Now that we’re nearly through January, it may be time to commit to a New Year’s resolution if you haven’t already.
So, what’s the point of a New Year’s resolution? The idea is to achieve some kind of self-improvement, such as academic, professional or athletic success.
Though the pandemonium of the pandemic drags on, 2021 was our period of adjustment. 2022 is our year of carpe diem. Now, it’s time to abandon those habits of procrastination and write down some solid goals for your personal and professional advancement this year.
For some tips, TMS spoke with former Waffle House president and chief operating officer Bert Thornton and the founding director of the University of West Florida’s Executive Mentor Program, Dr. Sherry Hartnett. To start, both of these experts suggest getting out there and finding yourself a mentor or mentee. So, what is a mentor, and how can having one help you achieve your goals?
The beginnings of the practical guide to mentoring
As Thornton began to write a practical guide to mentoring, he had an epiphany. “I got working on [my book] and realized I was gonna write half of a great book,” says Thornton.
Dr. Hartnett turned out to be the perfect solution. They went on to co-author “High-Impact Mentoring: A Practical Guide to Creating Value in Other People’s Lives.”
“It was really a coincidence that Bert and I met and got to know each other,” says Dr. Hartnett. “We’re totally in sync in terms of our philosophies and the need for that relationship-building and the connections out there – both in education and in the corporate world.”
Thornton and Dr. Hartnett firmly espouse the merits of mentorship, whether structured or otherwise. There’s a wealth of ambitious students and entry-level workers in need of guidance in academic and corporate settings.
Why, then, do so many young professionals lack a more experienced mentor to help them navigate the ins and outs of their career path? It certainly isn’t a dearth of corporate leaders or academic experts. “The problem is they’re not getting together,” points out Thornton.
Dr. Hartnett also observed a similar problem at the University of West Florida. “[UWF] needed an opportunity for students to transfer their knowledge and be successful in the corporate world,” she says. “Our students are super smart. They know everything there is to know about whether they’re getting an accounting degree or a marketing degree or a sales degree.
“What they’re missing, often, is how do they apply that in the workforce? How do they work with people in that new corporation? How does that actually make a difference? What kind of company do they want to work for?”
What is a mentor, and what are the benefits of mentoring?
In response to the need for professional advice, Dr. Hartnett spearheaded an effort to found a mentoring program that matched students with a corporate executive in the community for an academic school year.
“A finance major […] might be paired up with the CEO of a bank,” says Dr. Hartnett. “And they can learn all about what it’s like working in the banking environment and if that’s the type of work they want to do. And they may say, ‘That’s absolutely fabulous. That’s what I want to do with my career. I want to be a CEO of a bank someday,’ and then they have an ally who can help them with that endeavor. Or they might say, ‘There is no way that I want to be stuck in a bank all day. I want to be in wealth management,’ for example. So better that they learn that while they’re still in school than after they get in the real world.”
If you’re a luminary in your field, consider seeking a mentee. Both Thornton and Hartnett emphasize that mentoring is a reciprocal, symbiotic relationship that benefits both the mentee and the mentor.
“Executives need to learn from the next generation,” says Dr. Hartnett. “That’s called reverse mentoring.”
How can a mentor help with your New Year’s resolution?
Thornton wants you to flip the script when it comes to your 2022 New Year’s resolutions. “Most New Year’s resolutions are about the avoidance of negative behavior,” says Thornton.
He lists various negative behaviors like excess sugar consumption or sedentary lifestyles. “So what if this year or every year we focus on a positive resolution? As [Dr. Hartnett] said, the number one positive resolution you can make is, ‘I’m gonna go out and find a mentor […] who can coach me through the social, political and cultural aspects of my life in business.’”
In a period of unprecedented isolation, it’s vital to reach out and make mutually beneficial connections. And luckily, “High-Impact Mentoring” includes a chapter on virtual mentorship.
What does a great mentor look like?
Thornton and Dr. Hartnett identify four key attributes of a great mentor, but first, the prospective mentor must have an underlying urge to give back to prospective mentees. Then, after they check that initial box, the mentor must also fit into the following attributes:
The prospective mentor must have a sincere interest in you and your success. How can you create a symbiotic relationship without care?
They must have a demonstrated track record of success. Why would you heed advice from someone that doesn’t have the positive experience necessary to dole out wisdom?
They must have knowledge or expertise in your area of interest. You need guidance within your field. Don’t seek out a brand manager when you want to make a career in law.
They must be respected by their peers. Widespread respect almost guarantees this person fosters positive relationships with their peers, and therefore will with you, too.
“Is there a silver bullet to success?” asks Thornton. “Yes. That bullet is, if you wanna be successful, hang around successful people […] The gold bullet is, while you’re hanging around successful people, find a mentor.”
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