5 Unforgettable Things I Learned from My Mentors in 2016

The term mentor has always been weird to me. It doesn’t really encapsulate the whole relationship. I view my mentors as advisors, educators, confidants, amigos, etc. Also, the whole idea of asking someone to be your mentor seems very robotic to me. That being said, I have found mentors who I rely on to give me professional and personal advice on everything from career changes to shoes.

Building relationships and learning from experts are some of the many joys in life. I interact with some very talented and insightful leaders daily, and fortunately for me, these leaders lend their wisdom to ambitious young professionals like me. And, since 2016 is coming to a close (thank God), I wanted to capture their wisdom from the past year to share with you fine people.

1. To lead effectively, you need to have IQ and EQ.

Often times we associate success with intelligence, and while that is all together true, successful brainiacs don’t always translate effectively into inspirational leaders. In being a leader, you must be a smart cookie, obvi… but you also need to have outstanding EQ—#EmotionalQuotient. (Let’s get it trending.) The ability to read the room and emotionally react to various personalities is an invaluable leadership skill and is often understated. EQ is a learned skill that comes from experiences that test your internal emotional bandwidth. The more emotionally stable and sophisticated you are within, the better your ability to read others and situations.

I’ve continued making a conscious effort to improve my EQ, and although I have a long way to go, there doesn’t appear to be any special trick. The more conscious you are of your own emotions, the more evolved you will become at understanding others.

2. Good work comes from skill. Great work comes from empathy.

You see creative ideas coming out of agencies around the world, hitting on their strategic insights and executing on deliverables. Some agencies create ads to be just creative, and that’s ok. However, to really hit on the emotions and drive behavior change, you need to operate from a place of empathy. In the health and wellness space, we see the change in behavior as this large mountain that we climb, and if somehow we make it to the top, everything will be ok. That view of behavior change can’t work because it’s shallow, and it doesn’t create the practical environment for real, genuine change. Empathizing with your demographic allows you to truly tap into their behavior and uncover how the change can happen naturally. When you look at the #PuttingFeetFirst campaign that Langland did, you can see what I mean. You see the insight at work, but more importantly, the pop-up lets you walk in the shoes of someone with diabetes, literally. Ads like this will create the behavior change that will encourage better foot care among diabetics.

3. Being an entrepreneur is so much more than starting a company.

In a large company like mine, it’s easy for things to become too processed and too stagnant. Like grandma’s curtains before she decides to renovate the living room. A lot of times, industry titans are scared to innovate and change for fear of failure. Or, like my grandma, they’re too comfortable with their curtains. Entrepreneurs and startups have an advantage over big companies in that they don’t wait for solutions to problems, they create them. The founder of Publicis Groupe Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet once said, “An entrepreneur is someone who leaves the shortest time possible between an idea and its execution.” The lesson here: you don’t need to start your own company to be an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurialism is a spirit that anyone can embody, and large companies should encourage employees to create change. Don’t be afraid to fail, no matter who you work for.

4. Sometimes work sucks, but optimism makes all the difference.

We all get to the point in the week or month where we aren’t looking forward to working on a project. Maybe you show up on Monday after a long vacation, and you’re dreading opening your inbox. I get it. Been there. A couple months ago, I had a moment when I wasn’t having a great week for whatever reason. One of my mentors told me that even if you’re having a shitty week, having an optimistic outlook makes all the difference. Sure, it’s fine to have a bad day… but being grateful and having a positive attitude makes the day suck less. This is one of the soft skills that shows interpersonal growth, and it’s something I practice every day.

5. Always grow your personal brand.

Last but not least, always grow your personal brand. This advice came pretty late in the year, but it’s going to be guidance that I carry with me for years. You are the most valuable asset you have. It’s valuable for you to grow your professional brand within the organization that you are working in, but it’s more important for you to extend your influence beyond your organization. Your contribution to the world is more significant than where you’re employed. Building your personal brand ensures you’re adding value to your passions rather than living in an employment bubble. You can work all the time and be impressive within your organization, but you are far more valuable than who you work for.

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