I hear lots of conversations about mentors. Our clients, nonprofit associations primarily, have many missions and more challenges right now than the board members signed on to tackle. Lost in the agendas, the committee meetings, and the back-to-normal events is the fact that they each need a mentee.

I honestly don’t think I had a mentor. I had many people who taught me important lessons, each one unique from the previous. I call it unintentional mentorship. From the time we begin to belong to groups like youth classes at church, brownie and cub scout troops, and sports teams, there is a leader.  When you launch (or lurch) into your career, there is always the boss. That immediate superior may not be a mentoring figure, but another who made an impact on you may be nearby.

I remember a girl scout leader, one who didn’t even have children of her own but chose to be a mariner senior scout leader. It was a perfect fit for her navy officer training. We learned the importance of finishing a task. There are many lessons from that sentence.  My manager at a men’s clothing store, where I’d managed to get a sales job in spite of being underage, taught me the basics of service to your customer. Yes, you can cuff a pant standing up but if you get on the floor, the customer feels very tall.  Hazel Grandchamp, my boss in the HR department of Home Savings and Loan, taught me discretion. Decades later, my client, Bill White gave me permission to take the reins in a room of those who pretended to. Of course, your parents are your first mentors and I can name teachers who changed me.

At a time when many trade organizations are desperate for new board members, what have the current ones done to bring someone along? In my board training class, I tell directors that the second thing they must do upon coming on board is to identify their replacements and mentor them.

That’s the way you nurture people for leadership and ultimately guide your industry.

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