Eighteen years ago I was just a couple of years into my career as a corporate communicator, having come from the newspaper business like so many communicators used to do. I was still learning what this business is all about and one of the ways I learned was by attending the programs of my local IABC chapter.
In those days my chapter had a tradition of inviting the vice-chairperson of IABC to speak at our January meetings. In 1991, that person was Lester R. Potter, ABC. He spoke about strategic communication. This was the first time I’d ever met Les, or even heard of him, but it didn’t take long for me to understand why he was such a rock star in IABC circles and beyond. With great humor and a deep-South accent that was homespun but sophisticated at the same time, Les taught me more about my new profession in 30 minutes than I had learned in three years. I knew this was somebody with whom I wanted to keep up.
I did, too. Our paths crossed at IABC district and international conferences. His by-line appeared on articles and books. And years later, when the time came that my team needed outside help to develop a strategic communication plan, Les was the person I called.
Les also was the first person I called when I unexpectedly lost my job in 2000. I decided almost immediately that the time was right for me to venture out on my own as a consultant. He had been down that road before, building a successful consulting practice from the ground up. He didn’t hesitate when I called him for advice. And that’s when a mentoring relationship began that has since turned into a deep, abiding friendship.
I’m fortunate to call Les my best friend now, but he was my mentor first and he remains my mentor today. We’ve shared hopes and heartaches, successes and setbacks over many cups of coffee and tea. We’ve planned together, worked together and played together. I can think of no more significant influence on my career than Les’s guidance. He has taught me how to do this work with purpose, passion and gratitude.
Now with more than 20 years of experience behind me, I’m at the point in my career where people sometimes ask me to mentor them. I try always to oblige, humbly and with a great sense of responsibility. Those of us who practice this profession are guardians of it as well. We owe it to our colleagues to share what we’ve learned along the way, to talk about the mistakes we’ve made and the victories we’ve earned.
Mentorship is communication at its best. It’s the art of storytelling. It’s a form of folklore, the passing along of wisdom from one generation to the next. There’s no room for pride or boastfulness in a mentoring relationship. Mentors are obligated to share their experiences, warts and all, so that their protégés might improve the profession a bit here and there. And protégés must be willing to admit shortcomings and be open to learning.
I drew the long straw when it comes to choosing mentors. I was reminded of just how blessed I am when I read this blog post from Les. It reflects the kind of man he is: wise, insightful, spiritual, grateful.
Whatever your profession, find a mentor — someone who is great at what they do, someone who willingly shares what they know, someone you can trust. Not only your career, but your life will be richer for it.