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Mentoring Takes the Mystery Out of Advisory Councils

Whether becoming a part of a trade school advisory council or being mentored, you should get involved.

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One of my most memorable experiences has been climbing the falls while traveling in Jamaica. In the middle of the southern side of Jamaica is the town of Ocho Rios with its famous tourist attraction, Dunn’s River Falls. In images of the falls, you’ll see tourists hand-in-hand traversing the 180-foot elevation and 600-foot length. 

The hike involves a guide who knows the handholds and the places to avoid, but the challenging journey actually begins with a leap of faith. I’ll never forget when our guide asked all of us tourists to trust him with our brand-new cameras. One by one we handed over our Canon, Minolta, and Nikon 35mm cameras; we each felt a sense of trepidation but were elated when we made it to the top and the guide gave them back as good as new!

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In many ways, it’s the same leap of faith when it comes to advisory councils and mentoring relationships.

Every coin has two sides; so it is with mentoring. You have the mentor and the mentee. A mentor is defined as “an experienced and trusted adviser; to advise or train (someone, especially a younger colleague).” And, a mentee is “a person who is advised, trained or counseled by a mentor.”

The mentor shares wisdom, guides, and instructs while the mentee listens, learns and grows to their fullest potential. Like the tour guide heading up the falls, who shows you where and when to step, the mentor helps keep you on track.

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In almost all cases, I’ve found that a well-rounded and thriving entrepreneur will be both a mentor and mentee at the same time. Working in both roles allows them the opportunity to receive wisdom from the mentor, while sharing lessons learned in their early years with the mentee.

A pond with only an inlet will stagnate and have difficulty sustaining life, yet one that has water flowing through it will be a fertile place for aquatic and plant life. Like the pond, when wisdom flows through you, your ability to learn, retain and grow as a business person becomes powerful. Remember the guide heading up the falls? In order for everyone to make it to the top successfully, we all need to receive instruction, process what was shared, and then pass it on to the next person in our group.

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It’s been said, and I have personally experienced, that as you teach others you are learning, growing and broadening your abilities. You will learn as you give of your industry knowledge.

So, how does this apply to an auto shop advisory program? 

Keep these three things in mind

You are an expert. I have been a member of local high school and college advisory councils for the last 20 years and one common thread has run through each of them. Educators want, need and desire input from industry experts like you. A shop instructor’s purpose is to teach and develop the basic skills required to become a viable part of your team. The instructors look for input from shop owners like you.

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You know the industry. The dealership world and the independent environment are dramatically different when it comes to personality type and skill potential. Independent shops thrive on individuality and broad-based skillsets; the dealer’s focus is compartmentalized with a narrower, targeted set of skills needed to participate as a dealer technician. 

You know what is needed at the independent shop. Each council I have been a part of has almost entirely been composed of OEM dealer representatives. In most cases, I was the only independent repair shop to participate! No one knows your shop better than you, so why leave it up to others to decide the who, how and what we need related to skills required for entry-level techs. 

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The technician shortage has plagued our industry for a long time and it won’t abate any time soon. There are a ton of reasons/excuses that span low entry-level wages, often attributed to a failure to charge fair value for service and repairs, a rapidly aging workforce, and a decline of educational programs over the last few decades that channel potential technicians to the industry.

I won’t belabor the point but rather remind you that you can create your own feeder system by increasing your involvement in your community high school or college auto shop program. Get involved today! It’s your shop, your future and it’s in your best interest to connect with the head of your local school’s program. Trust me, they will welcome your help with open arms, no matter at what level you choose to participate.

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Let them get to know you

About halfway through my career as a shop owner, my shop was named “Business of the Year” in my county. It wasn’t until then that I had finally become aware of what I had to offer to local school programs. I was no different than the owner down the street; I just happened to have an opportunity to connect with staff and teachers at the college level. They sought out my advice for one reason: they had become acquainted with me through the award. 

Being mentored

In an article I wrote for ShopOwner in December of last year, I asked if a business coach is right for you. I explained the benefits of having a coach, no matter where you are at in your journey as a shop owner. Business coaches like me all agree that it doesn’t matter who you are coached by, it’s just important that you have a quality coach, period.

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While mentoring is similar to coaching, not all who are coached are mentored. All of my clients receive coaching but a handful enjoy the added component of mentoring, as well. Mentoring adds a highly personal component, one where you are not only trained in best practices, you are held to a much higher standard. 

A coach works alongside you, but the personal component isn’t necessarily a part of that program. A mentor, on the other hand, gets right down to the nitty-gritty to help you develop and grow, using his or her knowledge, skills, experience and personal stories. 

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Whether becoming a part of a trade-school advisory council or being mentored, you should get involved. Don’t leave your future, your career or your success up to a flip of a coin!

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