Why Mentoring Matters: Learning From Others

 Tracy Schwind: Senior Vice President, Marketing, Northwest Bank & Trust Company

Tracy Schwind: Senior Vice President, Marketing, Northwest Bank & Trust Company

By Tracy Schwind:  Senior Vice President, Marketing, Northwest Bank & Trust Company

There is so much to learn from those around us. Mentoring matters because it provides a wonderful opportunity to do just that. I have been fortunate throughout my career to have some amazing mentors, and I’m sure I would not be in my position today without their willingness to share their wisdom with me.

When I think through my career, the most obvious first mentor that jumps out to me is Debby Stafford. I had been at Lujack’s NorthPark Auto Plaza for a few years in a sales roles when Debby joined the team as the Marketing Director. After some life changes on my part, namely my son being born, Debby approached me with the idea of job sharing with her. This would allow both of us to work part-time, making room for us to spend time with our families. While job sharing can be challenging, it worked great for us, and we did it for many years. Besides the obvious advantages of the flexible schedule with young children at home, I gained so much in what I learned from Debby.

During our time together, Debby offered me wonderful advice - from the little things like helping me figure out what to wear to an event, to the big things like how to balance my growing career and family. She was never critical, but always happy to help me figure out the answer. One of the things for which I will be forever grateful is Debby recommending me for a board position with the FRIENDS of the Davenport Public Library. At that time, my community involvement was pretty limited. Debby was well-respected in the non-profit world for her outstanding board service, so I know her recommendation carried a lot of weight. Through that opportunity, I met many new people, and was able to get experience that became valuable in board positions down the road. My involvement on non-profit boards and committees has played a big part in shaping me and my career, and I thank Debby for helping me with the first step.

While Debby was technically my boss, she never presented herself that way, and strived to make me feel like her equal from day one. I was far from equal to where she was professionally at that point, but her attitude and her willingness to guide me gave me confidence and the ability to grow much more quickly than I would have been able to without her. Debby and I still are great friends, and I truly appreciate the part she took in mentoring me.

Since that time, there have been many others along the way. I still hear words of advice in my head that many wise and wonderful people have offered me. Some of those words like “You’re too young to coast” have propelled me forward. “You’re putting far too much importance on that” helped me let go of failures. I’m sure that some of these people have no idea how much they’ve impacted my life by taking the time to offer their advice, but that’s what a mentor does. A mentor listens to what you really need and helps you find the answer. A mentor is happy to expose their own failures to help you avoid making the same mistake.

I love being able to pay back what was done for me by mentoring others and  I also know that mentoring is never a one-way street.  I come away from a discussion with those that I mentor with a fresh perspective. Sometimes the experience simply reminds me of important lessons; sometimes it gives me a different outlook. I’ve absolutely learned as much from those that may consider me to be their mentor, as they’ve learned from me. 

Now, through Lead(H)er, I have another wonderful relationship. I must confess, I’m an introvert by nature, so meeting new people is really outside my comfort zone. I always agonize a little over these situations, and I entered the lunch with Maggie in that frame of mind. I was excited to meet her and hopeful that we would begin a nice friendship, but cautiously optimistic because you can’t force these things.  By the end of lunch, I was pulling out my phone to see when we could get together again. Maggie proved to be a perfect match. We’ve had wonderful conversations and great opportunities to share ideas and learn from each other. I’m looking forward to many more times together and to watching her continue to grow.