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The Power of Mentorship with Errol Pierre

George Grombacher April 6, 2023

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The Power of Mentorship with Errol Pierre

LifeBlood: We talked about the power of mentorship, how to position yourself for success even if you don’t know what career you want, learning to ask for what you want, how to find a mentor to help you navigate the corporate world, and how to be a great mentee, with Errol Pierre, healthcare executive, professor, and author.   

Listen to learn how to set the agenda for meetings with your mentor!

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Errol Pierre

Errol Pierre

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
Well blood blood. This is George G and the time is right to welcome today’s guests drug approval for LPR. Errol, are you ready to do this?

Errol Pierre 0:08
I am.

george grombacher 0:09
Right let’s go. Errol is an author he is a professor highly motivated business executive. His newest book is the way up climbing the corporate mountain as a professional of color detailing It details the realistic challenges that black people face in today’s workplace. Arielle, I’m excited to have you on tell us a little bit your personal life smart about your work, why you do what you do?

Errol Pierre 0:34
Sure, sure. So, um, when I raised in New York, and I stumbled into health insurance accidentally. It’s a crazy story. I was in the warehouse of a beauty supply store, delivering shampoo bottles, and actually someone asked me for my resume. And lo and behold, I started a career in health insurance. And the person who asked me for my resume was the Chief Operating Officer, I had no idea at the time. So got into healthcare. 22 years later, I’m a health executive and a pretty big firm. And along the way, I’ve been thinking through my path, and the obstacles I’ve had to overcome, and trying to think through all the lessons I’ve learned, so I can share it with others, whether that’s people of color, women, LGBTQ, but all all in the name of having other people being able to reach their dreams.

george grombacher 1:24
I love it. So was it the way you were carrying the box of shampoo bottles, Errol?

Errol Pierre 1:31
It seems great question. Yeah. So you know, it’s funny.

The warehouse was so boring. And I was a junior in college. And so I actually started reading the back of the bottles, and knew all of the ingredients for everything. So I delivered some boxes. And the owner of the store is like, I’m looking for a shampoo that doesn’t have a lot sulfate. This is one of the big detergents. And I actually knew I was like, I had that in my truck. I’ll be right back. And the CLO saw that she’s like, you do more than just five boxes, you have to then I was like I’m a junior in college, just like send me a resume. And so I graduated from supply warehouse to my first internship in health insurance. That’s awesome. Yeah.

george grombacher 2:16
How do you look back on that experience now?

Errol Pierre 2:19
Yeah, I mean, one of the chapters in the book I talk about is every single day you’re interviewing for your next opportunity. So never take for granted who you meet. Sometimes you might be having a bad day, and you won’t say hello, in the elevator, that Hello could be someone that can change your life. So you’re constantly putting your best foot forward.

When I write an email, I just assume it’s gonna get forwarded to the CEO. So I’ve never Curt and I realize people don’t remember who was the smartest person in the room. But they definitely remember who helped someone made them feel. And so those are sort of the lessons I take with every day.

george grombacher 2:58
It’s such an important thing, that how we present ourselves in the world matters.

Absolutely. And easy to forget. And I love what you just said that you think about every email that you send is going to make its way to the CEO, I’ve never thought about it like that. That’s super powerful.

Errol Pierre 3:17
Yeah, you know what happens, these long forwards get happen. And people scroll all the way to the bottom, and they see your name. And that’s why I said you never know who’s watching, right, you always have to have your best foot forward. And then think about I have a phrase that I say, have the courage to make 1 million mistakes, but the wisdom not to make the same mistake 1 million times. And that sort of teaches you you got to try new things get outside of your comfort zone, you will make mistakes, but you’ll learn from them. And as long as they’re not the same mistake a million times it’s new learnings, right? So I like to, you know, sort of have that also in the back of my head.

george grombacher 3:53
Yeah, I love that. That’s also super powerful. So you were you’re you’re in college, just obviously working this job delivering, you know, boxes or whatever, just I assume kind of to make money. And what what was the career path that you thought of sort of thought that you were going to go down?

