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From the first mentor in The Odyssey, the character ‘Mentor’ who was Odysseus’s trusted counselor, to “the father of leadership” Warren Bennis, who passed away this summer, mentors have long made a huge difference in the lives they influence. Howard Schultz, Starbuck’s Founder and CEO, was one of the dozens mentored by Bennis during his 50+ year career that notably included a long stint as a USC professor and founder of the school’s Leadership Institute.. Schultz shared in his book Pour Your Heart into It that he would call Bennis up “late at night or early in the morning, whenever I reached a turning point and was at a loss for what to do.”
The impact a mentor like Bennis has on his or her protégé cannot be understated. Studies show that most people who succeed have a mentor—a trusted confidant who inspires, guides, and most of all, generously imparts their wisdom to help another person.
In our previous Blogging Out Loud post Where Do You Find Your Inspiration? Top Leaders Share their Mentor Moments, five top executives shared their insights about the benefits of mentoring. This week, these leading decision-makers relate how the lessons they learned from their mentors shaped their professional lives and how they are, in turn, supporting others.
Virtual Roundtable Participants:
KJ Laessig, President, PROMOT Inc., marketing & sales consulting
What is the single most impactful lesson you learned from your mentor and how did that lesson shape your professional and/or personal life?
John Tanklage: My second professional mentor was Wayne Nerland. Wayne had been the president of JJ Morris & Associates, a food brokerage. I’ll never forget what he said to me: “The hardest thing to do in the world is to get a display in a grocery store.” He said it with perfect seriousness, as if it was as hard as getting a man to the moon.
In our line of work, an off-shelf display is in the single most impactful way to reach a customer. You create a display with salsa and tortilla chips. Shoppers think, “Hmmm, that looks good.” And even if they didn’t go to the store planning to buy salsa, they will pick it up on impulse if the display is done correctly.
But there are things that can go wrong: even if you’ve struck a deal for a display, there may be execution problems for various reasons. You can’t just assume the deal will go through as planned. Wayne emphasized that you must be diligent and follow through on every single aspect of the deal to make sure it happens the way it is supposed to. That lesson shapes everything I do in my career.
Kelly Hancock: The most important thing I learned from my mentor Lisa (Lisa Cowell-Shams, the EVP of Government Affairs for Westfield Corporation) was to trust myself and assert myself. This has become the foundation of my career—I am confident in my ability to make decisions; just as important, I am vocal about my opinions and I stand up for what I believe in.
Sharran Srivatsaa: The single most impactful lesson I learned from (mentor) Tom Ferry (Tom Ferry, YourCoach ) was creating my own blueprint for success. Broadly speaking, the ability to visualize deeply exciting goals, and to create a roadmap for what it would take to make them a reality, and finally breaking those activities down into daily habits. Most importantly, to then overlay the mental toughness of focus and commitment to ensure the passion-filled execution on a daily basis. My mentor guided me to learn that success was about creating my own personal blueprint so that I could use that framework confidently to energize any part of my life.
Mark Weslar: My mentor Rob (Rob Borland, CMO, U.S.A. Cycling) had a philosophy about career choices and assignment evaluation. The philosophy is the ideal career choice scenarios offer up three legs of a stool and have the right balance across all three. The three legs are: 1) challenging assignment that keeps you invigorated, 2) adequate compensation relative to what you think your market value is, and 3) appropriate work/life balance.
KJ Laessig: My mentor Col. “Bull” Fisher’s greatest achievement was not his awards but to the fact that he had minimized the loss of his troops fighting their way back from the Chosen Reservoir in Korea. He taught me by example that the most important thing to do is take care of your people, no matter what.
Do you see a difference between a mentor and a motivator? What is that difference?
KH: A motivator is great—everyone needs encouragement. But a true mentor is invested in your success and uses his or her professional experience to guide you over the long term.
SS: I am a deep believer in mentors over motivators, if given the choice. If the necessary personal and emotional infrastructure—mindset, psyche, process, and outlook—has not been developed in an individual, then motivation can only have a marginal impact. I believe that the true purpose for great mentorship is to create a personal operating system of success, which needs to be crafted and honed over time based on our own individual life backgrounds and personal strengths.
MW: While a mentor can serve as a motivator, good mentors help you get to the answer on your own as opposed to simply motivating you to get off your a** and make the decision.
Are you a mentor to other professionals?
JT: I’m mentoring Esther Hawksley. I met her while she worked at Ralph’s. When she approached me about a sales position at Marukan Vinegar, I asked her a couple questions: Can she think like a manager? Can she take ownership? She is young at heart and willing to learn. I’ve really seen her grow ever since she came here. I’m really excited for her and proud of her.
KH: My mentee is Molly Carter Torres. We met six years ago, while we were both at Fox. I became her mentor and her sounding board. I encouraged her to think creatively. We met once a week. When I left Fox, she asked if we could continue our relationship. We still talk about once a week—and now she’s more than a mentee; she’s become a good friend.
MW: I have had many wonderful people work with me and for me over the years. Many of those relationships grew into genuine friendships and mentor/mentee connections. I get great satisfaction from being able to help others navigate their careers in a manner that is most fulfilling to them.
SS: Yes. Several of these relationships have developed accidentally but at any given time I focus on a very few number of ongoing mentoring relationships.
What is the main method you use to guide and encourage the person you mentor and what are the benefits to you to mentor someone else?
JT: The first six months Esther was at Marukan Vinegar, she was by my side constantly, day in, day out. We traveled together, I trained her, and I took her with me to meetings so she could observe how things are done. We have weekly meetings and constantly check in.
KH: I remind Molly how valuable she is. I’ve also explained that it’s okay to take time to answer someone if you don’t have all the information right away. If you need to give it some thought, allow yourself that time. It’s okay to say, “I’ll get back to you on that.” We have a really honest relationship—I’ll tell her the truth even if others won’t. I helped her understand where she needed to make positive changes. I’ve witnessed her confidence grow—it’s really wonderful.
MW: When I am mentoring someone else I think it’s critical that the mentee has clarity on what they need from the mentoring relationship. Also, I think it’s tremendously helpful for the mentee to come to her or his own answers about their career interests and ambitions. I use a helpful template that asks you to articulate your career ambitions and select two development opportunities you wish to work on to help you accomplish your short and long term career ambitions.
SS: I generally use two methods to guide mentees. The first is the Theory of the Compound Effect, a book by Darren Hardy, which conveys the concept of delayed gratification, and the diligence, patience, and persistence to do the right small things consistently. Over time they lead to enormous positive results. The second is that “mental toughness” is a choice. We live in a very fear based society, and most of the marketing out there plays to that fear. If we can help our mentees and our loved ones have a strong mental profile, we know that an unbeatable mind will always win in the long run.
KL: Any mentoring I do seems to be in helping people avoid the mistakes I have made, and seen made by others. There are a lot of organizational and operational land mines out there and I try to help people avoid them.
Mentors help others for various reasons. Some are born leaders who are eager to share their insights; others who have been successful simply like to ‘give back’. Others have a genuine interest in the success of others. Are you a mentor? If so, what inspired you to become one? What techniques do you use to guide your protégé? Share your story with us in the comments section below.
Note: Some responses above were edited for length.
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