The Power of Relationships: Why Mentorship Matters

Ten Thousand Coffees Team -
February 8, 2022

“Mentorship is about surrounding yourself with a network of individuals who can help strengthen your capabilities and build on the knowledge set that you have,” Mark Beckles told Dave Wilkin in a webinar titled “The Power of Relationships: Why Mentorship Matters.” In this wide-ranging discussion in conjunction with National Mentoring Month, Beckles, Vice-President, Social Impact and Innovation at RBC, spoke at length with Dave Wilkin, the CEO and Co-Founder of Ten Thousand Coffees, about the benefits of mentorship and how to grow your network to a cross-section of students, recent grads and alumni from across North America.

Beckles’ roles extend far beyond his titles. The lead for RBC Future Launch, the signature program committed to helping prepare young people for the future of work, also heads initiatives at RBC that support climate change (RBC Tech for Nature), Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) and the RBC Emerging Artists project. Beckles manages several stakeholder relationships, including legislative think tanks and community organizations, but still finds time in his busy schedule to mentor others. Passionate about making an impact beyond the plethora of titles he holds, Beckles spoke to Wilkin about the power that  mentorship has had in his life and in his career.

Champions and Challengers

Joining the Office Hour was a virtual audience of students, alumni and professionals from across North America. Wilkin began the conversation by asking Beckles what role mentors have played in his career. “Mentorship has been a key part of my life from as early as I can remember,” Beckles said. He started early, volunteering in high school. “As a result of that initial interaction, I made it a point to seek out individuals who could help strengthen and complement my capabilities, who would not just champion me but challenge me, because those two components are important bookends of the mentorship experience.” It goes both ways, Beckles said — as you are mentored, you learn how to mentor others. A big part of mentorship, he explained, is understanding your blind spots and where growth opportunities exist. Even as a successful executive, Beckles encourages constructive criticism from his own mentors. “I have always maintained an active network of individuals around me who have the permission to tell me what I need to hear, in addition to telling me what I want to hear.” That give and take was a big takeaway throughout the hour-long conversation.

“What I've learned through mentoring is that you are giving as much as you are receiving. Because as you are mentored, you learn to mentor. Positioning yourself to become the very thing that you are seeking to be the beneficiary of.” - Mark Beckles

Be curious

Wilkin often hears a common refrain: Do people really want to meet with me, and what do I have to offer? He asked Beckles if there was any truth to that. Spoiler alert: there isn’t. “There's always going to be someone who wants to meet with you, someone who is going to be willing to meet with you,” Beckles replied. Many alumni, he said, are willing to share their advice and experiences and help mentees on a path to success. One thing he reiterated: mentors need to be found, not the other way around, so act like a prospector and go find the “gold in them there hills.” His tips: do your research and be curious when seeking out a potential mentor. What are their interests and background, and do they align with yours? Look them up on LinkedIn, Wilkin suggested, to discover companies they’re aligned with, and if they align with your values. 

Beckles empathized with how scary the process can be. For a student just starting out who doesn’t know how to approach alumni or executives when seeking additional career development opportunities, the experience can be daunting. “I get that it comes with a certain amount of fear. Once you work through the fear, what you often find is it becomes easier with each successive interaction. Mentorship gets easier with time, not harder. But as the saying goes, the longest or hardest journey starts with the first step,” Beckles said. Wilkin was quick to dismiss the idea that alumni aren’t interested in becoming mentors; in fact, the first thing alumni want to do is give back, he says.

“They want to meet you. It's often surprising that when schools ask experienced alumni what they want to do, it's usually to mentor students.” - Dave Wilkin

Persistence is key

Persistence was a big theme throughout the conversation. Sometimes reaching out to a potential mentor doesn’t happen on the first or second try. It’s not from a lack of interest, both executives agreed; oftentimes people are just that busy. What would be some advice that you have for students and recent grads to get started on networking, or just connecting with mentors? Wilkin asked. “It’s never too soon to start,” Beckles replied. “I say to people all the time: networking and mentoring doesn't begin when you are ready to look for a job. You start that long before you are looking because it takes a while for relationships and networks to form.” 

