I interviewed Mat Orrego, the CEO of Cornerstone Information Systems, a 100-person software company that is growing and doing amazing work. Mat is in his mid 50’s, his company is doing great, and he has a great support system. By all accounts, Mat has made it professionally and personally and would be the last person you would think would be interested in having a mentor.
But to my surprise, in my interview with Mat, Mat informed me that he is constantly learning and building mentor relationships and seeking them out.
This was surprising to me because I have been running a mentor program for over 7 years and I have encountered many professionals in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and older that have informed me that they feel that they don’t need a mentor. This isn’t many people that respond this way, but enough for me to think to myself “could they have possibly learned it all?” or “is there some age where you have learned everything you need to know and don’t need to keep learning?”
I ponder these questions half-heartedly, but I do think about the question, what differentiates Mat from these types of people?
I believe the answer is a combination of ego, willingness to be vulnerable, and one’s perceived social capital.
Mat doesn’t care about being proud or showing off, Mat cares about learning, growing, and being right. Mat doesn’t put on this façade that he has it all figured out – he’s vulnerable and that makes him extremely relatable and attractive to other people. Mat doesn’t live his life based on his perception of the expectations he thinks others have for him, he makes decisions to help him be better.
One story that really stood out to me that Mat shared with me was the time he participated in a Stanford executive education program. While in this program, he was paired with another professional in the program for mentorship. How old was his mentor? 25. Instead of thinking to himself “what could I possibly learn from this 25 year old?” and thinking that program had failed him, he embraced the relationship. This 25-year old was doing amazing work at Facebook and Mat mentioned that he taught him so much about business and technology. But more importantly, they were able to connect on a human level. Their mentor relationship wasn’t solely about the transfer of knowledge and skill. It was also about building a bond that would last after the program was over.
This story showed me so much about who Mat is and what he stands for.
Be more like Mat. Don’t let your ego get in the way of growing.
If you are somebody that is contemplating whether or not to participate in a mentor program, I would strongly encourage you to do it and come in with the open mind that you can both learn and teach in this relationship. Your age is just a number and your ability to learn and build connection only stops when you decide it’s time.