“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill
I still remember vividly the day in August of 1974 that I stepped off a shuttle van in the small town of Brunswick, Maine where I would be attending Bowdoin College. Having attended public school for my entire education prior to being accepted to the small private college (which I still maintain was probably a far reach beyond my academic record at that point, but good outside activities and SAT scores got me through the admissions gauntlet), I was woefully unprepared for the academic rigor that lay ahead. However, Bowdoin College is staunch in its commitment to the common good, as Bowdoin President Joseph McKeen charged it to be in his inaugural address.
“It ought always to be remembered, that literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education. It is not that they may be enabled to pass through life in an easy or reputable manner, but that their mental powers may be cultivated and improved for the benefit of society.”
From the very beginning of my time at the college, I became aware that this was a charge every single student, professor, and faculty member held themselves accountable to. My very first night as I was unpacking, Stan Druckenmiller, today a legendary investor, visited me in my room and strongly urged to take a course in Southern literature taught by Franklin Burroughs. My freshman economics course taught by Myrick Freeman hooked me on business for a lifetime –– I had always believed that like my father and grandfather before me I would return to Miami and become a lawyer, and while I did end up earning my law degree I never used it, choosing instead to start my own business. Bill Geoghegan’s world religion survey course stretched my mind around the world –– it is thanks to him and President Roger Howell that I applied and was awarded the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, allowing me to spend a year after graduating college travelling Europe and forming the connections that would eventually help build my life and business.
I know that I would not have achieved the success I have today without those more knowledgeable and experienced than me lighting the path. I now try to pay that forward, serving my community by mentoring those who seek to learn from my career and life experiences. While it is easy to see the benefits gained by the mentee, mentoring others is not only richly fulfilling, but also has many practical benefits as well. Below, I outline some of those I have experienced first hand.
Become a better leader
Mentoring is a different experience than simply being a boss to somebody else. When you mentor somebody you are invested in their success, looking to make a difference in the way they approach the world by impressing on them what you have learned. These kinds of interactions require you to develop your communication and coaching skills in ways that you may not have previously. You must demonstrate patience with those in need of guidance and support, helping them figure out the best path forward while ensuring you aren’t holding their hand through the process either. While you inevitably won’t become a mentor to every single person in your company, you can still utilize the communication skills you gain through mentorship in other aspects of leadership.
Gain new perspectives and fresh ideas
When you mentor, you gain a unique opportunity to step outside of your normal circle of friends and social media’s echo chamber to gain an intimate understanding of how the world looks through someone else’s eyes. It is inevitable that when you see things from a new perspective, fresh ideas that you may not have thought of previously will follow. Working in a mentor/mentee relationship can also help you challenge your old behavior, as encouraging them to self-reflect can also instigate you doing so as well, working to understand why you take a certain course of action or think a certain way.
Put your finger on the pulse of the younger generation
More often than not, when you are operating in a mentoring role you will be working with someone younger than you. Different generations think and act differently, and while it can be easy to dismiss younger generations as naive, you risk becoming out of touch if you do so. It was mentoring younger team members of my company in the 2000s that caused me to realize we needed to shift our entire business model away from properties in the suburbs and instead focus on urban centers. In working with them they revealed a disdain for moving out to the suburbs, and many of them were instead purchasing smaller, older houses that were more close to walkable downtown cores. The intimacy of a mentoring relationship offers a unique insight into generational differences that can sometimes be pivotal for your own business.
Achieve personal career gains
As the founder of my company, I have always been my own boss and therefore never been concerned about moving up in the ladder. However, as a leader for over 40 years I can tell you that when looking within my team for those who are promotion material, I definitely take into account those who are acting as mentors to those below them. There is even consequential evidence to back up my own personal views: between 2010 and 2015 Sun Microsystems studied the career progress of over 1,000 employees. People who had acted as mentors were six times more likely to be promoted than those who didn’t, and 20 percent more likely to get a raise.
Shape the leaders of tomorrow
In the history of man, mentorship has been pivotal to our survival as a species and the evolution of society. From oral history in which storytelling passed down the wisdom of the old to the young for generations, part of preventing history from repeating itself and allowing us to grow has been those who are wiser and more experienced passing down what they know to the younger generations. By mentoring those who seem young and inexperienced now, you may be helping to build and develop the mind of one of the great leaders of tomorrow.
Build your legacy
Most of us long for a legacy, some stake in the future that says “I was here.” I have found that one of the most fulfilling aspects of becoming a mentor to somebody is knowing that even the smallest contributions can make a huge impact on others. From Stanley Druckenmiller telling me to take a class that would challenge me to Myrick Freeman changing the entire course of my career path in a single semester my freshman year, you never know what lasting effects you will have on those around if you simply take the time to give them a little bit of guidance.
It’s true, mentoring is a commitment –– it is taking time out of your day, and putting effort toward someone that you have no personal stake in. However, it provides a sense of fulfillment that goes beyond leadership and management. It is knowing that you have made an impact on your mentee while at the same time undertaking some valuable self-reflection of your own. Think about where you would be today without the guidance and support you have received from those you looked up to. Don’t you want to provide the same opportunities for the next generation?