In other words, don’t wait to graduate. By that point, it’s too late to be thinking about the alumni in that space. Start early, Beckles suggested, even in high school. “Build that relationship over time,” he says, adding it never stops, even for senior level executives. “This many years into my career, I am still building networks and mentorships. There are relationships that you will build today that will begin to pay dividends 10-15 years from now. It’s not an on/off switch,” Beckles said. Case in point: the two executives spoke about the first time they met, and how a shared passion for connecting others and creating a democratized access to mentoring led to working together. “We didn’t really have an agenda,” Wilkin said. “The great expression about networking is ‘ask for a job, you'll get advice. If you ask for advice, you'll get a job.’ And the takeaway from that is, the more you go and share advice, all of a sudden, you're going to get great career opportunities.”

People find a way to connect

Wilkin turned the conversation toward hybrid and remote working. Is it a good or a bad thing, he wondered, for the mentoring experience to be remote, and how do we navigate mentoring others in the virtual workplace? Beckles views it as a good thing. “It’s the new normal,” he said. “It requires us to be a little bit more intentional about how we connect and how frequently we are connecting and what we talk about when we connect,” Beckles replied. “Go back to the days of the stagecoach before the train, and the days before the telegraph and Morse code — people found a way to connect. 1,000 years ago, people found a way to connect. We have the most advanced technology known to humankind.” The absence of not being able to get together in person, he continued, shouldn’t be an excuse for not being able to connect in meaningful exchanges and experiences by way of platforms like 10KC. “I think we are more connected now than we ever have been as a result of COVID-19.” Wilkin took it one step further. “Online has removed those geographic barriers. There’s a lot more opportunity in virtual,” he said. That doesn’t mean virtual communication, even in established relationships, is without challenges. Beckles encouraged the audience to have agreed-upon scheduled touchpoints, “to ensure that your mentor, or that network understands the journey that you've been on.” That commitment is a key component in your mentor becoming your advocate. “The extent to which your mentor feels that their investment in you is appreciated and is adding value is the extent to which those mentors are going to incrementally advocate for you,” Beckles said.

Differences connect us

Wilkin and Beckles then selected several questions from the chat, where audience members could up-vote on which questions they wanted Beckles to discuss in more detail. How do you take a hint that someone’s not interested or might be too busy, for example? That’s more of an art than a science, Beckles suggested. Focus on the pool of mentors, not the one potential mentoring individual. Another question dealt with how to find a mentor when you're unsure of the career field you want to pursue. Beckles responded with a question of his own.

“What are the skills and attributes and interests [that you possess] and do they align with the skills, attributes, and interests of a potential mentor? Through that journey of exploration, and the relationships that form…you will see the forest from the trees.” Wilkin chimed in that after running mentoring and networking programs across North America, he often sees that our differences bring us together more than our commonalities. “It's the people you don't think you'll have things in common with that are actually the best conversations.” 

Finally, one audience member asked: what tips do you have for introverts when it comes to seeking mentorship opportunities? “Let me start by saying it’s okay to be introverted,” Beckles said. “I have more in common with introverts. Some of the most influential people in my life, that have had the biggest impact, have been introverts. Being an introvert is not a bad thing, nor is it a barrier.. Those interactions are just going to happen differently.” Wilkin agreed.

“Oftentimes we say 10KC is a platform for introverts. When we think about networking and mentoring, we always go back to being stuck in this giant networking hall, where we have to run around with a coffee or cocktail in hand and try to meet as many people as we can — that's terrifying for people who are more introverted, and one of the great things with technology is that online, you don’t need those skills to work a room.”

While Beckles didn’t whip out his saxophone for an impromptu concert, he did sign off with his signature phrase that he tells all his team members: “Go Be Great.” 

To learn more about mentorship, networking, and the power in seeking professional guidance in your career, tune in to “The Power of Relationships: Why Mentorship Matters” to discover more about Mark Beckles’ dream vacation, the books that changed his life, his favourite coffee brand, and how the busy executive decompresses after a long work week. 

To learn more about Ten Thousand Coffees’ involvement with National Mentoring Month, click here.

