Famous and Not So Famous Mentoring Relationships

In preparing for mentor program leader training and talks to corporate stakeholders about mentoring, I would punctuate my comments with examples of mentoring relationships between people whom I thought my audience would recognize.

This goal had three outcomes. One, I discovered how much more popular informal mentoring has been over the ages than I had realized; two, audience members were often inspired to take action towards mentoring based on their admiration for the people, heroes, or role models they saw in the examples; and third, over time I compiled a list of thousands of mentoring relationships.

What follows are examples from four of the ten categories:

  • Actors, Comedians, Producers and Directors (Stage, Screen, and TV)
  • Mentoring relationships depicted in motion pictures and television
  • Musicians, Songwriters, and Singers
  • Classical and Broadway Musicians, Composers, Conductors, Ballet, and Modern Dancers
  • Fashion, Media, and Celebrities
  • Artists, Writers, Photographers, Publishers, Novelists, Poets
  • Mentoring relationships depicted in print (novels stories, fiction)
  • Sports Figures, Athletes, and Coaches
  • Historical, Political, Spiritual and Civic Leaders
  • Business, Industry, Education, Science, and Medical Leaders






The full list of mentoring pairs is available at http://www.mentors.ca/mentorpairs.html





Solving a Multi-Billion Dollar Problem with Mentoring


Peer Resources conducted a national study of the 2000 most productive corporations in Canada to determine the extent to which they were involved in mentoring (Carr, 1999). Almost 1700 of these companies participated in and completed our interviews. Our findings revealed that the two primary reasons for establishing a mentoring program in these highest producing Canadian corporations were (1) to provide opportunities for the career development of employees, and (2) to identify and nurture leadership potential in employees.

We also found one other result. Unfortunately, we did not pay sufficient attention to this additional finding because at the time we were too focused on how to bring mentoring youth in the community and corporate mentoring experience together. Today, however, this finding could be considered a multi-billion dollar oversight. What we found was that less than five percent of the sampled corporations reported that mentoring served either the purpose of (1) attracting and retaining employees, or (2) establishing systematic leadership succession planning.

Ironically, these two infrequently noted mentoring strategies can be more easily examined in terms of cost implications or return on investment (ROI) than either of two reasons that led most companies to initiate mentoring programs. Today, for example, more and more companies are recognizing the cost of losing an employee. Turnover or employee loss can be as high as 50 percent in some industries. Previously all the costs associated with recruiting, interviewing, selecting, and training a replacement employee remained obscure. Now, however, business analysts have consistently calculated that for every employee that leaves a company the cost to the company will be about 1.5 times the employee’s salary to hire a replacement.

I don’t shop at Wal-Mart very often, but I’m always impressed by the range of products and friendly service. Yet I noticed something that seemed at odds with the friendly service: I hardly ever encountered the same employee when I returned to scout out another product. My observation was verified by a stunning figure that appeared in a recent business newspaper. Wal-Mart has to hire between 500,000 and 600,000 employees a year to replace employees who leave. While the article I read was focusing on the progress unions were making in organizing workers (not much), the turnover figure left me wondering about Wal-Mart and how much this turnover is costing them.

Wal-Mart employs close to 1.6 million associates worldwide. The average salary of a Wal-Mart employee is estimated to be between $US13,000-15,000. Managers average between $80,000 and $106,000. Using the cost-of-turnover formula, this means that Wal-Mart spends approximately $1 billion dollars annually just to replace employees!

Replacement cost also includes the costs associated with (1) a staff managing the existing work load when an employee leaves, and (2) the time staff must take to orient a new employee and bring him or her up to speed. If turnover is extensive, it can severely disrupt the workplace and have a dramatic impact on productivity. These factors, which previously were not considered part of turnover cost calculations, are now more likely to be estimated when assessing how turnover impacts the dollar value of productivity.

