A True Mentor is Always Considered in the Present Tense

For the last 15 years, I have been curating a list of mentor pairs from a variety of sources including autobiographies, biographies, newspaper articles, personal interviews, and diligent historical research.

The pairings are divided into ten categories. (1) Actors, Comedians, Producers and Directors (Stage, Screen and TV); (2) Mentoring relationships depicted in motion pictures and television; (3) Musicians, Songwriters, and Singers; (4) Classical and Broadway Musicians, Composers, Conductors, Ballet, and Modern Dancers; (5) Fashion, Media and Celebrities; (6) Artists, Writers, Photographers, Publishers, Novelists, Poets; (7) Mentoring relationships depicted in print (novels stories, fiction); (8) Sports Figures, Athletes, and Coaches; (9) Historical, Political, Spiritual and Civic Leaders; and (10) Business, Industry, Education, Science, and Medical Leaders.

In many cases, the mentoring relationship is one between a mentor who has died and a person who they mentored who is still living. When I first started detailing this type of relationship, I referred to the relationship in the past tense: ‘the person who died was a mentor to the person who is still living.’ For example, when referring to the mentoring relationship between the award-winning actress Patty Duke, who died in March of 2016, and the person she mentored, Melissa Gilbert, another great actress, writer, and producer, one could say that Patty Duke was a mentor to Melissa Gilbert.

But that description using the past tense would be totally wrong with regards to mentoring. That is one of the aspects of mentoring that makes it different from virtually all other types of relationships. A true mentor helps you learn something better or faster, and that learning lasts your entire life. In other words, what you learn from a mentor does not disappear, fade, or stop when the mentor perishes. What you learn from a true mentor stays with you all your life; it’s not temporary, it’s a permanent part of you as a person.

Therefore, when a mentor dies, we don’t say he or she “was” a mentor to so and so. Instead, we say, the person who died “is” a mentor to so and so. And if the mentor is a true mentor, the mentoring influence remains regardless of what has happened to the mentor. In some cases, for example, people might refer to someone as a “former” mentor or a person is “no longer a mentor.” A true mentor is a mentor for life even when there is no longer an active relationship. This is one of the outstanding qualities of mentoring; one that distinguishes mentoring from coaching, training, and supervision.

Mentors in Memorium: Jacob Goldman (1921-2011)

Jacob_GoldmanMr. Goldman, a physicist, was the chief scientist at Xerox in the 1960’s. While there he founded the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), which invented the modern personal computer. At the time computers were typically not available in offices, and little was known about what shape the invention of the personal computer would take for the office of the future. Mr. Goldman’s vision convinced Xerox to invest in the future, even if it didn’t know what to do with the returns. PARC researchers designed a number of innovations including the Alto personal computer, the Ethernet office network, laser printing, and the graphical user interface.

The technologies he spearheaded eventually were commercialized by Apple and Microsoft, prompting Mr. Goldman to lament in a 1988 interview: “Xerox’s failure was part of a large corporation’s unwillingness to take risks. Look at the personal computer industry today. It’s a multibillion-dollar industry. And we at Xerox could have had that industry to ourselves.”

He acted as a mentor to many scientists and helped them to create a larger vision for whatever projects they created. He brought the idea to management that they may have to wait some time to gain practical value from scientific work.


More details about Mr. Goldman are available in the obituary in the NY Times (here).

Mentors in Memorium: Jay Cross (1944-2015)

Jay_CrossJay Cross was the author of the book Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways that Inspire Innovation and Performance (Amazon), described as the turning point for the learning industry. He was often referred to as the Johnny Appleseed of informal learning, and he is credited with creating the term “e-learning.” He challenged the conventional wisdom about how adults learn, and he inspired and had a lasting impact on many learning practitioners.

One of those he influenced said, “I remember being struck by his interest in what I was doing. He had a natural curiosity and wanted to explore why I was doing what I was doing, and the learning value that came out of it for me.”

Another said, “Jay’s contribution to the field of organisational learning was huge. He made us think hard about the edges of our profession. When many were fretting about perfecting the irrelevant with better classroom courses, Jay was pulling us into the emerging world of eLearning. When most were still focused on integrating eLearning into courses and curricula, Jay was shouting that the real power wasn’t in structured learning at all but in workplace and in informal and social learning approaches.”

“He was a mentor and colleague. Whenever I was struggling with an idea or needed some creative diversion, Jay was the person I called.”

Ravi Pratap Singh, the Co-Founder of Learnnovators has compiled a list of Jay Cross quotes that he extracted from an interview with Jay a couple of month’s before his death in November 2015. The quotes are available here.

Much of Jay’s work is still available on the Internet, including his great blog, Working Smarter Daily.

“Bringing people together face-to-face is a catalyst for innovation, collegiality, and rewarding conversations. Collaboration has its intrinsic rewards. It is sinful to waste this time together aimlessly or passively listening to presentations.”

Mentors in Memorium: Marnie Rice (1949-2016)


Marnie Rice

Mental Health Professional Dr. Marnie Rice began her career engaging in behaviour modification of inmates in one of Canada’s most notorious mental institutions, known for its concrete cells and steel bars. It housed the most dangerous psychopaths, serial murderers and pedophiles in Canada. 

