Leaders Share Significance of Mentors
A mentor’s value comes from their wisdom and their ability to convey unwritten rules.
I think of Samira Deandrade’s comment, “Mentors are not there to make us happy. They are there to guide us to the best of their knowledge.” I also think it’s important to acknowledge that mentoring brings value to both the mentee and mentor. Mentors help reduce the stress and anxiety for a less experienced person – especially in mission-critical situations where a rising team member doesn’t have the luxury of learning some aspects of the job through trial and error. At the same time, mentors enjoy the satisfaction of imparting their experience, and they often enjoy the process as mentees become more independent and succeed in their own right.
Early in my banking career, I worked for the same organization for over 25 years. It was a large bank that exposed me to a number of successful and talented bankers. I sought the advice and counsel of those who were in positions I aspired to be in and who knew what it required to get there. I searched for mentors who were very different from me and offered me the best range of perspectives. Fortunately, a number of those bankers took an interest in me. My mentors helped me identify my personal strengths and weaknesses. They pushed me into new experiences and encouraged me to keep improving. Knowing I had the support of those mentors boosted my confidence and helped me be the best I could be.
No one is ever too good, too old, too smart, too experienced, or too successful to have a mentor. I believe that most successful people have mentors. Mentors encourage, support, and guide their mentees to reach their full potential. Great mentors go above and beyond by focusing on helping to shape their mentees’ character, values, self-awareness, empathy, and respect for others. Some mentors might do a great job in helping you with your career at work, while others show you the need to balance work and life. I believe that as a mentor, one must emulate value-based qualities which mean more than advancing one’s skill. Mentors should be committed to bringing out the best in their mentee. In my life, I have had many mentors, and some of them never knew the things they taught me. But my best mentor was my dad, Jack Minks. In addition to life and work skills, I witnessed through him the power of faith, hope, and determination.
No one has been more influential or a better mentor in my life than my father, Dee Coppinger. He was a simple man, unassuming, yet full of wisdom. He always placed his family first and taught my three brothers and me the importance of responsibility, integrity, and accountability. He constantly stressed the importance of being fair, on time, living within your means, and respecting others’ opinions, regardless of your own. He was always supportive of whatever I chose to do, but insisted that I should strive to be the best once I decided on a direction. He was my strongest advocate and could be my most vocal critic, but most importantly, he was a trusted advisor. I can honestly say that any success, either personally or professionally, that I have achieved can be attributed to him.
When I started my career as a physical therapist, my aspirations were initially limited to direct patient care. Early in my career with HealthSouth, I had the opportunity to work with an individual that started her career as a therapist and eventually became the CEO of the hospital where I worked. In working with her, I saw how a career in health care administration affords the opportunity to have a positive effect on even more patient lives than I was touching as an individual therapist. Her example of keeping the patient’s needs and staff needs at the center of all decisions was something that shaped my approach to this day.
Being in my field for 25 years, it’s neat to think about the life cycle of mentorship. It’s important to work hard to seek a strong mentor when you are new to the workplace. And, I think it’s even more important to become a mentor as you become respected in your field. When seeking out a mentor – they don’t have to be the person with the most experience in the room. They just need to be someone who you see crushing it every day! You will learn more than just the industry from that person. The most important mentor in my career was my mother. Watching a single mom work two jobs to provide for her kids taught me to never accept anything but greatness from myself. She gets to proudly look back on what she accomplished, and I do everything I can so I too can look back proudly one day.
My interest in construction began at age 14 when a contractor building stairs in my parents’ home allowed me to work alongside him. I was inspired by his passion and love for his job, and his investment in me began my more than 40-year journey in the construction industry. Much like Mr. Wilhite, there have been countless people in my life who have guided me to grow, advance, and succeed both personally and professionally. I have failed a few times, but I never stop striving to become better, because I know someone is depending on me and holding me accountable. That’s what mentoring is about, encouraging someone to be the person you know they can be, being their cheerleader, but also helping them see blind spots, all while guiding them through challenges and celebrating their successes. The most important thing you can teach others is to be mentors themselves, which is the key to multiplying influence and sharing wisdom.
