Published Saturday May 17, 2014
As the owner of three car dealerships, a collision repair business and an RV rental business, I sometimes get asked how I got to be where I am.
While there is no single answer to that question, one of the biggest influences in my career has been the role of mentors.
Mentoring isn't often discussed in our industry, but it's a powerful reality nonetheless. If dealer principals and managers were polled about their early influences, I'm convinced that most would admit to having worked with mentors at various stages in their careers.
Over the past 35 years, I have been influenced by many mentors, who provided guidance, instruction, support and leadership. These skills can be broken down even further into goal setting, hiring, business ethics, the art of craftsmanship, customer service, organization and the importance of effective communication.
Some of my mentors were aware of teacher-student relationship. But there have been unacknowledged mentors, too - industry professionals and public figures who served as role models and who provided valuable life/business lessons even though I didn't know them personally.
Also during my early years in management and as a young dealer principal, I would meet with senior executives at VW and Audi, who were happy to share their experiences and insights in helping me to grow and develop as a leader.
When I first began selling cars, and eager to learn about the sale process, I eavesdropped outside of the top salesman's office, listening to conversations between the salesperson and customers. Listening is an undervalued skill in any profession, and I learned a lot by eavesdropping on those conversations.
For any mentorship to work, the person being mentored must possess one characteristic above all others: the right attitude. He or she must have a fierce desire and willingness to learn ,adapt to change and embrace new ideas.
Having been impacted by the words and actions of many mentors, I now provide mentorship to others. Throughout our organization, I mentor staff members of all ages who have demonstrated a commitment to their professional growth and development.
For these individuals, I make myself available and provide the kind of coaching, consultation, instruction and leadership that I received from my mentors.
When we talk about mentoring, there is an assumption that we only learn the correct ways of doing things, and learning how to do something correctly is important. But mentoring also means learning from others' mistakes and failures.
Throughout my career, I've come across countless situations where employees, managers and executives have made mistakes or have failed at some enterprise, and those mistakes and failures have provided valuable lessons for me.
Another important aspect of mentoring is knowing when to move on. There comes a time when a protégé has learned all that he/she can learn from a mentor, and then it's time to find a new mentor. Mentors also need to recognize when their protégés are ready to move on and allow them the opportunity to grow (within an organization or outside of it).
If you are embarking on a new career, want to improve your skills, I would advise finding a mentor who can help you to learn and grow within your chosen field. A mentor can be someone you admire and respect at work, or someone viewed from afar (a well-known business leader or an executive working in your industry).
The mentors that I've worked with and learned from have been instrumental in guiding me at different points in my career and helping me to achieve my goals. I am grateful to all of the mentors who have coached me, helped me and believed in me.
Is there a mentor who influenced your career? If so, let me know.