Webinar

The Power of Relationships: Why Mentorship Matters

“Mentorship is about surrounding yourself with a network of individuals who can help strengthen your capabilities and build on the knowledge set that you have,” Mark Beckles told Dave Wilkin in a webinar titled “The Power of Relationships: Why Mentorship Matters.” In this wide-ranging discussion in conjunction with National Mentoring Month, Beckles, Vice-President, Social Impact and Innovation at RBC, spoke at length with Dave Wilkin, the CEO and Co-Founder of Ten Thousand Coffees, about the benefits of mentorship and how to grow your network to a cross-section of students, recent grads and alumni from across North America.

Beckles’ roles extend far beyond his titles. The lead for RBC Future Launch, the signature program committed to helping prepare young people for the future of work, also heads initiatives at RBC that support climate change (RBC Tech for Nature), Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) and the RBC Emerging Artists project. Beckles manages several stakeholder relationships, including legislative think tanks and community organizations, but still finds time in his busy schedule to mentor others. Passionate about making an impact beyond the plethora of titles he holds, Beckles spoke to Wilkin about the power that  mentorship has had in his life and in his career.

Champions and Challengers

Joining the Office Hour was a virtual audience of students, alumni and professionals from across North America. Wilkin began the conversation by asking Beckles what role mentors have played in his career. “Mentorship has been a key part of my life from as early as I can remember,” Beckles said. He started early, volunteering in high school. “As a result of that initial interaction, I made it a point to seek out individuals who could help strengthen and complement my capabilities, who would not just champion me but challenge me, because those two components are important bookends of the mentorship experience.” It goes both ways, Beckles said — as you are mentored, you learn how to mentor others. A big part of mentorship, he explained, is understanding your blind spots and where growth opportunities exist. Even as a successful executive, Beckles encourages constructive criticism from his own mentors. “I have always maintained an active network of individuals around me who have the permission to tell me what I need to hear, in addition to telling me what I want to hear.” That give and take was a big takeaway throughout the hour-long conversation.

“What I've learned through mentoring is that you are giving as much as you are receiving. Because as you are mentored, you learn to mentor. Positioning yourself to become the very thing that you are seeking to be the beneficiary of.” - Mark Beckles

Be curious

Wilkin often hears a common refrain: Do people really want to meet with me, and what do I have to offer? He asked Beckles if there was any truth to that. Spoiler alert: there isn’t. “There's always going to be someone who wants to meet with you, someone who is going to be willing to meet with you,” Beckles replied. Many alumni, he said, are willing to share their advice and experiences and help mentees on a path to success. One thing he reiterated: mentors need to be found, not the other way around, so act like a prospector and go find the “gold in them there hills.” His tips: do your research and be curious when seeking out a potential mentor. What are their interests and background, and do they align with yours? Look them up on LinkedIn, Wilkin suggested, to discover companies they’re aligned with, and if they align with your values. 

Beckles empathized with how scary the process can be. For a student just starting out who doesn’t know how to approach alumni or executives when seeking additional career development opportunities, the experience can be daunting. “I get that it comes with a certain amount of fear. Once you work through the fear, what you often find is it becomes easier with each successive interaction. Mentorship gets easier with time, not harder. But as the saying goes, the longest or hardest journey starts with the first step,” Beckles said. Wilkin was quick to dismiss the idea that alumni aren’t interested in becoming mentors; in fact, the first thing alumni want to do is give back, he says.

“They want to meet you. It's often surprising that when schools ask experienced alumni what they want to do, it's usually to mentor students.” - Dave Wilkin

Persistence is key

Persistence was a big theme throughout the conversation. Sometimes reaching out to a potential mentor doesn’t happen on the first or second try. It’s not from a lack of interest, both executives agreed; oftentimes people are just that busy. What would be some advice that you have for students and recent grads to get started on networking, or just connecting with mentors? Wilkin asked. “It’s never too soon to start,” Beckles replied. “I say to people all the time: networking and mentoring doesn't begin when you are ready to look for a job. You start that long before you are looking because it takes a while for relationships and networks to form.” 

