Watch, listen and learn

1 Aug, 2007 | by
Topics: Leadership

I’ve always taken pride in personal and professional development. It’s something I’m very passionate about. Ever since I was a child, I’ve always set forth stretch goals to improve myself. I vividly recall practicing soccer in the back yard with my father, at a very young age. I remember at the end of each week I’d put together a mental checklist of things I needed to improve on in order to compete. It’s a trait I’ve carried with me over the years and I like to think it’s served me well.

Over the past few years, I’ve begun a new personal challenge which is geared towards giving back professionally via informal mentoring. I’ve had many mentors over the years, many of which I still communicate with on a regular basis. Words cannot express just how valuable those interactions have been and continue to be.

Having a professional mentor is like having a coach in your corner during a big boxing match (Nope…never boxed in my life but please bear with me). Each round is the equivalent of a professional year of experience and your opponent is whatever obstacle you may be facing at the time. Your coach (hopefully a good one) always sees the big picture. He or she knows the game and understands the best way to win given your personal strengths and weaknesses. In some rounds you’re going to win decisively, do exceptionally well, maybe barely get by and most likely loose a few. By listening to your coach, you will almost always better position yourself to win. Or at a minimum, keep you from getting beaten to a bloody pulp.

Recently, while working with a client, I mentored a particular individually who was just starting to get his career on track. He was exceptionally bright, driven and just had a great attitude about everything. We interacted on a daily basis and I could just see in his eyes just how determined he was to succeed. I absolutely love working with people like that…Driven, humble and genuinely interested in constructive feedback. As the weeks flew by, I could see tremendous strides in his improvement. It was almost like I was watching his professional evolution in fast forward. Not only did I feel satisfied that I was able to teach him to fish; I felt genuinely proud of him and his personal accomplishments.

On my last day of the engagement, he took me aside and thanked me in a way that I do not think I could do justice in writing alone. His tone, body language and delivery of the thank you message was almost heartfelt and about as genuine as it gets. I was completely dumbfounded as it was at that time I realized just how important my helping him meant to him.

His reaction immediately sparked a memory in my minds eye of when I was trying to kick start my own career back in my undergraduate days. I was working feverishly to land an internship within an IT department that would take me on. It was an extremely frustrating time for me. As luck would have it, a next door neighbor of mine was a systems engineer who was looking to hire an intern for the summer. He took me under his wing, taught me the ropes and essentially educated me on the various IT career paths I could take. It meant the world to me at the time. I can honestly say that I will never forget what he did for me.

I guess the moral of the story is to always give back whenever you can. We live in a very small world where an intern today could quite possibly be your boss tomorrow. I think Donald Trump said it best when he was quoted saying “Watch, listen and learn. You can’t know it all yourself…anyone that thinks they do is destined for mediocrity.”

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