Errol Pierre 4:13
Yeah. So, you know, I entered into an entry level role, didn’t have no idea what health insurance was. Growing up, both my parents were immigrants from Haiti, very poor country in the Caribbean. And so growing up, I didn’t actually have the most comprehensive health insurance. And now we’re looking at a health insurance. So I really was wanting to know why some people have access to health care and why other people’s didn’t. And that just led me down the rabbit hole of trying to understand coverage in America, health insurance, and everything like that. Ended up going back to grad school for Health Policy, financial management. every two to three years, I was getting promoted at my company, which was great. And I think the defining moment for me was one on my CEO Oh, asked me a very honest question about a situation at work. And I kind of had two paths, right? It’s like I can say what I think he wants to hear. And this is, you know, the emperor’s new clothing type of analogy, and just say, Yeah, you look great, you know, whatever, you know, say something positive, or actually told the truth. And I don’t know what maybe it was a coffee that morning. But I gave him some sober truth about the project, which he did not want to hear. But he actually was thankful that someone told him, and he said, you know, at the top, everyone lies to you. They just tell you what you want to hear. And he’s like, I, I’m sure, it took courage to tell the truth. And in that moment, you know, I think that was what spearheaded me to becoming his chief of staff. So that was a big promotion for me, and never looked back. After that, I knew I wanted to be run, run a company or be running a business unit. And from there, you know, through mentorship, sponsorship, really dedicating myself and focusing on my goals, I was able to keep opening up

george grombacher 6:11
your self image when when, when you were growing up mentioned, you come from your parents came from Haiti, a very, very poor country, different than the United States, and then you growing up in the biggest city and the best city in the world, and you’re seeing all kinds of different people. But did you think that you could be in the leadership position in the big job that you have today? How did that evolve?

Errol Pierre 6:37
Yeah, it’s a great question. I didn’t. And there’s a phrase that a lot of people say, which is, if you see it, you can be it. And I had to see other individuals that were at that level, just to understand the possibility. That’s why I think internships are so important, because even if you do an internship, and you find that you hate it, you know, you’re like, I want to be a lawyer, intern at a law firm, you’re like, I don’t like this, that’s actually great. Because at least you know, now, versus after years and years of school and debt, right. So I did not see it. My parents were blue collar workers, my dad washed dishes in a nursing home, my mom clean homes, my dad ended up starting his own small business. So I knew blue collar, you know, values, like work hard work ethic, keep your head down, don’t make noise, just do what you got to do. Be polite. I went to the corporate space. And it’s a totally different world. There. If you keep your head down, don’t make noise. And don’t talk to the senior leaders, you stay in the same place, you actually have to speak up, you have to raise your hand and ask for projects, you have to introduce yourself to senior folks. So that change was what led me down the path, but I would not have been able to do it without mentorship. And then being able to see it. If I didn’t witness it, I wouldn’t even know it was possible. So I totally think exposure definitely changed the trajectory of a lot of people.

george grombacher 8:04
Yeah, I can certainly point to different times in my life where somebody I got to have a conversation with somebody had realized this person’s not similar to me, but more importantly, and I had people sort of put their arm around me and say, Hey, you, I see this in you. And it’s like, oh, I didn’t even see that on myself.

Errol Pierre 8:24
Yeah, it’s powerful. So my first mentors name is Jeff grayling, similar situation. I was an entry level, probably 22 years old. We were on a big account that we’re trying to sell our products to. And he actually invited me to the big meeting where our CEO was going to be there, their CEO was going to be there some some major Fortune 50 company. And it was probably a three hour meeting. We’re going through all these different data’s and formulas and charts and graphs. And there was one question I could answer. And this was about the network of physicians that were going to sell to them. And he looked around the room and the question was asked is like Arrow, can you answer that question? And I froze, had butterflies? I answered the question. But it was so so nervous, like I remember just trembling, I think my hands were shaking. And after the meeting was like, buddy did a great job. I was like, you know the answer? Why don’t you call me he’s like, because I know you would answer. I know, you’re good. You know, I know you got it. You. That’s like, literally what you’ve been working on for the last two weeks. So I didn’t know the answer. Those are the opportunities that change your career. Because the next time I was in a boardroom, I had less butterflies. The next time I knew an answer, I was less scared to raise my hand and speak up. And so these are the types of opportunities that mentorship really brings to you. Yeah.

george grombacher 9:46
I appreciate that. I appreciate all of it. I appreciate being in a situation where I was absolutely terrified when called upon and stumbling through my words, but it sounds like you did a great job. So appreciating the The importance maybe necessity of seeing these people and being able to interact with them to realize that I’m capable of doing what they’re doing, of having a mentor to help you along and guide and sort of Shepherd your progress. Is it? Is it a function of, I’m going to put myself in position to have a mentor, by working really hard and going above and beyond? Or, and I should proactively seek one out?

