Even Heroes Need a Mentor. Who’s Yours?

Some world regions we immediately associate with a man made structure: The Eiffel Tower with Paris.  The Christ the Redeemer Statue with Rio de Janeiro.  The Great Wall with China.  And in my small town, Beaver Stadium with State College, PA.

Beaver Stadium, with a crowd capacity near 110,000, is the second largest sports stadium in the western hemisphere and the fourth largest in the world.  On game days, our small town becomes the third most populated city in the state of Pennsylvania.  And over the last few weeks, our community has watched in horror as this beautiful stadium and its collegiate football program have crashed to the ground.  Well, not in a literal sense but figuratively speaking the stadium and all it represents is in ruin.

If you follow the news here in the USA, you already know what I mean.  If you don’t follow the news, google “Penn State Football” and see what comes up.  A travesty surrounding Penn State is being called the greatest scandal in the history of college sports.  Suffice to say there are horrid criminal allegations related to a Penn State football coach and the university’s attempts to cover it up.

To me, the most shocking part of the allegations isn’t that one sick and evil man abused children but rather that other men in senior leadership positions did nothing to stop it.  Men with roles including university president, senior vice president, head coach, and athletic director who for decades served as shining examples of high moral character.  These guys knew better.  The youngest of the bunch is 57.  The average age among this group?  67.  Since the scandal erupted, three are out of a job; two face criminal charges; all four have destroyed their personal legacies.

How could such accomplished and outwardly moral men stray so far from the ethical center?  I’ve asked myself that question many times and the best answer I can derive is it’s because they are too experienced.  Too experienced, you say?  Exactly.

Think about it.  Growing up and at least through our 30’s, most of us are surrounded by teachers, coaches, a senior colleague at work..  There’s almost always someone nearby with more experience and wisdom.  Sadly, though, by our 50’s these mentors begin to disappear and society sometimes views it as a weakness if we dare admit that as a senior leader we don’t know what to do or need to seek advice.

I believe that later in life, we begin telling ourselves, “I’ve been around the block enough times that I’m now qualified to go it alone.  I know exactly what to do, now’s my time to just do it.”

Ah, but is knowing what’s right the same as doing what’s right?  When we’re faced with tough decisions, are 50, 60, 70, even 80 year olds any better at taking the right action vs. someone who’s decades younger?  If we look to Penn State’s debacle, the answer is no.

Our moral compass might be better tuned when we reach our later years or by the time we earn a senior leadership position but our likelihood to choose the right path is not a guarantee.  Every one of us, regardless of age, needs a sounding board, a mentor we can look to during difficult times.

So I ask you, who is your mentor?  Not just a friend but someone you truly admire?  If you were to encounter a moral or ethical dilemma, who are you comfortable knowing you can approach without fear of judgment?  Whose moral compass do you consider to be even stronger than your own and how accessible is that person to you?

In our younger years these are easy questions for most of us to answer.  In our later years, these are far more difficult questions but as Penn State’s fumble proves, even more important for us to consider.

To quote some cheesy superhero movie, with great power comes great responsibility.  Part of being responsible is knowing that none of us have the ability to make the best decision every time.  Do great things.  Build your legacy.  And find a mentor who will help you preserve it.