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Does Your Mentor Ever Leave You?

May 30, 2010 13 comments

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The smartest move I’ve made in my professional life was to take a salary cut.

When moving from my first “Corporate job” at 24 years old to my first “start up”, I took a pay cut. Why? I could see the value and ROI in a longer term investment. I left a company where I was the ‘best’ of about 1600 people to go back to the bottom. For what? I found my mentors. I found two businessmen who, between the two of them, encompassed everything I would ever need to be successful. What’s ironic about this is it is now about 6 years later and when I look back at those wondrous three years working with these two men, I remember what one used to say to me. He would say, “You should be paying ME for allowing you to work here because you are learning more than you would be in any MBA or Doctorate program”. Looking back now, he was right. I should have been paying him. Everything he taught me, everything I watched, the meetings that I had become a part of; he truly taught me not only how to build a business, but more importantly – how to build and successfully manage the people in that business. He was the best sales and marketing individual in my industry and I was his sponge.

His counter part, my other mentor, had quite the opposite skill set. He was master in operations and finance (yuck). That said, “if you want to run your own business one day, you have to be able to have worked in all areas of the business that you will be running”. I did. I learned operations, I learned finance; and I even learned to like and see the value in both.

So, a year after leaving that business, there are so many lessons and conversations that run through my head daily, sometimes hourly. I feel that everything I do has their “mark” on it because they taught me to be the business person I am today. Looking back through this blog, most of my posts are things I’ve learned from them; and in my everyday life…their faces and voices run through my head constantly. To share a few of the key learnings:

1. Hold yourself accountable – don’t play blame games and don’t ever blame anyone else for something that is in your domain. If something goes wrong in your department or on your project, OWN UP TO IT. While your manager or boss may be angry, they are going to respect you more for coming to them vs. hiding it from them and trying to fix it on your own. Most importantly, take a step back and learn from your mistake; explain your learnings to your boss when owning up to your mistake.

2. Get out of your comfort zone – if you’re good at something, congrats! Now…GET OUT! If you’re comfortable in what you’re doing, you’re dead; you won’t grow anymore. Figure out ways to either scale what your doing, train what your doing, or change it in some other way. If there are no changes needed, get out and do something different. Ask yourself, “would you rather be in the minor leagues as the best player for 10 years?” or would you rather jump into the major leagues; you may not be the best in the beginning, but you will get there.

3. It is the manager’s fault if someone is terminated or quits – LOOK in the mirror every time you lose an employee. If you cannot look in the mirror and say, “I’ve done everything in my power to keep this employee”, you’re not a good manager. People don’t leave companies, they leave managers.

4. Treat everyone as if they are your most important client – this means vendors, employees, bosses, etc. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect; you will get more production out of treating people with respect than you will berating them.

5. Don’t waste your time doing something that has been done before. If you’re not innovative, you lose. Developing the same business plan and just “doing it better” is a waste of time; your competition, the company that was there first, will rise up eventually. Do something that has never been done and always have a unique value proposition. It’s all about disruptive technology.

6. Your gut is great for ideas, tests, and innovation. Data is better.

7. Test everything you can make a business case for.

I could go on and on, but that’s not the purpose of this post.

Unfortunately, as with all good things – the relationship came to an end. Since that time, I’ve worked with so many intelligent and innovative people. I take minimal and sometimes do not even charge executives that I would like to work with, simply so I can learn from them.

Interestingly enough, I have yet to find anyone that I want as a ‘mentor’. Not like “before”. Perhaps this is part of growing up? I’m not sure. There are a couple people who I want to take bits and pieces from, but no one I would work for FT to become an all around “better me”.

As with any relationship, I’m beginning to see that I’m “comparing” everyone with the best mentors I’ve ever had. I remember doing the same with boyfriends before I got married…and I remember being told by everyone NOT to do so.

Also analagous to any other relationship, I think the foot prints that were left in my heart and my head from these men will be there forever; and it’s time to move on, take my experiences with them, and build upon them.

What I’m stuck with; Am I getting too “old” to work with people I will learn from so entirely? Do I need to be in the same organization / work with them to do so? More importantly, will a day in business ever go by where I don’t think of my first two mentors?

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