How Mentors Can Help

Ken Kaufman's Profile

 

Earlier this month I enjoyed listening to a baseball hero of mine, Cal Ripken, Jr., talk to a room full of business executives. He shared the eight principles that helped him beat the "unbeatable" record of consecutive games played in the Major Leagues, outlined in his book Get in the Game: 8 Elements of Perseverance that Make the Difference

He shared the following experience that portrays how business mentors can make a huge difference in outcomes. Several years into his career his team drafted a hot-shot pitcher with a fastball that put fear into even the greatest hitters and a curveball and changeup that, when they were working, were unhittable. With as much hype and attention this new pitcher attracted, he fell far short of expectations having struggled for the first half of the season. With runners on base and a tough hitter coming to the plate, the rookie catcher approached the mound.

After a few seconds, Cal joined them at the mound from his position at shortstop, a rare occurrence, and asked what the meeting was about. The pitcher looked at Cal and explained he had no idea what to do in this situation. Cal looked at the young catcher who shrugged his shoulders, clarifying that their meeting was going nowhere. Cal told the pitcher what pitches to pitch along with when and where to pitch them. Three pitches later the batter walked back to the dugout, frustrated after striking out. The young pitcher and catcher had found their mentor, someone with experience and perspective that could make all of their talents, efforts, and enthusiasm as effective as possible.

Cal went on to explain that for the rest of that season he called a lot of pitches from his position at shortstop, giving signs to the catcher who then relayed them to the pitcher. This was, and still is, unheard of and unprecedented. But it worked amazingly well as this pitcher turned his career around and the Orioles were all but unbeatable the second half of the season. In business, we have to be humble and hungry enough to seek out those with more wisdom and more battle-tested experience than we have to tell us what pitches to throw, who to throw them to, and when to throw them!

Comments

Proformative Advisor
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This is a really good post. Question for the reader of Proformative and beyond...where do we find our mentors? Work? Church? Our kid's ball fields? I am a career small company accounting guy. I don't usually work with other senior level accounting/finance folks. Do we need to have our mentors be in the same field? Lot's of good food for thought? Any one have any comments here?

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I think it would be good to be looking, but not good to be looking in only one place. I have had a handful of great mentors over the years, but they came from all over: colleagues, managers, board members and friends. So I think the key is to understand that these people can be good for you and, realizing that, set a plan to find one or two. Then be actively on the lookout.

However, I'm not sure you can force this kind of thing. Don't get me wrong, I think the idea of "mentor programs" is fine, but my mentors always came via natural life/business interactions, not b/c I was trying to fill a mentor quota. And speaking of that, I have been in the position to have companies pay for career coaches for me as a younger CFO, and those relationships had value, but never took on the more personal bond that I think leads to greatest mentor/mentee success.

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Mentors in business are about communications more than expertise. You will also likely have diferent mentors for different things. Some will be experts in one thing and others will be business generalist. My best mentors basically pointed me in one direction and told me to go do it. They were there for direction and guidance. Most of the time they could do it but I also found the best were guiding me to push well beyond their skills and knowledge. Were they a good Leader or a good mentor? Both.

Where do you find them? First open your eyes and ears. People love to talk about what they do and like to be helpful. Your network is the first place to start. Have conversation on what you think your issues are and their experience. Next there are lots of organiztions that can help. I am officially a Mentor for 2 groups and unofficially in others. At a business incubator the companies get access to the mentor group as part of their membership. In another, my roll is to promote and facilitate communications among practice professionals. The later is more of a business roundtable that achieve the same purpose. Execs talking about their issues and combining their knowledge to solve each other's problems.

If the pitcher and catcher didn't learn why the shortstop was making the calls he was, I don't think he was a mentor. They were successful but what did they learn? What if someone was traded? A good mentor doesn't hold your hand they guide you to your own solution.

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Tom, you are spot on. Mentors teach you how to fish instead of helping you catch fish once or twice. They empower. Well said!

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Proformative Advisor
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I found a couple folks I mentor while networking at industry related events. Perhaps Proformative could help?!

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