Leadership Blog

Why Mentorship Is Such an Important Element of Being a Business Leader

About three-quarters of executives trace their success not to growing up in an affluent neighborhood or falling headfirst into a pile of luck. According to a survey from the American Society for Training and Development, those executives attribute their success to the mentorship they received along the way.
It makes sense, and it also encouraged me to reflect on my own journey to the role of CEO, which involved plenty of counsel from people I trusted and admired. Without my mentors’ willingness to share, I might not be in my position and privileged to do likewise.
Fortunately, I made it to the C-suite and am carrying on the mentoring torch. For example, I recently was invited to allow our company to be a case study participant for Indiana University's well-respected Kelley School of Business. It was an honor to hear that Jelmar was chosen for this annual program, partially due to my 2017 EY Entrepreneur of the Year win. I was absolutely blown away by the profound, educational nature of the experience.
Mentorship’s 360-Degree Benefits
Most people tend to focus on what mentees receive from mentoring relationships, but they don't often discuss or consider the value for the mentors. If only they would have been at Indiana University for my visit! Answering questions for a total of three hours from hundreds of eager communications students was an eye-opener. I wasn’t briefed on what to expect, and I’m glad: Their inquiries and ideas riveted me and challenged my viewpoints.
I was so impressed with some students’ innovative suggestions about going to market that Jelmar may conduct feasibility research studies. Who knows? The concepts could be viable for our business. If nothing else, they might become springboards to catapult us toward deeper market saturation or stronger branding with loyal customers.
That’s the symbiotic beauty of mentorship: Both parties get a boost. In the case of the Indiana University students, they had the chance to bounce plans off community leaders like me who had real-world experience. As a VIP mentor, I was able to interact with the next generation of CEOs, CFOs, and entrepreneurs. Believe me when I say that they’re getting ready to disrupt!
If you’ve never mentored anyone, I highly recommend it. You can inspire others through formal or informal collaborations geared toward keeping the workforce strong, healthy, and optimistic. Here are a few recommendations to begin your mentoring journey:
1. Get in front of younger people whenever possible.
Around the country, schools, colleges, and leadership organizations like the Girl Scouts desperately need volunteers to lend their wisdom to young people. In addition to the Indiana University event, I have mentored young women and men in myriad ways.
For instance, I was a business advisory coach for a college-based nonprofit called Enactus. I was also a guest lecturer at Northwestern University’s Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Whether you involve yourself in a one-time or long-standing mentorship arrangement, give it your best shot. Generation Z is eager to absorb information, no matter what you might have read about them online.
2. Put yourself in the position of both educator and student.
When I visited Northwestern University, students shared their high school entrepreneurship pursuits. Boy, did I feel like I had been a total slacker at their age! These students were creating businesses designed to help the world before they went to prom or got their driver’s licenses.
One student talked about wanting to match individuals in the Middle East who need kidney donations with potential donors. Another dreamed of launching a company to help people who have disabilities travel more comfortably aboard airplanes — and had already done the legwork to make it a reality. These were impressive startup ventures, and the would-be founders gave me plenty to consider.
3. Envision yourself as a hands-on gardener (overalls optional).
Yes, Steve Jobs was a visionary. But did he actually know that mentoring Salesforce’s Marc Benioff would help Benioff snag the proverbial brass ring? We’ll never know, and it honestly doesn’t matter.
The point was that Jobs nurtured Benioff regardless of the outcome. You should do likewise. Your mentees may never found Fortune 500 companies or be mentioned in Harvard textbooks. That’s okay. They’ll blossom in their own ways from the seeds you help them plant.
I expect that more mentoring opportunities will come to me, but I’m certainly not going to wait to get an email or text to support others. From my daughters to my employees, mentees are never in short supply. It’s up to me and fellow leaders to have the foresight to forge bonds that will prepare those young minds to someday steer their own ships.