The formal or informal exchange between a mentor and a protégé can have a significant influence on professional development and produce tangible results.
Mentors made a tremendous difference for me during the startup phases of the company I founded, Action Instruments. On the advice of a friend when the company was just a few months old, I went to the local U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) office to sign up for free advice through their Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) program. I knew very little about finance and banking, and checked those off as areas where I needed help.
Within the week, I received a call from a retired senior vice president at a major bank. He fielded my endless questions patiently and prepared me for my first banking “relationship.” He insisted it was not just about banking, but rather an understanding of mutual aims and needs with a banker with whom I could develop good rapport. Through his mentoring over the next months, I signed up for a line of credit and eventually major bank financing at terms that saved my company big bucks over the next several years.
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The other mentor who made a big difference I also met through the SBA SCORE program. He had retired as Director of Planning at a billion-dollar research organization, and he took me under his wing. He visited often and always asked about our “long-term” business plan; the company was not yet two years old and we had barely scratched out an annual plan. But he kept insisting that we should develop long-term plans covering two, three and five years. As the company grew, this planning process became an invaluable tool and the regular planning discipline made a significant difference to our consistent growth and profitability.
Find a mentor
How does one develop good mentors? Sometimes, it’s simply by having the temerity to ask someone you respect and admire. You’ve got to have the guts, and a good personal approach.
When I was starting out, I remember calling Bill Hewlett, the co-founder of Hewlett Packard, directly. It wasn’t easy to get through, but my persistence and sincerity paid off and I finally got to talk with him on the telephone. I told him that I was an engineer like him, starting my own company and asked if I could meet with him any time at his convenience. He invited me to his office in Palo Alto, California. His friendliness and open responses to my rookie questions were refreshing and served as “guru” advice for the rest of my life.
When we were done, I said, “Your help is worth a million dollars to me. How can I ever repay you?” His candid response has remained with me for the rest of my life, “You can indeed pay, simply by giving advice to any engineer who asks for it sincerely, as you did.” I have tried to live up to that promise ever since.
Many companies sponsor good mentoring programs. At Action, we had a buddy system for new employees, which increased loyalty and improved retention. An effective mentoring relationship develops over time. A good mentor provides expert knowledge, support, empathy, respect and, most important, the wisdom of experience. Mentoring is an essential leadership skill. It’s important to help others learn, grow and become more effective in their jobs. Mentoring is the best thing anyone could do for an improved outlook on life. It’s good for business, and good for the spirit.
>> Jim Pinto is a technology futurist, international speaker and automation industry commentator. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or review his prognostications and predictions on his website: www.jimpinto.com.