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Mentors Are Important – A Tribute to My Mentors

The lean community and Toyota talks about everyone having a mentor (or sensei).  A lot of people may understand this as having one mentor for most or all of their career.  I don’t believe that has to be the case.  Having several mentors can be a good thing depending on what you are trying to learn and what point in your career you are.

I have been fortunate enough in my career to have had three great professional mentors at different stages of my career.  They all have taught me something different.  This post is a tribute to them and what they taught me.

As a college intern and then very early in my career out of school, Michael Hunt taught me confidence and humbleness.  RCA had a lot of interns come in throughout the year over many years.  Mike was the leader for the interns in our group.  While most interns worked on very small projects, Mike gave me very meaningful projects and instilled confidence in me to be able to handle them.  As a 21-year-old college student, he selected me to work with him and 2 others on a confidential project to design the layout a brand new manufacturing facility.

Mike always treated all the interns with respect and as if they were his own kids.  Even meeting with us outside of work to play golf or shoot some pool.  We were his equals in his eyes.  His humbleness was genuine.  I was too young to realize this until a few years later.  I don’t think Mike realizes the impact he made on me during those 3+ years (I did an internship there every 3 months for 4 years).

A few years later, I met Dennis Mouser.  Dennis was a retired Shainin Red X Master.  My company hired Dennis to mentor myself and two others in using the Shainin methodology.  Dennis taught me the importance of adhering to a process.  If I trusted the what I believed to be a very good process then the results would come.  And they did.  I ended up solving problems that had been in existence for nearly 40 years.  Another engineer and I solved a problem that no one else could.  They were looking in the wrong spot.  The defects weren’t created in our process but from a leaky roof thirty feet in the air.

Dennis also started to show me how to mentor others.  He taught me how to teach others a process and then get them want to follow it, not force them to follow it.  The lessons I learned helped me understand how using standardized work can give people the framework to think of unique and creative solutions on their own if we give them a chance.

Last but not least, Jamie Flinchbaugh.  I met Jamie about 4 years ago when I was developing the lean program for Trane -Residential.  If you know Jamie, you probably can see his influence in my lean thinking and I have mentioned him a lot on the blog.  I am not trying to sell his services, but it is hard to not mention him with all the mentoring he has given me.

Jamie has taught me how to think of lean as a set of principles and behaviors and how to recognize them wherever I may be.  He has helped me to understand where my customers are and how to deliver to their needs while still trying to push them forward a step or two in their thinking.

At Trane, he helped me learn how to influence leaders at higher organizational levels than where I was at.  I have become a better teacher, coach and leader because of Jamie’s mentoring.

All three really influenced my thinking and it very different ways.  All three were the right person at the right time.  To them I say, “Thank You!”

Always keep your mind open.  You never know where or when you will find someone to mentor you.