No matter what place you are in right now, you can seek proper mentorship to help you navigate to a new system. An increased acumen for awareness helped me identify various types of people, as well as the good fortune to have a mother and grandmother who saw trouble and pushed me away from it. While I grew up poor and black in a time of civil unrest, I am blessed that I found mentors throughout my life to help me course correct to the right environment that could bring me to ultimate success.
- The Unrecognized Mentor
When I was in my early teens, I had a job at an airport. My boss, the pilot Bruce, and the owner of the airport, Harry Hardee, used to tell me I would be the first Black crop duster in the south if I stuck with them. This was a perfect example of being in the middle of a great system that was inviting me in, but I did not have the right glasses on to see what was going on around me. If I had recognized that system opportunity, life could have been different. I could have become a fighter pilot in the military, a commercial airline pilot, or worked in some other role in the aviation community. Instead, my mind was focused on getting out of Georgia as opposed to seeing what was around me. I learned how to change brakes, change out a magneto, service aircraft, and then fly aircraft at a young age.
Unfortunately, I did not realize how beneficial this knowledge was to me. In retrospect, in learning the system, I did not realize I had been invited to the most prestigious aspect of the system in the South. The owner of the airport was definitely hardwired into the local business owners, the bankers, and so forth and so on. Proximity to him put me in a power position, and I could have written my ticket if I had chosen to stay in the South. I never had a father who sat me or my siblings down to share with us about life challenges or to recognize opportunity. So, I didn’t recognize the opportunity in front of me working at the airport, but I did discover Rule of the System #1 which I would implement through the rest of my life: Seek, Identify and appreciate your mentors. They have been put in your life to push you to greatness.”
- The Begrudged Mentor
In the Navy, the unofficial, un- codified, mentorship system is called having a “Sea Daddy.” My “Sea Daddy.” was Albert McCoy.
I initially hated him. He was tough on me. He did not give me any slack, but he saw something I didn’t see in me. He would call me aside and select me to do all the dirty work. He would do that just to see what my reaction would be, and there were always lessons to be learned. My Sea Daddy saw how I had been introduced to a system and he took it upon himself to enhance my knowledge of the system. He took me under his wing and brought clarity into my life. He showed me what was important to get involved with and not to get involved with, the people to hang around with and the people not to hang around with at any time. I clearly learned about the old adage of birds of a feather flock together. There is a tremendous amount of truth to that saying. Little did I know it then, but later in life I figured it out. He would ask me to go out to dinner with him instead of hanging out with the boys. As a child growing up, my parents used to say, the medicine doesn”t taste good, but it is good for you. In this example, my Sea Daddy was stern and didn”t have room for playtime. I fought this with a passion. I”d rather be hanging out with the boys getting into mischief versus getting a life lesson. Once again, though, with him I was in good hands. With the boys, who knew what would happen. I didn’t see it at the time. He was a good man, a good father, a good father figure, and a good teacher.
When I reflect on what Albert McCoy did for me, I want to go and hug his neck. He taught me the rule of the game: Seek, identify, and appreciate your mentors. They have been put in your life to push you to greatness.
It took a lot of patience and courage for him to take the time with me to teach me what the system was about, how it operated, and the rules of the game. He saw in me how I was able to handle what he was teaching me. There were others around us who I know he tried to reach out to, but they did not get it and they ran away to continue to do the things they were doing that were not conducive to the good order and discipline of the system.
- The Mistaken Mentor
Later in life, as a small business owner, I found who I thought was a good mentor to help me through initial rough times. The individual I was calling my mentor was a gentleman I had known for several years while I was in the government. I actually helped facilitate him being awarded a $5.5 million contract. I thought he was a good guy, initially showing himself as a devout Christian who went to church every Sunday. As a matter of fact, he was the superintendent for Sunday school and a deacon in the church, so there was no reason for me to question his character. Well, the lights in my head started coming on when I went to him for help and support and the first thing he did was somewhat demeaning.
Here I was a brand-new CEO and he looked at me as if I was a brand-new college graduate with no experience. His idea of helping me was to have me work for him at $30 an hour doing some incredibly mundane tasks. The tasks he wanted me to do were things I would not have given to an elementary school kid. I was somewhat shocked and taken aback, but I played his game to see how far he would go. I missed a very valuable lesson here. Someone told me that when someone shows you who they are, you should take a picture, because that”s who they really are, and always were. My other mistake was not listening to my inner voice. I hadn”t believed in the unscrupulous nature of his system, and I had challenged it to my own detriment. Yet I was still willing to give him a chance to prove himself.
I started paying more attention to his antics. I saw little white useless lies when asked questions, and his answers to me made no sense. Everything I had seen in the past, all the flags I had noted, all the little white lies, all came to fruition. He was greedy, controlling, lying, and those were just some of the small things he did. More interesting, his entire staff was just like him. I cannot believe someone I held in such high regard turned out to be such a horrible individual.
Critical lesson: When someone shows you who they are, take a picture because that is their truth and they will not change. Old adages like leopards don”t change their spots were written for a good reason.
I did eventually find an extremely good, honest, decent mentor. This person is my mentor today, who I found from the mess I endured. We have to go through challenges to clearly see our past mistakes. It”s good to recognize we are not the smartest people and we all could use help from time to time.
I love my mentor to death because he has no stake in the company or in my life but he is truly an outside counsel that provides an unbiased, untainted perspective in a very objective manner. He helps me see reality for what it is at any given moment.
Seek, identify, and appreciate your mentors. They have been put in your life to push you to greatness.