This past week my most valuable mentor in life and business (besides my parents) passed away. While I have not been in touch with him for many years, when I learned of his death it brought back a flood of memories. His influence on who I am as a person, my understanding of leadership, and what I know about business will never be replaced.
Mentors influence others by sharing their experience, knowledge, and wisdom. An effective mentor can be a manager, coworker, or friend.
My mentor, Karl Westover, was a humble leader who built a successful retail, construction, and manufacturing business in central Pennsylvania. APM still survives in spite of big box stores and changing consumer demands.
Karl hired me right out of high school with no experience or skills for the carpentry position that was my first job with the company. Within a few years, he invited me to be his assistant for special projects. Under his guidance I developed a new way to update the company’s extensive building materials pricing on a regular basis. He challenged me to revamp the company’s advertising and marketing efforts. I learned how to purchase products and assisted with computerizing the company’s inventory.
I have fond memories of conversations in his Jeep while driving to regional co-op buyer meetings. He educated me about negotiating on many purchasing trips to Chicago. We enjoyed coffee and lunch together to discuss projects. He even allowed me to fire an employee that probably didn’t deserve it so I could reflect on the life lessons later.
I value Karl as a mentor rather than a coach and here’s why. A mentor possesses industry-specific knowledge or skills that will benefit their protégé. A coach simply remains objective as they help the other person achieve whatever goal they have set. A coach often provides important insights about personal development. A mentor typically helps the other person to become more adept in their work.
The benefits of having a mentor are well-documented. A mentor helps employees understand the organization better. They teach important problem-solving skills. Mentors build confidence so employees can advance and develop into future leaders.
To be an effective mentor also requires these qualities:
- A deep desire to help others develop.
- A willingness to commit time and energy into the relationship.
- An attitude of learning that shows the protégé they are curious about growing too.
- The knowledge, skills, or expertise that others need to learn.
- Listening skills, the ability to ask meaningful questions, and the willingness to tell their own stories – including examples of failures.
Many of us have benefited from a wide variety of mentors including, teachers, parents, athletic coaches, scoutmasters, and bosses. These persons willingly invested in our development because they believed in our potential.
You can’t achieve much in life or work with only potential.
A mentor can contribute knowledge, skill, and experience that transforms potential into future success.
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