Errol Pierre 10:34
Definitely add versus, or sometimes what I’ve learned, and I do mentor many employees of color, different work I do. Sometimes there’s a nervousness to say what you want out loud. And if you’re scared to say it out loud, then how could you ever have the confidence to do it. And so, if you are working with someone, and there’s something about them that resonates with you, and you can’t put your finger on it, either, they remind you of yourself, or they’re so bold, you’re just taken aback by how confident they are one of the two, but if you feel that in someone else, definitely, that could be someone that’s your mentor. And it’s doesn’t have to be so official. I think people get really, you know, wound up around how do I get a mentor? First start out by introducing yourself, say hello, then compliment them because something about them resonated. So say, you know, in that meeting, I love what you said, it was such a powerful statement, I’d love to find out about your background, and how you got to where you got to 15 minute coffee, right? If it’s virtual, have a 15 minute virtual coffee meeting and get to know them, they’re going to tell you about themselves. Usually people will say yes to a 15 minute meeting, right? If they say no, you don’t want them as a mentor anyway. You start getting to know them, whatever they share with you that resonated. Send a thank you email. And also, as you read articles or podcasts, if there’s ever a subject that included in your conversation, someone that to hey, you know, I read this article in New York Times, it reminded me of our conversation. And those small steps, build an organic relationship, and maybe it turns into another 15 minute conversation, could be 30 minutes, start to share what you want to do you know, a lot, I definitely, if I could be in your position, I’d be amazing. How did you do it? Did you always knew you want to be in that spot? What were some of the hurdles you faced? It can happen organically. And I think sometimes we get so nervous, we’re like, can you be my mentor, and the person’s like, okay, and then we don’t know what to do after that, like, you have to set the agenda, you have to make the time to meet with them. And then you have to really cherish the their time because of taking time out of their day to help you. And as long as you do that, the love will be reciprocated.

george grombacher 12:59
Lot of great stuff. It is hard to say out loud. What what what we want a lot of the time, and particularly if we’ve never done it. And I imagine that your experience is that it got a lot easier once you started doing it.

Errol Pierre 13:15
Yeah, yeah, it’s interesting, like so managers the best conundrum in the workplace, you applied to be a manager, but you’ve never been one before. So you don’t have the experience. So how do you get the experience by becoming a manager? And it’s just really weird circle, right. But there’s managers that exist. So someone hired someone that didn’t have experience, why there was a relationship that developed way before they applied for the role. And that’s what I always share with folks applying for the role cannot be the first time you’re meeting someone. You should I mean, there’s so much technology now you can find them on LinkedIn, you could say I see this robot was posted online. I’d love to find out more about it before I apply to see if I’m ready for it. I think someone would be taken aback to say, Wow, not just a 3000 resumes, but actually reached out to see if they should apply or not, you know, you’re starting to get to know someone. Another thing is, you say, Well, I haven’t had managerial experience in the traditional sense. Here are projects where I’ve actually had to show managerial characteristics and traits. I’ve led a project. I’ve been the lead on this. I’ve been the lead on that. So I haven’t had it as a title. But I’ve been working as a manager for the last three years. You know, those type of things are very helpful. So yes, it is possible. You just have to be strategic and very intentional about it.

george grombacher 14:39
I love that word intentional for sure. talks about how the people that say no, I’m not going to have a 15 minute meeting with you’re probably not the kind of people that are going to be a successful mentor or a rewarding experience for anyone. So I appreciate that. So find people that are interested in helping and there’s not necessarily a playbook for mentorship. And here are the steps that you follow. So me, in this example, somebody, I’m asking somebody to take time to potentially mentor me, I need to be responsible for setting that agenda. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?

