Thoughts on Mentorship: How to Help Shape Tomorrow's Leaders - Rolling Stone
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Thoughts on Mentorship: How to Help Shape Tomorrow’s Leaders

As business leaders, we need to identify and promote the leaders of tomorrow and we need to be inclusive.

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I have been thinking a lot lately about being a mentor and mentoring. I was very lucky early in my career to have two amazing mentors in one company — one was the chairman of the board and the other was the president of the company.

They both came from a different time; I would call it the “Mad Men era.” They always wore a jacket and tie. You referred to them as Mr. Young and Mr. Smith. They were aficionados of the two-martini lunch in their day. The one thing they had that impressed me most was an incredible work ethic; what they did was very important to who they were. They loved their families and were there for them for all important occasions, but work was their mistress, the thing they needed to help define who they were.

They were also craftsmen; they blazed a trail in the technical arts of the entertainment industry that no one has really equaled in their field. I was a young, brash man who wanted to transition from a creative position into management. They were skeptical; I was rather boisterous and somewhat irreverent. I know it didn’t sit well with the president, but to his credit, he decided to go along for the ride.

The greatest thing they did for me, the one thing that helped me most in my growth, was they let me fail sometimes in a spectacular fashion. They were there to pick me up, dust me off and point out what I did wrong — sometimes in a not-too-pleasant fashion that would not work today. They would then throw me back into the fray with my newfound knowledge. All was forgiven, not forgotten. The only caveat was that I had to learn from my mistake. I usually did.

They were encouraging, critical, tough, loving and enlightening all at once. I would sit with them and go over issues and we worked to make the company as good a place as it could be. They never used the words we bandy about today, culture and inclusion, but they were always thinking of how to make the best working environment and they promoted based on merit, not things like race or gender.

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As I moved on in life, I always looked for that one person who had that spark that would make them amazing at their job, and I have done my best to emulate those two great gentlemen who taught me. I feel very strongly that as business leaders, we need to identify and promote the leaders of tomorrow and we need to be inclusive. My mentors came from a different era, but they were very open-minded men. I am sure the people who I mentor today look at me like some relic from a bygone era, and they are probably right. I find that they in turn mentor me by keeping me current and fresh.

Mentoring comes in many forms. My favorite way to mentor the up-and-comers is to adapt the philosophy of my long-ago teachers. A little tough love mixed with a shoulder to cry on; throw in some teaching moments disguised as work, and watch them grow. Most people just need a little nudge in the right direction and they find their path.

I have had the privilege of mentoring many people, and the greatest joy I have had in my career is watching them strike out on their own and become the leaders of today. Some are amazing creative artists, some are business owners and leaders, and most are at the top of their field. As my career enters its closing chorus, I look around my industry and see the talent that I have helped shape and that is something that can never be taken away from me. I find the respect I have for these people is enormous; I knew them when they worked in shipping or some other entry-level position; how wonderful it is that I had some small hand in their growth, helped them unleash their potential in some small way.

Look for people to mentor in your companies. As a leader, give the gift of your insight and knowledge. I want to keep on working in some fashion as long as I can. I would love to have the last act be one of mentorship — helping to shape the leaders of tomorrow is the greatest honor one could have. Identify your future leaders, encourage them, and embrace them. It keeps your company moving forward in the right direction.

I think of Mr. Young and Smith. Both have recently passed on, but I still have the legacy they left to me, the gifts that they gave me, and I thank them for everything second I spent with them. They were the greatest gift! They were my mentors and tormentors, but they left an indelible mark on me that I will carry to my grave. Isn’t that a wonderful gift to give someone?


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