Thursday, November 26th, 2020

Stalk Your Mentors on the Way to Success

By Lisa Sansom on Jun 07 2011 • Filed under Business

Entrepreneurs with good mentors should find ways to keep them (Photo)

I was at a recent conference about career coaching, and one of our illustrious speakers was Warren Bennis. If you don’t know Warren Bennis, check your local online book seller of preference for his many missives. He is a leadership guru (though he shies away from the word personally) who has recently written his memoirs, aptly titled Still Surprised.

Bennis started his leadership career in the military during the Second World War, and quickly became very well-educated, astutely observing leadership along the way. Although he had many mentors along his path, most pivotally, he studied at Antioch College under Douglas McGregor, president of the college and leadership theorist, who coined Theory X and Theory Y of employee motivation. McGregor, as Bennis tells it, saw something special in this young student, and took him under his wing. The two would later become colleagues, and it was McGregor who helped to open several opportunities for him. Bennis, in his memoir, is humbly thankful.

As I mentioned, Bennis was a keynote speaker at our conference and he spoke slowly and thoughtfully about a variety of topics. I was quite taken by him and so caught up in the moment that I did not take any notes, until a career coach in the audience asked him a final question: When did he know that he was finally on his right career path and it clicked for him?

Bennis put his hands to his face to ponder the question. You could almost hear him considering how he was going to answer, especially given that the room was filled with career coaches, all of whom worked at the country’s top business schools and would go back to share his wisdom with business students from coast to coast.

His answer reflected what I have shared above: you need strong mentors along the way, and it was thanks to his mentors – their encouragement and their leadership – that he discovered his career path.

"You must have strong mentors to help guide you and open opportunities."

There is no question in my mind that Bennis is incredibly ambitious and intelligent, and that he also created opportunities for himself. Yet I believe that there is a strong message here for entrepreneurs and business women as well. You must have strong mentors to help guide you and open opportunities.

We all know that we can’t operate a business successfully all on our own – we are always reaching out to our network for resources, ideas, support and inspiration. Yet often, that is a network of peers. How many of us have a professional or personal “Board of Directors” consisting of our best mentors? How many of us actively seek guidance and actually take the advice, walking through the open doors that our mentors provide? I would suggest that the most successful women do, and those who don’t can find themselves stressed, suffering and unsuccessful.

“Stalk your mentors” is an actual Bennis quote from that conference, and he shares this dictum with every business student he teaches. Bennis may have been surprised by his own success and opportunities. But his mentors, who believed in him and supported him every step of the way, likely were not. They saw the light shine in Bennis before he realized it of himself.

Who sees your light shine and helps you to illuminate the world? Find your mentors, and don’t let them go.


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