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I was recently at the college graduation of a young man I held in my arms as a baby. As his family took pictures of us, I flashed back to realize I was no longer holding him as a child, but we were now arm in arm as equals, as men. Daniel Roche, I am incredibly proud of you!

Daniel told me how my wife and I have continued to inspire him and how much we have influenced his life. It was incredibly gratifying but it was also humbling. While examining my life (as college graduations will make you do as mine was 15 years ago), I realized that some of my relationships and mentoring have turned out like this young man and some did not come close. So as I have gleaned from Simon Sinek books, I started with WHY.

Asking myself, why was this relationship different or this experience varied from another, I have found a few qualifying ideas (out of many of course).

Those who we mentor and who look up to us need to:

1.  Hear our story, all of it, not the polished parts.

Daniel had the ability to know all about me as his dad was my mentor. His dad, Bob, was my youth pastor and is still my greatest life long friend. Bob knows all about my ups and downs, my strengths and weaknesses. I never asked him to keep those from Daniel. I wanted Daniel to know I was fallible and I was human, but I am trying. I wanted Daniel to be the best human being he can be, not a fake perfectionist person that wears a perfect mask.

I also wanted him to know my struggles and how I have overcome. How imperfect people have the best opportunity to change the world as imperfect people. Imperfect people are the most authenticity and approachable. They apologize. They strive for excellence over being perfect. They express gratitude for winning and are quick to make sure everyone knows that next time they may not be so fortunate. They enjoy the moment but are still grounded in humility.

2. Our consistent encouragement.

You cannot simply tell someone they are doing well here and there. They need consistent reinforcement that they are heading in the right direction. It’s as if we are all driving down a highway, we know that we are going in the right direction, but it occasionally feels good to see the consistent highway sign reminding you of the correctness of your course.

A great way to do this is send cards, eCards, emails, texts, and Facebook messages. Don’t say the same thing but vary the praise and encouragement. Make sure to be specific as to help reinforce the celebrated behavior. It also never hurts to be fun and humor. Let your hair down and send something comical. Remember number one, be real!

3. Make most of their own decisions, good and bad.

As a longtime leader and a parent it is incredibly difficult for me to step back and allow others to make decisions. Nevertheless, solid leadership and strong parenting skills require just that, stepping back and allow decisions to be made by others. How else will we grow? Plus, we need to provide safe training grounds for others to fail forward. Failing Forward, made popular by John Maxwell’s book, is allowing other a safe place to decide and do and even fail and to get up and start over again.

When a leader or mentor smothers their followers or mentorees,  three things happen: (1) they become immature decision makers once they are on their won, (2) they are fearful to make decisions in a timely manner, and/or (3) they become permanent followers always looking for others to make their decisions for them. I am sure that anyone reading those three issues would agree that we need to make solid decision makers for those we lead and mentor.

4. Our honest criticism.

I mention this because numbers two and three need to be weighed by number four. We cannot go along like everything is tiptoeing through the daisy and allow those we lead to believe they are infallible or worst, perfect. Make sure to deal with issues quickly, tactfully, and with humility. Start with how you even make mistakes, how others have helped you, and why you are now critiquing and helping them.

The idea of crucial conversation has gained momentum over the last few years. Confrontation has often received a bad name for the sake of human resources or better yet tolerance. Yet, to never have difficult conversations and to model them to those we lead, only leave a huge kink in their leadership armor once they lead. We must model humble, proactive, and positive criticism so that they will receive the needed feedback now and develop these same skills later.

5. Our lavish celebration when they succeed.

Finally, celebrate more. People are so scared to celebrate people because they may leave out others or make others around them feel they should have been celebrated. Fear is always the most heinous deciding factor when it comes to doing something. I am a realist and others may, or better yet, will get left out when celebrating others. How to help them deal with that is a topic for an entirely other post.

People actually are more sincere, productive, and stay longer in their work environment when they are celebrated appropriately. As surveys have discovered, people with supportive and encouraging leaders, bosses, and mentors, stay twice as long as those that do not. In other words, celebration makes people fell seen and heard and allows them to flourish in an environment of support. So party more, its a proven leadership tool!

So theses five things came to me the other day and I thought I would share. I know I am not the only nostalgic and reflective leader, so what are somethings that come to mind on this topic for you. Post in the comments below and allow the discussion to continue.