My first week in the professional world was exactly 25 years ago this month, July 1991. I joined the technology giant Electronic Data Systems, EDS, a Fortune 100 company founded and led by Ross Perot. I signed up for the 3-year Systems Engineering Development, SED, program which was a 3-phase training program known for being challenging for young engineers.
On my first day as a Phase I, which meant I was lowest-of-the-low in the company’s hierarchy, I was excited to hear that 15 other young men and women joined the same division of EDS and that we would have a SED Roundtable meeting during our first week. As a typical 21-year old, I thought I was something special and assumed I was one of the best of the new recruits. Well, Thursday night came around, and we met for our SED Roundtable meeting. As we went around the table making formal introductions and getting to know one another, I quickly realized that my “something special” was “something average.” All 16 young professionals were special — valedictorians, prestigious college graduates, and accomplished athletes — and I had joined a company that thrived at hiring hard-working over-achievers. As quickly as 16 people could say their name and life’s accomplishments, I went from being a legend in my own mind to being number 7 or 8 on the depth chart of the young professionals in the room.
Fast-forward seven years. I began working in the company’s headquarters in Plano, Texas, on the infamous 6th Floor, steps away from EDS’s Senior Leadership Team. I had the opportunity to work with the company’s top executives on a daily basis and, very humbly, had become one of the company’s top executives myself.
How did I do this? How did I go from an unknown “Phase-I” to being the company’s top sales leader in just 7 years? Simply and truthfully, I didn’t do it. WE did it — 5 special people did it with me and for me. These 5 individuals — Val, Bill, John, Gary F. & Gary B. — pushed me to the limit, invested in me as a person, taught me business lessons beyond my years and put my career in the fast lane.
Who were these 5 career crusaders? I am proud to call them my mentors and excited to tell you how they changed my life forever. More importantly, I want to talk to you about finding a mentor and how it can change your life, too.
WHAT IS A MENTOR?
Let’s break down what a mentor is in a few ways. Firstly, they are volunteers. Yes, even in companies that have formally structured mentoring programs, the mentor does not receive any compensation for the role. Secondly, a mentor is focused purely on the development of their mentee and helping them achieve their career goals — not their own. Thirdly, mentors volunteer their time to advance the careers of their mentees, with no personal or professional benefit expected in return.
Now that we have determined that MENTORING is volunteering to develop individuals to achieve their career goals and advancement, with nothing expected in return — it makes what Val, Bill, John, Gary and Gary did even more special. All the sessions we spent together, all the advice they gave me, all the foolish decisions they stopped me from making and all the ways they encouraged me were just that — for me! All five of these people were always incredibly busy, but somehow, they manufactured time to sit with me and patiently teach me. They taught me both business and personal lessons — from which job opportunity to take to picking out wine in a restaurant so that I did not embarrass myself…I have to thank Gary B. for that one.
Now when we discuss what mentoring IS, it is also important to talk about what mentoring ISN’T. I have always looked at leadership as having 4 dimensions — leading, managing, coaching and mentoring. Each of these is unique, and it is important to understand the difference.
- LEADING is the willingness to accept responsibility and organize a group of people to achieve a common goal. Leading is all about taking responsibility to inspire and organize a team that is focused on achieving something the company and leader need accomplished, versus something that might only benefit that team.
- MANAGING is the act of coordinating the efforts of people toward achieving a common goal. Managing is all about tactically achieving that common goal that the company and/or leader are focused upon. It involves managing tasks, projects, people and yourself.
- COACHING is the desire to support individuals to achieve a specific goal through learning. Coaching moves from being focused on a team to being focused on an individual — similar to mentoring. The difference is simple. Coaching drives at a specific goal through learning. For example, coaching someone to make a sales call, to perform a job function better, or to learn a new skill.
Leading and Managing focus on a common goal, while Coaching focuses on an individual and a specific goal. Mentoring focuses on an individual’s career and overall development. Mentoring is a much broader role, with greater upside for the individual but very little direct upside for the mentor. That is one of the many reasons why mentors are such special people — they are truly doing it to advance the careers of others.
6 ROLES OF GREAT MENTORS
Great mentors play a number of roles over the course of their mentorship with their mentee.
