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Talent Advisory Board: Giving Thanks for Mentorship

Nov. 29, 2023
Manufacturing experts reflect on the value of their mentorships and the mentorship of others.

The IndustryWeek Talent Advisory Board offers monthly advice on how its members got to where they are in the manufacturing world. If you have a question for the group, please send it to [email protected].

Inspired by Thanksgiving, IndustryWeek’s Talent Advisory Board question for November was: Have you had a mentor or mentors in your career that you feel thankful for?

Carl Livesay, General Manager, Mercury Plastics MD

I am thankful for several mentors throughout my career. I will share a little about three that really stuck out.

Jack Stout was a computer consultant contracted by the first company I worked for as a computer programmer. I was impressed with how much Jack knew about our company and I asked him for career advice. Jack suggested picking an industry and learning as much about it as I could. I chose manufacturing. He also suggested learning about the industries that were connected to the manufacturing industry like distribution, finishing, logistics etc. I built a career around his advice.

Roger Wolfe (recently deceased) owned a very large Christmas tree farm near our home in Maryland. Roger taught me about people. Specifically, about how people thought. He taught me that when you can learn something from every person you meet and that you should make that your goal. Roger also taught me that deep down, regardless of their wealth or position in life, everyone wants and deserves to be treated with dignity, respect, and kindness. Treat everyone well, even if they do not treat you well. Roger was a very successful businessman who was also one of the most generous people you will ever meet.

I am the most thankful for my wife of 44 years, Brenda. She has been a mentor for me since we met in high school. Brenda has taught me to look for the good in everyone and not to judge. She is the kindest person I know, and she continues to teach me to look beyond the occasional scowl, giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. Brenda has said many times, you don’t know anything about that person, their life, or the troubles they are dealing with that cause the person to react or respond that way. Try not to make it worse. Brenda’s advice is always to demonstrate kindness. It may be best part of someone’s day and it might make a big difference to them or to someone close to them.

Bill Scilingo, VP of Operations, Penn Color

Unfortunately, I have had limited exposure to a formal mentorship program in my career. My only exposure was a short-lived, unstructured program which led to my pairing with a mentor who was involved only by requirement of the organization. As such, the experience was not as rewarding as outcomes I have understood from network connections.

Even without a formalized mentor program, I believe it is essential to identify confidants internal and external to your organization to gain feedback on strategy, communication and situational awareness, and I credit much of my career advancement to such relationships. 

There are two keys to a successful outcome of informal mentorship relationships. First, one must associate with engaging individuals who are vested in your success and willing to provide candid support, guidance, and advice based on their personal experiences. Second, one must be open to critical feedback. Both these keys seem simple. However, not everyone is comfortable with providing challenging advice and, as I have found as my tenure has progressed, being open to new viewpoints becomes more demanding over time. Therefore, choose wisely and remain willing to change.

Of all areas that I have found the most success is in reviewing key communications, an area that I still have not perfected over my thirty years in industry. Having the ability to review future or post mortem discuss organizational communications has provided tremendous value in my career proving that what seems clear in my mind does not always resonate with all levels of the organization. Having other impressions and interpretations of these communications enables continued growth in messaging. My advice is to take advantage of any formal mentorship programs that you have access to or, if not available, develop your own network to allow self-reflection and growth.

Becky Morgan, President, Fulcrum ConsultingWorks Inc.

While considering the question, I was forced to distinguish “really good boss” from “mentor” from “helpful top executive.” While I have enjoyed the support of the first and third categories, I cannot say I have had a mentor. For me, that term implies a more experienced leader who is available for support and also continues the relationship beyond being employed by the same organization.

I believe I have served in all three categories mentioned above, though no doubt have been less helpful to some than I could have been.

As a self-employed operations strategy consultant for over 30 years, I have worked with many mid- and top-level executives and owners of manufacturing companies. Most days I have had the opportunity to coach people in situation-based real-time environments. Mentoring, I believe, is a more strategic relationship of support, and less opportunistic. Friendship and empathy are valuable. Mentoring is distinct. It is a committed relationship of helpful trusted advice, typically to a less experienced person.

I am forever grateful to the really good bosses and helpful top executives I’ve experienced during my career.

Carlos Torres, Head of Industry 4.0 at USA 5G Smart Factory, Ericsson

My mentors opened my mind to new ideas and allowed me to judge their individual merit for myself. Their method was to plant seeds that would spark my curiosity, allow me the time to digest, gave me the space to implement the skills and then together we would evaluate the impact. Thanks to them, I was able to develop myself as a leader and expert in my field. Beyond professional skill development, my mentors helped me navigate the organization’s culture, politics, and internal processes. Knowing how to navigate organization complexity is crucial for success. 

It is easy to think a mentor needs to be a higher-level or an executive, but this isn’t always true. It can be more difficult to establish a mentorship relationship the higher up you look. What is important is to recognize that the best mentors have a genuine interest in mentoring, they will care about you, and they can adapt their communication style to suit your needs. If you are struggling to find or get value from mentors, ask yourself: are you somebody worth mentoring? The best mentees are eager to learn, proactive, responsive, and generally curious. Be somebody worth mentoring, do the work to find the right mentor and always be thankful for the gift of mentorship.

Tim Noble, President, Avery Point Group, Inc.

I have been very fortunate in the formative 14 years of my early career to have been part of a company culture at GE during the peak of the Jack Welch era that was very focused on talent development and leadership training.  I joined GE in the late 80’s on their Manufacturing Management Program (GE-MMP). The GE-MMP program was designed to groom and fast-track high-potential operational leaders by combining over a year of classroom leadership development and operations management training with four rotational work assignments across various GE businesses. On those assignments, we were often placed and paired with business leaders who served as tremendous mentors. Throughout my GE career, I was placed in stretch and growth assignments with leaders who took a great interest in my career and leadership development.  The feedback I received in those roles was tough, candid, and humbling, all with the intent of improving my skills as a leader and manager.  But the feedback was also about encouraging and celebrating my successes as well. This feedback and mentorship were key to my transition into my first Executive Band level role in my early 30’ at GE, which was a major milestone in my career.

When seeking out a mentor, find one that combines deep expertise with effective communication skills, empathy, and a commitment to your growth as a mentee. They should be patient, flexible, inspiring, and skilled in helping you network within the organization. Furthermore, a good mentor upholds honesty, integrity, and continuous learning and respects confidentiality.  Lastly, a good mentor should also be candid, frank, and constructive in their feedback.  These qualities enable them to effectively guide, motivate, and empower you on your professional journey.

As a mentee, you have responsibilities, too. A good mentee is characterized by an eagerness to learn, active listening, and goal-oriented behavior. They are responsive, responsible, and open to candid feedback, taking initiative in their development while respecting their mentor's time and expertise. Self-awareness, adaptability, and gratitude are also key traits. Such qualities ensure a mentee effectively utilizes the mentor's guidance and support, fostering a productive and mutually respectful mentoring relationship.

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