Gather the Fruit and Burn the Tree

There is an old story about a gentleman walking through the countryside and he comes upon a plum orchard. As he is walking through the orchard, he notices a plum tree with fruit that is ripe on the vine, but it has crashed into ruins on the ground. He starts to survey the tree to determine if it has collapsed due to the weight of the fruit or a recent storm. The farmer of the orchard walks up and promptly shows the man that insects have eaten through a good portion of the tree, causing its collapse. The man turns to the farmer and says, “Well, what do you do now?” The farmer replies, “It’s time to gather the fruit and burn the tree.”


Finding and cultivating the right mentors will change your life and career. While I have a number of people asking me to act as their mentor, I feel like I’m a pretty average mentor, when it comes to the particular task. One of the main reasons I agree to act as a mentor is because I learn a lot in the process. In many cases, it’s not me telling the mentee what they need to hear, it’s me saying what we both need to hear. One of my goals over the next 12 months is to become a better mentor, in order to really help people raise their own personal bar of achievement. I want to provide whatever ‘fruit’ is needed, and hopefully propel them onto whatever is next.

I believe that a mentor is fundamentally responsible for doing 4 things:

1) Inspire
2) Teach
3) Encourage
4) Positively effect

Listening is not good enough. Neither is simply giving advice. There has to be more, and I think doing 2 or more of the above, in any interaction, is a worthy goal.


In order to choose or act as a mentor, I think it takes more than understanding the responsibilities of the role; you also have to understand what makes a good mentor. I listened to a podcast recently that was talking about board members of public/private companies. The assertion was that a person is qualified as a board member (“quad-qualified”) if they have the following attributes:

1) Independence
2) Bandwidth
3) Motivation
4) Expertise

For anyone looking for a mentor, you should ensure that your mentor is “quad-qualified”:

1) Independence- if you work for them, they are not independent. If you work with them, they may not be independent. You need someone truly independent.
2) Bandwidth- In addition to their job, how many other people are they mentoring? If they don’t have the bandwidth to spend time with you, neither of you will get maximum value out of the relationship.
3) Motivation- Are they personally motivated in helping you out? Do you have a past together, such that they would personally invest in you? In my experience, “blind date mentorships” don’t work due to a lack of motivation.
4) Expertise- Do they work and live in a similar environment, such that they can provide relevant expertise? Or, do you intentionally need someone that has a different background/expertise?

If you are seeking a mentor, take the process seriously and ensure that they are quad-qualified. If not, you are probably both wasting your time.


I think the only way that I can really help as a mentor is to help others think about their specific situations/careers, through a different set of eyes. It may be helping them with skill development (encourage/train), it may be helping them see the bigger picture (inspire), or perhaps just sharing how I have approached similar situations (teach and positively effect). I typically try to help mentees in a few ways:

- Getting comfortable, being uncomfortable.
- Challenge them on their preparation: what they read, study, etc.
- Understand what they look forward to every day and how its relevant to success
- Prioritize: what’s the one thing you can do this week, such by doing it everything else would be easier?
- Apply Pareto to their to-do list (3 P’s, etc)
- Understand and apply the Rockefeller habits (Priorities, Rhythm, Data)
- Be on offense
- Career decisions
- Feedback loops
- Pre-mortems
- 7 measures of Good Enough
- Hill climbing
- Goal setting

One of the primary themes that I have noticed across most of my mentor/mentee relationships is that most people tend to overvalue the near term and undervalue long term awards. This is a shame, because I see people making sub-optimal decisions and they set off on the wrong hill. I try to remind people is that you can always trade up…but sometimes its best to defer the easy step and focus on your real goals.


Gather the Fruit and Burn the Tree. For a mentee, a mentor/mentee relationship is about absorbing whatever you can and then focusing on what’s next. While these can certainly be long term relationships, they don’t have to be; I don’t think any great mentor has that expectation. Everyone should cultivate mentors and mentees throughout their career; gather what they can, and focus on the next step.

1 comment:

  1. Kate Riley TennantFebruary 5, 2016 at 6:23 PM

    I often speak with new hires and our women's group about mentoring. I like your points about looking for someone "quad-qualified" and I think that those are good thoughts to share.