Mentoring with Purpose
“Be Nice to People On the Way Up! You Might see Them On the Way Back Down…”
As a high school dropout who never went back to school, my life has been abundantly blessed in so many ways, even without a “sheepskin” hanging on my wall. My many blessings included numerous Mentors who believed in me and shared with me things that weren’t taught in school.
“Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”1 Thessalonians 5:11
At the ripe old age of nineteen, my life was not like my friends who were still struggling with school, girls and part-time jobs. Instead, due to the trust of my first mentor, Jack, my life was exploding with opportunity and prosperity. Personally, God had blessed me with the love of my life, who would become my bride of over 40 years.
Working in a warehouse job after dropping out of school, except for meeting my soon to be bride, my prospects seemed bleak. Until Jack.
Jack was a classic ‘50-‘60’s era salesman that had worked hard and smart all of his life in the record (music) business. You know, what people call “vinyl” today. When we first met; Jack was the national sales manager for a fledgling distribution company working to disrupt the industry. In the early 1970’s this little company had the foresight to implement computer-based stock control for automated re-ordering of inventory. Cleary their vision was genius. Think Amazon level controls in the 1970’s! Well, their business exploded, with Jack at the helm of the sales force.
In those days, Jack was always out walking around in the warehouse. It seemed when he wasn’t traveling, he was in the warehouse. Not the front office. That’s how we got to know each other. He always impressed me with the genuine interest that he showed in the people working “in the back”. Jack seemed to take a liking to me when he learned about my love of music.
It really shocked him one day when our conversation turned to my appreciation of classic musicals. Especially “The Music Man”, Jack’s favorite. Telling Jack how the movie had inspired me to play trombone, Jack exclaimed, “That record paid for my first convertible!” From that point forward, we were buddies. An event, and friendship, that would wonderfully bless my life.
One day Jack called me into his office. Thinking the worst, my mind went through a detailed recall for anything that might jeopardize my job. Nothing came to mind.
Jack always had a good poker face, however, this time there was a crack of a smile coming through as he said, Do you like working here?”
Well, that didn’t help my anxiety. “Yes”, I said, with a quiver in my voice. He continued, “We have done an extensive evaluation of you.”
My lips must have been trembling as well, but that crooked smile on his face had me puzzled. Could he really enjoy firing someone this much?
Jack went on to say, “With your work ethic, and obvious love for music, we believe you would make an excellent sales representative for our company.”
His smile was now ear to ear as he went on to say “We have an opening in our Western territory and would like to offer you the position. “
The feelings that exploded inside of me were intense. Doing everything possible not to cry. Jack’s belief and trust were one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me.
“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed;”2 Corinthians 9:8
Just think, while most of my friends were still going to school; this high school dropout, at the age of nineteen, would have a company car, expense account and a salary. No more punching a time clock! Above all, was this wonderful feeling of being trusted! Trusted to represent a multi-million-dollar company and trusted to get the job done. Not only by the mucky-mucks high up in the company, but, more importantly, trusted by Jack.
My relationship with Jack quickly morphed from casual friend to Mentor-Protégé. Jack took me under his wing teaching me the core of my business knowledge. Simple things like what to eat for breakfast, and how to eat with customers. Complex things like how to read a spreadsheet. Through his patience and kindness, Jack taught me things no one else could. Today, most of my business knowledge is traceable to, and started with Jack.
One of the many lessons that Jack taught me paved the way for so many great relationships as a Mentor, and as a Protégé. One day, as we were calling on a giant discount retailer, Jack led me to walk right past the office and all the way back to the warehouse at the very end of the building.
On our way Jack said, “Always remember, get to know the people in the back, as well as, if not better than, the people in the front office. From time to time you’ll need their help. And, in my experience, they’ll rarely let you down.”
Looking back, that simple statement, guided the steps of my career. From that day forward most of my time was spent in the back warehouse instead of the front office of my customers. Oft times it made me think of Jack. Albeit, Jack probably would have told me to focus on the task and quit daydreaming.
One day, several years after working with Jack, God and my career led me to a small technology company in Minneapolis while my wife and kids stayed on the east coast to finish out the school year. The company had a phenomenal plan for self-education on their products. With my family so far away, there was ample time at night to work on the training. As a result, I spent night after night, alone in the office, “schooling” myself.
One night, a recruit named Bruce showed up. Looking like a direct descendant of Paul Bunyan, this burly guy from the woods of Northern Minnesota had no clue about computers – nor technology. He just needed a job to provide for a growing family of his own.
My first reaction to Bruce was to ignore him. Maybe he’d just go away, taking his many hunting stories with him. However, Jack’s “people in the back” lesson kept gnawing at me like one of Bruce’s bear stories. After a while the two of us began nightly meetings. Our goal? Teach Bruce enough to pass the employment test and as much as we could about computers and technology.
We both passed the test and went our separate ways. For me, my career with the company blossomed. It seemed that almost instantly, my wife and family had joined me in our new house, and the company had moved me into management roles. With all that was happening, Bruce was not on my radar screen. Other than an occasional lunchroom encounter, our paths rarely crossed.
As the years went by, the company promoted me to the position as a Regional Sales Manager with an inside sales team of ten to twelve reps. Working to hit our sales quota every month kept me focused on my territory on the East Coast. Bruce worked in the West, so we rarely saw each other. While we both went to work in Minneapolis, we now worked in different time zones.
One day, my boss asked me to change territories. It seems the West Coast was in turmoil and sales were plummeting. At the core of the turmoil? You guessed it. Bruce. My number one job. Get rid of Bruce! In talking with everyone from the President of the company, to the sales reps on the floor, they were all saying the same thing: Get rid of Bruce!
From the stories that the team was telling me, Bruce was intimidating everyone in the company. Everyone except me. He always treated me with exceptional respect. Those days working late together in the beginning, set an early relationship based in trust. It was that trust that led me to talk with Bruce and not just let him go.
There we sat, eyeball to eyeball. My goal was to understand what was going on with Bruce; knowing that he was better than what people were telling me. Starting our meeting and asking Bruce to envision my hand around his neck and me holding him over a deep abyss. He looked at me with unexpected terror in his eyes.
Then, looking Bruce square in the eyes my inquiry started…
“Do you want me to let go?”
“Everyone in this building wants me to let go of you.”
“What do You want me to do, Bruce?”
He responded with stories of mistreatment and verbal abuse. Then almost begging, he told me how much he needed the job.
Building on our bond of trust, together we worked out a plan for him to stay. He was to build a territory in the Canadian territories that had never bought a single product from the company. In my experience, when people are put on a performance plan, they usually take the time to find a new job. Or, occasionally, they hunker down and get back on track. That’s what Bruce did. Within a year, that territory was consistently in the running for the number one territory in the region. Kudos to Bruce for persevering. By that time, most had forgotten the chaos. Funny what success can do to bad memories.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another…”John 13:34
Bruce is just one of the many blessings during my corporate life resulting from Mentor/Protégé relationships. Christ teaches us to Love One Another; front office, warehouse or street corner. No matter if you are on your way up, or going down, leading with Love will always make the ride smoother. When you focus on helping others succeed, you can’t help but to succeed as well.
“God blesses us, not for ourselves,…
…He blesses us so that we may bless others”.