By Michael Gunther

As a business leader, one must wear many hats: visionary, planner, problem solver, relationship manager and delegator. Another important role that has little time dedicated to it and is often overlooked is: mentor.

According to Wikipedia, the term mentor comes from Greek Mythology – Mentor was the son of Alcumus. Based on his near-paternal relationship with Odysseus’ sons, the term mentor had been adopted in English as a word meaning ‘a father-like’ teacher.  The modern use of this term is used to reference a trusted friend, counselor or teacher, usually a more experienced person.

I’ve been fortunate to have many mentors in my life. Growing up with sixteen siblings, my parents were often too busy raising us kids and running the household to provide some of the educational and career guidance one might expect from parents. The insight and direction I received from my first mentors significantly affected my life. Through them I discovered many things about myself. They provided me with the venues to explore new ideas and opportunities. If it weren’t for these individuals, I’m not sure if I would have gone to college or moved away from home.

Years later, early in my career, I had three great mentors: Artie Burke, Jim Kane and Mike Rowe. They helped guide my development both personally and professionally, and through their wisdom and leadership, I became the youngest vice president in my company – at 28 years old. They put me a path of continuing education and investing that’s lead me to where I am today. I will always appreciate the vested interest they had in me, both professionally and personally.

As a leader, I sometimes find it difficult to be a good mentor myself. I’m consumed with performing the tasks and duties of my various roles as managing partner of my firm, my leadership roles in community organizations, and my personal life including assisting with my mother-in-law who lives with us. I think the deeply ingrained mentality of ‘do it yourself’ from my youth has also prevented me from being the best mentor I could be.  It’s a little ironic because I work with business leaders around the country, helping them to be better leaders, and yet, I constantly have to remind myself to be a stronger, more involved mentor and teacher to my own team.

Experience has taught me that the time I do spend mentoring people on my team or in the community is invaluable for the mentee, as well as for my own development. Watching the growth of individuals and teaching them based on my skills has been one of the most fulfilling aspects of my life. So, it’s important to make the time to share your expertise with those who are less experienced, and help them advance in their careers, education and personal development.

The Bottom Line

I encourage you to take time to find those individuals within your organization who would benefit from your mentorship – individuals who have a desire to expand and improve their personal and professional lives but lack the knowledge and experience to achieve their goals on their own at an accelerated pace. Remember to evaluate and coach on both their professional and personal development and make time at least monthly to check in on their progress. You have an opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life, and in turn they will make a difference in yours.

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