Celebrating our Mentors: Seven Lessons from my People

Photo by  Nik MacMillan  on  Unsplash

A couple weeks ago, we had the opportunity to celebrate the ten-year work anniversary of someone who has been an important mentor in my life. The celebration included sharing memories of how this person invested in others, with several people sharing stories about feedback that really changed their way of thinking or their style of leadership. It reminded me of how our professional success is tied to the experiences and wisdom of others and their willingness to share these things abundantly.

A few days ago, I listened to an interview with LeBron James and his little-known trainer, Mike Mancias, about how they work to keep LeBron in top condition and improve his career longevity. Consider this: LeBron has already played 50,000 minutes of professional basketball with more minutes (and years) ahead, whereas the average career maximum minutes for NBA players is 40,000. LeBron and Mike attribute his longevity to the training, recovery, and comprehensive program that Mike creates for LeBron. During the interview, LeBron was quick to give credit and accolades to Mike and the impact he has had on his career. While LeBron would be a tremendous athlete regardless, he recognizes the importance of his coach and publicly highlighted him.

While no one can go at it alone, I found that I often associated coaching with athletes or musicians, people with incredible talent who focus their careers on honing a craft or athletic skill. Over time, I realized that I was honing my craft as a professional as well, and in order to grow, I needed to surround myself with excellent coaches, mentors and trainers.

I’ve been fortunate to have an eclectic mix of these people over the years. From colleagues to classmates, family to friends, I’ve been surrounded by smart, accomplished people who are willing to share thoughtful and insightful feedback. This group has become an informal “board” of trusted advisors, and regardless of the topic or challenge, I can find the right person to help. Often these relationships have started informally rather than through a formal assignment, and they have matured over time to build a deep level of mutual trust. When I started looking to build these relationships, rather than find someone who was “like” me, I sought out a diverse group of people; younger and older, male and female, various ethnicities, similar and contrasting personalities. While the group is diverse by these standards, each person shares similar traits like integrity, a relentless pursuit of excellence, and a love of helping others. Over time, I have also been able to share their wisdom with others and have experienced the pride and satisfaction that come with investing in others and celebrating their success.

In the spirit of sharing, here are seven of the most memorable lessons I’ve learned from my coaches and mentors.

Figure it out. If you have a chance to listen to the most recent podcast with my friend Ashton, you will hear about this firsthand. I’ve known Ashton since college, and have always been impressed with her ability and desire to figure things out. From projects around her home that most people would outsource, to targeted social media advertising and market research, Ashton never shies away from learning something new or letting someone else figure it out for her, and she has taught me, by example, to do the same.

Speak boldly. Up until a few years ago, I was a “safe” presenter. I relied on PowerPoint slides for content, and focused more on tactics and action items than emotions and stories when I spoke to a group. A few years ago, my manager challenged me to become a bold, visionary speaker, and it changed the trajectory of my life. While I was initially nervous and resistant to step outside my comfort zone, after embarking on my Year of Speaking Boldly challenge and seeing the benefits that came with this change, I became more vulnerable as a leader and speaker, and found that I connected with people in a more meaningful way in all areas of my life.

Give, even when you receive nothing in return. During one of my internships, I had an informal mentor who went far above the expectation to coach me without receiving any credit or value for it. She spent a lot of time working with me on my final presentation, challenging me to revamp the story I was telling. Thanks to her feedback, my final presentation received excellent reviews as well as a full-time job offer. That fall, she spent hours on the phone counseling me on sorting through interviews and job offers, even though I ended up not accepting the offer to join her team. She showed me the importance of doing the right thing for people, even when you end up not benefiting from it.

Know your people. When I first became a manager, I struggled with balancing my time between getting my work done and engaging people. I liked checked off my to-do list every day and saw rounding with people as a waste of time. My husband, who had been in leadership positions for many years before I was, drilled the importance of getting to know the people on my team. He showed me how this builds trust between people, helps people feel valued, and allows you to better understand the issues and challenges people are facing every day.

Stay humble. I’ve had two people highlight this advice, demonstrating how important it is to stay humble. Growing up, my dad always challenged me to stay humble, especially when he saw me becoming too proud or too focused on accomplishments. This advice came full circle from a trusted colleague, who has graciously shared feedback with me over the years, with an emphasis on instances where my actions may be perceived in a way that lacks humility. I am grateful for two people who serve as counselors and who keep me in check here.

Speak slowly, loudly, and clearly. When I was a child, I spoke fast and soft, making it difficult for others to understand what I was saying. My mom spent a lot of time helping me speak slowly, loudly, and clearly so others would always understand what I was saying, as well as helping me have the confidence to continuing doing so.

Channel your weaknesses into strengths. Growing up, I was a stubborn, competitive kid. I was a sore loser, and I had a strong will that resulted in many disagreements with my parents. Thankfully, they helped me learn to use these traits to my advantage, channeling my stubbornness into determination and drive, and my competitiveness from outward to inward. These traits have helped me continue to forge ahead in the face of adversity, and have challenged me to compete only with myself rather than with others.

What I do not remember to do often enough is to thank them for the time and perspective they are willing to share with me. The celebration was a wonderful reminder of how important it is to share gratitude with the people who invest in us. To the people who shared these lessons with me - thank you for investing in me and having the courage to be honest and share your feedback.

Posted on February 11, 2019 and filed under Career Insights.