We are incredibly thankful for all of our mentors and their commitment to investing in the growth of our mentees, and we know that their passion for paying it forward can only be matched by the passion that their mentors had for paying it forward to them. So, we’ve asked five of our mentors to share the most valuable lesson in leadership they’ve learned from a mentor in their life.
Change Consultant, Kairos
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“I’ve held some very humble jobs, and I’ve also been in board rooms advising leaders on decisions that would impact tens of thousands of people’s lives. In both situations, an internal voice says to me, ‘What are you doing here? You don’t belong in this role.’
Jobs that are less mentally challenging created opportunities for me to grow because I had more capacity to learn new skills. The most valuable lesson I’ve learned in those circumstances is to elevate the role. I learned everything I could and tried to find ways to apply those learnings for the benefit of that organization. There are no small roles; only small players.
In the situations where I’ve felt intimidated and in over my head, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is to rise to the opportunity. Scripture and history are full of unlikely leaders and advisers who influenced the course of history. Think about Joseph, Esther, Abigail and Nehemiah in the Bible. They were humble. They were courageous. They looked to God for wisdom. They listened well and spoke up at the opportune moment. They were positioned by the strange paths of their lives to become a person of influence.
The seemingly small choices of our lives shape our character and prepare us for those moments. No role is too small or too big for God to use you in some way.”
EVP, Onyx + East
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“My grandpa was a mentor for me. He always had a way of sharing simple truths that had profound implication. There was a time when I was venting to him about my frustrations at work. He listened intently and then leaned back in his chair and said one thing:
‘If you don’t like the way things are going, either change yourself or change your situation. Those are the only options you have, and complaining about it isn’t fixing anything.’
This lesson has served me well in my career. It forces me to take personal ownership and action versus blaming and complaining. I now force this as a process to respond to challenges. My first look is in the mirror to check my motivations, emotions, intentions, desires and attitude to make sure that the issue isn’t tied to a personal hang-up, like pride or unrealistic expectations.
Once I know that my heart and head are in the right place, I’m able to address the challenge head on and develop a plan to bring about improvement or resolution. This approach has helped me make better decisions and become a better person. I’m eternally grateful that grandpa shared his words of wisdom with me and that I was smart enough to listen.”
Chief Advocacy Officer, Indiana Family and Social Services Administration
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“In 2014, I went to work for then Lieutenant Governor and now Ivy Tech President Sue Ellspermann. I tend to be a ‘do-er’ – I often run off to solve a problem without considering and defining the problem. Sue specializes in unstructured (creative) problem solving.
I learned that investing focused time to define the matter usually produces the best solutions. I also learned a powerful question from Sue: How might we? This simple question opens minds up to multiple possibilities and solutions.
This question is also very powerful as a follow-up when someone says ‘no’ to an idea or request. I’ve found that after acknowledging the ‘no’ and asking, ‘Then how might we…?’ the creative solutions begin to flow.”
Director of Strategic Contracting, Roche Diagnostics
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“Leadership is all about people. It is a relationship between those who choose to lead and those who choose to follow. True leaders build relationships based on mutual respect and caring, because they know that the quality of the relationship will determine the quality of the results.
In order to build these relationships, a leader must be self-aware. The emotional intelligence of a leader has more to do with their effectiveness than their experience and their expertise.
I had a mentor tell me that, ‘I may not be the smartest person…but I know how to get other people to think well about themselves.’ This is so powerful and has nothing to do with reporting lines. We should all strive to be leaders who recognize that our job is to make others feel powerful and capable – not to acquire power for ourselves.”
CEO, Conner Insurance
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“In my 11+ year professional career, and as a leader, I’ve learned that character and integrity matter in every detail, all the time. I have learned that society has a different view of work and values than I personally do, so being intentional about my values and foundational truth is essential for success and satisfaction in my professional development and working with others to build a relationship of trust.
My hero and #1 mentor – my dad – told me on day two of my professional career in June of 2006: ‘There is no amount of money worth betraying someone’s trust.’ At first I thought, ‘Well of course not! Who would do that?’ I have found time and again that society may think differently. We have seen examples of greed and betrayal of trust in the media around business leaders, celebrities, etc. The business community, at times, will ask you to do whatever is needed to ‘win.’ An idea that the ‘ends justify the means.’ The core issue is that there is an erosion of their moral and ethical foundation. I think Jesus speaks to this concept of building a firm foundation in our lives that connect our spiritual, personal, and professional lives in Matthew 7:24-27:
24 Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
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