Value and Importance of Mentoring- Paying it Forward

Joanne Sullivan, Keynote Speech

Emerge Tampa Bay Protege Graduation – December 3, 2013

Leadership Programs resized

Very likely you have had the experience of being mentored – as have I. In fact, paying it forward is what brings me here tonight. I am honored and delighted to be asked to join you this evening to share my thoughts. 

You are all familiar I know with who Deanne Roberts was – and some of you, like me, were fortunate enough to count her among those you could go to for advice – and in my case, often a long chat over a good glass of wine.  I frequently refer to my experiences with Deanne by remembering what I always thought when I heard her voice on the telephone, “I sure hope I am going to want to do this;” because there was no denying Deanne.

Emerge came to be through her vision, and that of others, who understood that recruiting and retaining our best and brightest – that would be all of you – is critical to the future success of our community.  It is clear to me mentoring is an important component of the Emerge experience.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor characterizes a mentor aka role model this way:

“A role model in the flesh provides more than inspiration; his or her very existence is confirmation of possibilities one may have every reason to doubt, saying, ‘Yes, someone like me can do this.”

When is the first time someone saw you through different eyes and you became aware you were capable of doing more than you ever thought you could?

For me it was during my experience as a member of the Leadership Tampa Class of 1991.  We all say our class was the “best class ever,” but mine really was.  At the time I was the Assistant Director of Development at Berkeley Preparatory School and thought I was a minor player among the other big shots in my class: partners in their own law firms, a minority owner of several McDonald’s franchises, president of a major local company – you get the picture.

One day one of them called me out on my humble opinion of myself – told me I was every bit the equal of anyone in that class – that I was a leader and everyone else knew it , so why didn’t I.  To be honest I remember feeling like the Grinch did at the end of the Dr. Seuss story; my heart grew five times as large as it had been and I was absolutely inspired by my classmate’s estimation of my worth.  In fact, it changed the way I looked at myself and who I believed I was and more importantly, who I believed I could be.

Bob Proctor, an author, speaker and success coach, said it this way, “A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.”

Powerful.  Life changing.  Inspirational.

During what has been a wonderful career working with nonprofit organizations in Tampa I had the opportunity to mentor and be mentored.  Both are exciting and meaningful roles to play in someone’s life.

Holly Duncan, soon to retire as the President of the Morton Plant Mease Hospital Foundation, has been and continues to be an endless source of professional and personal encouragement and support to me.  From the time I first interviewed at Berkeley Preparatory School to taking the position at The University of Tampa, Holly was always on my speed dial.  She is someone I trust and admire and she has great common sense.  And best of all, she has always been in my corner cheering me on!  She is the perfect embodiment of John Crosby’s definition of mentoring: a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.

Another mentor was a former boss, the retired headmaster at Berkeley Preparatory School, Joe Merluzzi.  Joe is a no-nonsense guy who does not suffer fools gladly.  He’s a hard driver, type-A personality and sets very high standards for himself and everyone around him.  He taught me the value of listening and keeping my mouth shut, and gave me the confidence to step into roles I never envisioned for myself.  While I was Assistant Director of Development at Berkeley the school did a national search for a capital campaign director.  I was the official hostess for the candidates when they came to Tampa and showed them our city and told them about the school.  Imagine my surprise when during a meeting with Joe he told me they had found their new capital campaign director and it was me!

The six essential leadership attributes, as outlined by John De Frances, are: set high standards, live your standards and mentor those who follow, create and share a vision, make the hard choices necessary, be visible and out front and instill hope in those who follow.

Oprah Winfrey said, “A mentor is someone who allows you to see the hope inside yourself.”  The concept of seeing hope inside yourself is wonderful and challenging.  This year you worked with mentors who led you on a journey of discovery, perhaps made you step outside your comfort zone, taught you something about yourself you did not know.  The really best mentors become the catalysts for change; a change that can be life altering if you allow it to be.  A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.

Along the way I have had the experience of mentoring others; people who have paid me the enormous compliment of thinking I had some measure of wisdom or experience or a combination of the two that might be helpful to them.  I always hope that I provide at least a portion of what they were hoping to find when they came to meet with me.

Here is what I tell them, and tonight I share it with you:

  • Have great joy in what you are doing – you can’t fake passion
  • Success is always coupled with perseverance – the harder I work, the luckier I get
  • Learn to communicate — speak and write well with style and flair
  • Be high touch, low tech – nothing will ever replace the experience of a personal meeting
  • Be clear about what you want
  • Have decisive resolve
  • Have a presence
  • READ
  • Surround yourself with smart, funny people

Establish a group of mentors to whom you can turn to bounce an idea around or check in about a possible career move.  Remember that even a mentor relationship is two-way and you should bring something to it.  Send your mentor an article occasionally on an area of his or her interest along with your personal comments.  You will nourish the relationship, and your perspective as a person will be valuable.

Someday when some bright young person comes to you for guidance you will remember those who gave you the benefit of their experience, and you will pay it forward!

In closing I want to leave you with one of my favorite quotes from A. A. Milne, the author of Winnie the Pooh:

‘Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.’

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About Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce

The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce is a not-for-profit business membership organization that helps promote the businesses and business interests of our members. We come from diverse backgrounds: from small businesses, big corporations, government bodies and the military. United, we become a single, unifying force with the power to shape the future of Tampa Bay.

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