During a project completion celebration gathering at Wilmington Savings Fund Society (WSFS), I had the opportunity to chat with the CEO, Marvin “Skip” Schoenhals. Up until that point, all of our conversations had been pretty transactional, dealing with in-the-moment HR issues and planning. However, that celebration gathering gave us some time to just chit chat a bit. Among a number of things we discussed during the conversation, he asked “what inspires you to work so hard?” I didn’t know how to answer the question initially as it caught me off guard. But I recalled, at one point that Skip mentioned to me that he was surprised that someone as young as I was had such an important role in our company (I was in my early twenties at the time).
My response was simple, “Skip, I don’t see many people from my neighborhood make it big. I want to be able to go back to the neighborhood one day, driving a Lexus and not only show what I had attained, but how they could do it as well.” My point was that I wanted to prove that inner-city youth, in particular, African-American males, were not limited to the stereotypes of success that we are often associated with. In other words, I don’t have to be an athlete, rapper or drug dealer to have a nice home, car, or lifestyle, etc.
That conversation sparked a relationship between Skip and me, and from there he became a mentor. He made himself available to me, coaching me through a number of key things I was trying to accomplish. I had a business idea that I wanted to bring to fruition. Skip participated as I worked through the process of doing a business plan through a program sponsored by the Philadelphia SBA office, reviewing the plan with me on several occasions and even assisting me in meeting with some venture capitalists, in order to get an objective view. All of this provided me with invaluable insight very early in my career.
Prior to this experience, the roles I had operated in were in financial analysis, payroll or operations. I had never written a business case study, a S.W.O.T analysis or a five-year projection. However I did get coaching from the SBA in Philadelphia and Skip’s practical business experience, including how investors would view my proposal, was great. It helped me shape the story, better understand the risks and opportunities and ultimately provided me with a broader base of business thinking.
This is just one of many stories I could share in terms of learning from others, but here are some key points I try to keep in front of me:
Value of people: Each and every person I come in contact with, whether I choose to engage with them or not, have a vault of experiences and knowledge. It is up to me to connect and have a knowledge exchange or not.
Diverse content: We often want to learn “what to do” or “how to do it,” but equally important are the lessons learned from failure. Here, look at what you learned from the failure. Why is the poor leader we see at our workplace not getting folks to follow?
Adoption of learning methods: Formal education and the praise and recognition that follow are wonderful. However, practical “knowledge or wisdom exchanges,” reading and getting mentored can also pay huge dividends. Ask the leaders you admire lots of questions. What do they read? How do they prepare for and start their day? How do they end their day? What practices do they follow to stay on task?
James Rosseau is the author of Success on Your Own Terms: 6 Promises to Fire Up Your Passion, Ignite Your Career, and Create an Amazing Life (CLICK HERE to get your copy) (Career Press, 2014). Rosseau is president of LegalShield Solutions, as well as co-owner of Christian Media Properties (www.HolyCulture.net).
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