Role 1 – Role Model is perhaps the foundation for what makes a mentee select a mentor. Personally, all of my mentors were role models inside and outside of the office. And when I stop to think about it, they really never stopped being my role models. I modeled their behaviors and actions that I witnessed at the office. But I also molded myself in how they conducted themselves in their personal lives and in the community. I took note of how they ran meetings, how they cared for their employees, and the leadership roles they took in serving others. I even did a few things that were a little creepy…
My 4th mentor, Gary F., dressed impeccably. One time when we were on a flight together and he fell asleep, I flipped open his suit jacket to see who made his suits. From that day forward that was the only brand of suits I ever wore — for the first new suit I bought, I had to get a small loan from the EDS Credit Union to afford it. Also, for the record, Gary F. was not wearing his suit jacket at the time that I sneaked a look.
Role 2 – Performer comes on the heels of being a role model. Often times, we get a chance to see our mentor in the workplace. How we see them act and the results they achieve become appealing to us as mentees. So to be a great mentor, you have to continually be a high performer. More simply stated, great mentors keep setting the bar for what a great leader means day-in and day-out.
Role 3 – Teacher is the cornerstone of a great mentorship. Great mentors are able to patiently teach their mentees how to achieve their desired goals. They are able to facilitate the transfer of their competency, knowledge and wisdom. Oftentimes, they are required to do this by being adaptable to their mentee, but are still able to challenge their “student.” Being a great teacher is not easy. It takes patience, practice, and a sincere willingness to do it.
Role 4 – Advocate is the selfless act of representing others and advancing their cause. Sometimes, great mentors have to educate and inform others of their mentees’ skills and their experience — they “put the mentee on the radar.” Other times, the mentor is even more assertive and may launch a passionate campaign for their mentee to be recognized, transferred and/or promoted.
In June of 1997, two of my mentors — Val & Bill — called me into their office and notified me that I had just been promoted to a new role at Corporate in Plano, Texas. At 27-years old, I was all about promotions so I was excited and took off two days later for my new, better, cooler job, without looking back. Years later, when I became a mentor myself, I realized exactly what Val & Bill had actually done. Though they were levels and levels above me, I worked in the same business unit as Val & Bill, and I was doing a pretty decent job. That meant my transfer was a loss for the division. Even so, they selflessly advocated for me, put my name in the ring for a promotion and were excited for me when I received it. They had weakened their own team in doing this selfless act. When I reflect on this, I am ever more grateful for their mentorship, the power of their advocacy and how they were truly great mentors.
Role 5 – Communicator is what makes the day-to-day mentorship work well. Great mentors are great listeners. They listen actively, know when to step in and say something, and know how to say it. They listen between the lines and have an ability to see the big picture for their mentees — even when their mentees can’t see it for themselves. Often times they connect the dots of a problem, a challenge or an opportunity for their mentee based on having greater business and life experience. Some of the best mentors take an inquiry approach and simply ask their mentees a number of questions that make them reflect more deeply, think more broadly and slow down before making any quick decisions. I know a few times when my mentors were being extremely tactful in asking me some questions that I really knew the answers to but probably didn’t want to admit in the moment. In that respect, their diplomacy kept me in check and did so without bruising my ego by letting me arrive at my own decision. Man, were they smart or what?!
Role 6 – Advisor is the apex of the mentor-mentee relationship. As the mentor develops, advances and grows their mentee, there are many times when they advise their mentee on decisions that make a difference. Mentors have the ability to see the bigger picture, have a 360-degree perspective, and have the experience of “having been there and done that.”
In 2001, I had completed my first CEO role and was sitting on the sidelines honoring a non-compete. I flew to New York City to meet with John, a long-time mentor and CEO of a large company, to ask him for his advice on what I should do next. As I was sitting out the non-compete, I was also doing some consulting to keep myself busy. During my meeting with John, we both determined I could help him, his company and board of directors with a small consulting engagement. I booked the hotel for a couple more days and launched the engagement. After leading the engagement for about two weeks, John and I realized the synergy we had with one another and the good work we were accomplishing for his company. Over an evening drink by Central Park, John and I worked out a new role in his company that was clear of any non-compete and brought great value to his company. What started as a simple mentoring session had turned into a wonderful job offer. I am sincerely grateful for John’s advice and unique perspective.
