Updated: Aug 22
I have been blessed throughout my career with people who held the flashlight that allowed me to find my seat. You might say the AAA of individuals who helped me find the roadmap to my career (and life).
I learned early in my life the type of person I wanted to find and how to identify those special teachers who believed in me. They saw me as I could be as an adult and thus corrected me on the things that might stand in the way of that vision. Their criticism came with compassion and was my first experience with coaching in its truest sense.
Many leaders use sports analogies from their youth to talk about teamwork and goals. Not me. I use band analogies.
My first coach/mentor was my middle school band teacher, Ms. Kurapatkin. Looking back, maybe we should have called her Coach K as she led our band like we were a major league team!
Just take a moment and think about most twelve-year-old musicians. Now that your ears are ringing, think about how much worse it would be to not work as a team.
Now let’s talk about goals. My first Big Hairy Audacious Goal (Thank you, Jim Collins, “Built to Last”) was to gain an invitation into the Queens Borough-wide band. This involved auditions, being judged and standing among the best musicians (in Queens, NY). There was also a special bonus for those who made it in 1976---It was the band from Queens turn to play in Carnegie Hall. Ms. K coached me and encouraged me, and even supported my choice of a seafoam green gown to wear from my debut at Carnegie Hall.
She believed in me and earned her place as part of my story forever.
As I grew, there were College professors who I found and enlisted as mentors. One, in particular, Dr. Seward pointed a flashlight beam for me to follow.
In my professional life, I am genuinely the luckiest woman in the world. I say “Thank you” often to those who still coach me, teach me, and show me where the band-aids (or wine) are when I need them.
So, what should you look for in your mentor?
1. Someone who gets you, believes in you and has a solid motivation to help you beyond their need for more productivity at work.
2. A person who you respect, admire, and trust. This can be personally or professionally. It is best if it’s both.
3. The correct mentor will coach you in a way you view as input, not criticism. You KNOW for sure they believe in you, and they genuinely want to help.
4. They are good listeners and sounding boards.
5. They like new ideas-no matter the source. And will help promote them—especially if they are yours!
6. They are empathetic and have a good memory of when they were new and did not know what they did not know!
7. A person who gets pride from your growth. The day George Pine made me a Vice President, I believe he was actually happier than me!
So, what happened to Miss Kuraptkin? She married the orchestra teacher and had a family. I last saw her about 20 years after I graduated. She was still teaching and sharing her magic with a new group of fortunate students.
Dr. Seward has retired, and he keeps in touch with many of the former students he also mentored. He left upstate New York and lives in Tennessee.
I still stay in touch with all of my mentors from broadcasting, advertising, and nonprofit. They still coach me, suggest new ideas, and take pride in offering advice as I take my next steps.
I say thank you to them often but, to me, the best way to show gratitude is to pay it forward.
Today, I mentor others and get such joy out of watching them grow. At least 3 members of the team Amy and I worked with and mentored when we first worked together have been hired into Chief Development Officer roles and we are very proud.
Being a mentor is at the root of why Amy and I started Team Kat & Mouse. Our goal with our non-profit consultancy is to teach, coach, mentor, and feel that warm glow of the success of our mentees.
Our happiest day will be celebrating together on the day your team is the best of town - whether that means performing at Carnegie Hall or hitting your Campaign goal.
For more information, visit www.TeamKatandMouse.com or drop me a note at Sharon@TeamKatandMouse.com.