Experience is a great advantage. The problem is that when you get the experience, you’re too damned old to do anything about it. - Jimmy Connors
One of the most beneficial and rewarding relationships you can have over the course of a career is one that involves the Mentor/PROTÉGÉ dynamic. Formal definitions:
- men·tor -a wise and trusted counselor or teacher.
- PROTÉGÉ: one who is protected or trained or whose career is furthered by a person of experience, prominence, or influence
What often comes to mind in the context of the mentor relationship is the picture of the “just out of college” young adult trying to establish themselves in the “real world” setting, and a Mentor takes the young gun (i.e. PROTÉGÉ‘) under their wing. They show the person the ropes. They provide a trusted sounding board not just to show WHAT should be done, but HOW things should be done. The latter is often more filled with land mines than the former. The relationship can be company sponsored/formal, but often times the relationship evolves informally.
I have been extraordinarily blessed in my career to have great, caring and inspiring mentors.
My experience at Kraft Foods while co-oping* from 1992-1996 was one giant blur in the mentor experience. I can remember countless times when very seasoned and “awe-inspiring” talent asked me to lunch, showed a genuine interest in me and made me feel part of a team vs “just an intern.” My skills as a 19 year old earned me ZERO right to be a contributing member on their team. When you are 19 years old working with people 15+ years older at a premier CPG company, there is no greater crisis in confidence that can race into your mind than the feeling that you don’t belong.
I suspect this feeling happens at every organization on the planet where this dynamic exists. When I look back, what I remember about these people is not the specific skills they were teaching (ie the “what”), it was the psychological/harder to define areas that made the biggest difference. Some come to mind:
- The examples they set about how they approached their business. Their willingness to explain “why” they were doing what they were doing.
- Their wisdom gained over the course of their careers. To build on the words of Jimmy Connors, why learn over the course of many years what can be learned just by listening and applying it immediately from those that have lived it? For me, START EARLY! was one of them.
- The creativity and sense of humor that helps endure “the grind of work.” There is a real human experience that comes from work. When you are young and a seasoned professional allows you to come inside and participate in their world, the young person will never forget it.
Mentor Take-away: Teaching hard skills is always a value to the young gun. But including them and making them feel part of a team is a simple, and sometimes more important gesture. Confidence usually precedes results. Anxiety is an inhibitor of confidence. A mentor understands this and finds a way to reduce anxiety. The rest becomes easier.
This sounds simple right? It isn’t. There is a big difference between “acknowledgement” of the young person, and “embracing” them. Not everyone will embrace, pull in, teach, train and motivate in a way that makes a real difference. How many? Maybe 1/3 of the population is wired for it, enjoys it and puts the time in. 50% max. Why? It takes time and additional effort, both are in short supply these days. As a result, “not my job” becomes the fall back.
Not my job may be convenient, but it isn’t a catalyst to excellence. It is, shall I say….. Anti-HUSTLE.
Regardless of the % of people who embrace being a Mentor, what is undeniable is the impact they make. An investment in the young- gun comes back 10 fold. It’s not a question of IF, it’s a question of WHEN.
The great mentors in life often don’t even know they are viewed as such, they simply do it to help and it’s part of their DNA. In other words, they have “The heart of a teacher.” Think back to the great teachers you have had in your life. Isn’t your life immeasurably better because of them? If you are lucky you will use more than 5 fingers. And when you think of the great teacher, you can think of how things would be better for someone if YOU pay it forward.
Being a Mentor is a choice. It is one of those “force multipliers” in life.
Would love to hear about what makes a great mentor to YOU…..
* Co-op – Co-operative education at Northeastern: Translation: Go to school for 6 months. Quit school, go to work full time for 6 months. Quit work and go back to school. Repeat for 5 years and graduate with 2 full years of real world experience. Northeastern University is the world leader in co-operative education. I hope the President is not falling trap to what many college presidents are, which is sleeping well at night.