Finding a Professional Mentor: An Example of How It Can Work for Everyone
November 16, 2017
Bob Greenberger is a big advocate of mentoring, and his enthusiasm shines through when talking about Angela Dotson.
They met almost 20 years ago when Greenberger recruited Dotson to become a college intern.
“One of my professors told me Bob was a helpful mentor to him, and I was really hungry to learn as much as possible and grow in the profession,” recalls Dotson.
A long mentoring relationship has flourished ever since. Dotson became partner-in-charge of professional services at Aprio this year, one of the youngest people ever to make partner.
Greenberger, a partner specializing in tax planning and other financial areas, has been with the firm more than 20 years. Not only an adamant champion of mentoring, he’s been an executive committee member, helping to develop staff and clients.
Here, the two describe their story and share how others at professional services firms can benefit from mentoring programs. (Read Bob’s earlier article about why law firms need formal mentoring programs.)
Question: Bob, you’d been at the firm for years and were already a partner, right, when Angela joined as an intern?
Greenberger: Yes. We had only three or four tax partners, so all of them worked with all of the tax staff. The mentoring happened very organically, since I was coaching Angela as part of being a supervisor.
Dotson: Bob was always available for questions or to chat. Early on, he would take me to meetings with other professionals and clients so I could observe. Bob also allowed me to call clients directly. I was anxious about it at first, but I saw how it helped me stretch and learn, even when I felt like I had no clue what was going on.
Q: Not everyone would be open to that — why do you think you were? And what made him a good mentor?
D: I really wanted to do well in my career. Bob’s a good mentor because he doesn’t wait for you to seek advice; he’s constantly teaching and giving tips to everyone. I decided to implement his tips, and I noticed I was starting to see success when following his guidance. So I started asking for his advice on various things. Bob is someone I can talk to about issues, brainstorm ideas and vent to when needed.
Q: Bob, what makes someone a good mentor?
G: First, you need a sincere desire to help staff grow. Otherwise, you will fail as a mentor, because you’re not truly interested in staff development. Mentors should also be completely open and transparent with mentees — about the good, the bad and the ugly. Make sure mentees know they can open up to you and have confidential conversations. A good mentor understands the mentee’s business, as well as their short- and long-term options and goals. And remember to make time to meet and follow up. Listen and be personable.
Q: Why should professional services firms have mentoring programs?
G: The bread and butter of a firm is its staff. With partners retiring, there’s a strong need to be sure staff can take over client responsibilities. Staff learn technical skills at college, and they may learn nuances from supervisors about how to use tax software and so on.
But they rarely get the needed training on soft skills, like how to interact with clients and colleagues, how to network, what’s involved in marketing, etc. Having a stronger staff allows the supervisor or partner to spend time on higher-value tasks.
Seeing people grow is more rewarding for me than anything else in our business.
Q: Angela, why and how should young professionals seek a mentor?
D: There’s so much to learn as a young professional. You need someone to help steer you in the right direction. It’s also helpful to have someone who wants to see you succeed as much as you do. Both of you become vested in the process.
First, look for someone who’s been successful and who you respect. They don’t have to be inside your organization, but for new professionals, I suggest someone in the same field. Look for people who naturally share ideas and suggestions. Determine who the “go-to” people in your office are, as they’re more likely to give you their time in a meaningful way.
I would not have reached the level of partner at the same pace without it. And it continues to be important, even though I’ve made partner. The lessons I’ve learned are invaluable.
Q: What’s your relationship been like?
G: Over the years, she grew technically but also soared with her people skills. I have always had a strong focus on networking and marketing, so a natural part of our relationship involved soft-skills development. I tend to delegate more than my fellow partners, which has given her more responsibility with clients, which in turn has helped her grow and freed me up to help the firm in other ways.
Throughout the years, we’ve also found time to connect on a personal level over various activities. I’m now helping her as she coaches others. Last month, we had an outing with two other colleagues involved in mentoring. We went to an indoor rock-climbing facility for a few hours, then had dinner — just to strengthen our relationships.
D: I continue to seek his advice and guidance. He’s far more than a mentor at this stage. I have formally mentored several people at the firm; I’m actually going into my third year with someone. It’s very important to me that I’m able to help him move forward in his career, because mentoring was so beneficial for me.
Are you two still close? Do you have regular talks?
G: Yes, and yes. We just had lunch today, in fact.
D: He’s a friend, advocate and sponsor. I know how much Bob’s mentoring helped me.
- RELATED CONTENT: To read more about mentoring, see an earlier article on why law firms should establish formal mentoring programs.