(n.) someone who imparts wisdom to the less experienced.
I still remember my dad muttering the words “Learn from the bad and take the good, Jay”. I believe that I was telling him about a friend who had gotten himself into some trouble and that was his cryptic way of telling me to learn from such mistakes. My dad was full of one-liners and there were some real gems of wisdom at times.
I’ve been applying those simple eight words for years now, and while they’ve kept me generally guided, they’ve been particularly helpful to me in my career. We’ve all had a boss, a colleague or a friend that we’ve learned from. In that process of learning, they are mentors and we are meant to take from them. Here are four memorable and impactful things that I’ve taken from my mentors over the years:
1. Document often and stay organized
Early in my career I had the privilege to work for one of THE most organized people I’ve ever met. It was during a time of serious evolution for the company and the advent of heavy standardization in our industry. His role was crucial because everything related to standardization and accreditation fell into his lap. Without his superior organization skills, I’m convinced that things would have fallen apart. We managed the introduction of hundreds of part numbers while developing and implementing hundreds of pages of new standards. I quickly learned the importance of carrying a notebook and proper filing.
2. Plan for the worst
My first boss as a Project Manager was an awesome guy but just a tad negative. On my first day he advised me to “always plan for the worst possible outcome because it WILL happen.” He had little faith in anyone which often lead to micromanaging and undue stress at times. In his defence however, he was an amazing engineer and knew product development inside and out. He never missed a deadline and always produced a top-notch product. I recognized these strengths and simply toned down the doomsday outlook. As for always planning for the worst, yes, shit does happen and you should plan for it, but it can be accommodated by padding your timeline and having a plan B.
3. Be human and be personable
Many of my career mentors have been specialists in business development, sales and client relations, so I quickly recognized the importance of having solid relationships. A relationship by definition is: the ways in which two or more people are connected. By this definition, we could assume that the more ways you are connected, the stronger the relationship. Thus, by adding and personal and human element to a business relationship you strengthen that bond. Get to know your colleagues and clients on a more personal level – start your next conversation by asking about the latest school soccer tournament.
4. Stay positive and laugh
While hard work and dedication are crucial to success, the ability to stay positive through tough times is also paramount. This is something that I’ve gleaned from my longest standing mentor. We’ve been through countless wins and losses over the years and he has always been able to evoke a good laugh, even during the hardest of times. I’ve seen this invigorate teams and it’s something that I’ve experienced first-hand. Work your hardest and have a good laugh from time to time. You deserve it.
Success in career and life requires constant learning, and there is no shortage of mentors out there. We can find them in our colleagues, our friends and our family. Listen to them and ask of them. Learn from their bad and take their good.