Achieving your personal destiny through mentoring

You can achieve your destiny with the help of a mentor and by being a mentor.

There is no topic closer to my heart, dare I say emotional, than seeing individuals achieve their destiny. Even the most special person doesn’t reach their potential without some help from others. No one gets to where they are by themselves including me. I’ve been fortunate to have some super people in my life, both as mentors and as mentorees.

Vijay Vijayashankar gets applause during the keynote.

I confess my pride swelled as I saw Vijay Vijayasankar (Vice President, Global Channels and Business Development at MongoDB) (blog | linkedin), someone I mentored, step up on the SAP TechEd/D-Code conference keynote. It has always been a goal of mine to mentor / manage someone who makes it to the most senior level of corporation. As Vijay has risen, I’d say we each consider each other peer mentors which is interesting. More than anything, Vijay has taught me the value of seeing the situation from the most positive light possible. It is skill I admire in him.

I’ve always believed the mentor gets as much from the relationship as the mentoree. Just having fresh eyes on the problem and the solution can reveal a lot. Now, I know Vijay and I are peers, but I think he’s actual become my mentor which I think is terrific. By the way, you certainly can have a mentor who is at “lower” level in the management hierarchy than you.

Another mentoree, Tomas Krojzl (linkedin | website | blog) sought me out. I think he called or e-mailed me 2x week for a month or more before I agreed. It was some kid in the Czech Republic who was fairly low level and wanted to be a Distinguished Engineer in 3 years. A Distinguished Engineer at IBM is quite an honor and considered one of the harder ways to become an executive at IBM. I thought anyone who can be that persistent and even thinks they can make that level in 3 years will certainly become something special and indeed Tomas is special. Tomas Krojzl won the best of IBM. That is amazing honor only given to 100 people a year in IBM out of more than 400K employees. Tomas is an SAP Mentor and SAP HANA Distinguished Engineer. I’m confident Tomas will achieve his goal of becoming an IBM Distinguished Engineer although it may take few more years, but it will be sooner than most.

Cincinnati Zoo

I’ll just mention a few of my key mentors in my life. Barry Wakeman, former Director of Education at the Cincinnati Zoo, brought me into Cincinnati Zoo’s Junior Zoologist and  saved me from being a miserable outcast. I didn’t fit into any of the peer groups at school like the jocks, scholars, burn outs, etc. He taught me it was OK to be smart, find critters in streams, do research, collect insects, crawl in caves, explore oceans, think critically, give back to the world, and study the natural world. Barry inspired a lot of kids in greater Cincinnati area. I would not be where I am today without him. I’ve got a long list who I know feel the same way. Barry is deceased, but he embodied Stephen Covey’s quote of “Live, love, laugh, leave a legacy”  with his life.

When I was at Illinois Power Company (IPC) (since acquired) in Decatur, IL, David Peterson, Director of Networking, helped me evolve technically and as person. He’d literally would sneak me into the IPC HQ to talk with me since I’d been banned from the facility. That is a story for another day, but let me just say “you can be 100% correct and dead wrong.” David introduced me to networking. Together with him, we got IPC onto new networking standards and got it connected to the Internet for the first time. It took 2 years of writing business cases in 1990-1991. Unfortunately, I’ve lost track of David.

Skipping over a lot of years and good people, Adolf Allesch (linkedin | website) , was my manager, but even more importantly a mentor. He often called me when I’d been on call and missed the mark to coach me. It never was a matter of content, as I said, I was usually 100% correct, but in how I’d presented the topic or even the tone in which I responded was more important. Telling someone their idea is foolish, even if it is, or solving the problem in 5 minutes when they’ve spent 5 months on it, is probably not going to make them want to work with you. Adolf was key to my achieving Distinguished Engineer at IBM. In the SAP world, I know lot of people who owe him a debt as well.  Adolf is now off working on his own at Emergence Advisor.

Today, I keep a running list of people I mentor. I try to make sure I touch base with them at least once every quarter. I increasingly find I don’t talk about technology, but about shaping their non-technical skills so they are more effective in achieving their goals, much the way Adolf did for me. Some of it is simple as just asking “what do you want to be in 2 and 5 years?” and “what are the big steps do you need to do to get there?”. Frequently, I’m just a sounding board, give them options, or more connections. I confess, it is one of the best parts of my job.

Mentoring is a “pay it forward” (movie | book) so when people ask what they can do to repay me for my time, I ask who are they mentoring? So now, two pieces of advice. Become a mentor to several others and go get at least one mentor. Mentoring will not guarantee you achieve your destiny, it does help and you’ll be surprised how much it adds to the quality of your life.

Watching with pride and envy and gratitude

When I came to IBM, I said one of my aspirations was to help someone reach a Sr. VP in IBM.  I don’t mean promote them, but I mean be part of their path.  We all work in web of influence.  Helping others mature along their paths and achieve to their highest levels is critical.

At the same time, it can mean promoting people to your level or above.  It is impossible to not feel a twinge of jealousy.  For me, I have to acknowledge this, but then move on.  Good news is I think I got close.

My dear friend, colleague, and now Sr. VP Vijay at SAP has made it.  In all honesty, I had very little nothing to do with it.  Maybe an encouraging word or a bit of advice, but it was Vijay’s work ethic, willingness to take chances, and positive bright outlook on life, technology, and people that got him to this level.

It is not anyone, but all of these combined that has brought him success.  At a large client, he took on the latest Netweaver features when everyone including me said they wouldn’t work.  When they didn’t, he didn’t stop.  He just got some help from SAP establishing a relationship with those in SAP and then succeeded.  Later he turned his gregarious nature, sharp mind, and experience into a blog.  At the point he entered the digital public domain, there were very few and no real IBM policy.  Vijay has lead the way.

In the end, I think I gained the most.  I learned to take a more positive attitude and avoid my darker side.  I moved my blogging from inside IBM and inside of SAP, to this forum.  While I don’t expect to gather the response that Vijay’s blog gathers, it has been a learning experience for me.

Now that I have a colleague who made it to SVP in SAP; I’ll have to find someone to work with to make SVP in IBM.  And let me challenge you, who are you helping move their career and life forward?  I think you’ll find you get as much, or more than you give.