Coaching and Mentorship
When I applied for the job, I had no idea I would be standing face-to-face with the man who would ultimately turn my life around by providing me with the mentorship I so desperately needed. I was surprised I even got the job. I was young, cocky, and extremely inexperienced.
I got the call, though, and set the appointment. I walked into the dealership, asked the receptionist where I needed to go, and finally sat down on a chair for almost two hours, waiting for someone to come talk to me. I was beginning to think that someone had changed their mind. I was about to get up and leave when this short man with a gold ring on his pinky walked out of the office and asked, “Are you, David?”. He extended his hand to shake mine.
I nodded, and he threw his arm to the side as though to welcome me into his office. I walked through the door and saw all kinds of awards, pictures, and certificates. One shot caught my eye, though: a picture of what looked to be Cheech Marin on his worst day. Of course, I didn’t say anything about it. I just looked. In retrospect, probably a lot more than I should have. It just intrigued me. Out of all the lovely family photos hanging in his office, why this picture of a bum?
After a brief interview, (Craig as it turned out to be) told me I would start the next day. Of course, most would not consider a car salesman job as a life-altering event, but it sure was for me. About two days into the job, I was told I would start some intensive training. I wouldn’t call it intensive, but it was decent. I learned how to interact with people and how to persuade them. In the end, it was sales. However, the idea was not to sell the car, instead; it was to sell ourselves.
The question that kept coming up was, “how can you sell yourself?” We were told we had to find something in ourselves worth selling. This wasn’t easy because I didn’t feel I had much to offer. Over time, this changed, thanks to Craig.
It didn’t take long before I noticed that Craig constantly asked me for things. He wanted me to pick up this car or drop that car off somewhere else. The tasks got bigger, and the achievements were recognized. When I did something even remotely decent, you would have thought I saved the planet. It was always a big deal that I had done a good job.
Then my rewards became tangible. Sometimes it was money, but more often than not, it was clothes—nice shirts, ties, pants, etc. I wasn’t sure how to take it until he introduced me to his wife. This was hands down the nicest person I had ever met. Terry soon became a second mother to me.
Craig and Terry were always there for me. Eventually, I was invited over for dinner, and not long after that, I was called “Uncle David” by their children. One day, I asked Craig why they were so nice to me and why he seemed to have picked me out of the group.
His answer was confusing. He told me that I reminded him of himself at my age. I didn’t understand that one bit. I was twice his size, and I was a mess. I had no direction in life, nothing tangible to call my own, and my longest relationship was MAYBE two years. And here is a guy with a great wife, a lot of money, a great house, a great family, and absolutely happy with everything he had. He was well respected, and everyone liked him. This was nothing like me. I asked him how in the world he could say such a thing. He answered that he would show me the following day.
Sure enough, Craig called me into the office the following day and told me to have a seat. He told me that my transition since I had walked into his office the first time was like watching a caterpillar turn into a butterfly. Once again, I wasn’t sure how to take that, so I smiled.
He reaffirmed his seriousness to me as he reached across the table to grab the picture I was intrigued with on day one. I figured I would get some cool story about how he and Cheech were buddies back in the day or something.
He held up the picture and asked me what I saw. I smiled and said, “A stoner!”. He laughed and said, “yeah… I suppose you’re right“. He said that he grew up in Hawaii and that he never really had direction growing up. He spent most of his time getting high and waiting on death.
One day, while he was stoned, he got in trouble. He went to court, and the judge sentenced him to service in the military. Only, he didn’t know it. He was so high that he woke up at a processing center, unknowingly having joined the army. Things were pretty bad.
Flash forward; he got kicked out of the military for drug use. He was in California and got high enough that one day he found himself in the Midwest, not knowing how he got there. Something was wrong this time. His health was deteriorating fast. He ended up in the hospital and met a nurse who, for some reason, really enjoyed his company. It turned out this nurse was Terry – his wife. That guy in the picture was him.
He told me that we could do anything with the right motivation and achieve anything we wanted. The biggest part of taking the lead in our lives is simply committing to the task. He told me that love and support are critical but that, ultimately, we must decide. Then he hit me with something that changed my life forever. The reason my rewards were such a big deal was that he was building my confidence by way of little victories. He was improving my confidence by making what I saw in the mirror more appealing, like clothes, etc. The whole thing was some kind of master plan.
He saw in me a lost boy in need of support and love. His wife did too. This was over twenty years ago, and I remain friends with their family to this very day.
Why was that important to me? It was important because he changed my life. He showed me that I didn’t have to be a victim of circumstance and that one can rise above what life has handed and fight through adversity. He taught me that death would find us no matter what, but under what terms we present ourselves is up to us. Today, I am a confident, educated, well-rounded person who understands and appreciates a good friend and loving partner. I hold my kids tight because of this man.
Ultimately, I learned that coaching and mentoring come in odd forms but that life helps provide the best lessons. Mentorship became a big part of who and what I am. I have since mentored many people in my life. In fact, (and thankfully) it is a job requirement. Growing up, I was ashamed of what life had dealt me. Today, I own it, embrace it, and share it with others so they will not feel alone. I mentor in much the same way as Craig did with me. I reward and make a big deal out of the small things. After all… it’s the little things that count… so why not count the little things?
So why am I sharing this? In leadership, mentoring and coaching are essential. Mentorship is more than just coaching someone, though. Every great leader in history has had a mentor at some point, from Alexander the Great to guys like Bill Gates. I would encourage you to find a mentor if you don’t already have one and to begin mentoring or coaching others who need it. It will change your life… and maybe the life of the one you mentor.
Check out these cool mentoring tips from CalTech.
Be sure to read my article titled, “Sometimes Leadership is About Compassion.”