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apprenticeship parable on mentorship

Searching For Mentorship – A Business Parable – Part 1 of 3

YPOWPO_AB_7552_tostee  When Sam graduated Harvard, he felt the world was at his fingertips. Having just finished at the top of his class, he was ready to take the next step. He had interviewed and received multiple job offers from some of the best companies in the world. Considering the wealth of options available to him, Sam did not know where to start. He aspired to be a business leader, but in what business?

In a flash of inspiration, Sam realized that management consulting was his perfect avenue into the business world. In consulting, he could work with numerous firms over a diverse range of industries, giving him the chance to “test drive” myriad sectors. He surmised that consulting operators knew not just their business, but that they understood business in general. He dreamed of receiving valuable mentorship that would apply no matter where he ended up. In the end, he chose from among his many options, a global consulting leader headquartered nearby in Boston. His decision was ultimately based on the firm’s reputation for their collegial nature and track record of success. Here, Sam felt, he would learn the skills that would provide a solid foundation for whatever career he ultimately chose to pursue.

After initial training, Sam was assigned to the Texas office. Walking into the office on his first day, Sam was brimming with enthusiasm. He finally had the chance to put his years of hard work and education into practice. He couldn’t wait to show the world what he was truly capable of. It wasn’t long before one of the partners approached him at his desk. After introducing himself as Nick, he described to Sam their mission: an important meeting was coming up with Dell Computer, one of the firm’s most important clients. Because of Sam’s strong background, Nick had hand-picked Sam to be part of the Dell Team. As part of this team, he would work closely with four others to conduct research, generate data and ultimately create a PowerPoint presentation as the basis for the strategy meeting. Sam couldn’t believe his good fortune. It was only his first day and already he was working with a major client, hand-in-hand with a partner – it was everything Sam could have hoped for and more.

Over the next three weeks, Sam threw himself into the project with his team. Working 80 hours per week, they generated data on Dell’s business, analyzed it, and built a clear case for a significant strategic shift in Dell’s business model. On the morning of the meeting, Nick expressed his gratitude and told Sam that his presentation would go right in front of Michael Dell. With that, Nick and another partner went off to the meeting, leaving Sam at his desk, feeling exhausted yet rewarded. After all his hard work, he felt he had nailed it, and that the partners would too.

Sam spent his day working on other projects. After lunch, he sought out the partners to see how things went, but there was no sign of him or any sort of feedback on the meeting. The week continued as such: Sam had other work to do, and there was no report on what happened during the meeting. In the absence of knowledge, Sam constantly wondered, How was the meeting? How was Michael Dell? Did he agree with our findings and our strategy shift? Did he have any questions? What are the next steps?
Only after two weeks did Sam run into Nick again. He ventured to ask about the Dell meeting.

“Hey sir, I was wondering, how’d the Dell meeting go? Did they like my work?”
“Oh yeah, that? It was great. Michael Dell’s quite the guy. Listen, I’ve got something else I need you to work on. There’s a new client—”

Searching for MentorshipAt that, Sam paused. He was happy he was keeping busy, and that the partners evidently trusted his work. On the other hand, he could not help feeling like he had just been brushed off. He had spent hundreds of hours on the presentation and received zero feedback. That being his first project, he knew it couldn’t be perfect, but without feedback he was lost as to how to improve.

Over the next few months, Sam worked on numerous projects, and observed a similar pattern. He would prepare the presentation, hand it off to the partners, and never hear about it again. He rarely received any feedback, and it slowly caused him to question what he was doing at this firm. He knew that partners were extremely busy, but at times he couldn’t help but wonder if they cared about his growth at all.

Sam started thinking. He wanted to learn, but he wasn’t convinced that his current environment was providing the opportunities he had hoped for. He felt disconnected at the firm and he found it harder and harder to put in the long hours and diligence that he once had. Sam was smart, eager, and determined – he knew he had the makings of a business leader, but he also knew it would be much harder to achieve his ultimate goals without mentorship. He wanted to work somewhere where he could see the fruits of his labor and the path to leadership. Thinking about his college friend Dan, who worked at a company that emphasized apprenticeship, he picked up the phone.

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