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Are You A Good Mentee?

From Tim Leman

Maintaining Your NetworkHaving good mentors and a strong network can make or break you. But have you ever taken the time to consider whether or not you are a good mentee?
I don’t know about you, but I’ve been disappointed on a number of occasions when someone I’m trying to help never follows up to let me know how things turned out. Or, they asked for my assistance, and I willingly gave it, only to find they never took advantage of what I did for them.
My very first work mentor was a guy named Jim Spuller. He’s an executive with a national insurance broker. He engrained a lesson in my head that I’ve never forgotten, and to this day I feel a strong sense of duty to continue. He taught me that building a successful network is easy when you put others first.
At the time, due to a significant merger, Jim had been named the Indianapolis office head (after years in a national level sales leadership role). I had just landed in the same office. I was a 22 year old college graduate and quickly learning that modern business selling techniques weren’t at all like the storyline in Glengarry Glen Ross.
Take Care Of The Next OneJim took a liking to me right away and I’m still not really sure why. Maybe it was because he got a kick out of the fact that my mother was teaching 1st graders in the building he went to high school. Or maybe it had to do with realizing he played golf against my wife’s step dad in high school. Whatever the reason, it was certainly good fortune for me.
Through that interest, he decided to take me on as a project (even though I didn’t have the brains or emotional intelligence to ask). He challenged me to be better. It didn’t always feel good, but it was honest.
The interesting thing was that many years prior to connecting with me, he was assigned to essentially the same sales territory. He would tell me he still had a lot of contacts. According to Jim, most of the sales people in my office never bothered to ask for his help and yet here he was, happy to help me.
I couldn’t wrap my head around why these prospects would still talk to Jim, or better yet, talk with me because Jim told them they should! He said that even though he had left the local territory long ago, he still sent a personal Christmas note each year and would often give them a random call from the road. Over the years, he had assisted several in finding a new job or making a connection for them.
Unfortunately Jim didn’t stay long in his role in Indianapolis and soon left our newly merged company. When I was ready to move on myself a year later, he was my first phone call.
We met over lunch and I expressed an interest in working in a bigger area, specifically Atlanta, Phoenix, or Denver. He pressed me on why I wanted to move and what I hoped to accomplish.
Jim told me to get ready because things would happen quickly. I didn’t understand what he meant, but literally on my drive back to the office from lunch, my cell phone rang. It was a company in Atlanta saying that they wanted to fly me out as soon as possible for an interview. An hour later, I got the same call from an organization in Denver. A week later Phoenix called.
That was the true beginning of my professional journey. And I never would have gotten the chance without him. I remember thanking him profusely. What could I ever do to repay him? “Just make sure you take care of the next one. Sooner rather than later, people will be coming to you for help. You can thank me by helping them.”
What’s The Risk?I have taken his direction to heart. I have forwarded resumes of friends, and friends of friends, and children of friends. I have made calls for people and taken meetings. Sometimes they’ve been great for me and sometimes they’re just helpful to somebody else. But in the back of my mind, I’m always thinking about what Jim would do in the same situation.
Here are four simple rules for being a great mentee:
  1. Act with a sense of urgency. You’ve been given something. Take advantage of it – for your own good and because it’s your duty. It comes down to the fact that the mentor can’t “want it” more than the mentee. Or as Jim would say in his typically blunt fashion, “You can’t push a rope!”
  2. Always follow up with those who provide you leads, contacts, and ideas. Let them know the outcome even if it’s to say it “wasn’t a fit”.
  3. Stay in touch. Send regular updates. Your mentors want to hear from you! Nothing feels better than knowing they may have made a small impact on someone’s life.
  4. Help the next one. You had assistance getting where you’re at. Do the same for someone else.
What’s the risk in not following through? You’ll miss out on a business opportunity or a key hire for sure. But more importantly, you will miss an opportunity to make an impact on someone’s life. You will miss your chance to leave a legacy.
About five years ago, I finally had a chance to do something great for Jim. My mom was able to convince the janitor at her elementary school to give us an hour on the old basketball court. Jim and I went and shot some hoops. He took pictures, read the inscriptions below the banners and reminisced about the old days.
And true to form, as he looked at one of the pictures on the wall, he pointed to a guy and said, “Do you know him? If not, you need to. I’ll call him for you this week...”

If you’re interested in other blogs by Tim, check them out at http://www.info.gibsonins.com/blog/topic/executive

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