Recognition of this cost has prompted many companies to search for better ways to reduce turnover and increase an employee’s commitment to and connection with the organization. Some of these companies rely exclusively on strategies that improve pay, bonuses, perks, or other financial incentives. But a rapidly increasing number of corporations are relying on mentoring strategies to prevent or reduce turnover. The primary reason for choosing mentoring is because study after study of new employees, questioned about what attracts and keeps them associated with their employers, has shown three consistent needs: (1) opportunities available for learning; (2) associations with people who care about the work they do; and (3) ability to engage in meaningful work. No other workplace strategy can fit more snugly with these needs than mentoring.

Employees are not the only ones who leave a corporation. One of the results described in a 2004 study by Booz Allen Hamilton of the world’s 2,500 largest companies has shown a dramatic rise in the number of CEO’s (14 percent) leaving their corporate position. European and Asian countries have even higher percentages of revolving door CEO’s.

A recent study (Bloomberg.com) showed that the average CEO pay in 70 of the 100 largest companies in the US is $14.1 million. Yet too few of these corporations have in place any type of leadership succession plan. The number of companies that hire an external CEO far outnumbers those that hire from within. Yet data from the Booz Allen Hamilton study shows that external hires are more likely to result in an unsuccessful tenure often resulting in the newly-hired CEO leaving before term, lowered overall productivity, and an endless string of bad hires. The situation has become so rampant at the top executive level, the authors of the Booz Allen Hamilton study called CEO’s “the new ‘temps’ of the working world.”

The cost to replace a CEO is staggering. Yet the cost to create a leadership succession plan where top executives mentor less senior executives is minimal. Corporations must establish a way to groom future candidates for the chief executive position. The creation of an executive-level mentoring system is essential to continue the productivity of the corporation and the accountability to shareholders. McDonalds (as reported in the Booz Allen Hamilton study) lost two CEO’s to untimely deaths during one year. Yet they were able to continue on despite these tragedies because of their well-established executive mentoring program.

Mentoring today is necessary at all levels of corporate life. While ROI isn’t the only reason to initiate and maintain a mentoring program in business, the tools available now to measure such returns add considerable weight to the value of mentoring and its impact on benefits to corporate life.

For further information about the studies cited in this article:

Carr, R. (Winter, 1999). The status of corporate mentoring in Canada: A survey of the 2,000 most productive businesses. Compass: A Magazine for Peer Assistance, Mentorship, and Coaching, 15, 1, 13-19. (Retrieved from http://www.peer.ca/Compassinfo.html).

Challenger, Grey, & Christmas, Inc. (2015). 2015 December CEO report: 114 CEOs out in December bring yearly total to 1,221. Author. (Retrieved from http://www.challengergray.com/press/press-releases/2015-december-ceo-report-114-ceos-out-december-bring-yearly-total-1221)

Lucas, S. (November 2012). How much does it cost companies to lose employees? CBS MoneyWatch (Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-much-does-it-cost-companies-to-lose-employees/).

Lucier, C., Schuyt, R., and Tse, E. (Summer, 2005). CEO succession 2004: The world’s most prominent temp workers. strategy+business. (Retrieved from http://www.strategy-business.com/article/05204?gko=47020-1876-9227977).

Riggs, P. (2005). Executive remuneration: thriving under observation? Mercer Human Resource Consulting. (Retrieved from http://www.ceoforum.com.au/200412_remuneration.cfm).

“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.”

~ Warren Buffett ~

Turning Concepts into Experiential Training

Albert Einstein
Physicist and mentor, Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

Adults with minimal formal education are often reluctant to rely on written material as a way of gaining knowledge. Many adults with considerable formal education will describe the struggles they had using what they read as a basis for their learning. No matter how well a training binder is prepared, nor how important the information contained in the binder might be, persons who have aversions to such prepared formats will be unable to benefit from such best intentions.

A recent workshop I led provided support to this viewpoint. Considerable emphasis had been placed on preparing materials for the participants in a training workshop. A nifty binder was devised, and simple, straightforward, easy-to-read materials were created for the content. Each participant received the binder several days prior to the workshop.

At the workshop, only a handful of those gathered said they had examined the binder ahead of time. During the workshop, almost no one voluntarily or spontaneously opened the binder to use as a learning aid.

