Over the years, I have had the privilege to speak to several groups and individuals about leadership, financial planning, sales, personal finance and other related topics. The most common question I get in these settings is this — what is the one piece of advice you would give someone trying to grow their career or improve in a specific area?
I always give the same answer — get a mentor or mentors for your specific area of need. That may sound overly simplistic, but it is much more complicated than it sounds. To find a mentor, for example, with a personal finance issue, you must be humble and self-aware enough to recognize and admit you need help. That is not easy for most people. In my experience, there are a lot of great options out there for mentors. The real challenge is to be vulnerable enough to admit you need help and ask for it.
My life wouldn’t be the same without my mentors. I’ve never been one to get emotional about things, but I still get choked up thinking about all the men and women in my life who have mentored me over the years.
As I prepared for this article, I listed 50 men and women who have mentored me in some capacity over the years. The topics range from marriage, parenting, spiritual growth, money, leadership and other business-related issues. I don’t know where I would be today without these individuals who took the time to help guide me in so many areas of life.
Like you, I have read my share of great books, listened to inspiring podcasts and attended many leadership conferences. I have learned so much from all these methods, but none compared to the value I have found through strong mentoring relationships.
That is not to say you must do everything you hear from a mentor. Like those books, podcasts and conferences, you still have to filter what you hear and learn to apply it to your specific needs and style. Even when I did not follow their advice, I still learned from it, which helped broaden my perspective in that area.
For some of us, our mentoring relationships started with our parents. I am so blessed to have great parents who still teach me things after all these years. My father taught me to work hard in everything and spend money wisely. My mother taught me self-confidence and to always be nice to everyone. I did not recognize these as mentoring relationships until later in life, but these lessons shaped who I am all these years later.
No one relationship fits all. My mentoring relationships have taken many forms over the years. Some have been formal mentoring relationships where we meet for coffee or lunch once a month, and some have been less formal, where I will reach out for advice on a specific question as needed.
My approach is to find someone I admire who has been successful in a specific area and ask for their guidance. It is typically someone 10 to 15 years older than me, but it could also be someone with more experience in a specific area of need.
The other side of this mentoring topic is to be open and aware of the need to mentor others. As I get older, more and more people reach out to me for advice. That is my opportunity to share what all the smart and wise men and women have shared with me over the years.
Some of what I share may be from my direct experiences, but most of it is what has been passed down to me over the years.
Kenny Kinley is the CEO of Arkansas IT services firm Edafio Technology Partners. The opinions expressed are those of the author.