Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of attending the Simmons Leadership Conference in Boston. I was surrounded by 3,300 women – and a handful of men – all eager to hear and share thoughts, stories and ideas on women in leadership.
During a session on mentoring, a panel of women executives were asked who their most influential mentor was and the best advice he or she had given them. Their stories were moving and filled with inspiration.
This week, I thought I’d share the best advice I received on my journey. Advice that continues to guide me today.
The most influential person in my life is my father. He transitioned from parent to mentor when I entered the workforce, arriving at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. He may have been “The Colonel” and I may have been “that new civilian girl in Finance”, but he became my most trusted advisor. And remains so today.
Long before I arrived for my first day of work, my father and I were talking in our living room in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. I was in grade school and we were discussing how I should spend my afternoon. My mother asked me to stay inside to help her clean the house, but I wanted to go outside and hang with my dad.
Stay inside and learn what is already known or go outside and learn what the environment cannot teach.
“If you stay inside with your mother, she can teach you how to cook, clean and sew. They are valuable skills that will help you in life. They are also skills you will pick up along the way. You will learn enough about cooking not to starve to death, and enough about cleaning not to live in filth. But you can do better than that. If you’d like to learn more about those things, stay inside.
There are things that life will not teach you. How to mow the lawn and change the oil in the car. How to use power tools and build things. If you want to learn these things, come outside with me.”
Lest you think my father had strict definitions of what was men’s work and women’s work, he can cook, clean, take care of the house, embroider and play an instrument. He is a man of many talents. He’s the one that taught my mother how to cook and clean – she did not know how to do those things when they got married.
“Come outside with me”
I went outside that day. And many days after. I learned how to change the oil in the car and build things with power tools. I learned how to throw a mean left hook, run a pool table from break and put 5 bullets through a single hole at 100 yards. Those skills came in handy living and working on a base with 40,000 young Marines.
Today, I continue to look outside my role and organization to learn. Several years ago, I pursued my Six Sigma Black Belt, feeling strongly that those skills would position me to help the company as we grew and changed. Now we are focusing on lean and quality improvements and my knowledge will help our collective growth.
The “next thing” cannot be found inside.
New is rarely found by looking inside the four walls of an office or company. Instead, look outside for possibilities – new ideas and skills to challenge the status quo, the current way of thinking or doing. Push to do more than what is known today to help make a team or organization collectively better.
Just like my father predicted, I eventually did learn how to make the occasional meal and change the filter in a vacuum (I bought a bagless). I still have the choice of staying inside or going outside to shake things up. Let’s just say my life never stands still and I plan to be a pool shark when I’m 80.
Thanks Dad, for inviting me outside and staying out here with me for all these years.
I’d be honored to hear who your most influential mentor has been and the lesson he or she taught you. Please share in the comments, including a link to your own blog post if you have one.