I was deep into working on my next leadership book last week when I received a phone call. I was prepared to ignore it or send it to voicemail since I figured it was another car warranty extension or student loan reduction call when I saw my mentor, Jerry O. Williams’s face on my phone. Several years ago, I started adding pictures to my contacts so I don’t even have to read the name of the caller, but I can see their face, even from across the room.
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I quickly answered the call to hear Jerry’s familiar voice on the other end. He just happened to be going through the contacts on his phone and came across my name. He called just to see what I was up to.
I’ve known Jerry since the late 1980s. He was speaking at a meeting of a professional association I was a member of. At the time, he was the Chief Operating Officer of AM International, a Fortune 500 company. I was 2 years out of graduate school and talked with him after his presentation about my education and experience. He gave me his card and told me to give him a call for lunch sometime. We met for lunch a couple of weeks later and he’s been my mentor ever since. We’d meet for lunch a few times a year and discuss what I was working on. He would offer me advice over lunch, or I’d call him to catch up.
I lost contact with him a few years after he retired, but when I was writing my first book on leadership in 2017, I was able to reach him through a mutual contact. We met for lunch at a restaurant near his home. After catching up on our lives, I recorded my interview with him. The lessons he taught me over the years and his insights on leadership became the foundation for the ‘Tales from the Leadership Front’ story in the Mentoring chapter of my book, Prescribing Leadership in Healthcare.
The book I’m currently working on is also on leadership. It includes an even more refined vision of my approach to leadership development, which has been taught to healthcare leaders, military officers and business executives. I am mining my interview with Jerry to add new insights to his story for the book.
Mentoring is a key component to leadership growth. It is that external voice that helps keep you on track throughout your career and provides that insight we all need to be better leaders. I always advise young leaders and aspiring leaders to find a mentor early in their career as they will help you navigate your career through their insights. Additionally, as you progress in your career, it becomes harder to find someone more experienced to provide the needed perspective to grow. The most productive mentor relationships are formed early on in one’s career. When I interviewed Jerry for my book, he told me about the mentor he had in his life and the impact he had on his professional career.
Go forth and find your mentor! If you are a senior executive, go find someone to mentor!
Please share your favorite mentoring and mentorship stories in the comments below.