We all start somewhere. I remember when I began on my current career. It was nearly thirty years ago now, sitting at the dinner table with my parents. My father has been involved in manufacturing management of one sort or another for almost all of his career. Talk around the dinner table turned to his work from time to time, and I was interested. My father has never talked a lot nor had a ton of hobbies; this was something he was interested in, so I tried to be interested too. He brought home odd books from time to time with wierd terms in them like “JIT” and “Kanban”, so I poked around in them and read, as I tended to do with all books I found with new things in them. As I grew older, the conversation got more interesting; talk often revolved around how people behaved, why they did what they did, mistakes they made, ways things could be better. As I became a teenager and started to have social problems at school and in my personal life, Dad’s stories and allegories to help often had a workplace bent to them.
In the summer after high school is when I truly became immersed. I got a summer job before college at my father’s company. I got first-hand experience with business and all the strange things that seemed to go wrong. Through conversations with my father, my boss, and other folks, I started piecing together how management really worked. By this time, Dad was starting to specialize- he was working in Tooling management. If you don’t know what tooling is, that’s the specialists who build the special tools and fittings and whatnot that factories use to make things. It’s that special part of manufacturing that fits in the same place that developers do for business. Every fall and spring I went to college and learned… well, mostly about women, but nearly every summer I went to work in the factories where my father worked and gathered the education that put me where I am today.
I never really realized it until the past few years just how much what I learned from my father really mattered. So much of what he said and did and taught me applies directly to what I do today. Even the things he didn’t teach me directly, he still originated. I still remember the first time I finally cracked open one of Tom Peters’ books. I picked the book up at a yard sale after remembering having seen it in Dad’s books; I read it on a trip to Seattle, and it changed my worldview.
Today is my father’s birthday. He’s getting closer and closer to retirement by the year. Last year was the first year I finally caught up with him careerwise. My father’s position in his company is on par with mine, but the title is different. He could have climbed higher if he wanted; Dad stuck with the level he felt was right for him. If it weren’t for him, I’m sure I would still be learning my way up the ladder at a pace that, with my famed impatience, would probably be hurting my career more than helping.
Over the last year in my new job I’ve had somewhat of a new mentor in my career. It’s the second mentor in my life, and I am still feeling my way. I still rely on my first mentor for advice here and there (especially when I need guidance on how to deal with my second mentor). I find as I get older that I grow impatient and frustrated with Dad’s advice more often somehow, that in what I’ve learned on my own I have more trouble stepping back and looking at it from the right perspective to understand. Perhaps I grow set in my ways as I grow old. Still, when I finally can step back and see things without letting emotion get in the way, the advice always seems to fit and help and guide me.
I find myself now quoting my father more and more. I also find myself starting to mentor others in their careers. It’s amazing the people who become interested in management and leadership when you put the right guidance in front of them and offer up a bit of responsibility.
My main point here, besides honoring my father’s birthday, is that you should honor your mentors in life, give them credit, and when you are struggling with their advice, be patient, be patient, and think it through one more time. Pass on the knowledge and, when the time is right, be a mentor to others. Most but not least, don’t forget to thank them.