Perspective: Mentoring creates winning attitude toward life

Perspective: Mentoring creates winning attitude toward life

Lowell Perry Jr., director, Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood

The impact a positive adult role model can have on a young person is well documented. Sometimes all a kid needs to inspire them to excel in school and life is to know they matter in this world.  But we adults benefit from having mentors in our lives as well.  For instance, an early mentor of mine, former National Football League head coach Chuck Knox taught me a lot about leadership and had a profound impact on my management style during my tenure with the Seattle Seahawks. Responsibility with accountability is how I describe it.

Charles Robert Knox, NFL coach and mentor to Lowell Perry Jr.
Charles Robert Knox, NFL coach and mentor to Lowell Perry Jr.

Chuck was always about doing what it took to win. He didn’t micro-manage his assistants, but gave them the latitude to prepare their players as they saw fit within the context of the overall game-plan, and held them accountable for each respective group showing up on game day mentally ready to play to win.

He stressed the importance of minimizing mistakes, and that the team’s chances of winning were enhanced if every position did their part. It was a thing of beauty when everything came together – offense, defense, and special teams. Chuck of course was the guy who made the call of whether or not to “go for it” on fourth and one!

Chuck’s leadership style and way with people, engendered loyalty, a will to win, and typically yielded high performance by everyone involved, including those of us in the front office. One of my duties back then was handling team travel, so I got to know Coach very well, as I helped coordinate moving the team from Seattle to whatever city we were playing in. This included working with the airlines, hotels, buses, and our public relations advance team.  We knew that if the trip went smoothly, both players and coaches would be better prepared mentally to do their jobs on the field. We all had a job to do to help the team win on Sunday. It is fair to say that this is an illustration of developing a culture. Winning typically doesn’t happen by accident.  I recall often repeating a quote attributed to the late Branch Rickey, “luck is the residue of design.”

The cool thing is that we were all aware that win or lose – we did it together. That attitude serves me well now as I lead the mission of the Cleveland Central Promise Neighborhood. All of us are inextricably tied together in this journey and must move through the cradle to career pipeline as a carefully coordinated team to ensure that the kids in this neighborhood are better positioned to pursue the American dream. We are developing a winning culture to drive an initiative with arguably a lot more at stake than winning a football game. Promise is in the life-changing business, and I credit Coach Knox with helping me to understand the importance of building a winning culture that will help our kids win in a transformational way.

January is National Mentoring Month

January is National Mentoring Month

Children and teens are an important part of our communities. They are the future of our communities, after all. When children take a troubled path, succumbing to crime, drug addiction or self-destruction our communities suffer. One way to help shape a bright, positive future for youth is through mentoring.

Mentors are advisers, teachers and guides about classes, careers, jobs, and life choices. Above all, mentors are motivators and role models, who believe in their mentees, see their potential and help them get to where they want to go. Children and adolescents are at important periods of development. Youth are vulnerable to taking the wrong step, which is why mentors are important for them. Mentors may not be able to change how fast a child’s brain develops or force a child to make certain decisions, but mentors can share their worldviews, experiences, knowledge, support and advice, as well as provide a positive influence. By introducing youth to new experiences and sharing positive values, mentors can help young people avoid negative behaviors and achieve success. Studies have shown:

  • 59 percent of mentored teenagers earn better grades.mentoring
  • 27 percent of mentored youth are less likely to begin using alcohol.
  • 52 percent of mentored youth are less likely to skip school.
  • Youth with mentors have increased likelihood of going to college, better attitudes toward school, increased social and emotional development, and improved self-esteem.

Studies also show that at-risk youth are the most likely to benefit from a mentor. A study of 46 programs for delinquency (e.g., aggression, drug use and academic achievement) found mentoring for high-risk youth to have a positive effect on delinquency, academic functioning, aggression and drug use.

Despite the importance of mentorship for youth, one in three young people report never having an adult mentor while growing up. This statistic translates to approximately 16 million youth, including 9 million at-risk youth, reaching age 19 without ever having a mentor.

Parents and guardians are obvious choices, as they are naturally in the lives of youth and are some of the most influential people in their lives. Parents and guardians are youth’s number one influence against poor choices, with 91 percent of teenagers in one study citing parents as good role models. However, parents and guardians may not possess all the answers, and sometimes, youth need an external person or a variety of people with whom to talk and share their thoughts.

Teachers, coaches, ministers and neighbors are great options outside of parents and guardians. Referred to as informal mentors because they are naturally-occurring and not matched, they all have the capacity to be good role models, inspire youth and shape their future. Mentors for youth are also available through formal and structured mentoring programs.

January is National Mentoring Month and a great time to begin a mentoring program. Here are some organizations in Cleveland that offer mentoring programs:

Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Cleveland 

Greater Cleveland Volunteers


YMCA of Greater Cleveland 


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