Legal Mentoring, Marketing and Branding Services

Choosing a Legacy

For the past several months I have been loosely working with a bar association exploring whether to create a mentoring program. As part of the project the bar association conducted an informal survey of newer lawyers. Many of them were interested in mentoring in general but were leery of a formal program. They wondered about whether the pairings could be done well and also of adding another commitment to already busy schedules. The bar association ultimately concluded that it could not sufficiently support a formal mentor program at this time. The specter of time and commitment from mentors and mentees looms large for many mentor relationships.

Shortly after reading the final report and recommendations created by the bar association, I was finishing David Cottrell’s book, Monday Morning Choices: 12 Powerful Ways to Go From Everyday to Extraordinary. Cottrell is an advocate of mentoring, and he has a phrase that really struck me, “the choice of legacy.” For Cottrell, choosing to invest your time in mentoring people is a choice to leave a legacy beyond your own career and even beyond your own time on earth. He acknowledges that most successful people already have full schedules and more demands for their time than they can accommodate. He also acknowledges that many times the people we choose to mentor or help forget us or don’t truly appreciate the help. However, the choice of legacy is the choice to look beyond all of that and to choose investment into other people.

Cottrell’s framing of this issue resonates with me. I have run a large formal mentor program and I have helped design and build formal mentor programs of varying sizes. I have seen lots of variations on mentoring, from groups, to large one-to-one programs to episodic mentoring. I often get asked to trouble shoot for programs that are struggling with buy in from mentors or from mentees. Working with mentoring, like most human exercises, is fraught with challenges because human beings are complex creatures.

The choice of legacy is a reminder that mentoring, whether formal or informal, only really succeeds when both the mentor and mentee make the choice of legacy. Great mentors connect with their mentees because the mentor chooses to do so. Mentoring is a priority. The mentor makes the choice of legacy and commits to it. You see that choice of legacy in the mentor’s preparation for mentoring events, the commitment to the mentee even in challenging times, the willingness to put the mentee’s needs as the focus, and, ultimately, in acts of career sponsorship.

Cottrell does not focus on the mentee choice of legacy, but I see this as of equal importance. Successful mentees also make a choice of legacy to buy into the mentor relationship. To choose to be open to receive what the mentor is offering is a choice to become a part of the mentor’s legacy while beginning to build your own. When I declare that someone is my mentor, I am linking myself to that person. That is also a very powerful choice to be made!

I believe that formal mentor programs provide benefits even when one party in the relationship has not made the choice of legacy. However, the relationship at that point is more teacher student than mentor mentee.

As Cottrell notes, the most successful people always can tell you who mentored them because the most successful people consistently make the choice of legacy both in being mentored and in mentoring. When former Vikings coach Dennis Green passed away recently, Tony Dungy was proud to identify himself as part of Green’s “coaching tree”. Dungy talked about the ways Green mentored him to prepare him to become a head coach. Dungy went on to achieve the pinnacle of NFL coaching, winning a Super Bowl title. He is well known for his own legacy of mentoring players and coaches. Dungy is an example of how successful people make the choice of legacy both as mentees and then also as mentors.

Now is a good time to reflect on whether you are making the choice of legacy. Are you making the choice to be open to being part of someone else’s legacy by being mentored? At the same time, are you also making the choice of legacy in mentoring others about what you have already learned? No doubt you are as busy or even busier than me. But, I believe that you can find the time to mentor and be mentored. Successful people know that the choice of legacy has to be a priority.


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