What is a mentor? In the business world, it is typically someone who takes the time to help others learn their craft, further their career, find their way. Sometimes, that mentorship can turn into friendship, when built upon mutual respect. But to work for the long haul, it must go both ways.
In 1991, I attempted to leave radio behind and enter the world of public relations. There was, you’ll recall, a recession in full force at that time. Having moved to Detroit only a few years previously, I was armed not with industry connections but, in a pre-Internet world, an encyclopedic Adcraft Roster book. As I cold-called area PR firms to inquire as to possible employment opportunities I consistently heard what was to become an all-too familiar refrain: “There are qualified PR professionals out there who are out of work. Why would we want to talk to you?” And so I persevered – and sought out mentors – in a sea of doubters.
One was Al Sebastian, then Director of Public Affairs and PR at Little Caesars, today Director of Communications & Philanthropy at The Guidance Center. When no one would take my call, he took the time to listen and advise, helping set the groundwork for relationship building in the field. It meant the world to me then and still does today. I told him so again this week. In 1993, still in radio, I met another generous soul – Barb Palazzolo, then a top executive with Brogan & Partners. She actually met me for breakfast and provided additional guidance. The following year, she was instrumental in helping me finally break into PR.
That was 20 years ago this year. The selflessness of those two individuals helped set the tone for how I would operate in years to come as I continue to take the time to speak, connect, mentor both new professionals and those more seasoned. It is important. It is the right thing to do. Yet, at times, I question whether I care too much.
In recent days, an individual whom I worked to mentor and advise for some time – someone who was a decade out of college and trying to find their way – took, I felt, advantage of my efforts and goodwill. Communication, responsiveness, appreciation for my time – all were not reciprocated. This despite a friendship, a kinship based on a mutual love of music. In turn, I felt disbelief, confusion, even hurt. You take the time to try to be there for someone and that person should be grateful or at least respectful, right?
In the end and at the core it all comes down to treating people the right way. It is something I demand – of myself and others. Recession or no recession. Boss or employee. Mentor or mentee. Because life is a long two-way street. And the golden rule is always the road best traveled.