The Real Power of Relationships: Networking and Mentoring with Kendall Norris of the Global Leadership Forum

“We as professionals and leaders must make it an accountability factor to go out of our way to mentor others, especially our younger cohorts in the black community

“I chose to be a mentor because I want to contribute to others’ success and continue my growth.”

“Show me a successful individual, and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living—if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.” — Denzel Washington

I read the quote above and could not agree more with Mr. Washington. I have had several mentors throughout my academic and professional careers, and I understand how important those relationships have been for my personal and professional development. As such, I make a point to give back to younger men and women, to pay forward the wisdom, advice, and support I received to mold me into the man I am today.

Mentoring is widely recognized as critically important for success. However, for those in underserved communities, it is a much direr need. We as professionals and leaders must make it an accountability factor to go out of our way to mentor others, especially our younger cohorts in the black community. Black men, particularly (and generally speaking), have a difficult time asking for help or seeking advice from others. There is a strong preconceived notion that asking for help signals incompetence or weakness. Justified or not, the notion exists. We as mentoring professionals cannot sit back and wait for those in need to come to us. They won’t. It is up to us to create the spark and kindle the relationships protégés desperately need.

There are several reasons why networking and mentoring are important for young individuals. The first is simple. Networking and mentoring are different, but they are two sides of the same coin. That coin, or goal, is developing positive, long-lasting relationships, and that is the most important reason to start genuinely networking with and mentoring others. I have seen the fruit of that in my own life. One of my longest mentor relationships is my former high school economics teacher. She has poured knowledge and wisdom into my life since I was in high school – over 30 years! I recently had lunch with her, and I can still count on her to listen sincerely and offer advice. And, she knows she can expect the same from me.

Why is this important? Like the relationship with my former teacher, consistent mentoring interactions turn into genuine, symbiotic relationships. While those relationships are fulfilling to build on a personal level, they are also critical for developing stronger communities. Open and honest communication and trust are vital whether you are talking about building more fruitful personal or professional relationships. Whether we like it or not, we are all interconnected. With the meteoric advancement of technology, the degrees of separation seems to lessen every day. Thus the importance of building more meaningful relationships goes beyond just helping one become more successful; it is essential to creating a more harmonious world.

Another byproduct of mentoring is confidence-building. When people have really good mentors that know how to listen well and positively interact, they begin developing self-assurance. Having someone that respects and challenges your view in a positive manner boosts an internal appreciation of your abilities. Cultivated well, that strengthened confidence can be seen to grow year over year. This produces personal and professional growth for both the mentor and protégé.

Networking and mentoring can also create new strategies and efforts for success. Most protégés are inherently asking one basic question of their mentors: what are the key nuggets that helped you achieve your success? That question could be asked of both the mentor and the protégé. In a mentoring relationship, one person is typically more advanced in an area versus the other; however, there is a return path that can be reciprocated from the protégé to the mentor in terms of a generational perspective, for example, with an age or experience gap.

Such was the case with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Washington Post CEO Don Graham. When Facebook took off, and Zuckerberg transitioned from an app coder to a company CEO running a large company, he sought the advice of Graham. Zuckerberg looked to Graham to understand the effective strategies and behaviors of someone in the corporate world. At the same time, Graham was able to learn how to reach audiences online, which was critical for a traditional newspaper professional. This is a perfect example of interdependence that can be produced from true mentoring relationships.

Finally, networking and mentoring can help broaden perspectives. If you are networking properly, you are most likely working with people who have different ideologies and worldviews than you. That is a great thing! Only networking with people you’ve known all your life, or with people who only share your particular paradigm or view of the world, will not net much for you in terms of growth and elevated development. I believe that is part of the problem that exists in our country. Many people never leave their geographical locations, only interact with residents in their local communities, and never learn to celebrate the rich diversity that exists throughout the world.

The Global Leadership Forum started a mentoring program that allows its members to get together with students and professionals, and it has been an amazing experience. I chose to be a mentor because I want to contribute to others’ success and continue my growth. It doesn’t matter to me what they look like or from where they come. I know the value of those relationships. And, I know if I am giving of myself, I will always learn something in return.

Simply put, networking and developing a mentoring relationship with others is mandatory—or it should be if you’re a business owner, professional or a leader in corporate America. I don’t know how anyone could consider themselves personally, professionally or communally successful without it. We all have a human need to grow and contribute, the power of mentoring relationships allows us to fulfill both of those basic needs while positively advancing our society.

Contact: kendall.norris@glf.org

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