Faced with limited time, trainers will often opt to cram a lot of facts into a short time period, relying on a lecture, handouts, and presentation as the most efficient way to help participants learn the material. Participants might be dazzled by an entertaining and humorous talk. Or they might be awed by an intelligent lecture. But have they actually learned something they can use directly to improve their own work and goals? What seemed like an efficient method of organizing information actually turns out to be an ineffective way to ensure learning.

One reason trainers rely on lectures is that they may not have the experience to trust in group process. That is, the leader may not know how to assist a group to learn what it needs and to act on those needs. They may not be willing to give the group the opportunity to veer in its path towards fulfilling its learning needs. And if the group falters or goes off track, most trainers do not know how to help the group restore the agenda.

Some trainers make a mistake in the opposite direction. They do not see themselves as part of the learning group, and they fail to make contributions to the group. Instead they “bite their tongues” and do not want to interfere with group process. This hands-off attitude typically is experienced by group members as confusing and frustrating and usually polarizes the group with many group members tuning out.

Virtually any concept can be turned into an experiential learning activity. Start with learning goals. If your goals include terms like “increase awareness” or “create understanding” that’s a good start, but it may not be enough. Go a step further and ask yourself: “what should participants be able to DO (differently…) as a result of this learning event. Thinking differently could be an important change, but may not be the practical action you had in mind. Moving from one level of awareness to a different degree of awareness may be an important change, but still may not lead to the results you wanted.

Suppose the concept you want participants to learn is something like: personal support is more likely to bring about change than perceived threat. Your starting learning goal might be: participants will understand the typical impact of support and threat on change. But what ought the participants be able to DO with this understanding? One possible action learning goal might be: use at least 3 ways to reduce threat.

Here’s how Grey Owl, one of the authors of Peer Resources’ experiential learning cycle, would structure a learning activity to achieve the action learning goal. First he would ask the group participants to recall a time in their lives when they made a significant change. Then he would have the participants pair with each other and briefly share their change stories. Next he would ask the group members to brainstorm the factors that helped and hindered their change. Using a flip chart, a list of the factors would be produced. If certain factors do not appear on the lists, Grey Owl would ask the participants: what role… (the missing factors)…played in their change experience. He might also ask the participants to state what specific things their group partner did that helped or hindered them sharing their story of change. Depending on their comments, additional factors would be added to complete the list.

Grey Owl would then ask the participants to examine the two lists and determine whether any general themes or principles could be derived. One way this can be done is to ask the participants: “When you look at this particular list, what meaning does it have for you?” When the various meanings are shared, common themes are underscored and exceptions are noted.

Focusing on the action phase of the experiential learning model, Grey Owl would ask the participants to consider the themes and meaning identified and describe three specific actions they might individually take to help someone make a change. As a validation, participants would be asked to determine the degree of fit between the three actions they have selected and their charted list of factors that helped and hindered their own changes.

(Contact the author for additional articles about Peer Resources’ Experiential Learning Model.)

Ray Bradbury (1921-2012): The Mentor Who Spoke for Martians

162raybradburyRay Bradbury, the writer most responsible for bringing modern science fiction into the literary mainstream, died June 5, 2012. He was 91, and had amassed not only a phenomenal body of work but also acted as a literary mentor to hundreds of writers as well as scientists, in addition to having mentors of his own.

Two of Bradbury’s own mentors were Robert Heinlein, one of the greatest science fiction writers of all time; and Ray Harryhausen, a pioneer in motion picture visual effects creating the elaborate special effects in movies like Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans.

Ray Bradbury met Ray Harryhausen when he was 18 and they began a lifelong friendship. Bradbury said of Harryhausen, “This guy kept a mechanical dinosaur in his garage. And we were both ridiculed for our dreams as kids.” This struggle to be accepted helped them work together to find ways to express their creative ideas.

Harryhausen was also best man at Ray Bradbury’s wedding in 1947 and said that the minister at his friend’s wedding gave Bradbury’s donation back, saying, “You’re a writer, aren’t you? Here, you’re going to need it.”

Another one of Ray Bradbury’s early mentors was Mr. Electrico, a carnival entertainer who jolted himself with electricity and then zapped members of the audience with a sword. Mr. Electrico touched young Bradbury and said, “Live forever!”

