Powerful Mentoring: What Mentors Really Do

Mentee John Miller — Mentor Jim Strutton
Mentee John Miller — Mentor Jim Strutton

On a frigid Minnesota January eve, I sat on the edge of the hotel suite couch. Leaning forward, I was working to make a good impression.

It was 1986 and was 27.

When the interview ended, the 6’ 3” sales manager from Atlanta looked down at 5’ 6” me and said, “John, you will make someone a fine sales rep.”

As the door closed behind me, I thought …

What exactly does that mean?!?

Two days later, though, Jim Strutton reached out to offer me the opportunity to work from my home—before it was “virtual”—selling training in the Twin Cities.

When he phoned, Karen picked up. Jim’s pleasant and professional persona underpinned by his charming Southern accent sold my 25-year-old wife. When he made the offer, Karen said, “Take the job!”

So I did.

What the young Millers didn’t know is I wasn’t just changing jobs. I was about to be blessed with what all people need to become more tomorrow than we are today:

A mentor.

“Mentor” is defined as a “wise and trusted counselor or teacher”—and at ten years my senior, Jim was perfect for the role. Not to mention his immense knowledge and skill in sales and training!

It’s true that “when the student is ready, the teacher appears.” When Jim appeared, I wasn’t only ready, I was starving.

Jim fed me.

He fed me by training, coaching, encouraging, correcting, praising, and rewarding me. Jim also believed in me.

Wow, that sounds a lot like outstanding parenting, doesn’t it?!

But I digress.

Jim built me into a salesperson who could go toe-to-toe with executives on sales calls and facilitate training for their teams.

Even though I moved on to do my QBQ! thing in 1995, Jim is still in my head …

Success is based on the right habits and engaging in them every day.

Anyone can have luck because “luck” is Labor Under Correct Knowledge.

To reach executives by phone, you need to call early and call late.

If clients have fun on the sales call with you, they’ll invite you back.

A handwritten note before and after each sales call is your best friend.

The sale is not closed till the client’s check is in your hands.

And on a day I whined about not being able to reach anyone by phone:

John, trust me—someone is at their desk waiting for you to call!

This man who always drives a “Jag” and made it into two of my books (Flipping the Switch and Outstanding!) had much to teach while I had much to learn.

My son, Michael, is now 27. As he builds his SunPrairieFilms.com business, he sometimes turns to Dad for sales coaching.

It’s an honor and a blessing.

But really, I’m just paying it forward. There have been many moments when I’ve shared a selling idea with Mike, quickly adding, “Jim taught me that when I was your age.”

Last month, I spoke in Atlanta on “Personal Accountability and the QBQ!” for Zaxby’s, so Jim and I got together. We talked, laughed, and remembered. The slightly out-of-focus selfie plus one at the top is from that day.

It was good to reconnect face-to-face, of course, but the reality is even though we live 1,400 miles apart we’re always connected.

You see, I think of Jim frequently because … Jim is frequently in my thinking.

That’s what mentors really do. They get into your head and stay for a lifetime.

Who got into your head and made a positive difference in your life? What is the greatest value your mentor brought to you? Who are you mentoring?

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9 Responses

  1. John,

    I appreciated reading your story. It reminded me of an opportunity I had when someone came into my life as a personal mentor.

    It was 1994. I had attended and been trained for financial counseling by Larry Burkett’s team in Georgia a year earlier. While I was helping people in my church and community, I had the feeling of isolation and thought I could do better;learn more.

    Someone made me aware of a gentleman in my local Nashville market that was doing the same thing I was but with more direction and passion. I wasn’t real close, but was intrigued enough to make the 100 mile round trip to see what he was all about. It was amazing to see the impact he was having as a personal counselor and through a financial class he had recently started. I was floored and honored when he offered to have me join him to help him with the evening classes. Not only was he knowledgeable and talented, but he really cared about those he was helping. I realized pretty quickly that I wanted to be part of this man’s vision and purpose.

    He has now been influencing and mentoring me for over 21 years. In fact I’m a full time financial coach on his team today. Things are different. We’re much larger and are reaching much farther than just Nashville. He’s now reaching and helping a Nation, but I will always appreciate him putting his arms around this young upstart many years ago.

    Like you, I’ve had the opportunity over the past 10 years to pay it forward as I’ve been a mentor to many of our trained coaches around the country. There’s no way that could have happened if Dave Ramsey hadn’t cared enough and taken the time to mentor me all these years.

  2. John,

    You have had quite an influence on my career and I wanted to say thanks for being a ‘mentor’ to me. Albeit by proxy via your books and videos. My allegiance to the QBQ often has my colleagues wondering if I’m part of some elaborate pyramid scheme!

    It’s a badge of honor to carry the QBQ and I know our team and more importantly our clients have benefited from you and the important message you carry.

  3. Had I known you were going to do this I would have said no to the selfie! Seriously, mentoring soneone’s can hard or easy. In John’s case it was easy. He took my advise and would use anything I taught him and if it worked he would re-use it if not we would talk further. It’s not so much the Mentor, rather the person that makes the difference. Let me assure you there have been many who did not make it under me. because They would listen to me but not take the action I was recommending. John was never that way.

    In fact, i was in Minneapolis after John was showing progress and I listened to him make a phone call to a prospect. He identified himself and after a brief pause one the phone he said I called on you in my 2nd week and believe I failed you so I am asking for another appointment. He got it and went on to do business with the man. Who do you know that would do something like that. He floored me and it was so easy to coach him! Even his beautiful wife, Karen, would come home with a name she got off a truck and ask him if he had called him. What a joy and what a exception to so many who talk the talk but can’t walk the talk. John you are one of a kind and I’m so proud to have played a small part in your success!

  4. Hi John,
    I can honestly say and see that Jim did a great job mentoring you but I also agree with Jim that having a “hungry” student helps make the mentors job easier. I would also say that Bill Hines Sr. who hired me nearly 30 years ago turned out to be great mentor for me but unfortunately I wasn’t the student you were and it seemed to take me years to hear the message and understand it! Fortunately, I finally “got it” and my career took off. Of course, the QBQ message of personal responsibility helped also!
    all the best!

    All the best!


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