This month, BlackEnterprise.com presents Month of the Man, where we bring you career features tailored for male leaders of color all over the world.
Many African-American boys grow up lacking the proper guidance and support that’s needed for them to become successful. In fact, as a product of a single-parent home in a tough inner-city, I didn’t have a traditional mentor around for many years. Consequently, I didn’t have career direction or focus as a young adult. However, things began to change for me in the 11th grade when I encountered some amazing role models that took me under their wings.
My first role model was my varsity football coach, Devlin Culliver, who went on to later write Winning the Toss: Learning How to Win, Love, and Live in the Midst of a Chaotic Life. Culliver demonstrated a high level of tough love toward me because he wanted to bring out the absolute best in me. As a result of this relationship, I developed a high level of confidence, toughness, and resiliency. He also showed me that being smart was cool because he was an intelligent, yet popular coach.
The next man who heavily influenced me was one of my high school teachers, Commander James Copland. He’s the first teacher that actually made me think about my career aspirations. One of his biggest goals was for me to attain an internship so I could be ahead of my peers once I entered into college and the real-world. The first time I applied to an internship upon his recommendation, I failed! But, then he encouraged me to apply to the same internship program the following year—and then I got it! In the following years, I had benefited so much from doing internships to where I actually wrote a book that offers internship advice and tips for students.
Lastly, during my junior year in high school I was introduced to a very successful Caucasian married couple. And to be frank, they invested more finances and time in my personal and professional growth than anyone else had while I was a student. Despite my unsavory circumstances that I faced as a student, they knew that I was self-motivated and wanted to have a successful career. And I can honestly say that I wouldn’t be as successful as I am today if it weren’t for all of my mentorship relationships that I developed as a student.
So if you are a young African-American male who needs a role model or mentor, here’s what you have to do:
1. Realize that you can’t succeed alone so you MUST seek help and support. Especially if you have very limited resources, it’s vital that you find someone who’s willing to serve as an active mentor and champion for you. The most important thing to remember is that you have to be proactive and ask for help from people you admire. Trust me, if you ask enough people, someone will be impressed by your self-motivation to where they will happily become one of your mentors.
2. Don’t only look for African-American role models. There are many professionals who aren’t African-American that will be willing to help you get to the next level with your goals. In all actuality, you need a diverse set of mentors that come from all walks of life. This is a huge secret to success that many people probably won’t share with you.
3. Demonstrate that you are willing to take your personal and professional growth seriously. Keep in mind that people who mentor you are doing it for free and out of the kindness of their heart. Therefore, when you set appointments with them or they assign you a developmental task, make certain that you do it by the deadline that was established.
4. Check in regularly and make sure the relationship isn’t all about you. As a mentee, you don’t want the mentor relationship to be all about you. Consequently, you have to provide your mentors with updates and show interest in their professional endeavors as well. Make sure you keep up with their significant accomplishments so you can congratulate them for their successes too.
5. Don’t let your mentors down; Make them proud by surpassing their expectations. If you want to keep a mentor by your side, you can’t let them down. You have to exceed their expectations. Doing this will convey to them that you are serious about your growth and the investment that they’ve made in you.
Antoine Moss, Ph.D., (@2PositiveTweets) is a nationally recognized resource on internships, early career achievement, leadership and motivation. CEO and founder of CEO Style Consulting L.L.C., Moss empowers professionals and organizations to reach their full potential, and serves as speaker, workshop instructor and consultant. The author of Learn to Intern CEO Style, Moss has been a featured expert on outlets including Fox 8 TV News and George Fraser’s 2011 Power Networking Conference.