By Gabriel Mello
My first standout mentor found me early in my career, when I had been with the company for only a couple of years. I was still very young, and I was new to the idea of this workplace culture. His feedback galvanized me into living that culture and adopting it as my own personal ethic. Later, when I was about five years in, I worked with another mentor who taught me everything I know about managing people. He was amazing—he could guide people with completely different profiles and styles and extract the absolute best work from each of them. What I learned from him was instrumental in developing my own leadership. Finally, I worked a third mentor who educated me about strategy. He demonstrated how to make a plan that is clear and visible and then how to mobilize people to work toward that goal. I was fortunate to have people who were complementary to my needs depending on where I was in my career.
Recognizing that, I take an individualized approach with the people I’m coaching, tailored to their capabilities and needs at the time. For example, my central team members in NYC work in smaller teams and don’t manage large groups of people, so my first goal for them is to help them obtain the technical knowledge they need. I usually can’t fill all those information gaps, so I look for benchmarks: people who have done that deep dive, who can teach them the key skills required to master their roles. For example, if a mentee of mine is responsible for devising strategy, I will work to find best-in-class performers who can teach that person how to incorporate new strategies for success. Another approach is to work with leaders on a global scale so that a background in different markets can be developed while accelerating the learning curve of taking on a new position.
For those working in the field on larger teams, both technical and leadership skills are of critical importance. Everyone’s situation is different, but I generally try to coach these managers, teaching them how to motivate people, how to increase their own influence, and how to give people the right challenges so they can deliver their best. For example, because ABI and ZX Ventures are committed to cross-functional development, we often have employees who excel in one area and are moved to a new one to further that development. As a mentor, I will advise on the team building strategy in cases like these so that the team complements the abilities of its leader. This allows for short term success while giving the leader the time to learn without having results suffer as he or she is brought up to speed on the specifics of the business operations.
Mentorship is key to development, but what employees need varies as they progress through different stages of their careers. If employees need help with leadership skills but don’t have the right people around at the right time to help them develop those skills, they’ll struggle. Ideally, we identify the needs of our people and give them the opportunity to work with mentors who are strong on the capabilities they need at the moment. That’s what I’m trying to achieve through my mentorship, to honor the people who guided me.