When you were growing up, was there someone you looked to for guidance? Perhaps, you were simply mesmerized by a teacher and the way they were able to command the classroom. Maybe, the neighbor who knew everything there was to know about gardening, was a person you found yourself shadowing. One might say that you were mentored by these folks, intentionally or otherwise. Mentors are an important part of our culture, without them there is an incredible amount of information that would be lost. To pass along what we know how to do, to the next generation, helps to ensure that traditions can live beyond our lifespan. But it’s more than that. When someone takes another under their wing, they are not only doing so to share information but to aid the underling in the absorption, processing and utilization of said information. There are strong bonds being built through those connections. We teach each other to value each other.
There are many ways to mentor. You can be a student who tutors other students after school. You might be a professional athlete who agrees to coach a little league team. And you could be the sibling whose influence helps mold the life of your younger brother or sister. It’s all mentoring and I bring it up, because January is National Mentoring Month. Founded in 2002 by The Harvard School of Public Health and MENTOR (The National Mentoring Partnership), this month is set aside to celebrate mentoring and the positive effects it has on lives. As I mentioned, there are many ways to mentor and several groups/organizations who provide us with long-standing programs and successful results.
Let’s take, for example, the fine folks at Junior Achievement (J.A.). Founded in 1919, J.A. was created to support the potential of high school students in market-based economics and entrepreneurship. Sounds rather intense but the idea brought business people and future business people together. Without J.A. reaching out, there might be those who never know which way to turn with their ideas. J.A. is in over 100 countries around the world these days, impacting the lives of over 10 million students.
I was honored to be in a J.A. group when I was a sophomore in high school, in Detroit, Michigan. Our business sponsors were employees of the Stroh’s Brewery. No, we didn’t learn about making beer, in fact, it was never discussed. What we did learn was how to set up a business. We had to agree upon an idea for a product, lay out the plans to create the product and develop a marketing plan for that product. We set up a little company, with our sponsors footing the bill. Everyone in the group had a title. So, there was a President, several Vice Presidents, Managers, etc. I was the Vice President of Sales. It was my job to make sure we had a plan for selling our product and to track the results. What was our product? A flower. Seriously, a flower we made from art supplies, allowing us to control the entire project from conception to completion. And a project that gave us something most people might be willing to purchase (which was a major part of our choice). It was a great experience and although we didn’t break any sales records, we all walked away, better prepared to survive in a business world. Our mentors taught us about profit and loss, about manufacturing, sales and team work.
There are also mentoring programs for adults to receive guidance and support from other adults and I refer to the Service Corps of Retired Executives or SCORE They have been offering free expert business advice to the small business person since 1964. Not only answering questions like, “How do I write a business plan?” but sitting down with you to walk you through the process. I was honored to work with SCORE when I was hired as the CEO of a non-profit back in 1990. I was hired to design and run a television studio, which was already in my wheelhouse. However, I had NO idea how to work with a Board of Directors, fund-raise or write a business plan. SCORE was there for me every step of the way. It was like getting a college education, while on the job. It was made more meaningful because I was able to receive instruction specific to my needs and not simply learn general information that I then had to figure out how to apply to my situation.
I had the opportunity to give back in 1999. As a member of Toastmasters International, I was part of a team who mentored home schooled young people in public speaking. Four of us designed an eight-week course giving the young people the opportunity to learn how to present like a professional. Honestly, these young people were so accomplished, I feel I got as much, if not more, out of entire experience than they did. Because home schooling has limits, many home schooling parents, seek such opportunities to expand their children’s knowledge. It was the group, who approached our club.
As January is National Mentoring Month, I make a couple suggestions. First, inquire if the company you work for, would be interested in becoming part of Junior Achievement https://www.juniorachievement.org. There are so many ways to participate and you may find others in your organization who have always wanted to do something like this but didn’t know how. If you are a retired business executive, connect with SCORE https://www.score.org/ and volunteer to work with local business people. And of course, I am always going to suggest that everyone take advantage of the opportunities offered through Toastmasters International https://www.toastmasters.org/ because you’ll have a great time!
Celebrate the potential of others! Give of your own time and talents! Learn what it feels like to be someone’s hero! Participate in National Mentoring Month.