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Monday, September 5, 2011


I met a “professional mentor” last week. He is going to help some deserving senior managers. Not surprisingly, no one is buying.

I’ve been treated to some astonishing mentors. In every case they were working full time on their own needs, and I became a lot sharper helping out.

I remember when I came home from college and was pressed into a crew taking up the carpet after the Auto Show in New York City. I had never done that in my life. Neither had any of the others.

We cleaned out three floors in eight hours. That was a lot of carpet. The boss spent three years selling the carpet wherever he found a buyer.

He started as a union plumber, and when work was slow one winter, he bought a lot in the country and built a three story himself. That’s scary, figuring out how to hoist and secure rafters in snow and ice, when no one is there if you fall. A dangerous course in applied thinking. He was the safest guy I ever worked with, and we got some extremely hairy results. 

While I was in school, following my mentor, I started a company building out a natural stone foundation for a revolutionary war era church, another company applying lead paint to a water purification plant. He provided answers, when I asked, that made the projects succeed.

After I graduated, I took my grand tour, made a movie and some records and came back home. My mentor, had located plans to build two perfect carpenter’s boxes. One for me, one for him. As long as I was back, why wouldn’t I come over for a couple of evenings?

We were admiring our new boxes over a couple of his beers, when I said it looked like I was going to have to start a construction company. I said, “I don’t want to do it in New Jersey!”

He looked at me for a minute and then said, “Well, where do you want to do it?” I had to admit there were no other options. And so Charger Construction took flight, and the General Contractors who already knew us and hired us kept asking which one was Charlie and which one was Jerry?

My mentor has one son who is a bush pilot in Alaska, and another who is a senior manager in a petroleum company in San Francisco. The oil guy was in a couple of my bands, and we went to meet Jerry Garcia when I lived in Sausalito.

Mentoring isn’t about advice, it’s about doing things that need to be done, and learning who you are as a result.

That mentor taught me to write down what I get done every day, so when I have to estimate how long something will take, I have some actuals. He also cautioned me not to factor out the mistakes, as I would always be making new ones. That has always proven true.

Still have my perfect carpenter’s box.

Who are your mentors?

SalesLabs Rainmaker series returns to the Capital Technology Management Hub, Tuesday, September 13th with 300 seconds of Mark Your Territory. The featured CTMH speaker will be Professor Steve Gladis, author of The Agile Leader. Come join us!

1 comment:

  1. Dick:

    What a journey you described - and the good fortune (strike that GREAT fortune) you have had with your mentor there for the pivotal points.

    Early in my career I had a boss - only got about 5 minutes per week with him, BUT it was the most productive and beneficial time of all. It drove home that time is precious and must not be wasted, as well as prepare, execute, review as a triad for success (had to for those precious five minutes).

    He taught me about ownership and critical thinking by never listening about a problem unless a suggested solution was part of the discussion.

    My old boss was successful in his own right, and was a shining star in my eyes - and worked magic as well...the five minutes always proved to be the perfect amount of time to teach and lead. The magic was putting such a huge payload in a deceptively small package.

    No carpenter's box, but life lessons which contain many of the tools I continue to use.