4 ROLES OF A PRODUCTIVE MENTEE
Productive mentees play a number of key roles over the course of their mentorship.
Role 1 – Worker is where the mentorship can start and accelerate, or start and stop. Remember, mentors are acting on a volunteer basis and are investing their own time willingly, with nothing expected in return. But quite truthfully, they do expect certain things in return, and at the top of the list is the expectation that their mentee is working hard in their job. No one is suggesting perfection, but we are certainly talking about performing at your near-highest level. It is understood that, from time to time, a mentee’s job performance may slip; quite frankly, that is when the mentor can really step in and add value for the mentee. However, it is also understood that a mentee does control how hard they work. More simply put, there is no excuse for not working to your highest potential. It is vital that your mentor thinks of you as a worker — so that your mentor works hard for you, too.
Role 2 – Student is the core element required for a great mentorship. Productive mentees seek to absorb as much as possible from their mentor. Business lessons, life lessons, best practices, common mistakes — they are emulating these things and, at times, maybe even mimicking. Being a student requires an ability to learn and a willingness to change. Being a great student in the classroom is not all that different from being a great student in your profession. You may not necessarily sit at a desk when the bell rings or watch your mentor at a blackboard; however, our professional world is still a classroom. Being a productive mentee is about being prepared for your next lesson and seeking new ideas with the focus of improving yourself. Being a good student is about holding yourself accountable and learning in the moment.
Role 3 – Communicator is what makes the mentorship successful. It is the responsibility of the mentee to articulate where they want to go, who they want to be, and what they want to accomplish. Granted, it may be a bit foggy; but it is the mentor’s role to help remove that fog. At the end of the day, the mentee must be able to communicate their needs, challenges and opportunities. As we also know, good communicators must be able to listen for the message, understand the lesson, and be able to ask probing and deeper questions. Lastly, it is very important that mentees are able to receive constructive feedback and be coachable. To get better and grow, you usually have to first get uncomfortable.
Role 4 – Doer is what determines the return-on-investment for the overall mentorship. Through the six Roles of a Great Mentor and the first three Roles of a Productive Mentee, we have set the groundwork for what matters most — the mentee doing something with all the wisdom and knowledge that has been shared with them. Productive mentees show up prepared with an agenda for their mentor, present their specific challenges, clearly articulate their greatest opportunities, and do their homework in between their meetings. The mentee should reference his/her actions from the previous meeting and be able to report back on progress.
One evening at our favorite restaurant in Menlo Park, California, Gary B. and I sat and discussed wine over dinner. Gary B. had been mentoring me for a while, and I had learned a great deal from him. At this particular dinner, I was hoping Gary B. would teach me about Napa Valley Cabernet wine. He was a wine enthusiast and always ordered for all, no matter who was dining. I thought that was a pretty cool skill to learn and one I wanted to emulate. The previous weekend, I had gone to a wine store and asked the same of the staff there. They had given me very good perspectives and even a little “cheat-sheet” to keep in my wallet. But what they couldn’t teach me was what wine to order with whom and at what price point, which Gary B. had a knack for. Well, all I can say is thank you to Gary B. — you taught me well and we certainly did a lot of interactive learning that evening.
CREATING A MENTORSHIP PROGRAM TO CHANGE YOUR LIFE
If you are ready to invest in your own career and accelerate your development, I encourage you to find a mentor and begin the journey. I have participated in both formal and informal mentor programs, and they have produced tremendous results.
Depending on where you work, you may or may not have a formal mentor program available to you. If you do, great. Find out how it works and get started. If your company does not have a formal program, then look around and make a list of five people you view as a role model and to whom you have some type of access. While it is important that you have access to these individuals, it is not important that you have a pre-established relationship. Once you have made the list, start at the top and approach the first person. Ask them if they would be willing to mentor you over the coming year. It is imperative that they get a sense of seriousness from you, as you are asking them to make a personal donation of time to you.
If you have been mentored and are in a position to mentor others, you have a social responsibility to do so. I’m not trying to put too much pressure on you, but I’m hoping this gets you interested in a forming or continuing a mentoring relationship. And trust me, you will enjoy it. It’s wonderful to have someone ask you how you were successful, help them navigate their career, and improve their overall well-being.
