My oldest son Alex is almost 22 and he has high-functioning autism. He is a wonderful and bright young man with many gifts, balanced to some degree by social quirkiness and other challenges resulting from his autism. When he graduated from high school, my wife and I decided he was not yet ready for the rigors of college and instead focused on helping him find employment and increasing his independence.
I bet we have all had first meetings with other professionals that made us cringe, either because of the other person’s behavior or after self-reflecting on our own missteps. I would like to share a little insight about some old-school ideas that I think are very helpful in helping professionals make a good first impression.
“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.”— Denzel Washington
The word mentor is defined as a wise and trusted counselor or teacher and has its origin in Homer’s epic Greek poem The Odyssey, where a loyal adviser of Odysseus named Mentor is entrusted with the care and education of his son Telemachus. I have long been drawn to the idea of mentorship and have had the privilege of being mentored by several wonderful and caring leaders over the course of my life. I have also been fortunate to mentor a number of young leaders and am grateful for each opportunity.
I recently discussed the topic of mentorship with Karen Bennett, the well-respected EVP and Chief People Officer for Cox Communications. I have known Karen for over 15 years and her passion for mentoring is obvious to anyone who has worked with her or served with her in the community. Here is our interview and the candid insights Karen shared with me. Enjoy!
I frequently have conversations with friends and clients about effective strategies for connecting with new business professionals, how to appropriately follow up and how to handle meetings being rescheduled. I would like to offer a sampling of “best & worst practices” for your consideration regarding these questions and how to be more successful with our efforts in expanding professional networks.
I vividly recall a visit from my father last year a few days after his 80th birthday. Reaching this landmark age is quite an achievement in itself, but what dawned on me during his visit was the richness of my dad’s life as he shared stories of his past with his grandsons. I appreciate that he shares not only the fun and happy stories, but the adversity and heartbreak he has faced as well. My father long ago realized that one of the few treasures he has left to give us are the stories and experiences from his life. I never fail to glean something valuable from this man I know so well, and my sons never tire of listening to their Papa.
I have been incredibly fortunate over the course of my time on this earth to receive invaluable gifts that have made a tremendous difference in every aspect of my life. I am not talking about a new car, a new watch or a new shirt for Christmas. I am talking about the thoughtful gifts from family, friends and even relative strangers that have changed my thinking, inspired me, taught me valuable lessons and gotten me back on track when I was lost.
I have been leading people since I was a 16 year old in high school working at a restaurant in the town where I grew up. Leadership has always been a passion for me and after years of study, reading dozens of leadership books, listening to mentors and accumulating great experience on the way to a successful career I have come to understand one thing: I can still learn something new about leadership. In my case, the best source of ongoing leadership lessons is my 21 year old son Alex, who has high functioning autism.
I vividly recall a meeting several years ago with one of my executive coaching clients when we were about two weeks into our working relationship. She walked into the room, obviously very excited to share something with me. She placed a two-page document on the table between us and declared: “I want to discuss mission statements today!” It was clear that these pages represented hers. She then asked me to share my own mission statement before we discussed hers and my client eagerly took out her notebook to write down what she assumed would be a lengthy description of my own mission statement.
“It is only two words, so there is no need to take notes.” I said, much to her bewilderment.
When we think of a mosaic, we usually think of tiles of glass or stone that have been formed into a beautiful image by the artist. I was reflecting recently about my dad and the wonderful “mosaic” he has created in his 80 years as a father, husband, friend and servant of his community. The “tiles” of his life are represented by the countless acts of kindness he has performed, the sacrifices he has always made for his family and the lifetime of service he has rendered his church and community. It is obvious to all who know him that selfless love and a generous spirit are at the heart of all these deeds. Like all of us, he has made mistakes along the way, but the mosaic of his life is something beautiful to reflect on and aspire to emulate. I think of the exemplary life of my dear departed mother in much the same way.
Up until about six years ago, I would say that I maximized my days as well as anyone and was always comfortable juggling multiple projects and tasks. My business thrived, my books were selling well and I achieved a small modicum of success by the world’s standard, but I began to recognize that I was often missing out on the truly important things in life. My hectic pace, which mirrored the pace of so many other professionals in my circle, began to negatively impact the quality of time I was spending with clients, friends and loved ones. My crazy schedule and the countless meetings I was having each week began to blur together and I felt that I was not being truly present for the people who richly deserved my full attention, especially my wonderful wife and two sons. The pace I was keeping also had a deeply negative impact on my ability to gather my thoughts, reflect on lessons learned and ponder the future. This epiphany, which occurred in the last few days of 2012, became the basis for my commitment to slow down and begin living life in “real time”.