The Power of Professional Lineage Mentoring

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Berkshire Hathaway’s recent purchase of Duracell reminded me of when Warren Buffett said, “When we own portions of outstanding businesses with outstanding managements, our favorite holding period is forever.”

At 84, chances are Mr. Buffett will never know if Duracell ultimately meets his full expectations. But, his general approach to investing makes it likely for two reasons; he studies companies exhaustively until he understands their value, then when he invests, he does so with the intent of ownership that extends well beyond his lifetime.

Planting multi-generational seeds

I recently camped in the woods with my sons, which is one of my favorite activities. When we camp, I’m able to reduce mental noise while providing them with experiences they’ll hopefully find useful in the future.

At the risk of quoting a social meme, I still appreciate what Nelson Henderson said about nature and foresight, “…the true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”

As a father, I do my best to take a similar approach as I provide my children with guidance and examples that will help them long after I’m gone.

Cause and effect

Common threads run through Henderson’s trees and Buffett’s investments, including the law of causality and the vision of betterment beyond immediate or even personal gain.

Although it’s easy to understand the benefit of providing for one’s children and emulating the investment tactics of Warren Buffett, fewer people understand the benefit of supporting and mentoring their co-workers without the apparent benefit of immediate, personal gain.

It’s understandable. In this era of the personal brand and freelance career, helping others without the expectation of personal benefit can be counter-intuitive. But, as with raising children and value investing, applying effort and doing the right thing reaps often-unseen benefits in many different ways.

Greasing the gears of commerce

Simply put, the act of helping co-workers improves the company for which you work. Helping people develop their careers should never be at cross-purposes with corporate objectives, and cooperative professional-development should always make companies stronger. When you help others you promote job security for everyone associated with you.

Consistently asking people how they can be helped and then following through is a magical key that opens up connections of trust between team members regardless of rank. And, it also provides senior managers valuable insight into critical projects. The value is so obvious, it’s hard to understand why the practice is so often absent from the workplace.

Another easy and overlooked tool is the personal compliment. Compliments are simple yet critical components to building successful teams. While “feel good” compliments are often hollow, genuine, merit-based compliments motivate people to do more good things. And, since compliments are free, the return-on-investment is immeasurably high.

Ultimately, these simple, daily behaviors of helpfulness and encouragement can be organized and extended into the act of mentorship. In the short term, mentoring always helps others more than it helps you. But, over time some of those you mentor will model your behavior. And, just like the dividends Duracell will return long after Warren Buffett has passed, your constructive actions will live well beyond your lifetime.

Mentorship and the value of lineage

Since experience normally takes time, mentorship usually involves older people helping younger people, which creates a form of professional lineage. There’s a power and pride in lineage, no matter how modest.

Living and working with names, events and narratives embed understanding in the mind deeper than merely reading specifications and procedures in a textbook or user manual.

Here’s a couple of factoids about my professional lineage: The man who taught me how to sell software worked for the first person to ever sell a software company for a billion dollars. And, that man learned the business from the person who founded the first company other than IBM to sell more than a million dollars worth of software in a single year.

Although I’ve forgotten a lot of lessons I learned at the beginning of my career, I’ll never forget the story about where that knowledge came from. Learning about my professional lineage helped me pay attention to the person mentoring me and gave me pride in my work.

For some reason, we prefer a structure of authoritative history when we accept advice or direction from others. We remember stories, and we want to know the credentials of the person telling those stories. That’s just the way our minds work.

Start today

So, what’s your story? What’s your lineage? What do you have to offer those around you, especially younger or less experienced people?

I’m confident you have a great story and with some thought and effort you can share it with others around you who might be struggling with something you’ve already figured out.

Go identify those people and help them. It will make you more valuable to those around you, it will make your organization stronger, and through your action, people who you’ll never meet will be helped long after you’re gone.

And, like a tree or a profitable enterprise, your vision and creative effort will extend your lineage and will become your personal legacy.

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