If You’re Looking for a Mentor, Look up

5 Lessons in Business for a Young Professional

This story began a long time ago, when I was four years old. Like every annoying little brother, I would beg my big brother to let me come hang out with his friends. I would cry incessantly until he would agree to let me join. My Brother had a friend in first grade that happened to have a little brother my age. It was finally my turn to have my own friend.

His name was Carmelo and we went to school together for the next ten years, roaming the playgrounds and creating a friendship that will last a lifetime. His Mom was my third grade teacher, and his Dad owned a company that did something for someone somewhere. I thought he was an Engineer, or maybe a Train Conductor?

I would spend days at Carmelo’s house without going home, gorging on his Mom’s delicious homemade meals, and talking with Carmelo for hours about the girls at school. The Gonzalez’s were second parents to me, always showing my brother and I the same respect and love they gave to their own children.

Times have changed, kids grow up, people move on from childhood bonds, but Carmelo and I will forever be pals. I’ll call him up to chat his ear off about some idea or problem, and he responds in his smooth signature style, usually sharing an incredible project he’s working on. While I still consider his family close to my own, it had been years since I really caught up with the Gonzales’ or got to know them as a young man.

That is until I was blessed with a chance encounter at a book store.

I was only in my home town for a week, visiting friends and family, when I ran into Carmelo’s Dad at a Barnes & Noble. Mr. Gonzales has always been a kind and loving person, and his presence always demanded a healthy respect. This encounter was no different. While it was great to see him and catch up, I was eager to tell him about graduating college and the recent design work I had been doing. He told me that his company was actually in-between designers, looking for someone to fill the role for an upcoming proposal.

I was ecstatic that he would have the confidence in me to mention it as an opportunity, but was headed out of town for a summer gig. A few days later he gave me a call and I accepted with the knowledge it was only a 3 week contract position.

Over the next few weeks I got to see a master at work. More than a businessman, Mr. Gonzales turned out to be a remarkable leader and mentor. He would often say something to me that went over my head, I would smile and nod but his comment would get under my skin. Hours later his critique or suggestion would sink in and I would understand what he needed out of me as an employee. It had the incredibly effect of broadening my perspective. His transparency and openness with his methods and approach to problems would give me insight on how to be more like him.

As our new employee-employer relationship grew, I started to see how valuable my time with him could be. I started writing down things I could learn from him.

Here are the top 5 things I’ve picked up:

  1. Speak with Integrity

At meetings, at happy hour, on the walk to lunch, on the passing in the hallway, speak with integrity. It’s more than being truthful, which of course is important. Mr. Gonzales doesn’t speak when he doesn’t have to. He knows that others opinions can help guide his decisions and he treats people in a way that makes them matter. He listens and invites participation. When he does tell you something, you’d better be damn well listening, because he is saying it for a reason.

2. Earn Trust

We have been talking about launching social media for the company and of course that has included lots of conversations about how social media will help us make new contacts in the industry. After I agreed with this notion Mr. Gonzales didn’t seem interested in playing that game. He let me in on a little secret. “You have to buy your contacts”. He didn’t get to this point without understanding this concept. He sees people as a whole package. With an employee you don’t just get their time for your money, if you open the possibilities you can also get their network. If you give them trust and they in turn trust you, the exchange is not in time for dollars, it’s in each person genuinely wanting the best outcome for the other person.

3. Shift your Thinking

I told Mr. Gonzales after a few weeks at the company that while it had been one of the best learning experiences of my life, I would not be able to stay. He understood, but suggested that instead of using the company as a stepping stone, I use it as a net. A net to catch me in case my wildest dreams should fail, an ecosystem that I could grow and grow in, where I find new opportunities for the company and do the work, a place to take control of my career rather than wait to let someone give it to me down the road. He asked me to change my thinking about what work is, and what kind of employee I want to be. A lesson I hope I never forget.

4. Read your Craft

I spent 2 weeks house sitting and dog sitting at Mr. Gonzales’ house while they went on a graduation trip for CJ. I would take the dog on a walk, mow the lawn, and occasionally I slipped into the bookshelf to see if there was a quick book I could read. Not to my surprise, the shelves were stocked with books on how to be a better businessman, a better athlete, a better human. I saw books by Tony Robbins, Gary Vaynerchuck, Jack Welch and so many others. People get to where they are for a reason; they learn how to get there. They have a genuine interest and passion for something and follow the trail that their heart lies down for them. What is in my own personal library? I bet that is the person I will become.

5. Give to Others

Above all what I’ve learned while working here is that what is important is how you make people feel. Mr. Gonzales gave me a shot at this company, but more than that he gives everyone his full attention and respect. He is never too important. Not only does it make everyone around him respect and admire him, I’m sure it pays him in return tenfold. I have worked harder for him than any other position, hell I’m writing this post about him, because he has given so freely that I am inspired and motivated.

I never knew Mr. Gonzales would play such a role in my life. I have been looking for someone to help me become the young professional I want to be, a “mentor” if you will. I was expecting it to come in the form of some executive in a city who would magically take interest in me. I never knew where to look for a person like this. It makes me wonder who else is right next door who could teach me incredible lessons, or I could teach lessons to. After the last few months I would give one suggestion: if you’re looking for a mentor, look up.