Traits that exemplify the true mentor

In the business of life, and particularly in the life of business, the role of the mentor cannot be overstated. From childhood, having someone beside us to guide us through our initial learning shaped our experience and subsequently our development as human beings.

The role of the mentor is always evolving. While we may not initially know someone we meet is acting in that capacity, we do know we need someone for advice and guidance along the many steps of the life and business journey. As we get older, mentors sometimes happen by chance, as the result of the circumstances we fall into. In other situations, we recognize characteristics and attributes in friends or colleagues that we respect and desire, and we formally ask if they can assist us.

I have been very fortunate, both personally and in my career, to have had some mentors who have knowingly, but perhaps unknowingly, been amazing influences on my life. They have certainly helped me understand and fully assess a given situation; most importantly, they have helped me to formulate a thought process or strategy to deal with each of them.

Looking at my own closest mentors, particularly in my business life, it is clear that each of them had a number of similar traits which I respected, and desired the most in my own approach. There were three in particular, during the early years of my professional development, who had considerable and long lasting influence. Each had two traits in particular that stand out.

First, they were true gentlemen. They treated each person of the team they were responsible for, and all other business colleagues, with dignity and respect. And that never wavered, even in times of turmoil and crisis or even if there was disagreement with their position on any given issue.

Second, they had an amazing ability to stay calm. While the world seemed to be exploding around them, they were as strong and solid as a rock. Everyone around them fed off that calmness and came to believe that the storm would pass and we would survive the crisis at hand.

Let’s look at two characters from television who, I believe, exemplify the importance of these two traits

First, Patrick Stewart, a.k.a. Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the U.S.S. Starship Enterprise. An odd choice, perhaps, but Jean-Luc (as I believe he would want to be called), was the leader of all leaders. He defined diplomacy when others uttered the battle cry. He was the consummate pillar of strength in the face of seemingly unbeatable odds. And, above all else, he relied completely on the strength of his executive team to provide him with the key elements of their expertise.

Only then did he make his decisions. He empowered his team, and left them with the complete understanding that he respected and valued their knowledge and input. This was his greatest strength as a leader.

But above all else, in what is most often the most difficult aspect of leading any team, he provided discipline to his valued team members if they had inadvertently strayed from the mission, vision, or values that the organization embodied. It is interesting to research how many amazing management books have been written about this aspect of leadership.

Next, Jerry Seinfeld. Another odd choice you may think, but Seinfeld’s success, as defined by creating arguably the most successful sit-com of the modern era, was based on a very simple premise — an everyday guy, surrounded by close friends, in a sea of unsurpassed neuroticism, and hysterical insanity. And while he was quite clearly the central, lead character, he took a back seat to his surroundings and environment, and simply became the central cog to it all. It is interesting for me to look back at how many times in my career I played the exact same role.

Mentors are responsible for building the foundation that will help shape and develop you as an individual, especially in your role in the business environment. They will shape your outlook on how to lead, and define the truest definitions of success in the business world.

May you be fortunate as I have been to find such exemplars. In the words of the immortal Jean-Luc Picard, “Engage”.

Shawn Brown is the Founder and President of Forest For the Trees, a boutique business advisory service headquartered in Edmonton, AB. His column is distributed through

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