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Mentoring done right… Questions over advice

Updated: May 10

Good afternoon innovators, change-makers, and entrepreneurs.


This newsletter and podcast feature stories about the people – past, present and future – who change the world.  They make decisions and take actions enlivened by what I call The Entrepreneur’s Ethic.  The Entrepreneur’s Ethic infuses people, organizations and places where the future is created, and the world is made a better place.

One of the Entrepreneurs featured in my upcoming book, The Entrepreneur’s Ethic, is Ewing Kauffman. Kauffman founded Marion Laboratories, a pharmaceutical business, in Kansas City in 1950. By the 1980s, Marion was a billion-dollar business.

In this podcast, I’ll try a new format, a solo riff on mentoring. Last week’s podcast on talent; how to attract it and how to keep it, resonated. So, I’ll do a deeper dive into mentoring through the lens of three decisions I’ve made, one practical, one principled, and one whimsical or weird.


There are seven parts of The Entrepreneur’s Ethic. Kauffman’s work exemplifies Ethic 7: Mentor in All Directions. This is the teaching and learning-orientation of entrepreneurship.


Good Reads 






Three Things I Think (I Think)


If you’re a sports fan you’ve probably heard of a coaching tree. Coaching trees are common, for example, in the National Football League and most coaches in the NFL can trace their lineage back to a certain head coach for whom they previously worked as an assistant.


The largest coaching tree currently belongs to Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid. Five different active head coaches spent time on Reid’s staff, including Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McDermott, who's  won a Superbowl himself.


People outside of sports have coaching trees too. Mentoring is part of leadership whether at a business, a university or any type of organization aiming for impact.


1.     I think the best mentoring is done through asking questions. Especially if you hang out around young people, you’ll get asked for advice. And providing specific advice around tactical decisions is fine. But larger questions are strategic, not tactical. Don’t let people delegate their decisions to you. I’ve found the best methodology to ask, in various ways, ‘what do you want?’ And often, people don’t really know what they want. So, your role in asking what they want is to nudge them a little closer to understanding or admitting their answer to that core question.

2.     I think mentoring, at its best, helps others become the best version of themselves. I tell a story in this week’s podcast about a very productive employee who was offered a position at another company. It. Was. Difficult. But my best way to respond to her opportunity wasn’t a counteroffer. It was to congratulate her on the opportunity and let her move on to another business.

3.     I think we need to tell stories that celebrate other people at their best, whether mentoring or anything else. In 2005, Patti and I took our kids, then aged 10, 8, and 6, on a history excursion of sorts. We’d read an article about the history of the Underground Railroad in Iowa and went to visit sites like the Todd House in Tabor, the Hitchcock House in Lewis, and the Jordan House in West Des Moines. Nerd family? Yeah! I thought the stories of moral courage of the characters that had participated in the Underground Railroad, people like James Jordan, J.B. Grinnell, and many others, needed to be told. So, I began to draft the outline of an historic fiction book placed in February 1859 when famed abolitionist John Brown made his last trip across Iowa. He was on the path ultimately to his attempt to create an insurrection by seizing the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, an event described by some as the spark that began the Civil War. I never finished the book, but ultimately Patti did, resulting in the 2020 publication of The Only Free Road. Mentoring can come from taking inspiration from others. So, help with the story telling, whatever form it may take.

Farm to My Table

Sausage and sausage making take the brunt of many jokes. But the artisan sausage we try is much better than legislation. This week we tried LandJaeger from Driftless Provisions in southwest Wisconsin.


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