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John Maxwell


The Three Types of Mentors Every Person Needs

No one gets to the top alone

Published: Thursday, April 28, 2016 - 14:13

A self-made leader doesn’t make much. I first wrote that statement in my book, Leadership Gold (Thomas Nelson, 2008). Eight years later, I still believe it. After all, I’m not a self-made man; it took a lot of people investing in me to get me where I am today.

You may wonder who helped me. Well, I’ll tell you: mentors.

A mentor is someone who teaches, guides, and lifts you up by virtue of her experience and insight. It’s usually someone a little farther ahead of you on the path—although that doesn’t always mean that the person is older. A mentor is someone with a head full of experience and a heart full of generosity, who brings those things together in your life.

I’ve had help all along my journey and been blessed with some amazing mentors who have poured wisdom and insight into my life at crucial times.

I started close to home

My first mentor was my father, Melvin. His investment in me as an individual was the foundation for everything I’ve achieved. His encouragement, observations, and advice helped shape everything from my mindset to my belief about the future. Without him, I’m not sure where I would’ve ended up.

Another mentor was my brother Larry. From our wrestling matches, I learned not to give up. From our business dealings, I learned to look at situations realistically and to prepare for the unexpected. From our friendship, I learned much about generosity and giving yourself away to other people.

From my mother Laura I learned the value of listening. No one taught me more about that subject than she did. I also learned about unconditional love—the value of believing in another person even if he disappoints you.

Not every mentor in my life was a family member, however. To be successful, there came a time when I had to seek out other mentors. That required me to have the self-awareness to choose mentors who could help me be the best possible version of myself. To do this, I spent some time preparing myself to be mentored. First I learned about myself, which taught me what I knew and what I didn’t know, and then I went out to find the mentors who could fill in the gaps.

For me, there have been three types of mentors.

Mentor No. 1: Those who knew me and knew they made a difference

The greatest example of this type of mentor in my life was basketball coach John Wooden. I intentionally sought out Coach Wooden to learn about teamwork, leadership, vision, and character. I’ll never forget how much work I put into our first meeting—I came armed with pages of questions that took me hours to write! All that preparation paid off; not only did I come away from that initial meeting with a thousand ideas to consider, I also earned the right to sit down again with Coach Wooden several more times before he passed away.

There have been other mentors who saw my potential as a leader and partnered with me for a season to help me grow. Others have joined me to keep my thinking sharp and focused on growth. Like Coach Wooden, each mentor knew that his words made a difference in my life, and also knew that those words made a difference to the people I served. For that reason, all were happy to help me on my journey.

Mentor No. 2: Those who knew me and didn’t know they made a difference

Not everyone who knows you knows how much of a difference they make. For me, the greatest example of this in my life is Kurt Campmeier, who introduced me to the concept of having a personal growth plan way back at the beginning of my career. Kurt’s influence on my life and work is far greater than the amount of time he spent with me, but time isn’t always equal to impact. For years, I don’t think Kurt had any idea of the impression he’d made on me. A few years ago, however, my team tracked him down, and I had the opportunity to see him again and thank him.

The reality is that a host of people in my life have shown me wise paths or challenged me to grow without ever knowing that I was watching their lives. In fact, if I were to name them right now, they might respond by saying, “John, what are you talking about?” They weren’t looking to mentor me, but I was looking to be mentored by them—I was intentional in seeking out the wisdom they often weren’t even aware they were offering.

Mentor No. 3: Those who didn’t know me and yet made a difference

That intentionality extends even to those mentors whom I’ve never met. That may sound strange, but the truth is that all of us have access to long-distance mentors we may never meet in person. Speakers, books, magazine articles, webinars—the different ways to discover available mentors are endless.

In this age of digital experiences, there are more opportunities available for mentoring than ever before. All you have to do is search for people who are making great achievements in your area of interest, and you’ll have a wealth of potential mentors at your disposal. Just make sure that what they say translates into actions or principles you can follow in your real life. After all, the point of any mentor is to help you take steps to get better.

That’s why I’ve been so relentless about pursuing mentors: I need all the help I can get if I want to continue getting better. If you want to get to the places you dream of for your life, you’ll need help, too. Some mentors are in our lives for a short season, others for longer; the length is determined by what you need to learn and what the mentor has to offer.

Be intentional about finding your own mentors

I encourage everyone to begin looking for a mentor. Whenever someone asks the inevitable question, “How do I find a mentor?” I point them in the same direction: Who can you think of who is successful in an area in which you’re trying to grow? Start there and see how you can access that person’s insights. Maybe it’s through a blog, maybe it’s a book, or maybe it’s just a phone call away. You won’t know until you start looking and asking.

No one gets to the top alone. We all have help. It’s why I’ve made mentoring such a crucial part of my growth—and it’s why I mentor people along the way. It’s the inspiration for my Maximum Impact Mentoring call each month, and the reason I continue to write and speak to audiences each year. I want to help as many people as possible become all they can be.

First published April 5, 2016, on John Maxwell’s blog.


About The Author

John Maxwell

John C. Maxwell  is a #1 New York Times bestselling author, coach, and speaker who has sold more than 25 million books in 50 languages. In 2014 he was identified as the #1 leader in business by the American Management Association® and the most influential leadership expert in the world by Business Insider and Inc. magazine. He has also been voted the top leadership professional in the world on LeadershipGurus.net for six consecutive years. As the founder of The John Maxwell Company, The John Maxwell Team, EQUIP, and The John Maxwell Leadership Foundation, he has trained more than 5 million leaders.