A few weeks ago, the #ThankYourMentor series was trending across Linkedin. Everyone from recent grads to seasoned professionals took a moment to say thanks to the people who impacted their careers – and, indeed, their lives.

Now it’s my turn. I wouldn’t be where I am in my career today if it weren’t for a man who came thundering into my world before my life as a true professional had even officially begun.

I was 22 years old, working as a marketing intern at Southwest Michigan First in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Just weeks before graduation from Western Michigan University (Go Broncos!), the CEO I had worked with for over a year, Barry Broome, announced he was leaving. But before he did, Barry – who was also a great leader in my early career – encouraged me to stay with the organization after graduation and ensured me that I would have a job when the new CEO arrived.

It was June when the new boss came on the scene and, with perfectly imperfect timing, my wedding was just a couple of weeks away in mid-July. To put it bluntly, this guy wasn’t so happy about having a brand new college graduate promised a spot on his team – heading up the organization’s marketing and communcation, no less.

He challenged me – big time. In the couple of flurried weeks before my wedding, I worked hard for my new boss to create a brand new website for the organization. (Mind you, this was back in 2005, when wireframes were printed out and compiled in a binder with tabs so you could review them and get an idea for what the site would look like…)

I pushed through, fighting hard to earn his respect before I left for my wedding just days after he officially joined our team. (Did I mention the poor timing of this situation?) When I returned, there were new challenges every day. New hills to climb. New expectations that I not only needed to meet but exceed. The bar was exceptionally high and this guy expected nothing but the best. So that’s what I gave – my absolute best. All day. Every day.

Over time, the challenges and ridiculously high expectations turned into opportunities, potential and reward. I grew. A lot. And it was all because of Ron Kitchens, who is still leading the way at Southwest Michigan First, which has actually grown in incredible ways since I was there a decade ago. But it’s not surprising. Ron had this vision all along.

In those early days, weeks and months that I worked for Ron, he may have been testing me. And I think at this point it’s safe to say that I passed his tests. I’m so glad that I did. Because in the years that followed, he gave me the opportunity to do things I never imagined I could, the platform to grow professionally in incredible ways and life experiences I will never forget.

Some of the things Ron instilled in me:

The importance of excellence and professionalism. Always. 
You never know who’s watching, listening or waiting for you to trip up. Always commit to excellence and act like a professional. Integrity wins.

“Early is on time. On time is late. Late is unacceptable.”
Although I’ve always been obsessive about being on time, the importance of timeliness and meeting deadlines became even more acute. The downside? I now share Ron’s distain for tardiness, which is not always appreciated by the people in my life who tend to run late.

Empowering Beats Overpowering Every Time. 
I learned first-hand that empowering someone will always yield exponentially greater results than overpowering. I’m proof of that. Ron lifted me up and, despite my age, inexperience and naiveté at the time, he gave me opportunities to run with the “big kids” and do things that made me better every. single. day.

You Can.
Ron is incredibly motivating. Not only has he dreamed big – and achieved big, he inspires and encourages others to do the same. It is in large part because of him and what he taught me so early on that I took the professional risks that I have throughout my career. And they have paid off.

Don’t Underestimate the Power of a Brand.
Ron showed me how a brand is really the embodiment of a vision. If you build it right and craft it into what you want it to be, the vision will become a reality. But only if you truly believe in it.

There are so many ways that Ron shaped me as a professional. He’s an incredible leader and I’m so thankful that our paths crossed when they did. And although he doesn’t know it, I can honestly say that when I decided to step out and start my own business, Ron was on my mind. I knew that if I called him and asked him for his advice, he would tell me I could do it. In fact, he would probably tell me I would be dumb not to. And to me, that’s exactly what a mentor should do – set you up with the power and confidence to go out and take on your dreams.

Thanks Ron. I owe you. Big time.

Read other #ThankYourMentor posts here, and don’t forget to write your own. Use #ThankYourMentor and @mention your mentor when sharing.

Thanks, Ron.
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