By Harvey Mackay

Now that the kids are back in school, this is a great time to talk about mentors. Most studies will tell you that successful and happy people give credit for their success in the business world to the role models they encountered as youth.

Where do you find these people? At home? Sure, if we’re lucky.

Teachers have a tremendous impact on students’ lives. These role models help students set the direction of their lives. They’ve invested a lifetime in understanding what makes students tick.

Two men-my academic adviser and my golf coach–played major roles in helping me become a successful businessman.

Professor Harold Deutsch was my academic adviser at the University of Minnesota. I was enrolled in his class on the history of World War II. Professor Deutsch had been one of the interpreters at the Nuremberg Trials. To say he made history come alive would be an understatement. He did not teach history; he was part of history.

Here’s a flashback. It’s spring quarter of my sophomore year. Professor Deutsch has just given me my grade, a D. I go in to see him. I plead my case: Being on the golf team, a raging case of “golfitis” has seized my being. It prevented me from giving my class work my best effort. He could understand that, couldn’t he?

“Harvey,” he said. “Keep this up and you will be able to devote your full time – and it looks like you already have – to pushing that little white ball across a big green lawn. Your excuse is pathetic. I’m not changing the grade. You’re just lucky I’m not reducing it. However, I am going to challenge you not just to raise your grade but to get an A in this course when it continues in the fall.”

I didn’t like that “pathetic” business. Where did he get off talking to me, that way, a soon-to-be-star of the golf links! He knocked me down a peg. But I needed knocking. In the fall quarter, I got an A in Professor Deutsch’s class. He should have been graded, too— an A in psychology.

My other mentor was Les Bolstad, the University of Minnesota golf coach. Like all great coaches and teachers, Les did not teach golf. He taught life. If you learned a little golf on the side, well, so much the better. Like going fishing. If you catch a fish, it’s a bonus. You’re there to savor the experience. Les was a second father to me.

Both men taught me tools that I’ve honed in the business world – to stay focused; to set realistic goals; and the art of persuasion, leadership and visualization. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, in his 2003 commencement speech at Yale University, told a story about the value of teachers as role models.

One night at dinner a CEO, decided to explain the problem with education. He said: “What’s a kid going to learn from someone who decided his best option in life was to become a teacher? You know, it’s true what they say about teachers: Those who can do, do. And those who can’t do, teach.” To corroborate his statement he said to another guest, “Hey, Susan, you’re a teacher. Be honest, what do you make?”

Susan, who had a reputation for honesty and frankness, replied, “You want to know what I make? I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could, and I can make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall in absolute silence. I can make a C-plus feel like the Congressional Medal of Honor and an A feel like a slap in the face if the student didn’t do his or her very best. I can make parents tremble when I call their home or feel almost like they won the lottery when I tell them how well their child is progressing.”

Gaining speed, she went on: “You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder. I make them question. I make them criticize. I make them apologize and mean it. I make them write. I make them read, read and read. I make them understand that if you have the brains, then follow your heart. And if someone ever tries to judge you by what you make in money, you pay them no attention.”

Susan then paused. “You want to know what I make? I make a difference.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Mackay’s Moral: Teachers strive not to teach youth to make a living, but to make a life.

Pin It