Wouldn’t it be great if mentors wore big buttons to let us know who they are and when they are on duty? As it is, I have to stay alert to those individuals whose mentoring wisdom often comes disguised in everyday conversations.

Last week, I spent some time with John, a longtime friend, and listened to the stories he had to share. John reminded me how big and seemingly complicated questions can often be answered by teasing out the core principles at play. As we strolled the streets of St. Louis, John shared some examples of how he broke complex challenges down to their most basic and manageable parts. Once he did this, John could take decisive action. He left no clutter behind.

I don’t do that so well. I hem and haw. I tell myself I’m gathering information when I’m just stalling. I prepare to second-guess my decision before I even make it.

By any measurement, John’s life is one big success story that proves his mentoring credentials. He graduated from a renowned Ivy League school. He married a strong and intelligent woman and raised three independent daughters. In business, John moved quickly from a salesman to the top of a large corporation. He retired in his early fifties, at an age when I was just beginning to figure things out.

I relish the stories John tells, but I also look for the wisdom behind them. Here is what I flew home with: Nothing replaces honesty and integrity. Hold people you care about accountable. Don’t rush in to fix other people’s stuff – it doesn’t work. Don’t bend on what you know is right just to meet circumstances. When possible, set an agenda that is solution focused. Be curious, consistent and confident.

Valued mentors like John tell me what I know instinctively, but sometimes forget in the daily fray of life. And they do it without wearing a button.