Quick – name the top 3 mistakes you’ve made in your career!
Didn’t take long, did it?
Now, how about the top 3 successes in your career?
My guess is that this one took a little longer.
Why? Well, to begin with, as a result of our constant upward mobility, most of us are not very much in tune with our accomplishments. Thinking of them requires us to stop, take a breath, and engage in introspection. When we finally allow ourselves to go into that mode, answering the question requires some processing, as everyone’s definition of success differs. Once you apply your success criteria, some seemingly small, incremental “successes” may actually outweigh the “headline” achievements. Lastly, when you think about it, it’s likely that your “successes” really weren’t all yours. Rather, the achievement was the result of a concerted effort of a number of people over time, which also included a Mentor or two along the way.
In fact, if you think back to your answer to the first question, my guess is that you also detect the significant presence of Mentors. No doubt there are those that you may have consulted after a bad outcome to help you recover. There may also be people whose advice you wished you had sought out (or even followed) beforehand for help in avoiding the mistake or at least in mitigating its consequences.
Finally, if you blend your thinking on both questions, you will likely find commonality among the answers to both: Mentors that you have worked with consistently, in good times and bad. Individuals with whom you have a unique and personal bond garnered through shared experience. People who you call (and who call you) when things change in your life and career.
Over the past few weeks I’ve fortunately had opportunities to spend some time with a couple of my own long-term Mentors. These Mentors have each given me a hand up in the darkest of times, and they have celebrated with me when milestones were achieved. As appropriate, these Mentors have delivered hard truths and pats on the back. They have guided my actions by providing direct advice and by subtle (even unknowing) cues in their own behavior. Thanks to these great friends, I learned the power of redemption, of perseverance, and of professionalism.
While I doubt they have ever met, these Mentors hold seats on my virtual Board of Directors, and I “meet” with each of them periodically to catch up, reminisce, and compare notes on life, the market, our families, football, whatever. These meetings happen more or less periodically, although when more time passes than usual between meetings, it’s still ok. Long-term relationships like these require an extraordinary level of commitment, and we each have made that investment.
Naturally, then, the classic American question arises: What’s in it for them? Continuing with the Board of Directors metaphor, I believe that my long-term mentors represent the capital structure of my career, both the equity and the debt interests. From the growth standpoint, as my friend, the Mentors obviously want to see me advance and succeed, but it’s also in their business interests, as they know I will always help them with their own needs. My Mentors know that at any time they can ask for my help in testing one of their hypotheses and that, by whatever means I can help – another set of eyes on a problem, a referral, etc., – I will respond when called upon. Finally, from the perspective of sustainability, I repay the debts I have accrued to my Mentors by taking similar interests in the lives and careers of the next generation.
We cannot stand idly by as our successors struggle through their growth processes. While the details of our mistakes may be irrelevant or too painful to share, the insights and errors in our decision calculus must be passed along to help others. We, too, have a duty to mentor and we must invest the same level of commitment as our Mentors by seeking and holding seats on others’ Board of Directors for the long-term.
Thanks as always for reading. Sorry for the delay since my last post – there’s just a lot going on here in the Garden – sustainability, education, financial services – all kinds of seeds being planted. Will keep you posted on those. This week upcoming I’m privileged to attend the Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg. Steve Wiley, an incredible thought leader, uses vignettes from the battle as a metaphor for strategic issues we face in our careers – the group then gets to come up with tactical responses and these are compared with the decisions the officers made during the battle. After each classroom session, we’ll actually get to go walk the area we discussed with guides who will re-create the scene. Should be extremely awesome – I promise to blog about it daily, so stay tuned.
In the meantime, as always, take care.