By DR. EVELYN ELLIS
It’s been said that mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen and a push in the right direction.
In this column, I want to talk about the value of professional mentorship. In my role with WKU Elizabethtown-Fort Knox and as a member of the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board, I’m charged with helping people succeed in their chosen career fields, from pursuing their education to connecting them with employers.
But it takes more than an education and talent to succeed in the workplace. Professional mentors are paramount to an individual’s success. I know I’m the better for having them and for being one.
Early on in my career I was responsible for arranging a trip in Germany for a group of school age children of U.S. service members. I thought I had it all together until we had to cancel the trip and I forgot to cancel the buses. When those buses rolled up that morning, I could hear money going down the proverbial drain. Thousands of dollars were lost because of my failure, but because of that mistake a man by the name of Jim Rodney became my mentor. From that day forward, Jim took me under his wing and showed me how to prevent future mistakes. Thankfully, he also negotiated a lower fee with the bus company and saved our annual travel budget. To this day, when I see him, he asks me about the buses with a big grin on his face.
In some organizations, mentorship programs are well-established and formalized. I’ve been the beneficiary of such programs, but in many businesses and organizations a formal program doesn’t exist. That doesn’t mean you can’t still find a mentor or seek out a mentee. I encourage it, but when doing so, there are some things to consider.
Sarah Reynolds has been a State Farm Agent for the better part of 10 years. She loves the company and is making plans to establish her own agency. She points to her mentors as the reason why. “From my regional sales leader, Jimmy Gillespie, to the owners of the local agency, Mike and Jennifer Wyman, who I work for, I’m so privileged to receive their mentorship,” said Reynolds.
Let me focus on the word “receive”. That’s key. You have to be willing to accept feedback even if it’s uncomfortable. Reynolds says it’s about being coachable. “When I talk to my sales manager, Jimmy Gillespie, he tells me what he expects, let’s me know when I’ve missed the mark, picks me back up and is the first to praise me when I’ve done well. I’m different person because of that man.”
Mentors Learn, Too
Reynolds says, because of Jimmy, she has sought out opportunities to mentor others, including Charlotte Nally who says that Reynolds has changed her life. “She believed in me and helped me believe in myself,” said Nally. Reynolds will tell you that she learns just as much from Nally as she learned from her.
Similarly, tech entrepreneur, Kelli Schultz says she gets just as much if not more out of mentoring others. “Whether younger or older, they teach me how their generation thinks, behaves, gets work done, views the world,” said Schultz. “That has helped me guide product development.”
I couldn’t agree more. As a mentor you want a relationship that challenges your thinking, too. It is not about finding or creating your clone. It’s about fostering a relationship that stretches and grows people professionally. As Schultz will tell you, you want to click with that person but not think exactly like that person.
She also talks about the value of having an outside perspective. “Sometimes the line gets blurry between manager and mentor so if you can, also seek out mentorship from someone to whom you don’t report directly,” said Schultz. “When it’s someone in your line of business but outside of your company, that can be incredibly beneficial as well.”
As thought leaders, the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board wants to support and grow the power of professional mentorship in our region. Who’s mentored you? Send us your stories so we can share them. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Evelyn Ellis is Regional Chancellor of WKU Elizabethtown-Ft. Knox and a member of the Lincoln Trail Workforce Development Board. She can be reached at 270-706-8870 or email@example.com.