In other words, don’t wait to graduate. By that point, it’s too late to be thinking about the alumni in that space. Start early, Beckles suggested, even in high school. “Build that relationship over time,” he says, adding it never stops, even for senior level executives. “This many years into my career, I am still building networks and mentorships. There are relationships that you will build today that will begin to pay dividends 10-15 years from now. It’s not an on/off switch,” Beckles said. Case in point: the two executives spoke about the first time they met, and how a shared passion for connecting others and creating a democratized access to mentoring led to working together. “We didn’t really have an agenda,” Wilkin said. “The great expression about networking is ‘ask for a job, you'll get advice. If you ask for advice, you'll get a job.’ And the takeaway from that is, the more you go and share advice, all of a sudden, you're going to get great career opportunities.”

People find a way to connect

Wilkin turned the conversation toward hybrid and remote working. Is it a good or a bad thing, he wondered, for the mentoring experience to be remote, and how do we navigate mentoring others in the virtual workplace? Beckles views it as a good thing. “It’s the new normal,” he said. “It requires us to be a little bit more intentional about how we connect and how frequently we are connecting and what we talk about when we connect,” Beckles replied. “Go back to the days of the stagecoach before the train, and the days before the telegraph and Morse code — people found a way to connect. 1,000 years ago, people found a way to connect. We have the most advanced technology known to humankind.” The absence of not being able to get together in person, he continued, shouldn’t be an excuse for not being able to connect in meaningful exchanges and experiences by way of platforms like 10KC. “I think we are more connected now than we ever have been as a result of COVID-19.” Wilkin took it one step further. “Online has removed those geographic barriers. There’s a lot more opportunity in virtual,” he said. That doesn’t mean virtual communication, even in established relationships, is without challenges. Beckles encouraged the audience to have agreed-upon scheduled touchpoints, “to ensure that your mentor, or that network understands the journey that you've been on.” That commitment is a key component in your mentor becoming your advocate. “The extent to which your mentor feels that their investment in you is appreciated and is adding value is the extent to which those mentors are going to incrementally advocate for you,” Beckles said.

Differences connect us

Wilkin and Beckles then selected several questions from the chat, where audience members could up-vote on which questions they wanted Beckles to discuss in more detail. How do you take a hint that someone’s not interested or might be too busy, for example? That’s more of an art than a science, Beckles suggested. Focus on the pool of mentors, not the one potential mentoring individual. Another question dealt with how to find a mentor when you're unsure of the career field you want to pursue. Beckles responded with a question of his own.

“What are the skills and attributes and interests [that you possess] and do they align with the skills, attributes, and interests of a potential mentor? Through that journey of exploration, and the relationships that form…you will see the forest from the trees.” Wilkin chimed in that after running mentoring and networking programs across North America, he often sees that our differences bring us together more than our commonalities. “It's the people you don't think you'll have things in common with that are actually the best conversations.” 

Finally, one audience member asked: what tips do you have for introverts when it comes to seeking mentorship opportunities? “Let me start by saying it’s okay to be introverted,” Beckles said. “I have more in common with introverts. Some of the most influential people in my life, that have had the biggest impact, have been introverts. Being an introvert is not a bad thing, nor is it a barrier.. Those interactions are just going to happen differently.” Wilkin agreed.

“Oftentimes we say 10KC is a platform for introverts. When we think about networking and mentoring, we always go back to being stuck in this giant networking hall, where we have to run around with a coffee or cocktail in hand and try to meet as many people as we can — that's terrifying for people who are more introverted, and one of the great things with technology is that online, you don’t need those skills to work a room.”

While Beckles didn’t whip out his saxophone for an impromptu concert, he did sign off with his signature phrase that he tells all his team members: “Go Be Great.” 

To learn more about mentorship, networking, and the power in seeking professional guidance in your career, tune in to “The Power of Relationships: Why Mentorship Matters” to discover more about Mark Beckles’ dream vacation, the books that changed his life, his favourite coffee brand, and how the busy executive decompresses after a long work week. 

To learn more about Ten Thousand Coffees’ involvement with National Mentoring Month, click here.

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