Mentors, Role Models, and Other Ways We Learn

This week, I had the privilege of being surrounded by some of the greatest minds and hearts in the leadership business at the annual ASTD conference – the grandfathers and fathers of thought leadership, whose devotion to this work has inspired so many others to greatness.  I listened as they shared their wisdom on what it takes to be a great leader, how to cultivate it in others, and what traits and skills will be needed in the future.  They collectively spoke of integrity, vision, courage, transparency, authenticity, flexibility, and motivation.  They addressed the need for cultural/global literacy, the ability to anticipate and respond to change, and how to overcome adversity and become the hero in your own life.

For much of this time, I was in deep thought and reflection, despite the constant whirlwind of activity.  I was learning new material and reconsidering old ideas from a fresh perspective, even as I was reminded of what I already knew.  As I listened to these great teachers, I began to reflect on my own mentors and role models, and the various struggles and experiences that have been a part of my personal journey, all of whom/which have helped shape and influence the person I am today.

The truth is that sometimes, we cannot know in the present moment how the people we are surrounded by will inspire our learning.  Sometimes, we cannot foresee how our daily struggles may end up transformative in nature, providing us with fertile ground for growth and enabling us to step up and into real leadership.  We live, we work, we connect with others, and we get caught up in the drama of our lives.  It’s easy to think that’s all there is.  But when we slow down and look a little closer; when we take time for honest reflection, we can begin to see the thousands of lessons and influences along the way; seeds of learning planted in fertile soil, just waiting to take root.

My parents, for example, were my earliest and most important role models from whom I learned integrity, resiliency, flexibility and strength, all of which have been central to my character and the courage needed to walk this journey I am now on.  Along the way, there have been those teachers who inspired me with their wisdom, while others taught me about motivation and the power of belief in another.  They believed in me until I found the confidence to believe in myself, and in doing so, helped propel me to real achievement.  One former boss, the Honorable Judge Nelson, taught me about vision and perserverance, sharing his dream for his County home that would one day be realized, though it took him a lifetime to achieve.  There have been other mentors and role models, too:  one who taught me about the importance of passion (and survival) in the workplace, one who has refined my understanding of justice and diversity in the world, and another from whom I have learned how to lead and mentor others.  All of them have become a part of my story.  All of them have been influencers of change.

Still, a great teacher is never enough, and it is often what we ‘do’ in the trenches of life that reaps the greatest rewards.  This is where we learn to apply and refine these lessons, though they are often painful in the learning.  We struggle in our efforts, and learn to persevere.  We start to give up hope, but then learn to move forward in Faith.  We are met with deception, but learn to counter it with transparency and integrity.  We are beaten down, and we learn to stand up for ourselves.  We feel victimized, then learn to become our own heroes.  We move in the midst of chaos, but learn to align actionable goals with a common vision.  In the face of blame, we learn accountability.  In the face of failure, we learn humility.  When cultures and values clash, we learn to find alignment within ourselves.

Tonight I am thankful for my journey – for the joys and laughter, and the sorrows and struggles, too.  I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to learn and stretch and grow – from others who have been a part of my journey, and from the essence of life itself.

I’m curious…

Who are your mentors and role models? How have they shaped and/or influenced your journey?  What has adversity taught you?

Note: My use of the terms ‘father’ and ‘grandfather’ are intended to be gender-neutral, as there are some incredibly wise and visionary women I include among this list of great thought leaders, including my #leadfromwithin friend, Jesse Lyn Stoner.

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