Last year my 14-year-old daughter, who has always been a straight-A student, confessed she had a C in biology with no time to turn it around before semester’s end. In her eyes, this was catastrophic news.
I was thrilled. No, really. She is smart, so most things come easily for her. And despite that tempting big red Staples easy button, easy is not good in so many ways in life. Point of fact, when I asked why she had not told me — we could have gotten her a tutor — she said she had always been known as the smart kid and to ask for a tutor was embarrassing.
What a great teachable moment. Throughout my career, the most successful people I know regularly turn to mentors for advice and support because no one knows everything. Eyes opened. Case closed. (Well, not really. She has not found her mentor yet.)
Nothing Is New
Mentoring is not a fad or a trend. Forbes Magazine recently interviewed Dr. Ellen Ensher, professor of management at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and host of her own TED Talk titled “How to Get a Mentor.” She said: “There’s been a lot of robust research on this in the last 20 or 30 years, and the thing about having a mentor is it can really leapfrog you over other people.
There’s been research that shows people who have mentors actually make more money than people who don’t. They get promoted more rapidly, and they have a network of people who support them and introduce them to folks who are in the higher echelons of organizations and professions. People with mentors also experience a greater sense of satisfaction, joy and commitment to their profession.”
My first mentor, Sharon Randall, is now director of The Cash Catalyst in Massachusetts. She and I both worked at a start-up consulting firm in Washington, D.C., called The Advisory Board. New in my role as director of Creative Services and struggling to manage frenetic growth, I turned to Sharon.
“Where I could really assist was to help you navigate an environment you hadn’t seen before,” she said. “I was less a skill builder and more a tour guide, and it didn’t take any time at all before you were on your way. I think mentoring helps us make sense of our own lives. We get a clearer sense of where our own strengths and expertise lie.”
Not Just For Some, But For All
Brevard native Adam Broadway was catapulted to a leadership role at a young age when he and his partner bought Certified General Contractors. He regularly turns to mentors for reality checks. “Most of my mentors address tough questions I can’t ask myself,” he said. “A lot of the time I know the answer, but without that person holding me accountable, I would never have the courage to force the answer on my own. My mentors keep me in line and focused on where I need to go.”
Natasha Cartagena Spencer, senior VP, Shelter Mortgage, was a young manager when the Great Recession hit Florida. “In November 2007, I had to shut down two offices with 17 employees because the market was faltering,” she said. “Only one year into my new management role, and the world was crashing around me. Jill Belconis, president of Shelter at the time, supported me but also pushed me to make the tough decisions and accept them. I also turned to a few select senior leaders and builders who had been through a previous downturn for strategic support. I learned to diversify our pool of business, and above all, persevere through challenges by seeking the silver lining. In 2013, I reopened the Orlando office. Even better, I was able to rehire many of those people we’d let go. Our doors are still open and we’re thriving.”
In the ideal mentoring relationship, both participants grow in confidence — one receiving affirmation that they have what it takes to be successful or flip a failure, and the other receiving confirmation that life’s experiences have been valuable to self and now others.
Anne Conroy-Baiter is president of Junior Achievement of the Space Coast. She can be reached at 321-777-0982 or firstname.lastname@example.org.