Eventually, she became the Director of Research and was determined to find ways to assess the risk of violence in her patients and devise practical treatments. It was a daunting task for her to remain positive given the violence demonstrated by her charges. At one point she was attacked by a psychotic patient during a group session. She said, “He grabbed me around the neck and tried to strangle me, but he was pretty weak. Everybody jumped up to help. It was nothing serious.”

Dr. Rice used her experience to develop a tool to solve this problem of attacks on staff. She learned that assaults on staff were often prompted by staff members’ attitudes toward their patients. She developed a guide to train staff members that was used by many other institutions. She eventually developed another tool to assess the risk of releasing psychopaths back into the community.

Everyone who worked with her knew of her passion for mentoring new scientists. “She kept her door open and was happy to answer questions and give encouragement. Her nurturing prompted us to have high standards for scientific research and ethics.,” said one of those she mentored.

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Mentors in Memorium: Mary Parker Follett (1868-1933)

mary_parker_follettWhile many management gurus are men, Mary Parker Follett has been largely forgotten in the history of management. She was the first to apply human psychology and human relations to industrial management.

She went to Radcliffe College–a coordinate college of Harvard University–though, being a woman, she was denied a degree. From there, she became a voluntary social worker and founded social community centres in and around Boston.

Her contribution to the development of management theory can be seen as a contrast to the scientific management theories of the early 1900’s. Unlike the approach of time-and-motion advocates such as American mechanical engineer Frederick W. Taylor (1856-19195), Mary argued for a human relations approach that was well before its time, and eventually served as an influence in the work of Austrian management guru Peter Drucker 1909-2005) and others. In a 1924 essay on “Power”, she coined the phrases “power-over” and “power-with”, observing that groups work more effectively when power is shared and people are empowered. Her ideas about shared power, mutuality, and reciprocity formed the basis for much of modern day mentoring. Her  books, in part, served as the foundation for the Human Relations Movement of the mid-20th century of management gurus such as American psychologist and human needs specialist Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), clinical psychologist and management pioneer Frederick Herzberg (1923-2000) and Australian-born management psychologist Elton Mayo (1880-1949).

“It seems to me that whereas power usually means power-over, the power of some person or group over some other person or group, it is possible to develop the conception of power-with, a jointly developed power, a co-active, not a coercive power.”

~ Mary Parker Follett ~

In Memorium, Pat Conroy (1945-2016): Your Mentoring Legacy Gave The World Joy and Courage


Pat Conroy’s incredible books, The Great Santini, Beach Music, Prince of Tides, and My Reading Life (among others), provided many readers with strong emotional experiences and often led readers to examine their own lives. Mr. Conroy explained it this way: “The reason I write is to explain my life to myself. I’ve also discovered that when I do, I’m explaining other people’s lives to them.”

Mr. Conroy’s own life of growing up in an unstable and abusive life provided him with considerable strength or “grit.” But one of his earliest strength-giving experiences was when he was a student in Mr. Norris’ high school English class. As Pat Conroy said, “In 1961, I entered the classroom of the great Eugene Norris, who set about in a thousand ways to change my life. It was the year I read The Catcher in the Rye, under Gene’s careful tutelage, and I adore that book to this very day. Later, a parent complained to the school board, and Gene Norris was called before the board to defend his teaching of this book. He asked me to write an essay describing the book’s galvanic effect on me, which I did. But Gene’s defense of The Catcher in the Rye was so brilliant and convincing in its sheer power that it carried the day. I stayed close to Gene Norris till the day he died. I delivered a eulogy at his memorial service and was one of the executors of his will. Few in the world have ever loved English teachers as I have, and I loathe it when they are bullied by know-nothing parents or cowardly school boards.”

Another one of Pat Conroy’s mentors was the novelist James Dickey (1923-1997), his professor at the University of South Carolina. In reacting to some less than supportive reviews of his book, Prince of Tides, Mr. Conroy recalled the advice of his professor: “He told me to write everything I did with all the passion and all the power you could muster. Don’t worry about how long it takes or how long it is when you’re done. You know, he was right.”



Matching Mentors

I used to travel extensively and spoke at various conferences about mentoring. Since many of the participants were new to mentoring, I would often accompany my talk with a slide show or movie about mentoring relationships of well-known personalities, celebrities, sports figures, or politicians.

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.

I divided the mentoring relationships into a number of categories to make the connections easier to find. However, as hundreds of examples were added to each category, even I had difficulty recalling who was where. As a result, I’ve created a database that now has all the mentoring relationships listed in one place. It’s still possible to scroll through the list in any one category, but now it’s possible to just type in a person’s name, and all their connections will be displayed.

Here is a list of the ten categories, and a few examples from selected categories. At the end of the examples is the link to the database where you can search away.

  • 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








To search through the database of mentoring relationships, go to http://www.mentors.ca/mentorpairs.html




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

PeerLogo-ObamaPeer 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 ~