The Legacy of a Mentor: A Guiding Principle that has Shaped My Life
For the past 16 years, I’ve worked for an incredible leader. He taught me about business and how to think big. He showed me how to inspire people to come up with solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems and to never give up.
He became a mentor to me.
Two weeks ago, Greg Anderson retired. I’ll miss our regular conversations. Our brainstorming sessions. Yet, part of him will remain with me because he has instilled in me a principle that will guide me the rest of my life.
In a day of complicated corporate mission statements, his guiding principle is short, just one sentence:
“In the end, to the best of your ability, do the right thing.”
It’s brevity and simplicity is part of its beauty.Greg Anderson was the first President of the Salem Radio Network (SRN). When he began in 1992, there were no networks. He was hired to create them from the ground up. Twenty-two years later, over 10 million people listen weekly to SRN’s news, music, and talk formats on over 2,000 radio stations and mobile streams. Millions more visit SRN’s websites and read its newsletters.
The first time I heard Greg state the principle was on my first day with the company. He called me into his office and asked me to take a seat.
“I’ve heard good things about you, Greg. I’m pleased to have you join our company. I look forward to seeing the great things you can do here.
“Let me begin by saying none of us here is perfect. We move fast and that means we make our share of mistakes. But I want this principle to guide you: do the right thing. In the end — to the best of your ability — do the right thing. Always. I’m counting on you — as a leader — to do the right thing. No matter the cost, do the right thing. You’ll make mistakes. I expect it. When the mistakes come, own them, and learn from them. And then recommit yourself to doing the right thing.”
Greg reiterated that principle to me and the rest of our team at least a dozen times a year. Every year. For 16 years.
It was his mantra. It became mine.
Ultimately, it is his lasting legacy.
It Isn’t Always Easy
Trying to do what’s right in business isn’t always easy. The temptation to cut corners is ever-present, especially when large sums of money are on the line.
I remember a specific instance several years ago when an advertiser wanted to commit to a large advertising schedule.
But after a bit of research, we learned that the advertiser had a reputation for making extravagant claims in its commercials.
“How much do they want to spend?” Greg asked.
“About a million over 12 months.”
Greg paused. A million dollars is a material amount for any business. We were trailing budget in the current month and this would put us over the top.
He thought for a moment. “We can’t take it. It isn’t right. Sorry, but we have to walk away. I know it hurts, but we’ve got to do what’s right. We’ll find other business to take its place.”
That is professional integrity. His principle was more than mere words. It was concrete.
It was a guide he expected us to follow no matter the cost.
The Principle Applies to Every Area of Life
Doing the right thing often means short-term losses in business. In our case, about a million dollars. It shouldn’t matter. Take your lumps and move on.
The principle applies to every area of life:
- Are you tempted to omit the disadvantages of your product in order to make the sale? Be honest and do the right thing.
- Afraid for your job if you report the harassment you witnessed? Take your chances and do what’s right on behalf of the victim.
- Would you get a larger refund if you didn’t report the income from that side business you started? Don’t fudge the numbers. Report it all.
- Is it easier to fill your time with frivolous activity in order to avoid the challenges you face in your marriage? Get your head in the game, do the right thing, and fight for your wife’s heart.
- Would you prefer to play a round of golf instead of talking with your daughter about the emotional struggles she’s facing? Reschedule the tee-time. Your girl needs you. Be her champion.
For good or ill, we are what we repeatedly do. As you and I seek to do what’s right both professionally and personally, let’s share the principle with our co-workers, employees, and our children.
In doing so, our legacy will live on long after we’re gone, impacting generations to come.
Even now, Greg Anderson’s legacy lives on in the hundreds of people he led. It lives on in me.
And I am eternally grateful.
Questions: What about you? Tell us about one of your mentors. How did he or she impact your life? What principles do you use to guide your business and professional life? Share your stories in the comments below.
My variation on this has been, “Do the next right thing.” I’ve even managed to decrease the time needed for hand-wringing over what the next right thing is! This has come with time, and learning to trust that somewhere in this cynical, old, black heart of mine, I intuitively know the next right thing to do. 🙂 Nice post, Greg!
Thanks Steve. I think most of us know what the next right thing to do is, once we winnow away our own self-interest.