Pay It Forward Mentoring

This is a guest post from LGL Tribe Member and Winning Well Advocate, David Oddis.

Years ago, on a beautiful summer day in Salt Lake City, Utah, I learned one of the most important things a leader can do: express the importance of “giving back.” As my mentor and I met for a casual lunch, he asked me if I had “ever received a bill” from him. Like a confused puppy dog, my ears perked up and my head tilted left. Perplexed, I asked him what he meant.

He repeated the question, “Have you ever received a bill from me…have I ever charged you for the knowledge I share with you?” “Of course not,” I replied. “That’s right,” he said… “And that’s why you are 100% obligated to pass your wisdom on to someone else.”

“Have You Ever Received a Bill from Me?”

He went on to explain that at some point in my career I was going to have opportunities to give back what was given to me. It was important that I understand this concept as an obligation and not a choice, pointing out that this is how the cycle of mentorship works. It was probably one of the single greatest lessons I learned about mentorship and one of many key elements of what makes a great leader. To this day, I share that story with various colleagues, mentees, and just about anyone with whom I have leadership conversations. It was a powerful lesson learned long ago that still carries true today. And by adopting this advice and accepting this obligation, my life has changed in so many ways and it can also change yours.

The Mentorship Pedigree

“We have to continue mining the discipline to look for those key frameworks, those techniques, those tools, those mindset gems that allow us to learn and grow and create environments where problem-solving and effective execution strategies contain values needed by our customers.”  – David E. Oddis

By adopting this concept and creating the cycle of giving back, investing in others what someone has invested in you, we actually create a mentorship pedigree. You hear this when champions are discussed…from racehorses to the NFL where they often refer to the bloodline or pedigree of NFL coaches.

For example: Mike Tomlin, current head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, worked under Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay in the 90s; Tony worked for the Pittsburgh Steelers under Chuck Noll during the 80s; Chuck worked under Don Shula and the Baltimore Colts in the 60s. As you follow their bloodline, they are all ultimately tied to the Sid Gillman coaching pedigree. By the way, all of these coaches were championship level coaches, winning AFL and NFL division titles and Super Bowls. Think there is something to that? It is their pedigree…all sharing what they were taught with the next mentee and inspiring them to do likewise as they become mentors. Thus the cycle of mentorship goes.

This for me is the magic of mentorship and one of the key elements of leadership.

Do you know your mentorship pedigree?

Are you familiar with who your mentor was mentored by and so on? Do you know your mentorship history?  In some cases I have met people that can track their pedigree back multiple decades which is a really awesome story.

What values have been carried forward over the years or decades?

Have you asked your mentor who influenced his or her values? If you haven’t yet, give it a shot.

Do your mentees understand the obligation of giving back?

  • Have you had the pay it forward conversation?

Maybe this practice starts with you. Let the cycle begin!

Posted in Career & Learning and tagged , .

David Dye

David Dye helps human-centered leaders resolve workplace ambiguity and chaos, so that they can drive innovation, productivity and revenue without burning out employees. He’s the President of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. He’s the award-winning authors of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and hosts the popular Leadership without Losing Your Soul podcast. David is a former executive and elected official. David and his wife and business partner, Karin Hurt, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. I enjoy being a mentor.

    I mentor new coaches who go to Coach University.

    As faculty leader I teach three or four courses a month. So I teach, facilitate discussion, field questions, and have phone calls outside of class.

    I’m also a mentor to students at my alma mater, Syracuse University.

    I’m hoping by modeling the way they will mentor others as they grow their skills.

    • Steve, Awesome. What a nice feeling to know you’re leaving a legacy of folks who are learning great skills to pay forward.

    • Steve, the impact you are having on so many is an amazing thing. Sounds like you have all the makings of a pedigree line for sure.

  2. David- The concept of giving back is so important and your football coaching examples speak to how our connections are often more important than our skills – I’m speaking here in terms of looking for a new career position or trying out a new venture.

    After reading your piece I looked up a definition of mentoring I wrote a few months ago: “Mentoring is more about helping another individuals make connections that he or she probably could not have made independently – connections in the mind, as a student of the profession, and with others.”

    Great article. I look forward to the next!

    • David,Thank you! I like your definition, especially how you tie it to “connections of the mind”. That specific connection can often become a game changer.

  3. I absolutely love this concept and believe one of the great rewards in the professional world is mentoring. To this day, I still have mentees look me up and share how they’ve passed down some of the conversations we’ve had or the reading we’ve discussed. Interestingly, I’ve never had the “pay it forward” conversation, but I think in a good mentoring relationship, it ends up becoming a tacit activity. That said, I’m going to add the “pay it forward” discussion to the equation. Thanks, David and Karin!

    Another interesting facet of mentoring is knowing when to move the relationship in a new direction. Let’s face it, there’s that inflection point where the mentee has absorbed much of your guidance and/or a new skillset is needed that you are not the right person to offer. Do everything you can for your mentee, and then set him or her off on the next learning odyssey. Besides, the only thing better than having one great mentor is having two!

    • Great points Sean. I’m glad to hear you are adding it in. I agree on the reward factor. It really is something special. The experience can create a quantum leap for both the mentor and the mentee.

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