I have failed a few times, but I never stop striving to become better, because I know someone is depending on me and holding me accountable.
My greatest mentor is not in medicine, but in life. My mother raised two children, protecting us from an alcoholic father, while working in a male-dominated environment where she trained men for a promotion she herself was denied because she was female and without a degree. She encouraged me to earn a college degree, and to never allow myself to be financially unable to support myself and my family if needed. She taught me that with hard work and perseverance, a woman can achieve any goal. My mother has been an incredible role model for me and is still my best friend.
Perspective and accountability – these are two reasons to have a mentor. Early in my career, I was managing a manufacturing plant that was in the middle of a financial turnaround. There was significant pressure to make dramatic changes to get the facility profitable again. My personality type under stress gravitates toward being very task focused where I have a tendency to work through people rather than work with them to accomplish an important task. Fortunately, my mentor recognized this tendency and was able to point out my own narrow perspective. He encouraged me to step back and take every opportunity to get in front of the employees and lay out the vision and issues we were facing as an organization. By sharing reality with them and getting their input and buy-in, we were able to turn the plant around and regain profitability. My mentor’s perspective into what I needed, and his gentle accountability to make me follow through, had a positive impact on hundreds of people!
I have had a number of mentors throughout my career, though none in a formal mentoring capacity. Some of my mentors were people whom I simply observed – I watched and listened to how they handled situations at work. Very early in my career – I was probably 22 – a mentor helped me to understand the importance of informing your references when applying and interviewing for positions. Looking back, I am so embarrassed that I didn’t know that at the time! Another mentor taught me how to be a professional. She would think out loud when I was around so that I would understand how she arrived at her decisions. She also taught me how to stay calm in stressful situations and how to be a good boss. In my new role at Chattanooga State, I have mentors in the Chattanooga community – people I am observing and learning from every day.
My father, Bill Carroll, has been the most important person in the growth of my career. I grew up in the banking business and watched my father grow a successful bank. I try to pattern how I run SmartBank after what he has taught me. My SmartBank board of directors are also key mentors for me. All are successful, genuine individuals that I learn from daily. They mentor me on more than banking – they encourage me to have a work-life balance. They give advice on how to build a strong culture within the company and how to lead well. They have been instrumental in my growth as a CEO and in the success of our company.
I have had many mentors, but if I had to choose one person, it would be my dad. Through hard work and trial and error, he was able to start a number of successful businesses. I was able to work for him and with him for seven years, learning from his business acumen and hands-on experience. He told me to do these three things: give immediate follow-up, show attention to detail, and do all things with enthusiasm, both with customers and bosses. All these years later, I still think this is some of the best business advice I have ever received.
I have had several trusted advisors and mentors in my life, but there has been one who has been most impactful to me. My 107-year-old grandpa passed away early June 2018; he was a rock to me. He instilled in me the importance of faith, honesty, and hard work. He taught me to treat every relationship with respect by never burning a bridge. My dad has also been very impactful in my life. He always pushed me to go above and beyond and not to settle for mediocrity. I encourage each person to have that mentor and trusted advisor. Never take for granted the advice you get and be open to the truth even though you may not like it or accept it.
As a young man, I learned the importance of mentorship as a Boy Scout. The entire Boy Scout program is built upon the idea that you learn from those who have gone before you. Without a mentor, I would have never reached the rank of Eagle Scout. As an executive, I am very fortunate to have Dr. James Tally as a mentor. As the former CEO of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Dr. Tally is able to listen and help me explore various strategies for complex challenges I face in my current role. The ability to talk openly with someone who has faced similar situations can provide insight well beyond your own experiences. This mentorship relationship has grown over the years, and Dr. Tally’s advice seems to get better with time. I can honestly say that his advice and guidance is having a positive impact on this community today!
