I’ve been blessed to have a lot of great mentors over the years, and the very first one was my dad. He taught me things that still hop on my train of thought on a daily basis. He was really good at pointing out problems that self-confident, Type-A entrepreneurs (and his kid) suffered from.
As he would thunder, “Most problems people encounter in this world, they create themselves!” I think about this whenever someone points to an external cause for their lack of success rather than looking for an internal issue.
Let’s face it, there are successful people from every kind of background. In business, we each have our own competitive strengths and weaknesses. But so does everyone else. We all compete on a relatively level playing field and in a mostly honest environment. If you are not successful, you need to look inside yourself.
For some folks, introspection can be hard to practice. Thankfully, many of us are lucky enough to have mentors. They can provide you with insights into yourself that a co-worker, associate or consultant might feel uncomfortable delivering. (My dad, who always communicated with respect, also wasn’t shy about telling the truth.) Having a mentor perform this role enhances your ability to grow—if you suck it up and listen.
The People Who Mentored Me
When I was just starting out, I was lucky to have Lynn Mitchelson as a mentor. Wayne Hewitt, a professor of mine at Johnson County Community College, contacted Lynn, who served on the school’s board then, to see if he would assist a student who needed help building a relationship with a bank. Lynn met with me and taught me what I needed to provide a bank, so that loan officers could understand the value of my company’s operations.
And Lynn didn’t stop there. He took interest (I’m thinking it was actually pity) on this poor unfortunate trying to bootstrap a software company. Lynn and I met monthly for years, and we still get together every week for a prayer breakfast. He helped me understand our community and showed me ways to get more involved. He also coached me through some tough personal and business issues, like when I needed to buy out a partner and when I resolved a long legal battle that predated my business. He’s been a source of encouragement and a great example of integrity and charity.
As my business grew, I had the opportunity to apply to the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program, affectionately known as HEMP. I joined HEMP at a critical time for my business. We were approaching 40 associates, and things that used to work were breaking down.
HEMP provided me with another great mentor in Dick Benner. Dick worked with me to put a strong executive team in place. Thanks to him, we hired an HR director and raised the bar to get in the door. Our hiring process became a slow, deliberate process that began to successfully match skills and behaviors of applicants with business needs. We bought our buildings, upgraded our data center, developed emergency backups, documented all our processes and improved the company in countless other ways. The company went from systems that were breaking down under stress to thriving—and we were having fun again!
Dick took as much enjoyment from our successes as I did. Unfortunately, I was his last mentee. Before he passed, though, Dick was instrumental in the formation of an advisory board made up of business owners—providing me with eight new mentors!
Get Out of Your Own Way!
Find a mentor or, as I did, a whole bunch of them. Get good insight from someone who doesn’t have an ax to grind or an agenda to accomplish. Remember that the responsibility rests squarely on your shoulders to listen, learn and do. You will be blessed with lifelong relationships, and even after they are gone, you will carry them with you. Your mentors will help you discover the problem (you) and fix it.