Time-travelling memories – Reflective Leadership

Photo: Contributed The original Mentor with his mentee, Telemachus, the son of Odysseus I discovered…

I discovered I can time travel while sitting at my desk. 

As I scroll through my school alumni Facebook group, I am back in time, back in my small hometown.

When I read posts from people years older than me and posts from my classmates’ children, I am reminded of my formative years, and friends, teachers, neighbours.

I relive the seemingly profound events — lapping Main (street, that is), attending the annual church picnic, standing as a wallflower at the country community hall dances.

In these time-travel wanderings, I received the most touching gift. Ever.

In a recent post, my Grade 8 PE/Health teacher, John Pullen, talked about his parents.

John’s dad, Jack, was the senior pharmacist in town, and was close to retirement when I got the coveted job of working at the drugstore when I was 12.

I was a cashier, a shipper/receiver. I stocked shelves and created magazine displays.

One day, Mrs. Taylor was sick and I was promoted to the dispensary. There, I put pill bottles into bags and stapled the prescription instructions.

I vibrated with the newness of the assignment – rows of bottles, neatly labelled, were shelved behind me while I scanned the store from the lofty heights of the dispensary.

I placed small, white bags filled with pills and liquid concoctions in alphabetical order beside the cash register, waiting for pickup.

The new responsibility exhilarated me.

Mr. Pullen would tell me about various medications and how they worked, but he never talked about the patients. He didn’t need to — my vivid imagination concocted its own diagnosis of everyone in town.

Mr. and Mrs. Pullen lived on the next street – somehow an almost insurmountable barrier for my narrow view of life. He would invite me to visit after work.

After my two-hour, after-school shift, I’d race home to eat and jump on my bike and ride to their grand, two-storey home.

As the second oldest of five kids, with working parents, I had lots of responsibility and little attention.

At the Pullens, I was the “golden-haired child.” They had three sons. The oldest two had gone off to university. The youngest son was so much older than me that I deemed him irrelevant.

Over tea prepared by Mr. Pullen, the three of us would chat. They answered my youthful, ill-conceived questions. They endured my relentless curiosity. And I learned stories of their youth.

The Pullens knew of my insatiable desire to go to university. They hired me for odd jobs around the house, chores wheelchair-bound Mrs. Pullen couldn’t do. I hope I did them well.

Reading the Facebook post about Mr. and Mrs. Pullen got me thinking about the value of mentors.

The original mentor was named Mentor, the trusted friend of Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey, who was charged with guiding Odysseus’ son, Telemachus.

  • As leaders, we are charged with guiding our teams.
  • As parents, we are charged with guiding our children.
  • As community members, we can choose to guide the youth, the less fortunate.

There are three roles that mentors fulfil:

  • Consultant. They share specialized knowledge.
  • Counsellor. They listen, guide, and provide feedback and advice, but not all the answers.
  • Cheerleader. They share enthusiasm and celebrate successes, no matter how small.

As a leader, my most rewarding role was mentoring new agents. When I worked closely with newbies as they learned how to list a home or help a buyer find a home, they would jump out of the nest into independence and autonomy.

This was the fastest way to launch their new career.

As a business mentor, one of my favourite memories is a breathless call from one of my mentees. She was developing a home-delivery service and had branded her delivery van.

“I got a call from someone; she said she saw one of our vans and wanted to know if we would deliver to her. She doesn’t know it, but we only have one van.”

Mentoring can go beyond the workplace to personal, career, and community. A friend is mentoring an immigrant in the English language, introducing her to life in Canada, and preparing the aspiring physician for her qualifying medical exams.

According to Mentoring.org, young adults with a mentor are:

55% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school

  • 78% more likely to volunteer regularly
  • 90% interested in becoming a mentor
  • A whopping 130% more likely to hold a leadership position.

Sage.com cites the statistic that although 97% of people who have mentors believe mentorship is valuable, 85% of them don’t have a mentor.

If we want to make a difference in a new business’ profitability, sustainability, and viability, we need to step up and be mentors – especially in these unprecedented times of business disruption.

One of my first mentors was my former boss who came to work with me. Because of his experience and our relationship, I could burst into his office, eyes flashing. “I am going to fire them all.”

He would lean back in his chair and place his glasses on the desk. In his low, calm voice, he would point me in another direction, teaching to be more confident in my abilities, to grow my leadership skills. And not fire them all.

Years later, Mr. Pullen passed, tired from years of caregiving and dispensing drugs. Mrs. Pullen flourished at the local seniors’ lodge.

I would visit her during my weekends home from university.

In response to my comment about my memories of his parents, my PE teacher wrote this:

“Yes, Myrna. They held you in great respect. I thank you very much.”

From my first mentors from decades ago, two time-travel gifts – a most unexpected compliment and the rich life I am privileged to lead because of their guidance.