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Old School mentoring: the missing ingredient in business today

Today’s job culture is far different from the hands-on privilege once offered to new professionals in the form of legitimate, Old School mentoring. Is this what today’s business culture is missing? The short answer is yes.

What passes today for mentorship

If you are under 35 years old, ask your parents, or better yet your grandparents, if they were mentored. If they were, especially your grandparents, listen to all of their stories. I suspect you’ll be hungry to live their experiences yourself. Being mentored back in the day meant being taught a trade or profession by an experienced, and yes, trusted advisor. Over the years, I’ve spoken with dozens of recent high school and college grads who have given me an understanding of what now passes for mentorship.

On the positive side, those who go into most of the construction trades are often the best trained, relatively speaking. Back in the Pliocene Epoch, I was once a brick tender. That was the guy who ensured the brick layer was always sufficiently supplied with mortar, called mud, and the brick or block with which they were workin’ that day. There were two basic ways to learn brick tending. You hired on as a below market rookie, working for a non-union company and learned on the job at half the pay of the guy showin’ you the ropes. That’s how I learned. Or, you applied for membership in the local union, which had a very effective training program. Either way, you ended up a very competent brick tender.

Who’s being mentored in today’s job culture?

According to most industries, everyone is. Having been mentored myself within an inch of my life, I can tell you first hand, that today the concept has been thoroughly bastardized. Part of the agreement with my many mentors was to eventually pay it forward, when I was qualified to do so. In the last 15 years or so I’ve been blessed to have made good on that promise.

Mentoring 2,000 years ago:

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Back a couple thousand years ago, being mentored was not only pivotal to success, if not survival, but a serious privilege. It often took several years, resulting in the universally respected title of Journeyman. It denoted that your work’s product was worthy of pay and of the highest quality, and that you were no longer indentured to the ‘master’ as their apprentice. It was a very sober undertaking, the implied contract being between the master and the apprentice, both of whom took their obligations very seriously. Back then the only reason for a union’s existence was to ensure the highest quality of workmanship — as it should be.

As a mentor, I prefer the Old School approach

As the owner/broker of a real estate investment firm, those who I’ve mentored have been young agents aspiring to open their own investment brokerage at some point. Their first job is to learn the most basic activities of an assistant. This entails learning the various players involved when investing in real estate. Then, there are the forms, which are endless. Being mentored means you’re with me at least 80% of the time. Clients meeting me in the office? You’re there. Five year after tax cash flow analysis? You’re doin’ yours on the same property, but separately. Those are but two of the myriad tasks and skill sets to be learned, or rather, mastered.

My mentors? They didn’t understand grading on the ‘curve.’ What they understood was that either I got it, completely, or I didn’t. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely wasn’t pass/fail, it was master it or you failed and started over. Were they brutal? I was ridiculed often. Two of ’em employed the occasional back of the head slap. No, really, they did. To them, ensuring I was always learning was a deadly serious undertaking. They cared. It showed. I learned.

The other side of the coin — my experience as a mentor

Of those mentees who swore on their momma’s life to be ‘all in’, a total of, count ’em, four have stayed the course. Three were nuclear, glow-in-the-dark rookies. One is an established brokerage owner who, as I did, transitioned from homes into the investment side. I’ve easily had over a couple hundred begin the difficult journey apprentices must travel. Four were dead serious. So, when we constantly hear and read about lousy training programs, understand there’s another side. Hundreds, more likely thousands around the country who were offered the chance for wicked good mentoring by highly qualified professionals, didn’t even slack off, they completely flaked out.

In plain English, my batting average for mentoring success, when viewed objectively, sucks. I began offering to mentor serious agents back in 1996. In over 15 years, that means I’ve successfully taken four of over 200 agents to the point of earning a pretty good living. The rest? Most are doing something else, completely out of the business. The irony is that almost all of ’em came to me asking to be seriously mentored. Yeah, I know about human nature. But, to seek out the mentor themselves proactively, then flake out? The average flake out time was less than a week, sometimes less than a work day.

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On the other hand, those four who stayed the course? The first two did well. One became a full blown real estate investment agent. In fact, he made $15,000 his first month on his own. The second guy not only succeeded, he later opened his own brokerage exactly as he’d planned. Of the latter two, one ended up coordinating my operation from the inside. That meant being ‘operations manager’ for tax deferred exchanges involving multiple properties/multiple states. It mean handling all transactions after they were negotiated. No, he wasn’t a transaction coordinator. He literally ran the business for 90% of what needed to be accomplished. TCs from three states reported to him. Brokers, lenders, escrow, title — everyone called him first, not me. That’s how good he was.

The fourth guy was a house broker, a one-horse operation, more or less. Since he was in another state, the ‘mentoring’ takes place online, on the phone, and in person whenever I’m in his state. Fortunately for him, he’s a whole lot smarter than I am. He’s significantly increased not only his real time operating knowledge, but enhanced that immeasurably by attending some very difficult, highly sophisticated, and rather expensive training I strongly ‘recommended.’ Each year, his income has increased impressively. The guy can take a new concept and take it to the street faster than most I’ve known.

I believe this and told him as much — he’ll experience what I call a 2-comma income year before he’s 40. He’s 32 now, I think. ‘Course, by then he’ll be mentoring others, paying it forward just as he promised. I also suspect he’ll be a bunch better at it than I ever was.

Old School mentoring assumes that mutual responsibility is the glue for success, bonding the mentor and the student together. Once that responsibility has been embraced, the relationship is almost assured of success.

Finding a mentor

Need mentoring? Find one. Are you highly experienced at what you do? Let it be known you’ll mentor the right person. I look back on my mentors, some of whom were literally icons, and wonder how I came to be blessed so many times. There are very few of us who are successful without being mentored, whether it was formal or not. We all owe them to pay it forward. Why? Simple — what we were taught was priceless. Without them. I would have been trapped doing something I hated. With them, I was given the key unlocking the door to a life I only dreamed of back then.

Old School mentoring — get it — give it back.

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Related: Mentorship Report

Written By

Jeff Brown specializes in real estate investment for retirement, has practiced real estate for over 40 years and is a veteran of over 200 tax deferred exchanges, many multi-state. Brown is a second generation broker and works daily with the third generation. With CCIM training and decades of hands on experience, Brown's expertise is highly sought after, some of which he shares on his real estate investing blog.

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