Saturday, November 8, 2014

Seven Mentors Who Changed My Life

Warning: Read this story with care. The thoughts I share are not intended for everyone. They are meant for public officials, organizational leaders and career-focused professionals who truly want to make a difference.

I would not have accomplished much in my life had I not followed the advice of seven great mentors. Their insights allowed me to understand my role and overcome the obstacles I confronted. 

What they shared allowed me to gain success beyond my wildest dreams.  The only regret I have is that I never had the opportunity to personally meet these mentors and thank them for the impact they made on my life.

My first mentor was Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernicus, a Polish monk born in the late 1400’s, stood on the shore to watch a sunset. As the sun set, he realized the earth could not be the center of the universe and he openly challenged the common belief that the earth was the center of the universe. He was ridiculed by his colleagues and chastised by the Church; however, Copernicus remained firm in his convictions. He challenged the status quo and in doing so, he re-shaped the concept of how we view the universe today.

My second mentor was Frederick Taylor. Taylor, a mechanical engineer, always looked for ways to improve organizational efficiencies. Taylor was approached by a coal company that wanted to increase their output of coal. For several days, Taylor sat and observed coal miners; he studied how they dug out the coal and loaded it on the rail cars. Much to the coal mine’s surprise, Taylor recommended every miner be issued smaller shovels with long handles. The coal mine's management laughed - they insisted larger shovels resulted in more coal. Taylor countered saying 25 lb. shovel scoops tire workers out quickly and by mid-morning most were exhausted; however, 15 lb. shovel scoops would not fatigue the miners and they would be able to easily lift 15 lb. shovels full all day - at a brisk pace. His point was give employees the proper tools and they can accomplish more.

Next was my mentor Dale Carnegie. Carnegie, a simple Missouri farm boy, noticed successful leaders share two things in common. First, they know a lot of people and second they feel at ease speaking in public. Carnegie believed “career success” could be accelerated if people would just reach out and meet new people and speak clearly in public.

The fourth mentor who accelerated my career was Evelyn Wood. Evelyn, a high school English teacher, had the wisdom to foresee that more and more of what Americans learned came from books - what they read. She noticed successful people read quickly and retain most of what they read. Her contribution to my career growth was that she created the Evelyn Wood’s Speed Reading Dynamics Course. Her simple course taught people (including myself) how to increase reading speed and improve retention of what was read.

Though not impressed at first, I came to revere Arthur Murray as one of my most influential mentors. Arthur, a draftsman by trade, noticed that successful people had great social skills; none were "wall flowers". He believed careers were limited when people lack social graces – especially dancing skills – yes dancing. 
Murray was so passionate about the correlation between good dancing and career success he created a worldwide franchise of dance schools - places where everyday business men and women could learn to dance. People who attended Arthur Murray’s dance schools were able to broadcast their social talent at civic functions. His students included Eleanor Roosevelt, John D. Rockefeller, the Duke of Windsor, prize fighter Jack Dempsey and of course yours truly Gabe Gabrielsen.

My sixth mentor was Elmer Wheeler. Wheeler, an advertising and marketing professional, believed knowledge and experience meant very little if no one bought into your ideas. Elmer coined a phrase "Sell the sizzle – not the steak." He suggested people never wave raw meat in front of a person; show the completed meal - salad, potatoes, dessert and wine.

When a small tire manufacturer in Ohio wanted to go after a share of the global tire market, Mr. Wheeler advised him not to sell tires in their ads. He believed the only way consumers would leave Goodyear and Goodrich and buy his tires was if he would sell the benefits of this new tire. Benefits like "peace of mind", "dependability", and most important, "family safety". 

That small tire manufacturer took Elmer’s advice and today people around the world know that, “Wherever wheels are turning – no matter what the load – the name that’s known is Firestone … when the rubber meets the road, drive a Firestone."

Finally, the mentor with the greatest impact on my career was Dr. David Schwartz. Schwartz, a professor at Georgia State University, sadly realized not all his students would accomplish amazing things. In fact, the vast majority, after graduating, just blended in even though they had stellar academic records and a prestigious degree. 

Schwartz concluded only the students who believed they could accomplish big things were the ones who did. Schwartz convinced me to believe in the magic of thinking big. Schwartz never saw the problem as too many chiefs; he saw the problem as too many Indians.

Well, there you have Gabe’s seven mentors and the powerful insights they shared:

1) Challenge the status quo.

2) Give your employees the right tools so they can succeed and accomplish more.

3) Win friends and influence people.

4) Learn to read fast and retain what you read.

5) Exhibit social graces and learn to be a great dancer.

6) Sell the sizzle – not the steak; never dangle unfinished products in front of someone.

7) Think big – and remember, “If you think it can’t be done” … you are right. “If you think it can be done”… you are right.

My hope is that some of you can adopt a few of these sage principals.