A few days ago, I hosted a going away party for a longtime friend who was moving more than 1,000 miles away. Doug is more than a friend. He was my first professional mentor some 30 years ago, and to this day I still lean on him from time to time as the mentee in the relationship. The occasion gave me time to reflect upon my career and the 30 years that have gone by since I first met Doug when I was a college senior. What would have happened had I not met him? Have I left a similar impression on those I have supervised or managed? Did I take advantage of all that he had to offer? Did I leverage my relationship with him (in the best sense of the word)?

It’s rare when talking with a golf course superintendent about his career that he doesn’t mention the positive influence an individual(s) had on his development. I don’t
propose that mentorship is more important for golf course managers than other professions, but I’m willing to say it’s a career in which success is difficult to achieve without someone taking a vested interest in those new to the industry.

With that in mind, I offer three simple takeaways for both the mentor and mentee — based on experience and observation — that can have a big influence on one’s success. I’ve rarely met someone in a mentor role who’s not willing to help those who are new to a particular profession. In today’s vernacular, they are paying it forward. Having someone on the other end as a willing recipient helps to ensure a positive experience for all involved.I don’t know where I would be if it weren’t for my good friend Doug. Everyone should be so fortunate.

Mentor Guidelines

1. Commit to lifelong learning. Emphasize the importance of continuing education and professional development for the mentee. Recent college graduates think they’re done hitting the books and studying. No more final exams, term papers, or all-night study sessions. Those who don’t keep current and/or continue to develop their skills are certain to be left behind. Successful people never quit learning.

2. Stress communication skills. Impress upon your mentee the value of being a good listener. Those in management are rarely challenged by the technical aspects of their jobs. The difficulty comes in the communication encountered in executing their duties. Becoming a good communicator is a challenge and take practice. The first step comes in being a good listener. Having a clear understanding from the start can help solve or even avoid many problems.

3. Offer a big picture view. Expose your mentee(s) to a variety of people, activities and responsibilities. It’s tempting once an intern or young new employee joins the team to stick them in jobs that are more manual-labor intensive or less desirable than others. While there is nothing wrong in “learning the ropes,” it’s important that those just starting in their careers be exposed to the big picture and learn from a variety of perspectives. This makes them more valuable employees, and helps them tie what they do to the overall operations.

Mentee Guidelines

1. Get real with your mentor. Take it upon yourself to share with your mentor any areas of interest, where skill development might be needed and/or career goals. Your mentor can take that into account as he assigns your duties and exposes you to golf facility operations.

2. Buy some dress clothes. You will have the opportunity to attend an event that requires formal dress. Missing out on these because you don’t have the proper attire can be a huge lost opportunity.

3. Build and leverage your network. You will meet many people in the course of your career, but the people you meet in the formative years can be helpful in developing skills and advancing your lot in life. Develop relationships, keep in contact with them, and ask them for advice and help.