Good mentors play a crucial role in the success of those they teach.
At JumpStart, we often tell stories about mentors who have made us better entrepreneurs, leaders and people. As a young professional, I was blessed to have several strong mentors who left an indelible impression on my life. After all these years, it never ceases to amaze me how often I find myself drawing on the voices and wisdom of these people.
Here are three of the most memorable lessons I learned from my mentors:
Small Bites, Chew Thoroughly
It might be something I learned in kindergarten, but one of my most memorable female mentors helped me think about its application to my everyday work, and I’ve used it almost daily since then. A little more memorable, a lot friendlier and less militaristic than “divide and conquer”, my mentor used this phrase to encourage me to break projects into more manageable pieces and take each piece to completion before moving on. It can be easy to forget the fundamentals in the face of a tight deadline, or a project that seems overwhelming. Breaking the work down to “bite sized” pieces keeps us from choking on a mouthful and focuses us on the task at hand.
Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust
My next mentor got this Woody Hayes classic exactly right in the context of business: to increase your odds of success, focus on your ground game. It takes patience and discipline to execute your plan every day, and the achievements sometimes aren’t as visible as an exciting Hail Mary pass. But each modest accomplishment moves you further down the field, without the wild ups and downs of a run and shoot passing game. Whenever the outcomes of my daily blocking and tackling seem hard to see, I remind myself of this basic principle.
When tackling big challenges, it’s tempting to delegate thinking at a detailed level to others, particularly if you have teammates like mine who regularly manage these details with excellence. But my first mentor, a very senior executive at a Fortune 100 company with large customer responsibilities, consistently focused on the details; in fact, no detail was too small for her. It wasn’t about micro-managing; she honestly believed that a big part of being successful was being tuned in to details that others might consider too small to be important. I witnessed the payoff of this attitude first-hand when my mentor led an effort to gather our entire organization (thousands of people) in t-shirts with a customers’ logo on them to cheer and applaud as their team arrived for several days of negotiation. By focusing on a small detail that others might have dismissed, she helped bring a major partnership to life and created a truly memorable moment.
Now it’s your turn. How have your mentors helped you develop, both as a professional and as a person?
This post originally appeared December 23, 2015 on The Huffington Post.