Linkedin recently launched a brilliant campaign showcasing mentees giving thanks to their mentors. It was a lot of fun to see my friends featured as a part of it (e.g. Jason & Gina ... loved the stories and photos). Naturally, I couldn't help reflect on those pivotal mentors and advocates that kept me grounded on my path. My devotion to them knows no bounds. Here are a few of my tribe (with last names withheld to protect the innocent). I simply say THANK YOU.
My father, Lonnie ... my first definition and exemplar of what being a Man is all about. Caring father, nurturing husband and a leader in his professions. I watched him interact with his teams growing up, and each of his associates looked up to him as a father-figure, a mentor. He served them, and was (and still is) the truest definition of servant leadership in action. "You have to build trust before you can be expected to lead." My father will always be my greatest mentor.
Tony saw something in me to care enough to advocate for my hiring as a fresh college grad entering nuclear. His advice (paraphrasing), "learn as much as you can about the business in your first 2 years ... follow-through on any and all ways you can help ... and thereafter, focus on mastering your specific expertise." Thankfully, heeding his advice helped shaped my personal brand as a team player, and afforded me many opportunities to play in unconventional waters.
Sandy appreciated the track record as an engineer responsible for improving reactor mechanics, but encouraged me to step away from my comfort zone and embrace a radically different area of the company. He suggested I join the transient analysis group to study simulations of nuclear accidents and help nuke plants adopt better set-points. After a year of runway, he tested my knowledge. "You know your s&$#" was his signature of affirmation and he kicked me in the pants toward my next adventure. "I want you to be able to invite the RIGHT people in the room when you find yourself grappling with bigger questions."
Don (an ex-nuclear Navy officer) was probably the most gifted project manager I've had the pleasure of meeting. No surprise, he was given the craziest mission-critical reactor projects of the company ... and Don let me join him on some of them. "The crew always eats first" as we stood in line at the cafeteria, in some remote part of the country. He made it clear that in order to be "one of the men," we needed to earn their respect through earnest action and not words.
Deb pulled me into Global Footwear from Corporate Planning, a move unheard of by many. Crossing disciplines at a large place like Nike wasn't easy ... but Deb was compelled to take a chance on me. Together, we worked with the product team to envision what the future of footwear product creation might become. She introduced me as a thought partner in a fraternal world of "shoe dogs" full of deep tribal knowledge. She helped me find my leadership voice and did nothing but encourage me to take risks and build alliances across the team.
Patty found me "swimming" at a low point where my aspirations didn't quite match the evolving asks of the job, nor the perceptions people had of me based on my title. Being the natural coach she is, she broke me down to the primitive elements and helped me rebuild into a more effective agent of influence. She used the same approach to encourage me to explore beyond the bounds of my present situation by establishing a career vision and making tangible steps to demonstrate my abilities in the same respect. I often heard from many that Patty was my biggest champion.
D'Wayne accepted an invitation for coffee after a brief encounter through a mutual friend. After learning of my hobbies in the arts, he encouraged me to cut my creative teeth on real product. It just so happened he had a brief without a home (i.e. no designer to take it on), and he gave me a shot to design shoes under his guidance. He allowed me to meet him at 6AM for guidance on the designs, then go do my day job, and then work to the wee hours on Jordan footwear everyday for a better part of a year. After my shoes released with much success, a designer was born.
Lastly ... Dan, Don, Kris, Octavio, Gina, Tinker, Angela, Mark S., Eric, Bruce, Byron, Andre, Steve, Monty, Mark A., Aaron, James, Anthony, Emily, Andy, Karen, Kevin (KC Katalyst), Katherine, Maureen, Bryan, Rob, Liliana, Krystina, Steve, Jeff, Simon, Sean, La Mer, John, Carole, Jason ... you didn't have to ... but you did ... and I simply say THANK YOU too and I promise to continue paying it forward. k.g.b.