Everyone needs at least one strong mentor who is willing to tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Mentors are like a weather vane, pointing us in the right direction, ensuring we are not looking at the ground or too high in the sky. A mentor helps you focus on the possibilities with grounding in common sense. My greatest mentor has been a college professor, Larry Overman, who helped me find my passion and to set my sights high. He encouraged me to jump in and work hard. His belief in me helped me believe I could complete a PhD, successfully run a research program, and get tenure in the University of California System. This foundation led me to relish the challenges and to take on big problems. Dr. Overman’s mentorship positioned me to serve as Chancellor of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Mentors have been important throughout my adult life, including my professional career. They have largely been responsible for my successes, but my failures, without exception, resulted from decisions I made on my own. John Kennedy once said, “Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.” Likewise, my successes have been fathered by many mentors, but the failures by me alone. My advice? Seek the counsel of trusted mentors who will put your best interests first and help you to see beyond yourself and your present circumstances.
Seek the counsel of trusted mentors who will put your best interests first and help you to see beyond yourself and your present circumstances.
My mentors have included early childhood influences like my grandmother, who died in 2016 at 107 years of age. She taught me to always look for the good in all people and to live so that people could see the good in me. Present-day mentors include my COO, Scott Pierce, and CEO, JD Hickey. They have created an environment that allows me to grow. They make me better every day. I have been taught that vision is something that you cannot afford on your own. It’s bigger than you. Purpose is bigger than just you. Vision is about bringing all your talents to the table and learning from the individuals that can feed your hunger to make change. That’s what my mentors have done for me, and I feel honored and obliged to pay that forward.
My father was a wonderful mentor to me. He was a great leader and businessman, who taught me about honesty, integrity, and believing in oneself. He always said to ‘work hard and play hard,’ and when I had the privilege to work with him, he exemplified that. In my career in the electrical industry, Joe Farless and Walt Hodges helped me understand the industry and how to run our business, as well as the importance of taking time to volunteer in the community. Another mentor, Tommy Lupton urged me to conduct business in a manner that was not just good for the company but also good for the broader community. Scotty Probasco encouraged me to make sure I lived my life well. He told me that if I put God first, then my family, and then my business, that the rest would fall into place. Last but not least, Joe Decosimo set an example of philanthropy and wisdom. I have certainly been blessed with mentors in both my career and in life.
I’ve had the pleasure of being part of the BlueCross family my entire professional life. Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to learn from a number of talented men and women – both outside our organization and at all levels of our company. These mentors were sometimes formal and sometimes informal – but all supported and encouraged me by providing information, inspiration, unique perspectives, and valuable insight when I needed it most. My mentors listened to my concerns, served as sounding boards for my ideas, and provided exposure to the types of strategic thinking that helped me develop leadership skills and further my career. Because I know the value of mentors, I’ve supported the development of a variety of mentoring and job shadowing programs at our company. I know these experiences enable our employees to acquire the skills and perspectives that will help their careers blossom.
For most of my life, my mentoring relationships have been anything but traditional. What has been common throughout my mentoring experiences are the following: Mentors are consistent. I have been blessed with consistent confidants that have an interest in my growth and development. As a child it was Gary James, a next door neighbor, and later the principal of Howard High School, who took me to church every Sunday. Even after he moved out of the neighborhood, he continued to show up. Mentors are timely. Different stages of my professional career have meant different advisors. It was a nonprofit executive and a former college president that helped me navigate different corporate cultures. However, it was a mayor and a public affairs executive that guided me through the political landscape. Nevertheless, each of them provided me with key advice during pivotal moments in my career that shaped me into a better business and community leader. Mentors are valuable. With experience comes wisdom. My mentors imparted wisdom and provided keen advice when I needed it most. Since law school, much of that sage counsel has come from individuals like Ed Stanton and Melvin Malone. That wisdom informed my decision to return and remain in Chattanooga. There are no shortcuts on the road to success, but there are clues from those who have traveled the path. Mentors have provided countless clues to me, and I strive to make sure I pay it forward.