Written by: Gene Oswalt, Vice President, Benefits, Compensation, M&A, Robert Bosch LLC, and Vice-Chair, AutomotiveNEXT

What is my passion?  Mentoring others.  Why? It’s like giving a gift, and being able to watch someone open it—the joy really is in the giving.  I also think of mentoring as my way to “Pay It Forward.”

When I was in an early leadership role, and was struggling with a particular challenge, my boss showed me a piece of paper that he had taped above his desk.  On it were these words:

Good judgment comes as a result of experience.

Experience comes as a result of bad judgment.

There is no shortcut to maturity—it comes one day at a time.

He then gave me the piece of paper, which has been taped to every desk or office wall I’ve had ever since—for more than twenty years.  How fortunate I was to have that leader reach down, and let me know that I would make mistakes along the way—and that I should not be impatient about having all of the right answers at once.

I certainly believe in learning on one’s own.  There is value in the school of hard knocks, but I also believe in helping others avoid some of my missteps to make the path a bit smoother, and allow them to spend their energy on bigger challenges.

What’s my approach? What does mentoring entail for me?  Sometimes I just offer a listening ear.  Often I’m sharing a different perspective—whether from a different role, location, department, generation, country, or even a different company.  Sometimes I’m helping guide others through a challenge by asking questions so they can discover the best options in the situation.  And yes, sometimes I’m sharing a mistake I made, and recommending they not do the same.  I don’t claim to have all the answers, and cannot promise everything will work out the way they want, but I can help them avoid one or two pieces of bad judgment.

When I am asked to support a mentoring initiative, I always participate.  Others say it takes time they may not have—and I’ve often been in that scheduling nightmare.  However, I do my best to make time—whether formal appointments, breakfast, a walk, coffee, or a late night phone call.    What do I get from this investment of time?  I am able to revel in the growth and successes of those I mentor.  Often tables are turned and I learn from my mentee.  Some have had careers blossom in a direction that they may not have expected.  Others have continued on the path they were on, passing me by.  Selfishly, I know that in each of these situations, I played a role in their success.

Early in my career, I wasn’t comfortable asking questions or talking about my career development with others higher in the organization.  At that time, we didn’t have formal mentoring programs.  My informal mentors were busy people who I really admired and whose time I didn’t want to “waste.”  If I could roll back the clock, it would be to ask for time, and to use that time to ask for more advice – both short- and long-term.  I am certain they would have provided both time and advice willingly.

As I participate in changing the face of leaders in the automotive industry, I can share my early inhibitions and experiences with younger women in automotive careers.  Through that, I can impart upon them the value of asking for, and sharing advice with others.  Good judgment will still require experience, but it will come a lot faster, and more women will be on the fast track.


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