Leadership: How a Mentor Changed the Course of my Career
What if we all became a mentor?
Before embarking on the journey of entrepreneurship, I spent 10 years in Corporate America, rung by rung climbing the corporate ladder within a well-established sales organization. Early on in my career, I learned that sales could be a very cutthroat operation, where most people just eat what they kill, look out for their quotas and no one else. I had even been a part of “teams” where sharing your ideas or keys to success with someone else may give them a competitive edge against you, leaving you to keep your cards close to the vest.
Because of this mentality, I spent the first few years of my professional career feeling isolated and discouraged. I lacked direction and support. It was 2009 and the recession was in full force and I was a lowly sales rep with nothing more than a few pennies to my name. I needed guidance, but was surrounded by people who lacked sincerity and the willingness to give me the leadership that would help me find success.
I decided to reach out to Zac, our company’s top sales rep out of our Charleston, SC office—the number one guy out of more than 1000 reps nationally. He’d landed several key contracts that had earned the company a lot of money during the heart of the recession. Conversely, I was at my lowest point of my career, as most were during that time. Things were bad. I was trying hard but didn’t know what I should be doing to become successful. Out of desperation, I muscled up the courage to contact him in a selfish effort to pick his brain and gain any knowledge I could obtain, leaving him a message, but not expecting a return call. At the time, I considered this, among other things, as a last ditch effort to revive a struggling sales career.
Shockingly, Zac called me back within 10 minutes and we spoke for nearly an hour about his success, his tactics, and his story. I couldn’t believe he’d take that amount of time with me. It was through our conversation that I realized, that this highly successful, nationally recognized sales rep had been just like me not more than 3 years prior: new to his career and at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder. His experiences gave me comfort in my current situation and hope that I could one day become successful.
From that point forward, Zac took me under his wing. We spoke frequently on topics such as sales tactics, work ethic, client examples, etc. him often checking in to see how I was doing with my quota or for a quick pep talk. We eventually identified the largest account in my territory, devising a game plan for how to win the business. Over the course of the next several months, I met dozens of individuals at this particular company through cold calls, coffees, meetings, lunches and happy hours – all under Zac’s coaching and direction. In September of ’09, I finally set up a presentation with the President of the company—my efforts finally led me to the place where they would hear me out. They would be all in a room for one hour, listening to my pitch and deciding my future. At 25 years old, I was in over my head. I called Zac with nervousness and excitement about the presentation – he could sense that I would need some support to take this across the finish line. Without hesitation, he booked a flight to Chicago and agreed to accompany me on this meeting.
I’ll fast forward a little bit here – we ended up knocking the meeting out of the park and winning the account, mostly due to Zac’s mentorship along the way and excellent skills during the presentation. It was a major win when I needed it most and I got to see how sales was supposed to be done. Zac would, on several occasions thereafter, accompany me on meetings or to listen in on client conference calls – sometimes to offer insight, other times to offer quiet support. Over the next three years, this account would slowly become the largest single site account in my company’s 30-year history. This experience gave me the knowledge, skills, and confidence to land several more deals of significant size over the next few years. The knowledge, skills, and experience I obtained during this period fast tracked my sales career to unimaginable heights I would have never dreamed of. By 2012, Zac was promoted into Leadership and I took Zac’s place as our top national rep.
This relationship honestly changed the direction of my professional life. Looking back, I still wonder why this guy would offer so much of his time over those critical months for someone like me. As the top Sales rep, he sacrificed significant time and energy that could’ve continued his own success to go out of his way for someone he barely knew in order for me to become successful. Contrary to other teams I had been part of, Zac did it all without receiving any credit, monetarily or otherwise for his efforts.
Over the years, I started taking Zac’s approach with others, making sure to go out of my way to teach, coach, and mentor those who were in a similar boat to me early on in my career. For me that meant scheduling calls with mentees, stopping by someone’s desk or office on the way to the water cooler to check in, offering to go on sales calls with people, grabbing a beer after work with someone that needed a little direction, or inviting a junior employee over to the house so they knew someone was in their corner.
Although Zac’s efforts in teaching me sales skills affected me greatly in terms of my performance, commissions, and bonuses – sales tactics were not the key skill that I took away most from this experience – Leadership & Mentorship was. I got a firsthand experience on how one individual could have a major impact on someone’s career and ultimately their life. If Zac could make this big of an impact on me by only spending a very small percentage of his time with me, what effect could I have on others? This ‘pay it forward’ mentality ended up becoming instilled in my weekly business repertoire and shapes many of the relationships I have to this day. Over the years, I continued to move up into progressive leadership roles within the company, as did Zac. Not because of my sales skills, but my new found ability to coach, mentor, and inspire others. Your ability to make others successful will shape your own success. In fact, mentorship is the true definition of leadership.
So let me ask you now: when was the last time you went out of your way for someone else?
Tim Schumm is a Managing Partner at Carver Peterson Consulting, a Chicago-based Management Consulting firm focused on creating high growth, scalable, sales organizations and a ‘winning’ corporate culture for the startup and small/mid-sized business community. He is also Founder of ChicagoWorkplace, a Chicago centric content media platform focused on creating and building professional development content on a mobile platform that will be launching in 2017.
Kevin Bugielski is the Marketing Manager for Victory Lap, a purpose-driven startup changing the sales game. Avid Snapchatter, SoulCycle lover, newfound runner, but ultimately, a foodie.