone else’s life simply because so many others poured into ours — often without cost or expectation, other than getting better at whatever we were being taught.

When you have children at home, it can be easier to say that you’re mentoring them. But, for those of us over 50 whose children have left the nest, we really don’t have an excuse any more. Look around, there is likely someone nearby who could benefit from a mentoring relationship.

If you still can’t find someone, ask God. He’ll put you in touch with the right person at the right time to deliver the right message.

What can you to do maximize your mentoring? Tell me in the Forward From 50 Facebook community or email me at