Amy needed some advice. So she messaged me on one of my social media channels.
“Could I get your opinion on something?” she asked.
Of course, my answer was yes. I had hired Amy as my assistant 25 years ago when I was editor/general manager of a weekly newspaper in a rural Pennsylvania town. Amy was creative and talented, eager to learn, and had an amazing work ethic. Amy never backed down from an assignment and rarely complained about having to work long hours. She was good at the things I wasn’t, and I thought we made a great team.
Amy is 14 years younger than I am, so it would be only natural that I would take on the role of mentor to her. But I didn’t do it. It never occurred to me to add mentoring to all the other tasks that came with my job and had me overwhelmed during the five years I worked at it. I was so consumed with slogging through every day — keeping up with deadlines, helping my staff with their needs while keeping the corporate owners off my back, representing the newspaper in public, and making sure we turned a profit. Add my home and family responsibilities on top of that, and mentoring was knocked completely off my priority list.
And I hadn’t experienced much in the way of mentoring during my newspaper career either.
Early on, I worked for editors who found fault with everything I wrote and who humiliated their reporters on a daily basis. This wasn’t mentoring — this was more like hazing. The prevailing attitude was, “I had a tough time getting started in this business, so you should too.”
Years later, when I moved to the association world, mentoring was part of the environment. I was lucky to work for an executive vice president who introduced me to the right people, made sure I had all the tools I needed in order to be successful and asked me every day whether I was OK. And our board members also took time to educate me on the issues that were important to our members, and they looked out for me personally.
When I worked for an insurance agents’ association, I was impressed with the amount of mentoring that occurs in the industry. I met so many agents who volunteered their time to teach LUTCF classes or other continuing education courses. Programs such as NAIFA’s Leadership in Life Institute brought mentorship into the organization’s fabric. Advisors reached out to recruit others into the business and help them to be successful in it. The financial services industry is a tough one to break into, but unlike in the newspaper business, the prevailing attitude is frequently, “I had a tough time getting started in this business, but I want you to have an easier time of it and I will help you be successful.”
Our August issue’s theme traditionally has been inspiration. This year, we looked at those who are inspired to mentor others in the industry. I had so many stories of mentorship to tell, it was impossible to include all of them in the magazine. So please go to innmb.com/payitforward for more examples of those who are inspired to help others.
Which brings me back to Amy.
Amy recently became the editor-in-chief of a weekly newspaper similar to the one where we worked together decades ago. The owner wanted her to make some changes to the newspaper’s layout. She wasn’t sure how she should approach her staff about implementing those changes, and she wanted some advice.
I suggested she tell the staff the reasoning behind the changes and how the changes will make the newspaper better. I also noted that “you know someone will always have something to say when you make a change.” Then I reassured her that she knows how to be diplomatic and still make things work.
She messaged me back less than an hour later. She described how she presented the changes to her staff and offered to help anyone who needed assistance in making those changes. “It went better than I anticipated!” she wrote.
“You’ve got this! I’m here for you anytime,” I replied.
I guess I was a mentor to her after all.