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After two spectacular seasons at the University of North Carolina, Michael Jordan decided to go pro.  He chose to forgo his senior year and his  degree to enter the NBA draft.  It all came down to an economic decision.

He was a certain multi-millionaire in waiting.

mentorFor a kid from a poor family, this was too good to pass up.

His coach, the legendary Dean Smith, told Michael that he would back his decision to leave college IF, one day, he would return to complete his degree.  Michael agreed and Coach Smith, with no remorse, supported his star player’s decision to go pro.

The rest is history.  For Michael Jordan, his family, and the charities he has supported with his aura of his enormous success, this was clearly the right decision.

Even as Michael Jordan achieved spectacular accomplishments with the Chicago Bulls, Dean Smith stood by Michael.  He trusted Michael, that he would fulfill his promise, that one day he would return to UNC and complete his degree.

In the high dollar world of college basketball, Dean Smith was a gold-plus mentor.  Coach Smith, one of the best in the business, put his star’s dreams and needs ahead of his own personal ambitions – to win more national championships.  He let Michael go and supported him because he knew that was best for the talented Mr. Jordan and his family.

Michael Jordan returned to University of North Carolina following his pro career and graduated with a degree in cultural geography. By that time he could afford it.

The point here is not about Michael Jordan, but Dean Smith. Michael Jordan was not a one-off case.  Over the years, Dean Smith repeatedly stood by star players as they announced they were leaving UNC early to pursue a career in the NBA.

This is an important lesson for business mentors and the mentees who seek out their advice and counsel.

If your are mentor, remember, this is not about you. It can never be about you.  This is all about the person seeking your advice.  At all costs, never manipulate a talented mentee based on your own personal agenda.

As I interview emerging leaders, I frequently hear stories of how mentors  seemed to be looking out for themselves more than their trusting colleagues seeking professional advice.

When someone you admire and trust, an executive you have followed in your career, gives you self-serving advice and counsel that steers you away from your best interests, it is time to take a step back.

Loyalty is a wonderful thing.  Blind loyalty can lead to a serious career mistake.