No one gets through life without support. From our earliest years, others take an interest in us, help us, guide us, correct us, and lead us along our journey. And what amazes me is that for many of us this support doesn't just come from the people who are supposed to look out for us (parents, teachers, employers). It also comes from people who choose to go out of their way to invest in us and make us—and our circumstances—better: our mentors.
I have been the lucky beneficiary of the investment of many mentors, each of whom has had a profound and lasting impact on me. There are too many to name in this article, but here's a sampling of some who have impacted me professionally, which I'll follow with a few takeaways on what makes a great mentor:
- My parents, who taught me a ton—my dad focusing on integrity, common sense, delivering quality, and language skills, and my mom teaching me about people, music, travel, cooking, entrepreneurialism, and faith.
- My pediatrician, Manju Patney, who put me to work as her nanny and taught me about child care and employment, and treated me like a peer instead of a teenager. Later, she treated my daughters and mentored me as a parent.
- My teacher and high school Future Business Leaders of America sponsor, Lori Grant, who encouraged me to lead her chapter, helped me secure my first business job, acted as a reference for me for years, and decades later worked for me, helping launch our first learning management system.
- My first technology sales manager, Alexander Tuszynski, who supported me as his company's first remote worker (in 1984!), who believed in my abilities before I did and always put me forward for opportunities even though I wasn't physically present. Al's unwavering trust and continuous positivity in the face of all circumstances have left a lasting impression on me.
- My first "big job" CEO, David Samuels, who believed that I could run increasingly larger groups and functions despite my young age and lack of experience. He delegated daunting responsibilities to me and delivered a compressed education in leadership, management, and marketing that I could never have gotten otherwise.
- My former Convergence partner, Jim Metzler, CPA, CGMA, who had the wild idea to go into business together and start this firm where I have pursued my passions and driven change every day for the past 17 years.
- My current partner, Tamera Loerzel, who mentored me upstream before Convergence and continues to do so today as my peer. She holds me accountable for our shared ideals and lovingly reflects my best and worst qualities back to me so that I can strive to be better every day.
- The consultants in my firm and in the various peer groups we belong to, who have openly shared best practices with me, given me "peer review" feedback, and inspired me to do more for the profession.
This list excludes my husband, my children, my siblings, my church, my friends, my athletic coaches, and my client community—all other resources from whom I have received mammoth mentorship investment. It is simply impossible to name all of the people who have taught me, helped me, prayed for me, or encouraged me along the way. What blessings!
As I reflect on my most impactful mentors, they seem to have approached mentoring similarly. The eight common attributes my mentors shared were:
- Building a real and trusting relationship with me and learning both my strengths and weaknesses.
- Seeing something in me that I didn't realize was there and sharing what they envisioned for me, broadening my own self-concept.
- Believing in me before I believed in myself.
- Teaching me by sharing their experiences, giving me advice, and imparting new skills.
- Providing me a mirror, giving me honest feedback, correcting me when I was off track, and encouraging me to do and be better.
- Acting as both an advocate and promoter, influencing those around me to believe in me, and offering opportunities to grow.
- Encouraging me along the way by patting me on the back and sometimes dusting me off, too, always reminding me that they were in my corner.
- Above all, unselfishly spending time with me and acting on my behalf. That's probably the most precious gift of all, the investment of their time and talents in me. While some of my employers may have directly benefited as I developed, in many more cases, my mentors have garnered only the satisfaction of seeing my progress and gaining my appreciation as their reward. Wow!
WHAT COMES AROUND GOES AROUND
You cannot benefit from such magnificent mentors without feeling both the desire and the responsibility to pay the investment forward to others. All along the way, I look for ways to help or invest in others—fellow team members, clients, colleagues, up-and-comers, and competitors—because there's plenty of opportunity for us all! As I get to know people in my work, I also try to identify unique talents, encourage their development, and provide feedback. Whenever possible, I put others forward for opportunities to expand their experiences and skills.
In my own firm, we try to work in teams, taking another team member along with us to clients whenever possible. Doing so allows more of us to benefit from the experiences and gives us the time for two-way mentoring—to discuss ideas, deliver feedback, and learn together. This may "cost" more in terms of labor hours invested, but the dividends we receive in learning and development, deeper relationships, and increased team loyalty far outweigh the short-term time invested.
I am profoundly grateful to my many mentors—those named here and the many others who are not (you know who you are!). Your unselfish investments in me have enriched my life beyond measure. I am also grateful to those who have allowed me to mentor you. We always learn more deeply when we share or teach something. By your allowing me to share my ideas and knowledge with you, you've given me the gift of both your trust and my own continued learning.
So, who has mentored you up to now? Have you thanked them for their investment (lately)? If not, drop them a line or make a call to express your gratitude. And who are you mentoring right now? Who are you teaching, supporting, guiding, believing in, or encouraging? Can you name them? If not, look around and see all of the possible beneficiaries of one of life's most precious gifts: your mentorship.
Get to it.
About the author
Jennifer Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a partner and co-founder of Convergence Coaching LLC in Bellevue, Neb.
To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, senior editor, at Jeffrey.Drew@aicpa-cima.com or 919-402-4056.
- "Find a Mentor, Land a New Job," JofA, Feb. 2017
- "Exploring Mentorship: A Graceful Exit," JofA, Nov. 2016
- "How to Find the Right Mentor," CPA Insider, June 13, 2016
- "4 Steps to Start a Reverse Mentoring Program," Career Insider, May 18, 2016
- The Engaged Employee: 10 Initiatives for Successful Firms (#PPM1402P, paperback; #PPM1402E, ebook)
- Practitioners Symposium and Tech+ Conference at AICPA Engage, June 12—15, Las Vegas
For more information or to make a purchase or register, go to aicpastore.com or call the Institute at 888-777-7077.