This essay was originally published on January 14th, 2006 for Early To Rise
A man looks back on his life and says, “I wish I knew then what I know now.”
It can take a decade or more to become the successful person you want to be, but you can shorten your learning curve – even drastically curtail it – by using a mentor.
With the advice, experience, and support of an experienced person in your field, you can avoid the most common mistakes you are likely to make. You overcome the stickiest problems and find shortcuts to success.
It doesn’t really matter where you are along your career path, getting yourself a good mentor will be enormously valuable for you.
A survey commissioned by the Elliot Leadership Institute at Johnson & Wales University confirms this. For this particular study, researchers surveyed senior executives and middle managers in the food service and hospitality industry about leadership competencies. What they discovered was that leaders who had been mentored felt the experience invaluable. They said their mentors helped them build all kinds of leadership skills, including decision-making, strategic thinking, planning, coaching, and effectively managing others.
In Early to Rise, I’ve often talked about the mentors in my own business life. From Leo, my first post-college boss, I learned the importance of persistence and dogged determination. Leo once had me call Honda Motors more than 100 times to convince them to give us a new engine after the one we had died (from lack of oil). We hadn’t a single, sensible argument in our favor, but that didn’t stop Leo from pushing me. Finally, after I got all the way to the top, the Honda executive leadership decided they had wasted too much time on us and gave in. I didn’t feel good about getting something we didn’t deserve, but I never forgot that lesson in persistence.
From Joel, my second major mentor, I learned a great deal. The first lesson he taught me – by firing the lady who wanted to get me fired – was that a good leader needs to surround himself with the strongest people he can find. Another lesson I learned soon thereafter had to do with the fundamental nature of business.
“Until you make a sale,” Joel explained patiently, “nothing else happens.”