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3 traits of a great mentor

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Early on a January morning, I was writing in my journal when I received an email informing me that my longtime mentor Marlon Andrus had passed away at age 79. Professionally, Marlon was a banker and an investor, but by the time I met him in the late 1990s, he was a teacher and someone who had a profound impact on the trajectory of my life.

Since childhood, my plan had been to become a pro-snowboarder and ski bum, a term I use affectionately. A serious knee injury altered that plan, and after some coaxing from my parents, I enrolled in college instead. As a young child, I had counted my piggy bank, played “budget meeting” and rolled my coins in paper wrappers. So when I enrolled in Marlon’s elective course on personal finance, it was not a giant leap.

Marlon was a masterful teacher, known for sharing real-life stories that showcased the pragmatic application of financial concepts. What I realize now, more than ever, is while he was one of a handful of mentors who shaped my path in life, I was one of hundreds of people whom he mentored in his.

I enrolled in several of his classes at Salt Lake Community College and he never just lectured. He took a genuine interest in his students. He taught me the concept of the Rule of 72, where I learned how long it would take to double money. Marlon’s interest in my success went well beyond the classroom, too. After a guest lecture by the regional manager of a national firm, Marlon invited me to have lunch with them. During our meal, he turned to me and suggested that I consider an internship at that firm. He didn’t know it then, but that was the exact moment that Marlon opened the door to finance as a career option for me. But at the same time, he made it clear that it was up to me to pursue it.

I stayed in contact with Marlon long after his courses. We would go to lunch at his favorite restaurant Red Lobster, where I would solicit his thoughts and opinions on finance, life and work. As my career progressed, I became more aware of how impactful his mentorship had been to me. His encouragement to help others succeed with their finances was a motivation for me in my daily work.

Since his passing, I have found myself thinking a lot about my opportunities to mentor. Am I providing guidance to as many people as I can? Put another way: for all the knowledge and experience I benefited from early in my career, am I paying it forward?

One thing I have noticed over the course of hosting the “Better conversations. Better outcomes” podcast is nearly every guest talks about a mentor who guided their early years in finance. Rick Unser brought it up most recently in our modern marketing episode #48, but other guests like Steve Sanduski and Steve Moore have talked about mentors in their work as well. Having a mentor almost seems to be a prerequisite for success in the wealth management field.

As I reflect on my time spent with Marlon and other mentors over the years, I recognize commonalities among them. The most impactful mentors in my life have had three attributes in common:

1. They take a genuine interest. Their interest both professionally and personally is genuine. They don’t need to be part of a corporate program, and they don’t do it to feel important. They held a sincere interest in me.

2. They act as coach, not expert. I found it easier to learn from my mentors because they played the role of a coach or a teacher, not that of an “all-knowing expert.” No one, especially not a 20-something up-and-coming professional, likes being preached at from an expert. Instead, mentors guide their mentees with real-life situations to help them develop their own self-efficacy and mastery of skills and subject matter.

3. They share success. Good mentors view their mentees’ successes as their own. For most mentors, seeing mentees achieve greater levels of success is the ultimate reward. Mentors may not share in the tangible reward, but it wouldn’t be unusual for a mentee’s success to somehow benefit the mentor in the long run.

As a whole, our industry is suffering from a shortage of new advisors. By 2022, there will be a shortage of 200,000 advisors in the U.S. alone, according to estimates from Discovery Data and Greenwich Associates. With the average age of advisors in the U.S. at nearly 51, and 43% over the age of 55, I see a lot of potential mentors out there who could share their knowledge and accelerate the learning curve.

How many people have you taken a genuine interest in? Are you sharing your wisdom as a coach or teacher? How are you positively impacting the successes of others?

For me, the answer to each of these questions is, “I wish I was doing more.”

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