Find a Mentor Who Will Challenge You

Find a Mentor Who Will Challenge You

When I was hired into Service Express we were a very young company with a fraction of the employees and resources that we have now.

We hadn’t formalized The SEI Way (Vision talks and SR5) and a mentorship program wasn’t in the works.  As with most new businesses, we were stretching every resource that we had, including people, and it often meant long hours and short tempers.

I was hired by Mike McCullough, SEIs former owner, who was also the President at the time.  Mike’s a great business man and he challenged me to grow in ways that I wouldn’t fully appreciate until years after.

We met regularly and before each meeting I would often get nervous.  Mike is brilliant at digging past the non-essentials and getting to the facts in a practical, no-nonsense way.  He knows how to ask the right questions and won’t accept answers that aren’t well thought out.  If I didn’t know my business, he challenged me on it.  There were times when I walked out of his office feeling like very frustrated and unsure about what I was doing.

I found myself spending more time anticipating the questions and looking at things from every possible angle just like he would.  What wasn’t I seeing?

I didn’t realize it at the time, but Mike’s influence was causing me to grow in ways that I could not if I were in a less challenging mentoring relationship.  Although still a work in progress, I wouldn’t be the leader I am today if it weren’t for a few intense years of “boot camp” under Mike.

In the early days we got into heated debates.  When I was focusing on the wrong things or when I slipped up, he called me on it.  He didn’t spend a whole lot of time considering how to protect me emotionally from criticism.  He was tough, but he was always fair.  I knew he wanted the best out of me.

He didn’t have a tolerance for someone who agreed with him all the time, he wanted me to think for myself and push back when I disagreed.  It made for some lively conversations!

I remember going home after one particularly heated argument and telling me wife about it.  She asked “Ron, did you get fired?”  I replied, “No, I think I just got promoted…”

Mike was crystal clear in communicating his expectations, he allowed me room to fail but he was going to be sure that I learned the lessons that I needed to learn from that failure.  He didn’t want to hold my hand, he wanted me to learn how to figure things out on my own.  Sometimes it felt like he was throwing me into the deep end of the pool before I had learned to swim.  But looking back, I trust my decisions more as a result.

Believe me, it wasn’t always easy, it was just better.

At Service Express we try to be intentional about aligning up-and-coming leaders with seasoned leaders who will challenge them to be better.  That means regular Vision talks and performance measurement sessions.  It also means quarterly leadership meetings for others.

How has a mentor, either formal or informal, changed your life?