Leadership is not an island.

Mentoring to make a world of difference

Someone once told me, “You can aim to make a difference in the world, or you can aim to make a world of difference.” It’s a nifty twist on words, but I actually took it as a personal challenge. And that is how my personal passion project started: mentoring. Everyone should have a personal passion project. While you share a life of learnings, it should also sharpen you as a person, a leader and an individual. I challenge others, but especially leaders, to find a passion project that can help shape them and others.

I have always appreciated my mentors. And when I reached the point where I could legitimately offer my own time as a mentor, I dove in. It has been a cathartic experience ever since. Some might think of mentoring as a one-way street, but my experience taught me you can learn just as much from a mentee. Let me share a couple of my experiences and perhaps a few tips you can apply.

Mentoring will give you great perspective.

I have become significantly more engaged in the Milwaukee nonprofit scene since moving downtown. I quickly became aware that I could make a difference here. One group I joined, MKE Fellows, has had a profound impact on me. It is an organization with the primary purposes of generating internships for young Black men while in college and lining up mentors for these folks. This felt like a perfect fit for me to make a world of difference, one person at a time. I signed up and, so far, I’ve mentored four young men. I still keep in touch with three of them as they’ve moved into the working world.

I quickly realized that I was lucky enough to have an amazing support system growing up, which many of these men don’t have. I try to help by filling a few of these gaps by giving the men advice, support and connections. Sometimes over coffee or a bite of food, I help them find their footing professionally. But, in all reality, they help ground me. What I learn from them has made me a better, thoughtful and more self-aware person.

Look close to home for opportunities.

I like to think I have an eye for talent. I like to surround myself by it — young or “mature.” Within our offices, I have mentored a number of younger associates who are clearly emerging talents. I have coffee or breakfast with them and listen to their challenges and successes. I answer their questions and try to help them think differently about things. I often can give them the gift of perspective that they might not have because they simply haven’t lived it yet. I may not be an expert about the tools of today’s digital world, but there are timeless lessons that I have shared about growing into a better leader and manager. It has been gratifying to watch these young folks grow into important contributors to our clients and business. And I hope that someday they will pay it forward.

Find raw potential and nurture it.

So, I challenge you: Look for the diamonds in the rough, search out the square peg in the round hole and nurture it. If you see potential and know you can help breathe life into it, share your gifts. The world needs more mentors, and more executives need a passion project that taps their talents to give back. I challenge you to find one of those organizations and get involved. You will not only make a difference in the world but also make a world of difference — in both their lives and yours. I see it as our duty.

About the Author

As chairman, Greg Nickerson splits his time between business development, financial oversight and serving on several non-profit boards representing Bader Rutter.  During his three decades at the agency, he has seen it more than triple in size and diversify its client base into many different industries. Greg counts among his accomplishments orchestrating an employee buy-out of the company from its founder in 2008 as well as leading the effort to locate and build a new headquarters in downtown Milwaukee.

Greg has long taken an active role in the Milwaukee community, from industry and trade groups to philanthropic community service. A long-time board member of the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, he was recently elected President of their Board of Directors. Much to his chagrin, he has not been called down to the floor to help his beloved Milwaukee Bucks.