“Send the elevator back down.”
Those words were spoken by House of Cards star Kevin Spacey in an interview on the Studio 360 radio show Saturday. He was quoting the late Oscar-winning actor Jack Lemmon, who served as a mentor to Spacey, who played his son in the film Dad. Spacey said that Lemmon was very concerned with helping the next generation of actors.
This morning I heard a similar sentiment from Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells in an interview on ESPN radio. He recently advised Steve Kerr, a current NBA announcer in line to become the next coach of the New York Knicks. Parcells said that he was helped as a young coach by luminaries of the day like Tom Landry and is proud to pass that on.
One always-pleasing picture at a conference such as SIPA 2014—exactly a month from today!—is the conversation between an experienced publisher or marketer and an up-and-coming person in that field. That’s one reason why it’s so important to send people of all levels to the conference. It’s a chance for them to establish relationships with peers and professionals from other companies. (And perhaps attend a great Marketing Boot Camp!)
But the idea of mentoring relationships has been flipped a bit in our industry. So much of what we do relies on technology—and to a growing extent, social media—and it’s younger people who have lived that world. When I think of young people in this business I’ve gotten to know—a Rachel Yeomans, Jenny Fukumoto or Nancy Brand—I do offer advice, but easily get that back in information on Twitter, mobile and SalesForce.
I came across a good article Friday on the CNN Money site titled “5 Mentor Mistakes to Avoid” written by award-winning journalist Katherine Reynolds Lewis. She comes at it from the viewpoint of a person-seeking-a-mentor, but there’s good advice for both sides.
Her #1 mistake to avoid is having a mentor just like you; that’s a good concept in general for meeting people at a conference. Seek out colleagues in different areas. Of course, you’ll talk to your friends, but tell yourself you need to return with 5 new connections.
#2 is avoid asking for general help. If you approach a speaker after a session, come with a definite question or purpose in mind. Reynolds Lewis also wants you to share outcomes, so you can ask that speaker, “If I try this, can I check back with you to get your feedback?”
#3 is avoid wasting time. “The time is the biggest issue and the commitment. It is a big commitment,” says Roz Alford, principal of ASAP, an IT solutions company. “There has to be accountability on both sides.”
#4 is what I mentioned above: Avoid thinking it’s a one-way relationship. Jack Lemmon got a deep sense of pride from seeing Kevin Spacey succeed and similarly, Season Crawford of MMI, in a recent Member Profile, credited the people she first worked with for the entrepreneurial nature they instilled in her. But today, good business relationships are a traffic-heavy, two-way street, no matter the ages. Get to know a Joe May from Pro Farmer (presenting a session on mobile), Brand from Chartwell (onboarding and retention) or the young and entrepreneurial Andy Swindler, president of Astek (optimizing your CMS).
The #5 mistake is forcing the relationship. Talk, exchange cards, then emails, maybe run into that person again. And perhaps you’re in a modern-day mentoring relationship before you even realize it.
Send the elevator back down? Probably meet on the third floor in appliances and computers might be the better line for today—though it’s not nearly as lyrical.
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering diversity, Newspaper in Education, marketing and leadership before joining SIPA in 2009 .