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Inspiring Others: Lessons Learned—and Shared—By Top Leaders: Mentor Moments, Part II

Gotta love "Dilbert!" In reality, most mentor/mentee relationships are mutually beneficial, fulfilling relationship that enhances the lives of both people.

Gotta love “Dilbert!” In reality, most mentor/mentee relationships are mutually beneficial, fulfilling relationship that enhances the lives of both people.

From the first mentor in The Odyssey, the character ‘Mentor’ who was Odysseus’s trusted counselor, to “the father of leadership” Warren Benniswho 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.”


USC professor Warren Bennis mentored dozens of business leaders over his long career

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:

Jon T. Tanklage, President, Marukan Vinegar (U.S.A.), Inc.

Kelly Hancock, Vice President of Marketing, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Sharran Srivatsaa, President & COO, Teles Properties, luxury real estate

Mark Weslar, Vice President of Marketing, Karl Strauss Brewing Company

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.

The most important lesson Kelly Hancock (pictured above) learned from her mentor was  to trust herself.

The most important lesson Kelly Hancock, VP of Marketing, Warner Bros., (pictured above) learned from her mentor was to trust herself.

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, President & COO Teles Properties credits his mentor Tom Ferry (pictured above) with helping him develop his blueprint for success

Sharran Srivatsaa, President & COO Teles Properties credits his mentor Tom Ferry (pictured above) with helping him develop his blueprint for success

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.

Col Joseph "Bull" Fischer inspired KJ Laessig, President, PROMOT Inc., to always put his people first

Col Joseph “Bull” Fischer inspired KJ Laessig, President, PROMOT Inc., to always put his people first

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.

"I believe that the true purpose for great mentorship is to create a personal operating system of success," says Sharran Srivatsaa

“I believe that the true purpose for great mentorship is to create a personal operating system of success,” says Sharran Srivatsaa

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?

Jon Tanklage, president of Marukan, and his menthe sales executive Esther Hawksley worked side-by-side the first six months she was with Marukan

Jon Tanklage, president of Marukan, and his mentee sales executive Esther Hawksley worked side-by-side the first six months she was with Marukan

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.

quoteHow do you mentor?

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.


Brought to you by Vertical Marketing Network, a Leading Integrated Marketing Agency. Screen captures intended as illustrative examples only. Registered trademarks and logos are the property of their respective owners.



9 comments on “Inspiring Others: Lessons Learned—and Shared—By Top Leaders: Mentor Moments, Part II

  1. debra “agirlinhouston” cutrona
    July 20, 2018

    Thank you for sharing. I am so excited to read all you have shared.


  2. TurningPoint
    October 19, 2014

    Thank you for sharing such great quotes and examples! I can not reiterate the importance of mentorship enough! I’m not surprised at the success rate of the mentors themselves. Typically, if you are someone who feels inspired to mentor, you naturally have some leadership skills and the drive to get ahead and help others reach their potential as well. As for the mentee side of the equation, as the founder and president of an executive career management and recruting firm, I can say one of the top 3 problems with new hires is that there is no official onboarding process. Connecting a new hire (or even someone who has been around awhile and could use some direction) helps to prevent an employee from getting lost in the shuffle and unable to express concerns or struggles. It is a win-win relationship when done correctly!
    Great article!!
    Ken Schmitt


    • Kim Haman
      October 22, 2014

      Thank you Ken! Your comments are so spot-on! No matter what industry you are in, what level job, a mentor is an invaluable resource. I believe more companies should institute monitorship programs in the workplace. Fortunately, more companies grasp the enormous implications of mentorship and are creating terrific programs for their people.


  3. Munling
    October 11, 2014

    Great sharing of tips. I have an ex boss who is my mentor who always check on me from time to time on my career development. I’m doing the same with some of my ex staffs too which I find it both a rewarding and an excellent tradition to be passed on. I hope some of my ex staffs will continue and mentor others that come along the way.


    • Kim Haman
      October 13, 2014

      Good mentors often develop a personal interest in the people they are helping and want to make sure he or she continues on their path to success, even after the “official” relationship has concluded. Kelly Hancock, who I interviewed for this piece, has developed genuine friendships with both the person who first mentored her and with the person she in turn now mentors.


  4. Philip
    October 10, 2014

    Really a great series of posts on Mentoring. Kudos to all the top professionals who participated in mentorship opportunities throughout their careers. Mentorship is a two-way street. Not only is Mentoring the right thing to do and it also makes the mentor and mentee feel good, but it is career building and financially rewarding. Mentors were promoted 6 times more often than those not in a mentoring program. While mentees were promoted 5 times more often than those not in a mentoring program per a comprehensive study by Gartner, a Connecticut-based research firm.


    • Kim Haman
      October 13, 2014

      And also, people can find and develop a relationship at any age. I have a friend in his 50s who has never had an official mentor and now feels he’s “too old” for one–even though he freely admits having one would be helpful. No matter what age or professional level we are we can always use the unique insights of someone else.


  5. Bassman
    October 9, 2014

    Thanks! Great piece! The value of mentoring is immense.


    • Kim Haman
      October 9, 2014

      Thank you! Thanks for stopping by for the read. Have a great day! Kim


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