Mentors, Inspirations and Trailblazers

mentorToday’s guest post is courtesy of our board member, Andy Brantley.  Andy is  President and CEO of the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR).  This post, concerning the mentors and others who inspire us, is timely as we look ahead to a new year.  Who’s been your greatest inspiration in your career?

Stop for just a minute and think about your life and your career. Who are the people who have had the greatest positive influence on you personally and professionally? What did these individuals do that influenced you? Were they mentors? Were they leaders you admired from afar? Were they authors of books, blogs or articles? Were they coworkers? Were they friends or family members? Were they individuals who dared to blaze a trail? There have been, and continue to be, people in each of these categories who have impacted and inspired me personally and professionally.

Mentors … I have never been fortunate enough to be part of a structured mentoring program, but I can tell you that there have been many individuals who have helped and guided me in many ways, be it through one-on-one conversations, through e-mail exchanges, through phone conversations or through their actions. For me, mentoring is not as much about a structured program as it is a commitment to guide and support others and a willingness to seek guidance and support from others. Who are your mentors? Could you name at least two or three people who have, in some way, mentored you?

Leaders admired from afar … The recent passing of Nelson Mandela has given me reason to pause and reflect on my own personal efforts to seek unity. His strength will forever be a source of inspiration to millions. The words of Maya Angelou frequently inspire me and give me strength. I follow her on Facebook so that I can periodically receive words of wisdom directly from her. The opportunity to spend time with Charlayne Hunter-Gault this past fall will always be a source of inspiration for me. Her achievements, including being one of the first African Americans admitted to the University of Georgia and her work in South Africa, give me hope that the America I live in will someday truly be open and accepting of everyone. Of course, there are many other leaders who I admire. Can you name leaders who you admire or who have inspired you?

Coworkers and my CUPA-HR colleagues … In every one of my work experiences, there have been coworkers who have positively impacted me personally and professionally. I could try to name names, but I know that I would leave someone out! To the people I worked with at the Chrysler Corporation, the University of North Carolina at Asheville, Davidson College and the University of Georgia, thanks for the impact that you have had on me. To the people that I am fortunate to work with now at CUPA-HR, thanks for the impact that you have on me every day. I acknowledge that I am not perfect (far from it), but I am better because I get to have open, honest dialogues with you every day. Who in your office, college or university would you identify as an inspiration?

Family and friends … I am fortunate to have great family and friends who I learn from every day. My family doesn’t just include my sons and others who are related by blood or marriage. It also includes some pretty incredible people who have truly become family over many years. When you think of your family and friends, who are those people who have helped and continue to help you be who you are?

Trailblazers … Last, but not least, I am so appreciative of those who been, and continue to be, trailblazers. You know who I am referred to, those leaders (at all levels) who tactfully and effectively challenge the status quo, have great ideas that they put into action and are committed to making their organizations better. I am so fortunate that I have had the opportunity to work with and be mentored and inspired by several trailblazers. Who are the trailblazers who have most impacted you? Better yet, how are you the trailblazer that others look to as their mentor and inspiration?

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4 thoughts on “Mentors, Inspirations and Trailblazers

  1. I truly enjoyed Andy’s article. Each of the categories he defines reminds me of some one in my career who has made an impact on me.

    Having spent the last 6 years as CEO of the Girl Scouts, I watched as volunteers… dads, moms, grandmothers…. lead our 42,000 girls through the leadership development program that is ‘scouting’. Every young person needs a supportive adult in his life and that means that each of us has to make time to reach down to help a colleague, a child or a friend achieve his full potential.

    With 2014 brand new and resolutions abounding, let’s all resolve to do just that.
    Happy New Year to all my friends at WFI. Best regards, Ruth

  2. Like Andy, I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked for/with a number of people who have had a great influence on me and on my overall workplace philosophy. From them, I have learned lessons and gained the wisdom that made me who I am today.

    But, I have also learned a great deal — and in some ways, maybe more — from the terrible bosses and people I have encountered on the job. As much as I hated the experiences I had with these people, the longer perspective of time allows me to focus on what I took away from them — which is mostly how NOT to treat people and how NOT to interact with others in the workplace.

    IT’s similar to digging into case studies in business school. Yes, you learn a lot from Herb Kelleher and all the good things he did at Southwest Airlines, but I think I got more out of studying the failures of managers like “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap at Sunbeam, or Bob Nardelli at Home Depot.

    From their terrible example comes great insight and wisdom into what we should never, ever do while working with or managing other people, and these lessons have been seared on my brain just as much as the positive ones from my my mentors through the years.

    Yes, mentors are wonderful, but great vision and wisdom can come from all sorts of places — even from those who showed how ego and self-centered behavior can disrupt everything and everyone around them.

  3. I, too, am grateful for all of the informal mentoring I received over the course of my career.

    I think it’s important to also recognize that sometimes we don’t need a mentor: we need a sponsor. We need someone who won’t just coach us and counsel us one-on-one on how we can be more effective; we need someone who will advocate for us when we’re not in the room and our potential is being discussed by others. We benefit from a sponsor who is willing to risk part of their reputation when they say “I think he/she can do this!”, which leads to an opportunity being given.

  4. Thanks for bringing up this topic, Andy! It made me stop and reflect on my own good fortune to have known and learned from many amazing people!

    One person I do want to mention is my husband, who, in 40+ years of running his own business(es), has touched many, many people to the point where when we are out and about in New York City (and even in other parts of the country!) we are often stopped by people who spot him and stop to shake his hand and thank him for something he’s done, usually long ago, to help them or guide them when they needed assistance. I truly admire him for his selflessness in helping others, and his example has really taught me to do the same.

    And, as John mentioned in his comment, I have also learned a lot of what NOT to do and what is not effective from some of the managers and others I have worked with in my career 🙂

    There are some other great examples I can mention of how to work together for a common cause: Doctors Without Borders, The Red Cross and Red Crescent, The Bill & Melissa Gates Foundation are just a few that come to mind immediately.

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