On the day of his uncle’s funeral, Bradbury spotted Mr. Electrico and his troupe alongside the road as the family drove by. Bradbury made his father stop and let him out. The entertainer showed him around, introducing the boy to the other entertainers, including the illustrated man, who were then called ‘freaks’.

“You’re the reincarnation of my best friend, who died in my arms during World War I,” Mr. Electrico, once a Presbyterian minister from Illinois, told the young Bradbury.

“That day I was running away from death,” Bradbury explained. “Mr. Electrico saw something in me that I didn’t see.”

Ray Bradbury was a mentor to many writers. One of them was Richard Bach, who was later to be best known for his book, Jonathan Livingston Seagull. When Bach finished his first book, Stranger to the Ground, Bradbury wrote to him and said, “At the end of life when we must all lay ourselves out, with what thoughts shall we do so? Will we think, ‘I did my best!’ or will we think, ‘I never tried.’”

Colin Marshall, the host and producer of Notebook on Cities and Culture reviewed a keynote address that Ray Bradbury made in 2001 to the Point Loma Nazarene University’s Writer’s Symposium By the Sea, where Bradbury tells stories from his writing life with the intention of acting as a spirit mentor to those aspiring writers in the audience.

Marshall identified the following 12 points from Bradbury’s speech and offered his interpretation of what Bradbury told the audience:

Don’t start out writing novels. They take too long. Begin your writing life instead by cranking out “a hell of a lot of short stories,” as many as one per week. Take a year to do it; he claims that it simply isn’t possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row. He waited until the age of 30 to write his first novel, Fahrenheit 451. “Worth waiting for, huh?”

You may love ‘em, but you can’t be ‘em. Bear that in mind when you inevitably attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to imitate your favorite writers, just as he imitated H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, and L. Frank Baum.

Examine “quality” short stories. Bradbury suggests Roald Dahl, Guy de Maupassant, and the lesser-known Nigel Kneale and John Collier. Anything in the New Yorker today doesn’t make his cut since he finds that their stories have “no metaphor.” Bradbury suggests a course of bedtime reading: one short story, one poem (but Pope, Shakespeare, and Frost, not modern “crap”), and one essay. These essays should come from a diversity of fields, including archeology, zoology, biology, philosophy, politics, and literature. “At the end of a thousand nights,” so he sums it up, “Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff!”

Get rid of friends who don’t believe in you. Do they make fun of your writerly ambitions? He suggests calling them up to “fire them” without delay.

Live in the library. Don’t live in your “goddamn computers.” He may not have gone to college, but his insatiable reading habits allowed him to “graduate from the library” at age 28.

Fall in love with movies. Preferably old ones.

Write with joy. In his mind, “writing is not a serious business.” If a story starts to feel like work, scrap it and start one that doesn’t. “I want you to envy me my joy,” he tells his audience.

Don’t plan on making money. He and his wife, who “took a vow of poverty” to marry him, hit 37 before they could afford a car (and he still never got around to picking up a license).

List ten things you love and ten things you hate. Then write about the former, and “kill” the later—also by writing about them. Do the same with your fears.

Just type any old thing that comes into your head. Bradbury recommends “word association” to break down any creative blockages, since “you don’t know what’s in you until you test it.”

Remember, with writing, what you’re looking for is just one person to come up and tell you, “I love you for what you do.” Or, failing that, you’re looking for someone to come up and tell you, “You’re not nuts like people say.”

When U.S. President Barack Obama learned of Ray Bradbury’s death, he offered the following words of tribute:

“For many Americans, the news of Ray Bradbury’s death immediately brought to mind images from his work, imprinted in our minds, often from a young age. His gift for storytelling reshaped our culture and expanded our world. But Ray also understood that our imaginations could be used as a tool for better understanding, a vehicle for change, and an expression of our most cherished values. There is no doubt that Ray will continue to inspire many more generations with his writing, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”

Ray Bradbury has published more than 500 works of literature, including short stories, novels, plays, screenplays, televisions scripts, an opera, and verse.