Errol Pierre 15:15
Yeah, yeah. So I always say, to be a good mentee, it takes time. This is Chapter six in the book, and time is an acronym t i m e, the T is for trust, you have to build trust, to have a good relationship. So on the first day, you don’t say, Let’s get married, right? That 50 minute coffee meeting is just getting to know each other, and it turns into some more meetings. So you know, relax, and don’t think you need to have like the best relationship on the first two meetings take take time to build a trust. T is for trust. AI is the word we talked about intentionality. So when you meet, they shouldn’t know why you’re meeting, I want to talk about how to get into this part of the of the company. I’ve never heard about how to get into a good grad program, and I’m choosing between two different schools. I had been in the same role for five years, and I feel stuck, and I’m trying to figure out how to get out of it, whatever the issue is, they should know about it before the call, it shouldn’t be okay, hey, how you doing, and then you’re just laying on them what you want to talk to them about? By telling them in advance, they can prepare an answer for you, they can have some thought about it. And then to the show, it shows that you’re being judicious with their time, I don’t want to waste your time, you only have 15 minutes, here’s what I want to say. And your first couple of meetings should be, I’d love to hear about you. Let me tell you about me that opportunity will you’ll find opportunities where you have things in common is great to build a relationship based on something that uncommon, Oh, you like that show to versus your most strangers trying to sell something so that it really takes the trust and intentionality to build a relationship. M is for milestones, there should be a definition of success before you start. You’re not just getting a friend, a mentor and a friend, you’re there for a specific reason. So whatever that milestone is, once you achieve it, take a step back and say, Hey, we did it. Either. It worked either I need more time to keep working on it. But there should be a milestone of here’s what we’re working towards. And then the E is evaluation. And I always say mentors have for a reason or a season. So you don’t need to have a mentor forever. I’ve had mentors come in and out of my life. Sometimes we talk every day, and then we don’t talk for a couple of months. And that’s okay. And so the valuation period is after six months, nine months, you check in and you say this has been extremely helpful for me. Here’s what I’ve learned in the past nine months, has it been helpful for you? Can you still offer more time? Because that gives an opportunity to say hey, maybe our time is done. And that’s, that’s okay. That’s pretty okay. It doesn’t matter. If you say it. Well, I appreciate when you helped me through that season. And hey, best of luck to everything that you’re gonna pursue. And I’m always here, if you ever want to keep in touch. So those are the types of things I’d say t i m e, ways to think through how to get a mentor and and keep a mentor.

george grombacher 18:23
I love it. I I love a good framework. So that definitely is Do you think that you would have gotten to where you are today without mentors?

Errol Pierre 18:36
Absolutely not? Absolutely not. The story I always like to tell is Odysseus in The Odyssey, he goes to fight the Trojan War, he’s going to be gone for a couple of years. And he’s like, who’s gonna watch my son Telemachus while I’m gone? One person he chose to watch over a son while he was away of war was a man, a mentor. That’s where the word mentor comes from. And so, you know, it’s a father, like, mother like figure that’s watching over you. It’s kind of like your mom and dad, in a sense, in a corporate setting, or brother or an uncle. I would not have known the things that I know now without my mentor, navigating corporate America, there’s so many unsaid things that you’re supposed to do, and you just don’t know about them. If no one tells you you find out when you trip over them. If you think of like the Mission Impossible, they have all those like infrared lights when you’re trying to steal the the painting. A mentor is like hey, here’s all the red infrared lights are. crawl over here. Walk over that, you know, that’s the only way to make it through. It was amazing. It was amazing. I would have never made it through without strong mentors.

george grombacher 19:54
Got it? I love it. Well, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you work? They get a copy of the way up climbing the corporate mountain mountain as a professional of color.

Errol Pierre 20:06
Sure, so I am at Arrow, e R R O L p i e r You can get all the information about the book there. The way up climbing the corporate mountain as a professional color is available anywhere books are sold, Amazon, Barnes and Noble target Walmart, wherever and independent bookstores support independent bookstores as well. So wherever you buy books, you can get it. There’s also a digital version too. And I’d love to talk to anyone that wants to reach out awesome.

george grombacher 20:35
If you enjoyed as much as I did to error your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas go to Errol, e R R O L p i e r r and pick up your copy of the way up climbing the corporate mountain as a professional of color. And figure out how to avoid those trip wires and lasers and all other challenges that are hiding and preventing us from getting where we want to go. Thanks, girl. Thank you. And until next time, remember, do your part like doing your best

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