Formal and Informal Mentors
Formal mentors are normally folks with or for whom you work. Formal mentors are great sources of career guidance. Typically, they will be older and have been down the path you are getting ready to walk along.
More than 20 years ago, I worked for one of my most significant mentors. Bill basically ran the company I worked for and I was one of his direct reports. I approached him for tuition assistance to pursue a master’s in computer science. After a long conversation that ran well past dinner time, I left his office set on pursuing an M.B.A. I only worked with Bill for about a year, but this one piece of guidance continues to serve me well to this day.
Bill’s focus was on my career. At the time, I am sure he planned to spend more time at the company and was grooming me for increasing responsibility. He helped me select classes that focused on managing projects and teams of people, which are two things I do to this day and perhaps the real key to my current business success.
There are informal mentors as well. Typically, these folks are more likely to be friends, customers or business peers. After earning that M.B.A. and striking out on my own, one of my first customers was John. He was the CFO for a good-sized privately held concern. He advised me on ways to grow my business. He helped me learn to think big about my small business.
John provided lots of great advice over the five years or so that we worked together. Much of it I just wasn’t ready to utilize. First, I had to sort out some issues in my life. Now, more than a decade later, I’m doing many of the things John and I sketched on the back of cocktail napkins years ago.
Now that I’m doing some mentoring, I realize it’s just a form of giving back or paying it forward. The folks I’m working with I genuinely like and want to help succeed. One is a team member who works with me on projects. Some of the others I just see making mistakes that set me back years and if I can gently help them see that, I feel great doing so.
I’d love to hear your mentoring stories. Who are some of the great mentors and how did they shape your life and career decisions?