Leading The Way Through Mentorship | David M. Kohl, President and CEO, TRUSTX
Tell us how your mentor has supported and elevated your career.
Mentors that stand out are the ones who are brutally honest and have learned how to convey “tough love” messages on my terms. In looking back over the years, my greatest mentors were those that took care to provide coaching before career challenges became career issues, and those who worked with me on a plan toward growth and improvement.
About 15 years ago, I was honored with a promotion to a strategic leadership role in my company. The new role was an executive-level position, which came with much more executive-level client visibility. I remember, early on, as we left an important client meeting, my new boss called me out for not sufficiently listening, talking too much, and repeating a point I thought was important, but that other, more astute listeners in the room noticed had failed to resonate.
I was devastated by the miss. And I shared my disappointment with my mentor at the time, who to this day stands out as among the most impactful in my career.
He listened to what happened and suggested the possibility that, in my insecurity about this new executive-level role, I was probably trying too hard to show others that I was able to play at their level. What’s more, my coach had his ear to the ground and shared that even though it may have been the first time someone called me out for the issue, my new colleagues had noticed similar behavior. I was beginning to get tagged with a “talks too much” reputation. My mentor gave me a simple tip. He encouraged me to be just the opposite, namely to become “the guy who always listens.” So that’s what I did. I listened and I absorbed. I literally shut my mouth, sat back, took notes and learned from others. And it didn’t take more than a few weeks before my boss (and the rest of my team) noticed. The important adjustment in my style made it much easier to truly understand our clients’ needs. And within a month or two, my mentor shared that the early negative buzz had been replaced with a far more positive vibe.
My mentor listened when I called, and was focused enough on my career to have had his ear to the ground even before I reached out for guidance. He suggested a plan that he knew I could execute, and stayed with it until we were both satisfied that I had overcome the challenge. His coaching absolutely elevated my career at a key executive-level transitional moment.
What are some tips you would give to a new mentor in how to spot, train and elevate a rising star?
Mentorship is an active role. My advice to any mentor is to listen to the mentee, to learn his or her style, and to put yourself into your mentee’s shoes before providing any advice. Listening builds trust and it enables you to counsel your rising star in ways that not only resonate, but that your mentee can actually integrate into his or her behavior. It’s not about what works for you, as a mentor, but what can work for the rising star that has placed his or her trust in you.