The Value of Silent Mentors

Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 15, Issue No. 1a
May 1, 2016

By Dan Coughlin

Silent mentors are people you’ve never talked with, but who have influenced you in some meaningful way. Don’t try to emulate the whole person, just one or two positive parts that you perceive in that person. The key is to look for good characteristics that you admire in people and then try to make them part of yourself.

Silent Mentors Can Be Real or Imagined

Characters in a film or a television show or a novel, famous people, authors and speakers who give advice, or even a person in your company who works at a different location from where you work can all be silent mentors. Over my lifetime I have had several dozen silent mentors. They were people I observed or read or read about or heard, and each of them gave me something to consider using in my own life. I learned a great deal more from these silent mentors than I did in all the years I was in the classroom combined.

Make a List of What You’ve Learned from Silent Mentors

Here’s a partial list for me:

  • Johnny Carson – Poke fun at yourself, relax, see the humor even when something goes wrong, and facial expressions can say a lot.
  • Oprah Winfrey – Really listen to people and remind them they already are empowered to make their own decisions and live their lives in whatever way they want.
  • Ralph Lauren – Each person can have his or her own style. It’s not about fashion. It’s about style.
  • Tom Cruise’s character in the film, A Few Good Men – Be willing to stand up to authority figures and say what you believe to be true.
  • Famous Five Children’s Book Series – Life can be an adventure as long we look at it that way.
  • Jimmy Stewart in the film, It’s a Wonderful Life – Look at the good in life and stay excited about that.
  • George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. – Do what you think is the right thing to do at that moment and live with integrity.
  • Gary Cooper in the film, Pride of the Yankees – See how lucky and blessed you are even when things go terribly wrong at different points in your life.

I’ve never met any of these people and I can certainly find negatives in each of them if I worked hard enough, but by focusing on their positive attributes they have enriched my life as silent mentors.

Make a list of your own. Think about people you’ve never met who have influenced you in a positive way. Write down their names and what you learned from or admired in each of them. That list of positive attributes becomes your homework assignment to strive to make part of your day-to-day life. Don’t try to be exactly like them. Just capture the best essence of the person and work to make it a reality in your own life.

Actively Seek Out More Silent Mentors

In the past month, different people have recommended that I watch the films High Noon, Twelve Angry Men, and The Big Short. In each of those films, I’ve been told that there are insights into understanding important nuances of leadership. I used to love to watch the tv series, M*A*S*H* because I admired the main character, Hawkeye Pierce, so much for being a great doctor and for being completely true to himself. He could be funny, and he could be serious.

I encourage you to always be on the lookout for silent mentors. Look for them at your company meetings, look for them in films and tv shows, and look for them in books and articles and out there in your community. By looking for the best that you can perceive in other people you will begin to focus more and more on the best within yourself and what you have to offer in multiple situations.

Republishing Articles

My newsletters, Thoughts on Excellence, have been republished in approximately 40 trade magazines, on-line publications, and internal publications for businesses, universities, and not-for-profit organizations over the past 20+ years. If you would like to republish all or part of my monthly articles, please send me an e-mail at with the name of the article you want in the subject heading. I will send you the article in a word document.

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