Before parting, I thought it would be fun to leave you with 10 Do’s & Don’ts of Mentors and Mentees.
- Respect your Mentee’s time as much as your own
- Keep the relationship professional
- “Ask” if you can provide feedback before sharing your opinion
- Expect your Mentee to move toward their goals, rather than yours
- Observe your Mentee in their environment
- Focus on the Mentee’s behavior, rather then their character
- Teach through example—allow your Mentee to see you living your advice
- Be willing to share your personal experiences
- Respect your Mentee’s culture, differences and life circumstances
- Be honest and sincere with your feedback and advice
- Don’t assume your advice will always be followed
- Don’t expect a clone of yourself
- Don’t assume the role of problem Solver for your Mentee
- Don’t be accommodating just to be liked
- Don’t gossip about your Mentee and the information you share
- Don’t talk when you should be listening
- Don’t create dependency; allow your Mentee to make their own decisions
- Don’t make promises or commitments you can’t keep
- Don’t judge
- Don’t think of it as a 1-way relationship. You could benefit as well, from your Mentee
- Openly receive feedback; don’t take it personally when you’re given constructive criticism
- Accept that you will make mistakes, BUT learn from them
- Respect your Mentor’s time and keep your appointments / sessions
- Do your homework. If your Mentor suggests a reading or a resource, follow up on that reading/resource
- Clearly communicate your needs and goals for your relationship with your Mentor
- Be proactive in your appreciation for your Mentor’s help
- Be teachable. Allow your Mentor to expand your boundaries
- Take the initiative for setting appointments with your Mentor
- Be proactive but polite about sharing any concerns with your Mentor/Mentee relationship
- Ask good questions and take notes
- Don’t bottle everything up (the only way your Mentor can help is if you’re candid about your areas of growth)
- Don’t cancel meetings at the last minute, respect your Mentor’s time
- Don’t expect an immediate bond, relationships take time
- Don’t ask for advice on EVERYTHING. Have a purpose to each request
- Don’t expect miracles. Your Mentor can help guide you, but you own your own development
- Don’t disparage your Mentor to others
- Don’t expect your Mentor to be available at a moment’s notice
- Don’t expect your Mentor to always have the magic answer
- Don’t simply mimic your Mentor. Their style and actions may not perfectly fit you
- Don’t simply vent to your Mentor
About Brendan P. Keegan
Brendan P. Keegan is Founder & Managing Partner of velocityHUB, a leading management consulting firm. He is a 5-time industry leading President & CEO of large, private-equity-backed companies and served as the Fortune 100’s youngest Chief Sales Officer for EDS, a $22-billion technology industry leader. Brendan has raised nearly $1.0 billion in capital and returned over $2.2 billion to investors through successful exit strategies. He has trained over 100,000 leaders, led nearly 50,000 employees, driven sales of over $100 billion and worked globally in over 150 countries. Brendan was named a Distinguished Fellow by Dartmouth College, a Fast50 Executive by FastCompany, a successful entrepreneur by Enterprise Bank, Best-of-the-Best CEOs by Incentive, 100 Fastest Growing Companies by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Business of the Year by NH Business Journal, Top 10 Coach of the Year by USA Football, and Volunteer of the Year by & Youth Coach of the Year locally for his commitment to community service. Brendan is a sought-after speaker by companies across the globe on leadership, sales and performance. He has authored over 200 articles and been published in global publications including the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Business Week, Fast Company and InformationWeek.
Brendan serves on corporate boards to include Revolution Armor, Merchants Auto Group, ExpressIt Delivery, Olaeris, velocityHUB and nashuaHUB. Brendan and his wife Dana founded the Keegan Courage & Faith Foundation with the goal of giving back $1.0 million for youth education, athletics and at-risk youth across Southern New Hampshire.
velocityHUB delivers results-oriented training programs, high-value consulting and targeted executive coaching to many of the world’s leading companies, small and medium businesses, and non-profits. Our vision is to build one million leaders to drive performance, sales and revenue growth. Learn more: velocityhub.com
Contact: Brendan P. Keegan | 603.402.1701 | firstname.lastname@example.org