Lessons Learned From My First Business Mentor — My Brother
by Justin Tyler
I’ve known my older brother for 36 years, but in two different versions. In one version, he is simply my older brother. In the alternative version, he is my business mentor and career compass.
We didn’t always talk about business, leadership and career development. In fact, we enjoyed a great upbringing full of comedy, video games, sports, entertainment and the proverbial brotherly tiffs and disagreements that solidified our bond even more. We are quite different in personality and disposition, but our divergence propelled us to be more well-rounded beings.
One of the things that I have always enjoyed about our brotherhood was his penchant for bringing me along with his friends and allowing me to see/hear/learn/understand people, places and things outside of my age group. He was always in position to give me advice and counsel me on life situations because he is seven years older than me and wanted me to see things well in advance, if possible. Chances were that he had already seen, experienced and/or knew the black, white and grey areas of existence and felt compelled to make wiser decisions, vicariously through me, a second time around.
Naturally, the seeds of a mentorship-like exchange and relationship were born because (1) he cultivated a lane for this communication and (2) I took advantage of the opportunity like a determined apprentice.
As I ventured to college (“Let’s Goooooooooo, Mountaineers!”) and graduated on-time, the conversation began to shift toward business, leadership and career development as we both were now in the workforce at the same time. Big Bro made a significant professional leap in the span of 6 years at his company; he learned a tremendous amount of business game, sales techniques, communication nuances and leadership principles within and outside of the workplace. Undoubtedly, he was able to quickly level up his business acumen as a result of a business mentor who invested time and resources into his professional growth. Therefore, my brother successfully took advantage in his mentor’s business and his burgeoning cache of knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) began to translate beautifully in his “9am — 5pm job,” too.
Fast forward to present day, I reflect on the top five nuggets of advice that I have learned from our conversations and through his lead-by-example approach. Since I am in a sharing mood, let’s review my interpretation of my brother’s business principles that have guided my development thus far.
The Power of Positive Discontent
My brother’s first employer outlined positive discontent as one of their operating business principles. Initially, I was intrigued with the word play because I have never heard someone use both of those words together to evoke a meaning. From what I understand, positive discontent means “to be unhappy with the status quo.” Even if you are satisfied with your achievements or level of progress, never stay complacent. Always push for the next level. In his first position, he started at the bottom with the vision and determination to learn and master concepts and systems at each level. He spoke often about seeking a solution instead of complaining. Confidently move forward with the action plan and meticulously build a pilot program that can eventually turn into a rollout that can be favorably incubated across the company. The power of positive discontent was the impetus for his new business approach — to be different, build value, and focus on successful outcomes for the benefit of the organization.
The People Make the Process and the Progress
I’ve always thought that business was a social affair. How a person or place manages their relationships can have an immense impact on the success of a business. Should a company invest in the education and training of their workforce? Correct. Do effective managers and leaders cultivate a supportive and fair work environment? Yes, this should be the goal. Should HR offer competitive compensation and benefits packages to keep top talent? That’s a no-brainer. Can top talent lead and train other talent to maximize their skills to efficiently operate company systems and processes? Why, of course they can!
As a general manager, I witnessed my brother operating multiple locations overseeing multiple departments and multiple personalities. Innately, he is about more investing in people and building up talent and systems rather than buying additional software and implementing more automation. Dr. W. Edwards Deming, engineer and management consultant famous for his 14 Points of Quality Management, mentioned the need for building programs that educate and self-improve the workforce. “It is easier to make a purchase (machinery or software) than to put in the effort to build the organization (developing people, improving processes) but the efforts to build the organization are what will have the large payoff over the long term” (Deming). Indeed, my brother, the long-term thinker, always prioritized the development of his talent and enhancement of the system first in order for the talent to be ready to maximize the processes.
Learn From the Ground Up
We have all heard Drake’s smash hit from 2013, “Started From the Bottom.” The premise of this song is that he has made it to the top against all odds and the struggle and pain during his rise was worth everything. Thus, in my brother’s rise to general manager, he relished the opportunity to learn at the entry-level and leverage the KSAs that he has accumulated to comprehensively understand how each person’s role functions in the bigger picture. He remarked that being able to know everyone’s position has allowed him to be more of a servant leader while providing quality on-the-job training. From a people perspective, he also understood what it meant to be in an entry-level and non-management role; my brother was able to routinely put himself in the shoes of his team and help them look at solving problems in multiple ways. As a result, his leadership style allowed his staff to incrementally build self-confidence and ask for help when needed while he developed buy-in and meaningful relationships.
Master Emotional Impulses
In the words of posthumous ESPN sports anchor Stuart Scott (RIP), my brother’s disposition is “as cool as the other side of the pillow.” Since he was a young man, I have never noticed him let his emotions get the best of him. Regardless of how tense a situation was, he regularly self-regulated his emotions and showed patience before acting. This natural inclination served him well in business because as he rose in leadership, a high emotional quotient enabled him to make better decisions and execute more consistently under duress. Moreover, in terms of leading his teams, he was able to lead a diverse group of staff members with varying needs, wants and perspectives to consistently overcome challenges and get the work done.
Often, my brother communicated to me that one of the reasons he rose to leadership internally and increased his salary was due to his emotional intelligence. According to Marissa Sanfilippo, “Jennifer Hancock, founder of Humanist Learning Systems, added that people with a high EQ typically have higher salaries because they tend to be more productive. ‘People who are good at working with other people and getting other people to work with them tend to get more work done. They have good reputations since people like working with them.’”
Business = Performance
Over time, he became fascinated with measuring business performance as a means of evaluating progress to business goals through key performance indicators (KPIs). In formal schooling as well as in mentorships, he was told early and often about “being one with the numbers” and not being afraid of data and statistics. Through his training, he learned how to set a plethora of business goals, establish KPIs that have real meaning to your business, respect both quantitative and qualitative data and track information to measure where the business is truly going. Consequently, he sharpened his means of using his KPIs to reveal more deeply about profitability (profit & loss, operating margin, gross and net profit margins), customer loyalty (acquisition, retention, sales data), financial health (sales growth, cash flow, growth, financial ratios) and competitor data (SWOT analysis, talent management, competitive advantage, best practices). His penchant for knowing his business and his insight on how to improve performance served him well in making both short- and long-term decisions.
In closing, older brothers have a natural tendency and inclination to position themselves as role models for their younger siblings. My brother taught me how to be cool in my own skin. He tried to shield me from the mistakes he made. He taught me how to get up and be strong again after each setback. He believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. Most of all, I am thankful to have a brother who effortlessly doubles as a life and business mentor. Unquestionably, he has helped me reach the heights that I soar today.
Thanks forever, ‘Mal.