“I admire your ability to ask for advice. I rarely do. It probably requires more wisdom and humility than I possess.”
This is what one of my mentors wrote to me recently – and I wasn’t expecting to hear that response, at all. We serve different industries, and I am constantly asking him questions about his business, his clients, managing relationships, etc. At this point, I was expecting him to say, “Please, please stop pestering me!” But instead, he went on to say, “Every single thing I do that helps you, gives me a higher ‘return on investment’ for the thousands of positively idiotic choices I’ve made. As I blunder along, making mistakes, eventually the universe teaches me the lesson I need to learn, but at a huge cost of blood, sweat and treasure. And I’m OK with that tradeoff, you know, because I have stubbornness issues. But it’s a great gift to pass it along and potentially spare you my particular set of mistakes, so you can make entirely new (and amusing) other ones!”
Well, he is right about one thing: I have made plenty of mistakes, much to the entertainment of others!
Notice that I stated that one of my mentors said this to me. I’m fortunate to have several, and they all have different skills and expertise. One has spent hours coaching me on managing business relationships and having tough conversations that I would have rather avoided. But he held me accountable, and I’m better for it. Another mentor held my hand through numerous hiring, onboarding, and staff management scenarios. He taught me the importance of appreciating and respecting the team with which we surround ourselves. He also taught me how to present the most important points of my latest crisis in 30 seconds or less so that I learned how to prioritize the most influential factors, and how to be sensitive yet firm in difficult conversations (which required lots of role playing). I have another mentor who excels at asking me the hard questions. He used to love to call me at 4pm on a Friday afternoon (and he seemed oblivious to the fact that it was time for Happy Hour!) and kept me on the phone for an hour or more, pushing my thinking, helping me to see situations from a different point of view, and teaching me to be smarter about analyzing my options. And another mentor excelled at reminding me not to take myself – or others – too seriously!
All of these mentors are friends. I’ve never had a formal conversation to ask them to be a mentor; it simply evolved. Mentors have been on my mind recently, in that April 4th is Mentoring Monday in 43 cities across the U.S. None of us are “too experienced” to not have a mentor because none of us knows everything. And we all have something that we can offer to someone else, too, to “pay it forward,” as it were, out of gratitude for all those who have helped us along our own journeys.