Shaped by Mentors

Shaped by Mentors

January 20, 2015

Mentoring Month web-badge_2015_180As a reminder, it’s National Mentoring Month and I’ve been thinking a lot about the topic of mentorship.  Per my comments a few weeks ago, I started by re-reading a beautiful book edited by my friend, Marcia McMullen, entitled, Because You Believed In Me:  Contemporary Mentoring Stories.  Not to ruin the punchline, but the very last line of the book really stuck with me.  It was written by American architect and graphic designer, Richard Saul Wurman.  He says, “Having [a] disparate group of mentors gave me permission to find connections and be interested in everything.”  Exactly!

As I reflect on my own career to date, it’s clear I’ve been the beneficiary of care, support, advocacy and guidance from a wide variety of mentors in my life.  In fact, my earliest mentors were (and are!) my parents, Charlene and Max Muller, who showered me with unconditional love, direction, encouragement and life lessons.  Later mentors have included university academics, business executives from a wide range of industries, friends, professional colleagues and not-for-profit leaders.

Over the years, I’ve found the most impactful mentor-mentee relationships have been those that developed organically.  We weren’t “assigned” to one another, but, rather, we grew to know and care for one another and have taken an interest in each other’s lives holistically.

Last month, I attended the Women’s Foundation of Greater Kansas City as the guest of my mentors and “guardian angels,” Mike and Karen Herman.  At the event, it was my privilege to be seated next to Jack Ovel, Kansas City Market President of Bank of America.  We connected immediately as a result of our shared alma mater, the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business (now the Booth School) and agreed to continue our conversation over coffee in the new year.

During our morning meeting, I asked Jack whether he had had any mentoring interactions that proved particularly meaningful in his career.  His response was instant.  Going back to the early days of his career, he recalled a manager who he described as a “tyrant.”  The fellow was hard charging, impatient and, not surprisingly, tough on his direct reports.  Jack said it was a challenging time, however, he was in awe of his manager’s knowledge, leadership approach and work ethic.  As such, he was determined to learn as much as he could from the fellow.  And he did.

As soon as Jack began demonstrating mastery of topics they had covered, his manager’s response was to teach him something else.  For the manager, it was obvious that Jack was one to watch – that by investing even a little time, Jack would learn and advance in his career.  Jack remains grateful to that early manager.

Today at his own company, he has created a structure whereby senior executives sponsor high potential talent.  Each member of the management team identifies an up-in-coming professional to take under his/her wing and to ensure they are exposed to people, ideas, opportunities for career advancement.  It’s good for the company, it’s good for all of the individuals involved.  Some have even moved beyond the constructs of the formal sponsorship program and become mentoring relationships.  Mentors and mentees alike have become the fortunate beneficiaries of one another’s gifts of time, information and resources.  It’s a virtuous cycle that will pay dividends for everyone for years to come.

My questions to you:  Who have been mentors in your life?  What have you learned from them?  In what ways have they shaped you?  How would your life have been different without them?  Have you, in turn, served as a mentor to others?  Take time to give the notion of mentoring some consideration and please join me in shaping as and being shaped by a mentor.