The Importance of Having Mentors

I  started to create a course on leadership and influence for Udemy, and it got me thinking about my influences and wondering who had had the biggest impact on my career.

Recently I’ve written about my father, and what he taught me about life, dealing with people and how to act and react to situations.

This had a great influence on me because it made me realize that we can set our own direction, our own destiny, and we don’t need to be restricted by our starting circumstance.

I will always be grateful to my dad for pointing me in that direction and getting me to dream big and aim high. But the challenge is when they pass the baton on to us, we start to move into new territories, into areas beyond their achievements and experiences, and if we start to have struggles, it can be difficult for them to help us.

This is where mentors come in, and I would say that it was my first mentor who was called Dan, who had the single biggest impact on my career.

Interestingly Dan is a similar age to my dad, but unlike my dad instead of taking a technical career path, Dan had taken the managerial route.

Dan’s career was spectacular, without a university education, Dan had started working in a supermarket stacking shelves. But with years of hard work, a great attitude, and the help of his own mentors, Dan had risen from working in the store to becoming the Senior Vice President of Operations for a major Supermarket chain.  He had literally worked his way from the bottom of the company to the top.

Dan was also my father-in-law, so I got to speak with him often and could be very open with him which was of great benefit to me.

While my dad pointed the direction, it was Dan who accompanied me on my journey pointing out the pitfalls along the way, acting as a sounding board for my ideas and sharing his experiences which were great learning opportunities for me.

Interestingly Dan rarely, if ever, gave me advice, he would listen to my challenges, ask questions and give his opinion. He always said you have to make your own decisions, but he tried to make sure that they were as informed as possible.

I learned so much from him. Things like Leadership is not a popularity contest. He always said that if you try to make everyone happy, you will fail. He said it’s better to focus on doing what you feel is right, than taking the wrong course of action because just because it’s the more popular choice.

Another thing he always used to say is that a camel is a horse that was designed by a committee. What he meant was that if you get too many people involved in decision making it will lead to compromises which will end up compromising the final solution and you will end up with weaker results.

Dan was a font of wisdom which I could dip into when I needed to; there were very few situations that I encountered that he hadn’t already experienced or didn’t have a perspective about. It was like I had a personal guide on my career journey.

I never doubted that I would have achieved the same levels of success had Dan not been my mentor. But I don’t believe that I would have achieved them as quickly as I did. Nor would I have had the same level understanding of how I had achieved my successes, which meant it would be more difficult to repeat them.

This is the benefit of a mentor.

They can help you achieve your full potential faster; they can show you the shortcuts, they can give you the confidence to try things earlier than you would if we were doing them alone.

When you’re looking for a mentor, you need to find someone that is right for you. Someone that you can trust and have confidence in, that will stretch you, encourage you and support you, but who won’t try to push you to high too quickly. Or even worse relive their career through you.

Dan always said to me you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. And in a mentoring context, what he meant was that I would take the risk/chance/ opportunity when I am good and ready.

Dan has mentored me for nearly 20 years, and he is still offering me advice today. He is, without doubt, the person who has had the biggest impact and most influence on my career, and for that I will always be grateful

Do you have a mentor, someone who has made a big impact on your career, if so I would love to hear about it?