I was honored to participate as part of a panel on mentoring as part of the Lehigh MBA day program. My fellow panelists were Christopher Greene, from Brocade and Anthony Durante, from B.Braun. Both had very different experiences from each other, as well as, from my own.
Christopher started as a classical musician, which has a rich tradition of mentoring. Anthony started his career in the Marine Corps. I would not have thought that there could have possibly been much in common between the two cultures. Both Christopher and Anthony told stories about their early mentors, that saw their potential and challenged them to push themselves way beyond what they thought their own limitations were. Both classical music and the military have cultures that are steeped in discipline and training.
My own experience with mentorship was different, perhaps because it came at a different stage in my career development. I spent the early part of my career working in the music industry in small business environments. The business owners and my father-in-law bore the brunt of teaching me how to work hard, cut expenses, and pay attention to customers.
As I hit my mid-to-late 30s, I started to venture into a larger business world that included angel investors, attorneys, and an entirely new cast of characters. I was blessed to have been “adopted” by two mentors, Ed Johnson and Mike Wert. I view this type of mentorship as a relationship that needs to be invested in over a long period of time. I met Mike through a men’s business group that we put together at our church. Mike then brought Ed in as well. Over the next few years, these men invested their time and talent in me. At times, I felt a little bit like a science project, but I valued the opportunity to learn from people that a wealth of experience that I could benefit from.
It’s hard to assess the benefit of more than a decade’s worth of experience from two men that had created vibrant businesses and helped a lot of people. Much of the advice was practical, much of it was based upon their own experience. What I remember the most is that in their own ways, they challenged me to grow into my potential. They taught me the importance of ethics and of continuing education.
Speaking on the panel gave me the opportunity to reflect on all of the benefits that I had received from mentoring, and gave me an excuse to call Ed and talk to him about it. I told him that I was grateful and gotten a lot out of it, but asked him “What did you get out of it?” He thought for a moment, then answered “I honestly couldn’t imagine not doing it”. “It just feels like what I should be doing.”
So, I’ll try not to spend too much time reflecting on that and just try to put it into practice myself. Please share your experiences with mentoring. It’s what it’s all about.