The Power of Mentoring in Helping Others Succeed 01.11.2023 | Chris Brunone, MBA

Fun fact: among several observances in January, mentoring is one of them. National Mentoring Month is a call to honor and celebrate today’s Mentors and encourage our communities to engage in mentoring activities. What a great topic to dive into as we face the twists and turns of the new year and the uncertainties of life and work!

The (Mutual) Value of Mentorship

Did you know that the following personalities benefited from having Mentors: Henry David Thoreau, Clint Eastwood, Richard Branson, Sally Ride, Quincey Jones, Bill Gates, Bill Russell, Sheryl Sandberg, Kyung, B. Yoon, Martin Luther King, Jr., Oprah Winfrey, Chita Rivera, Plato, Aristotle, and Alexander the Great? Even Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker and Simba leaned upon the guidance and support of their trusted Mentors.

Mentoring at work can be an enormous gift, helping us gain perspective, ignite new connections, and encourage confident decision-making within projects and our careers. It can be formal and organized, as in internship programs and leadership development initiatives, or more natural, fluid and part of an organization’s culture where it is one of the ways colleagues show up to help each other. Mentors often benefit as much, if not more, than the Mentee. Reverse mentoring can be especially helpful as four generations and numerous cultures work side-by-side daily. Diversity and inclusion are natural elements of effective mentoring, making it hyper-relevant (and essential) in today’s work environment.

In her book, My Life in Full, Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsi, cites several mentors, especially Gerhard Schulmeyer, the head of the Automotive Electronics Division of Motorola, for whom she worked for eight years. “He taught me to simplify complex problems and to communicate them effectively.” “He was a teacher, coach, critic, and supporter.” Not everyone can rise to the level of CEO, yet, having a trusted and accessible person with varied experiences to lean on for perspective is worth so much.

When I started in sales in the training and consulting business, our company was winning small custom development projects. My Mentor at the time was the president of the company and one of the more active members of YPO (Young President Organization – owners of successful companies under the age of 40). I lived in NJ, and our headquarters was in Bloomington, MN. I invited a prospect from Connecticut (a large insurance company) to fly out and meet with several of our staff based on their need to build an entire curriculum for their organization. They had recently built a large training facility in Hartford, CT. Great timing. Coincidentally, my wife was due with our third child at any moment, so she wasn’t thrilled to know I would be gone for two days. Bad timing…but I had to go. The opportunity represented 15% of our top-line revenues.

In a nutshell, the prospect wanted to break up the work and share it among several instructional design and development providers.

My mentor, John G., instilled in us the need to be bold, believe in ourselves and our team, and ensure the benefits are realized with the client.

In less than an hour, we went from building two courses to being hired to develop the entire curriculum of programs and simulations, a deal worth seven figures! It shocked the industry. For nine years, I benefited from the wisdom of my mentor. I later rose to VP of Sales & Marketing and spent several years living in Minnesota.

And for those of you on the edge of your seats: my wife went into labor as soon as I walked into the house from that one-day trip to Minnesota – it was 2 AM the following day. We immediately drove to the hospital, and my beautiful, strong-willed daughter, Natalie, was born. Two gifts in two days!

Interested in Being a Mentor? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Here are ten guiding principles that can help you be a better Mentor, some derived from Wendy Axelrod’s 10 Steps to Successful Mentoring:

  1. Start where your Mentee is.
  2. Create a safe conversational space. There is no room for judgment. Listen. Question.
  3. Cultivate a positive and resilient relationship. Find the good. Everyone is learning.
  4. Drive risk-taking and new mindsets and behaviors. In my situation, I could have come out with a nice sale, but I was challenged to embrace a bigger perspective, which helped drive the enormous win.
  5. Examine your feelings as things happen. Our biases and experiences can shape our suggestions and how we offer our guidance.
  6. Be present. Bring your best self. Mentees want more of you, the best you.
  7. Be flexible and goal-oriented. It can help to remember the phrase “achieve an outcome by when.” Be open to multiple ways of reaching that outcome.
  8. Promote self-reflection and self-coaching. One of the techniques John G. taught me was that whenever he finished the day selling, he would go home and reflect on every interaction, analyzing what went well and why, what to use again, and what behavior to change. Becoming a disciplined self-coach became one of my daily behaviors, and I have consistently reinforced that with all the professionals on my teams.
  9. Encourage learning at all turns. Learn about them and learn about one another. I have learned many valuable insights and lessons from those I have mentored. Jack Welch, the former successful GE CEO, used reverse mentoring to help his more tenured leaders elevate their technology skills by pairing up with younger, more tech-savvy colleagues.
  10. Manage the process. Sometimes Mentees can drift. Depending on the person and the situation, hold one another accountable.

Can you imagine the impact mentoring can have upon a transferee or assignee as they endure several major transitions at work and in life? Raise your hand, find commonality, and be there for them. This can also mean acting as the critical link between an assignee and a former expatriate with the experience and guidance to serve as a trusted Mentor. 

Mentoring is a safe yet productive way to give and receive guidance that can change your life. It is as old as Greek Mythology and as new as the 21st Century. Many people don’t realize that the very first Mentor was Athena (the goddess of wisdom), who assumed the role of a Mentor to care for and guide Telemachus, Odysseus’s son, as Odysseus went off to fight in the ten-year Trojan War. If you are curious about that story or how becoming a Mentor or a Mentee can help you in your career, I’m always up for a chat!

When asked what her advice would be for seeking greater success, Indra Nooyi said: ‘To be great at anything, become a student!’ Mentoring can help us become better teachers AND better students! And what better time than January (the unofficial month of new beginnings and betterment) to commit to raising yourself, and others?

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Written by Chris Brunone, MBA

Chris Brunone

Chris is Executive Vice President, Talent Development & Colleague Engagement at Weichert, managing companywide training initiatives and overseeing our talent onboarding and engagement efforts. He has 35 years of experience in talent development and leadership training to his role, having honed his craft working at The Ken Blanchard Companies and BlessingWhite. He is the architect of our Legendary Service initiative, which has grown from a customer service training program to part of our corporate DNA, and as our industry grows more complex, he continues to equip our leaders to more competently and confidently lead others to higher levels of performance.

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