In a previous article, Jenson’s Song, I described my background with The Bonney Lake Food Bank and some of the trials that we faced as an organization just a few short years ago. These were very trying times for me both personally and professionally, and I credit my luck in being paired with some very strong mentors as a key reason why I was able to adapt and make it to the other side of those darker days.
In this article, I would like to explain my thoughts on mentoring a bit more, and why I think it a very important area of focus for anyone trying to grapple with The Pace of Change that is upon all of us.
In my professional life I work for a Pacific Northwest-based technology firm. The company was founded in Fairbanks, Alaska of all places and has been in continuous operations since 1989. The background of the company is very much traditional VAR (Value Added Reseller), meaning we resell technology assets (think hardware and software) to a variety of client types across Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, and numerous other states.
Interestingly enough, many of the clients we see from those states outside our primary service come from relationships made in Alaska, where they moved to the state and after one winter decided to go back home. For all the reality TV show experiences you can find about Alaska, none of them really prepare you for how cold and dark those winters can be … but now I digress.
The reason I bring up my professional career is because, like many others, that is where one of the most important mentors of my life emerged. My company started a journey a few years back that looked to assess the current state of the business and build a plan for how we might evolve to stay competitive in a world today where the fast eats the slow. This individual came in and helped open my eyes to new and interesting possibilities for how organizations should be run and what foundational elements needed to be correctly implemented.
Working with this individual made me realize a whole new set of possibilities for me as a senior manager, and I quickly realized that I would need to find some places I could hone some of these skills around organizational change management to grow as a leader.
This epiphany came to me right around the same time I started taking my son to drum lessons. A fated walk across the parking lot during one of those lessons while waiting for him to finish landed me with an opportunity to practice like I would have never imagined with The Bonney Lake Food Bank.
Since starting with this organization I have found many places where my skills and experience on the corporate side of things have helped, but, interestingly enough, I have also found myself growing as a leader in my professional career thanks to the lessons learned along this road with The Bonney Lake Food Bank.
If I had to pick the most important of the lessons this mentor taught me it would be how critical it is to define and be deliberate in how you form organizational culture, and then ensure that everyone (top down) follows it. The reality is that the majority of organizations allow the culture to organically grow or be hijacked by the loudest voices and are not intentional in how culture is formed or managed over time.
Part of this culture we defined early on with my company was the concept of Learn, Teach, Serve. For us, it involves these four key areas:
Learn everything you can
Teach others about what you learned
Serve others in their path of learning
Failure is learning … BLAME IS NOT!
Culture was a key area that we identified early on that needed focus with The Bonney Lake Food Bank and is still something we work each and every day to uphold from the top down. It is much easier said than done (especially as an organization grows) and requires constant attention and care to be stewarded over time.
Without the lessons learned from this mentor I would not have been able to have the impact with the Bonney Lake Food Bank that I have, and it’s one example of mentoring in action making an impact.
The Beating Heart ❤️
The second example of mentors I would like to highlight comes from within our organization, our VP Teri Hochstein.
The first time I met with Teri was at a Starbucks here in Bonney Lake. She is quiet, humble and very unassuming upon first introduction but very quickly I learned that still waters run deep and there is no one else I would rather be in a foxhole (figuratively speaking) with.
In that first meeting I can remember looking across the table at her wondering how we were going to be able to dig ourselves out of the hole the organization had found itself in. Well, we did and I can tell you that is due in no small part to Teri. To this day I commonly refer to her as the beating heart of our organization as that is the best way I can describe her contribution.
Teri was there every step of the way as we hit those bumps and I can't really imagine a scenario where this organization would have made it without her. I can also tell you there is no way I would have been able to do the job I have done here without her guidance and support.
In terms of mentoring, where do I even start? As I have mentioned before I came into the fold knowing little to nothing about non profits other than I wanted to save ours from shutting its doors. I think Mark Twain probably best described my “approach” coming into this organization with his famous quote:
Luckily for us Teri was coming from a place of much more experience, both in her background in philanthropy and having a doctorate of management in organizational leadership. I dove in head first and learned everything from policy/procedure standards to non profit governance and methods for community engagement from her. I continue to learn new things from her pretty much weekly (or maybe daily?)
Teri is a true example of service leadership and someone I am very proud to say is on this team and using her gifts to drive the mission forward each and every day.
The Road Ahead 🛣️
The final example of mentors I would like to mention is new to our organization.
This individual has a long background working with nonprofits in both a leadership and consulting capacity, and is highly skilled in helping organizations like ours transform. We have had a few meetings thus far and it's apparent his impact will be significant in the history of our organization as we work to take his recommendations and turn them into practice.
His guidance and consultation is already proving incredibly valuable and I have learned so much already just from the brief time we have spent together. During this phase in our organization, we are looking to build sustainability in a variety of ways and I am certain his experience and guidance will take us far towards this objective.
Again, another example of an individual with talents and gifts that was willing to personally invest in me and this community and I could not be more grateful for his partnership and guidance.
Looking Forward ⏩
We often joke that the universe has a funny way of bringing incredible people into the frame of our organization, but that joke seems to play itself out as reality more than I could ever imagine.
The mentors I mention here are proof positive of that, but only a few of the many examples that have personally impacted me and, by proxy, the trajectory of our organization. I feel so grateful each and everyday to have the opportunity to work alongside such incredible people and learn as much as I have along the way.
One more tip I can provide on the topic of mentors is to check out one of my all time favorite books, it is titled "The Hard Thing About Hard Things" and is written by Ben Horowitz (the Horowitz in the VC firm a16z or otherwise known as Andreesen-Horowitz). This book shows how to approach all kinds of difficult situations as a leader, and I can think of more than a few examples that we encountered as we tried to rebuild both trust and perception in the community. I mention it here as a good reference for anyone that is facing challenges in leadership as it was the best preparation I had received for some of the unique situations I would face prior to coming on board in my role.
I would invite anyone that may want to grow in their path of learning or share their gifts with others to reach out and have a conversation about joining us at The Table. We have an exciting road ahead and will need the support of more servant leaders like I have showcased here.