You Have To Have This To Succeed- Why We All Need A Justus In Our Lives
Justus died the day before I was to have lunch with him- about three weeks ago. His death really struck me. Not only because I’ll miss him. But because I realized how lucky I had been to have him in my life, for one year, 15 years ago. Here’s why, and there’s a powerful lesson for us all in this story.
When Justus came into my life, I did not want him in it. He was appointed my Chairman, with a brief to keep me under control. He was a tough, opinionated, seasoned former big time CEO. A Dutchman. He asked questions I did not want to answer. I deeply resented his forced intrusion into my world.
But then I began to look forward to being with him: I began to long for it. Because Justus listened to my answers. And then made suggestions- not directly, but by sharing his experiences in similar circumstances. I began to look up to him; to want to impress him.
When I decided to resign from that role and phase of my career, it was Justus I told first. He understood. He embraced me. And we kept in touch ever since. Justus had been for me, for that one tough year, the most valuable asset we can have. He was my:
Mentor- a wise and trusted counsellor and teacher
Mentors are different to coaches- a mentor is an influential senior sponsor and supporter. A coach gives instruction and advice, and is usually well experienced in your industry. A mentor can come from any walk of life. Both have a role. But today, I want to share insights on the power of mentors.
What Is A Mentor and What Do They Do For Us?
Houston’s Stuart O’Brien: “A mentor recognizes something in you that reminds them of themselves at your age. They keep good people on the right track. They shape you without you knowing it.”
John Hurst from Cannings: “The magic comes in their ability to shift focus and for 30 minutes focus entirely on you. They help you face reality, but do it in a careful way.”
STW CEO Mike: “My key mentor at STW always seemed to know when to pat me on the back- when I needed that positive feedback. It lifted me when I needed it.”
STW’s John Nicholl: “I am reminded by my friend Chris White, a manager of elite athletes, who says: ’I am the only one telling them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.’ That’s what a good mentor does, tells you what you need to hear.”
TMS CEO and former Singleton Ogilvy & Mather CEO Chris Mort: “A mentor is a great teacher- mine taught me many things- how and when to take short cuts, how to make tough decisions, how timing was everything. He never did it for you- but he showed you the path.”
Mentors Evolve- You Can’t Select Them
I went on a corporate event once where we were paired with sports stars from a national sporting team- and were to become their ‘mentors’ (for those who know this sport, I got Wendell Sailor and Lote Tiquiri- oi vey!). But that does not work. You can’t ‘select’ a mentor in my view. I get requests ‘to be my mentor’, and I always say ‘no’.
You often don’t even realize someone is and has been a mentor to you until the time has passed. Looking back you can see the influence and role they had. And often you know it while it is happening.
Nurture and Celebrate Your Mentors- While You Have Them
If you have a mentor, celebrate. Nurture them. Relish in it. I have found mentoring relationships have an end date…you evolve, or the mentor moves on. New mentors materialize. And that’s ok.
My key mentors, in chronology: my Dad, my brother Greg (a constant), my brother-in-law Pete, Stuart Maxwell-Wright, Paula Gaber, Peter Kingsbury, and then Justus Veeneklaas. In recent years I have sadly not had one- and I miss it.
Two final questions for you:
1. Who have yours been? How did they help you? Who are your mentors now?
2. And who do you mentor? Who can you add value to- through wise and trusted counsel?
When I decided to resign from my Burson-Marsteller career 15 years ago, Justus gave me gift …a bottle of Grange Hermitage with, handwritten on the label “In friendship…Justus.” Justus fell ill soon afterwards, and battled cheerfully for 15 years with a debilitating health regimen.
We caught up once a year or so. I was to set a date at our lunch three weeks ago to share the Grange, as promised. It was not to be. I will never open it. But will keep the bottle in view. In friendship. Justus- thank you.