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Mentoring is only truly measured in terms of results – old school vs. new school

Mentorship programs today

Coming from what so many of those in their 20’s and 30’s call the dinosaur age, I’ve seen more so-called ‘mentorship programs’ than anyone should have to. When I was first licensed, roughly a generation after the Pilocene Age ended, when one was mentored… one was mentored.

Beginning at 18, I was mentored by an ever growing number of truly gifted brokers, two of which were born in the 19th century. Yeah, really. Having spent my first seven years listing/selling homes, and since then the investment side, I can tell ya straight up: agents today, and for the last three decades, are simply not being mentored worth a tinker’s damn. This isn’t theory or projection of some late to the party model. Young and/or new agents are being lied to, plain and simple.

What’s pathetic is that so many of the big box firms believe their own propaganda as a result of massive repetition over time. I won’t mention any names, but for nearly seven years (November 1996 through June 20013), I witnessed first hand in real time what passed for then, and is being passed off now as ‘mentoring.’

The office sported 130-150 agents at any one time. The mentoring program housed a maximum of 24 ‘mentees,’ all corralled in the middle of the office’s bullpen area. In the almost seven years I was able to watch on a daily basis, two developed into better than average producers, about 25% ended up closing a deal every 6-8 weeks or so, and the rest did an impeccable imitation of steam.

Complaints about me by the mentors

Many of these newbies would quietly come by tapping on my door for some help or advice on something. This went on for several months until one day, the office manager called me into her office for a ‘chat.’ “Why was I meeting with the newbies?” “Meeting? Really? You see a sign on my door saying, ‘See Jeff for help?’” “Come on, Jeff, help me out here.” “OK, I suggest you’re asking the wrong person the wrong question. You should be asking your mentors why their students are doin’ an end run around them to get to someone else.” “Go away, and don’t talk with them any more.” “Yes ma’am!”

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That manager and I had a great relationship, and a very well developed mutual respect. She knew I was being a bit of a smart-ass, but also knew her newbies were going elsewhere because they weren’t getting workable answers or advice. The older couple who were the office’s designated mentorship program leaders were not pleased with these developments. They visited my office the following day, and very nicely asked that I mind my own bee’s wax from then on.

Game on!

The program was designed to be a year long, and agents were ‘successful’ if they listed/sold a total of three properties that closed escrow in that time. I approached the least successful student, a 25 year old hopelessly dyslexic young man, who in 13 months had closed exactly one transaction. I asked him if he’d like to be my slave assistant in training. He nearly hugged me as his answer. I then went to the office manager who promptly rolled her eyes in despair, but said if the mentors agreed, she’d sign off on it. They agreed, and I swear I thought I discerned a smirk.

My new slave assistant-in-training, Stan, started the following Monday morning. At first, he wasn’t worth the effort it took to spit, but he learned quickly. His dyslexia forced me to eschew the written word almost completely. But he rarely needed to learn things twice. After a couple of months, I allowed him to put out small brush fires. I told him exactly how he was to do it, and in what order — and that he was to follow the instructions verbatim. Pretty soon, he began to solve small problems himself, coming to me with his story of vanquishing Murphy’s latest effort. I gave him no quarter, ever. Every mistake he made, he paid for one way or another. He was mentored as I was by using the Roman model. My mentors had no concept of mercy when it came to anyone they mentored. Learn, shut up and listen, or find someone else. They all could have been Romans for Heaven’s sake.

Failure is very real

Apprentices are taught each skill in minute detail, through massive repetition. They’re allowed more responsibility only when they’ve proven themselves in the arena, where failure is very real, and brings with it equally real consequences. The apprentice understands their job, and that the ability to become an expert themselves depends entirely on the understanding that the process isn’t a game. During the Roman Empire, unions existed for the sole purpose of ensuring the ongoing quality of work their tradesmen produced. This was accomplished with an almost hellishly rigorous apprentice process.

The penalty for an apprentice’s failure was a life of struggle, possibly even servitude. Training was almost always one on one. The master craftsman, often for many, many years, trained their apprentice one day at a time, one skill at a time, until they’d made it their own. Boiled down to its basics? Do everything the right way, in order, with excellence of results as the guiding principle.

Contrast that system to what is inflicted on today’s new agents

If you’re one of them reading this, it may be dawning on you that you’ll never get the last few wasted years back. Who do you know, including yourself, who is being trained one on one as if it mattered more than a hill of beans? Don’t answer, it’s a trick question.

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I’ve now mentored from beginning to end a total of three agents. The shortest time spent was five days a week, all day, in the same office, for eight months. The longest (because the training included far more sophisticated skills) was for about four years. By the time that guy was trained, my clients, with me in the room four feet away, would sometimes ask him questions, not me. The first time that happened, I didn’t stop patting myself on the back for the rest of the week!

Stan? When I let him loose as an investment agent, he put $30,000 in GCI into escrow within 30 days. My office manager didn’t share my sense of humor when I buzzed her office with a goofy smile, chanting “ha ha.” The office was flabbergasted at the weekly meeting as the ‘sales board’ was reviewed by (wait for it) the office manager.

True old school mentoring is priceless. Looking back on those who so graciously mentored me, I’m humbled by how undeserving I was at the time. But, as one of them told me not long before passing away, “Jeff, you were, and still are a hopeless smartass. But, you always showed respect, and it was obvious how motivated you were to know what we all could teach you.” To this day I still believe in my heart that I could live to be 150 and still not be qualified to shine his shoes. Lord, I miss him.

Want to raise your game?

Want to raise your game to where elite professionals ply their trade? Find one who isn’t merely the beneficiary of massive marketing. One who is a legitimate real estate pro. If you can get one of them to show you how it’s done, make whatever sacrifices necessary. In the long run you’ll be telling folks about your mentor(s) too.

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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.



  1. ken brand

    August 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    It's damn hard to pay the full price for the fullest benefit. And, it's so easy to skip steps, in hopes of gaining speed. In the short and long run, we can't outrun the limitations the skipped steps burden us with.

    Thanks for the reminder, although it's a painful reminder. Cheers Jeff. Thanks

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