Amongst the many luminaries the travel industry lost this year, a common thread frequently appeared in the praises and adjectives their friends and colleagues used to describe them: mentor.
Stacy Small, CEO and founder of Elite Travel International, called Susan Dale Tanzman, president of Martin’s Travel and Tours, “one of the kindest people” who “always took my calls and made time to answer my questions on any subject that affected the travel industry.”
Michelle Finkelstein Murre, at luxury travel firm, Azurine, talked about how Pallavi Shah had been her mentor for about five years, when Finkelstein Murre worked for Shah’s company, Our Personal Guest. "She taught me everything she knew about the travel industry, running your own business and how to succeed."
“It’s important for us to find someone who we can admit to, that we are a little lost and can they help lead the way?” said Lisa Paul, head of marketing, and manager of global accounts at Kuoni Destination Management USA. “It’s not because they have all the answers, but because they are a second set of eyes and ears for the challenges we face.”
Paul has been a mentor and received mentorship off and on over 26 years working in the travel industry. She also serves on the board of WINiT, a non-profit, membership-based organization that works to promote the careers of women in the travel industry.
Travel agents frequently claim that it was the care and concern of another person who helped them see their business find a path to success. But how do you find one?
The first step to developing a successful mentorship
The first critical step to developing a successful mentorship relationship is identifying what the need in your business or career is, Paul said. “Some people are tactical, really good at operations, but might need help with the creative marketing side,” she said. Fully accepting that gap and being able to focus on it in your search for a possible mentor will put a mentorship relationship on a productive path.
One step for your search should be a professional network, like LinkedIn, or an organization like WINiT.
WINiT, which is open to women and men, offers a “self-service” mentor program for certain membership levels, covering the travel, meeting, event and exhibition industries.
“You want to review profiles and study what roles possible mentors have served in, to assess if their experience and success indicates they might be a good match,” Paul said. If you are looking at a public profile like LinkedIn, is there any indication that they are active in mentoring or generous in their time by serving in charitable organizations? That might indicate their spirit of generosity if you have no idea that they might be interested.
“A lot of this is rooted in chemistry and gut intuition. Their professional personality, their brand, should send you signals that they may or may not be a good fit for you,” Paul said. In the WINiT program, mentors and mentees can "hand pick" their selection based on a quick match questionnaire.
First impressions are everything
If someone accepts the opportunity to think about working with you, that first conversation with a potential mentor needs to be concise. At this point in the relationship, Mentees should be able to articulate clearly: What are you looking for? How long and often do you think you need the mentor’s time? And how will you measure success?
Based on that initial conversation, and maybe even one or two calls or meetings with your mentor, “you should know if you trust and like them,” Paul said.
Trust is extremely important because both of you need to feel like you can be completely candid. If you or your mentor feel like the other person would be hurt about anything passed between you, they are not the right fit, no matter what their skill set is.
Lisa Paul offered the following questions for travel agents to consider if they think getting a mentor would help their business:
- Are you ready to be mentored? Have you identified and truly accepted that there are things you need to learn, areas you can improve on? As confident as you might be, acknowledge you can never stop learning, even if you are on track and doing all the right things.
- How much time do you have and need? Every individual and situation is different. There is no fixed frequency or set amount of time. Think about the scope of your goals and whether there are specific deadlines to getting there; and be clear about the commitment upfront with your mentor. At first, you may need a formal schedule. But over time, as your needs and goals evolve, the relationship could be open-ended.
- Are you aware of your mentor’s needs? They may have offered to help, but you need to be sensitive towards the mentor’s demands on their time and schedule. The relationship can be mutually beneficial if you both are serving each other.