My Experiences with Mentors
and How I Strive to Return the Favor
When asked to write about mentoring, I first referred to definitions of a mentor and other articles on mentoring. Only a few things resonated with me and my experiences throughout the years. My mentors did not really follow the rules nor the mold of a mentor. But that’s probably why I am so fortunate to have the career I have today.
So, in order to understand the power of mentoring in my life, I started listing the first influential people that came to mind: Clark, Rick, Kelly, Larry, Jon, Mark, Sean, Bob, Kathe, Mogens, Betsy, Heather, Amy, Serena, Florence, Rex, Ulla, Anne, Amir and the list can go on forever. After I wiped the tears from my eyes, I was ready to write my words of wisdom on mentoring as well as came up with the title of this blog.
Where I Found My Mentors
In my youth, I didn’t search for mentors – life experiences “gifted” them to me. Parents of my friends, swim coaches, football coaches (I was a tutor for the U of U), friends and eventually bosses guided me. With age, I found wonderful mentors by volunteering, especially with the Vest Pocket Business Coalition and the Utah Women’s Networking Group. Only now do I seek talented people to learn from their expertise.
I didn’t realize what great mentors I have had until recently. I did not create a strategic plan describing who I needed to meet or what I expected to gain from the mentoring relationship. However, I did live by the words, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”
I always made it a point even in my teenage years to know people on a deeper level, stay connected and to be personally engaged. I still write Christmas cards to the families I babysat for and taught their children to swim over 35 years ago. Building and nurturing relationships remains a valuable skill that made my life richer.
What I Gained From My Mentors
Other things I read about mentors is that they don’t help with short term problems, don’t give advice, and are not a counselor. However, these are the things my mentors have done that saved me!
My mentors took the time to get to know my personality and then gave me what I needed:
- They told me the truth – even when it hurt my feelings or was difficult for me to hear.
- They became a part of the journey – popping in and out when I needed them, even when I didn’t think I did.
- They gave me advice on what NOT to do. In my youth, I spoke and acted before considering the consequences. My mentors talked me down, taught me the 48-hour rule and always reminded me not to speak when I was upset.
- They taught me the rules of engagement. I learned how to be strategic in my communication, how to present my ideas so people would listen and how to ask questions instead of telling people what to do (I’m still working on this one!). I also learned to respect the process rather than the results.
- They protected me. They helped me see how some of my actions were destructive and taught me to get out of my own way of being successful. They stood up for me when I made mistakes.
- They listened to me – when I was angry, hurt or had a crazy idea.
They made me a better person by telling me what to do. Some of the best advice given to me: Share your expertise by offering to present at events, teach classes and volunteer. I now emphasize and value the importance of giving back to the community to all who will listen.
How I Became the Mentor I am Today
From these experiences, I have learned to be the mentor I am today. My mantra: “I lovingly kick people in the ass to help them grow personally and professionally.” Because of my mentors, I strive to do the following:
- Listen actively. I take notes when possible to capture what a person truly needs or is asking for – this helps identify what they really need help with.
- Be honest. I always say: “I don’t promise to tell you what you want to hear. But I do promise to tell you what you need to hear.”
- Share my skills, knowledge and expertise with those passionate about what they do. I have to admit, when someone asks my advice just for the sake of it, I don’t give my full attention nor effort. But if someone is passionate about their business, project or what they are seeking advice on, it’s contagious and I jump on board.
- Share what I learned from my mistakes. I have found that people learn more from what I did wrong than my successes. People find this very valuable and tell me often how much they appreciate my honesty.
- Ask questions before giving advice. This was a tough lesson for me to learn. I became a better mentor and teacher because of it. If you can guide a person to answer their own question, it is more powerful. However, sometimes a person can’t discover the answer on their own and you have to go out on a limb and give advice from your own experiences. Finding a balance is key.
- Be patient! Another trait I have had to work on, patience is powerful! Don’t expect people to listen right away or to understand what you are trying to explain immediately. Let them learn at their own pace. They may need to make a couple of mistakes along the way to learn the lesson you were hoping to teach without the bumps in the road.
- Be a cheerleader. Being positive is a gift that everyone needs. So if you want to be a great mentor, dust off your pompoms and be encouraging! One extra “You can do it!” can go a long way to help someone overcome challenges. And remember to celebrate others’ successes. We do not pat ourselves on the back enough. We need mentors to do that for us!
How to Be a Good Mentee
As for being a good mentee, there are hundreds of articles on what to do to maximize the time of your mentors. The one thing you must do above all else is Be Grateful! When you get a chance, thank your mentors with a quick email or message on Facebook or LinkedIn (social media is good for these things!).
And, lastly, be a mentor as well. Even if you don’t think you have anything to share, the one thing you can do is Listen! You will be surprised how much that can mean to someone having a rough time.
When trying to figure out how to end my first blog post, I decided to leave you with part of a conversation with one of my mentors this past April. Every time I see him, I thank him for the opportunity he gave me when he believed in me by giving me a promotion. I value all the advice and mentoring he gave me through the years (he was one of the honest ones). His response to me thanking him, “I only gave you the opportunity – you were successful because you took it and listened to what I had to say.”
So, here’s my question to you: Who is the next person you are going to give an opportunity to?
Connecting with Karin
Karin Palle is the current Director for the Center of Entrepreneurship at Westminster College, the Executive Director for the Utah Women’s Networking Group, and one of the founders of the Women’s Entrepreneurial Conference which provides grants for women business owners.
Her passion for providing resources to support small business owners to grow and flourish led her to start Advanced Business Consulting, become a Business Advisor and Lead Faculty Support for the local and national Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programs, sit on the Board of the Vest Pocket Business Coalition as well as take on the role of Executive Director for the Utah Women’s Networking Group.
Karin Palle passionately believes the key to a person’s success is how an individual builds and nourishes relationships as well as having access to resources to grow personally and professionally.