This is part two of Mentoring and Entrepreneurship in Challenging Times. To listen to part one, click here.
Candice Tal, CEO of Infortal Worldwide, a leading global security and risk management company, knows what it is like to be an entrepreneur and the challenges of starting a company and weathering difficult times. She has been an industry leader in the due diligence arena for over 30-years. Recently, she was asked by Daniel Ayala and Lisa Beth Lentini Walker of MentorCore, to sit down with them for a two-part interview. During this interview, Candice shared her insights and experience about how to weather difficult times, how mentorship can help entrepreneurs, and how to find the help they need to achieve their business and personal goals.
Mentors can help unlock potential, talent, and resiliency in a person they did not even know they have. Mentorship and coaching may bring together support, development, encouragement, networking, skills, advice, direction, goals, and training. Not all mentors will supply all of these things, and having multiple mentors for different areas of life can be advantageous. So, how do you find a mentor? How do you build a team of people around you who will be supportive and offer good advice and encouragement? For some, physical distance in the age of a global pandemic and dispersed workplaces make networking seem difficult. But this does not have to be the case, and may actually be advantageous. Internet and video meetups greatly expand a prospective networker’s pool of mentors, making people who were once unreachable in other parts of the country or world, just a click away.
Today, Candice leverages every network she belongs to, but it was not always that way. When she started out, she was a single mom. “I could not get out in person to networking events or I would have had no time with my son. So that was not an option for me for many, many years.”
Meeting people is the first step. It’s not always easy and there can be impediments to overcome. “If you’re not going to conferences, try and get yourself to a conference,” Candice advises. “If you’re with an employer that won’t send you to conferences, try to save money yourself and sponsor yourself to a conference. That’s what I used to do many, many years ago, before companies actually sent people to conferences. They didn’t always back in the past, and so I would take myself to events or go on the weekends to different kinds of groups that I could join…. But get out to any kind of networking events, start anywhere, because the universe has a way of leading us places—some would say that it’s our brain giving us subliminal instruction—to get out and meet other people, and those networks bring you to other networks.”
She also suggests leveraging the internet. “Today online there are many resources. It’s very easy to attend online events like this, Compliance Career Connections (CCC), a fantastic resource for anyone in the compliance field or security. There are all types of events that people can go out to. Ask friends and colleagues, ‘What do you do for networking? What kind of professional networking do you do?’”
Not everyone feels comfortable reaching out. Some people are shy, are introverts, or simply may not know how to network authentically. With in-person networking, Candice advises to “Try to speak with other attendees. Have a goal to at least speak to ten people at an event.” For herself, she sets an even more challenging goal. “As a business owner, if I go to an event, I’m also trying to do some kind of sales development for the future. So, I try to make sure I’m meeting as many as 100 people in an event. That’s difficult to do in three or four days, but have a goal in your mind before you go to a networking event: tell yourself “I’m going to speak to at least one person.” It’s also important to know something about the people you want to connect with if you can. “If you can research who the people are who are going,” Candice explains. If possible, in advance, “get in contact with them…. arrange to have a cup of coffee together. Most people will get together with you for a cup of coffee. There’s no obligation there. Then try to keep that conversation focused on what you’re trying to accomplish” and get to know the person and their interests.
Have some questions ready to ask, or discussion topics you would like input on. Candice gives the following examples: “I’d really like to sort of pick your brain about something” or “I met you at a conference somewhere else, we didn’t have a chance to connect on XYZ and I’d love to get your feedback on an idea I have.” Questions could also be entrepreneur-related, such as: “’I’m thinking of starting a business in XYZ, and I noticed that you do something that could tie into that,’ or maybe you want to talk to a person who could be an advisor for your business.”
Mentors and connections can also be from different backgrounds, business levels, and industries. These connections bring unexpected ideas and support. Candice, herself is not only involved in compliance organizations, but a variety of other ones as well. Some that are C-suite, since this is her target business audience, but she is also a member of a trusted advisor network. She describes this as “a pop of color [with] the different types of people…. What that networking group does is bring a whole different perspective about business, and because we’re all in different avenues of business, we learn a lot from one another.”
“Linear advice is helpful, but it’s not enough.”
Networking and speaking with others, also helps you bring your best to your clients and business, something very important in business from early-stage entrepreneurs to long-term larger businesses. Candice explains how this helps her add increased value, expertise, and insight to her clients and stay on top of industry, world, and technology changes:
“My business is consultative. We provide a product or a service that delivers specific kinds of results, but the reason that my clients come back to me time and time again for years, many of them for over 20-years, is that they value my perspective on the issues they’re facing that have to do with what they hire us for. Clients buy from us for who we are as a human being, number one, who we are professionally, our expertise (whatever that expertise might be), and our whole life experience that we’re bringing to the table in that conversation. It’s the detail in the conversations that we have together. Most of my clients at some point during the year are going to ask me, many of them frequently, ‘What do you think we should do next?’ It’s the value of that information and discussion that brings clients back to you. Yes, we provided this information, but what are you going to do with that information that makes the difference. That helps that client to be a repeat client.
So, if I’m not networking, if I’m not getting refreshed myself, whether that’s educationally, or academically in some cases, experience-wise, and also my resources. Who am I hearing from? What do I hear that’s out there? What are the new techniques going on in our field? What should we be doing? What should we be looking for the future? If I don’t have that refresh constantly from all these other trusted advisers that I know, then my advice to clients would be much more linear. Linear advice is helpful, but it’s not enough.”
Talking to other people helps increase individual inspiration and sparks ideas. “I would highly recommend that you think about how do you open up,” Candice advises. “How do you open up your own resourcefulness, because it stimulates your own creativity as well when we talk to other people. We get an exchange of ideas, exchange of opinions, advice, understanding, but we also get to share not only experience, but trajectory into the future. What else could be done, how do you move things forward.”
“I’m always looking at how are we going to progress things along, and towards the future.”
People today are often stuck in the here and now and do not think long term. Short term gain of clients, consumers, application users, can be too myopic and an entrepreneur or long-time business person can lose sight of the more critical importance of long-term gain.
“I’m always looking at how are we going to progress things along, and towards the future,” Candice says. “While today is most important, you have to live in the moment, but as a professional what you’re bringing to the picture is how is this project goal or thing you’re working on going to shape over time. If you’re not looking at that, you’re not really bringing perspective. You’re only just functioning today. If you’re functioning today and you’re doing your job well, or brilliantly, that is fantastic, but driving things forward is really essential….” especially if you want to demonstrate extra value.
This also ties in to mentoring. Part of mentoring is helping a person progress to or even formulate long term goals. Mentorship should be tactical and can be applied to different aspects of an individual’s life. “It’s important to have strategic mentors, or to be a mentor yourself, and be strategic for people you’re mentoring. Then it’s important to have operational mentors as well,” Candice explains. “We all need supportive mentors,” she goes on to share. “The people that we turn to who really support us, whether that’s emotionally, or any in any way, any type of support structure that you can think of that you might need in your life. For some people it might be a health mentor, because they’re not feeling well, something’s going on in their lives and they need that kind of support, which can be just as important, often it’s more important of course. If you haven’t got your health, nothing else counts.”
“Mentors help us to shape ourselves. They see things in us we don’t see in ourselves.”
Mentors help us not only in our business or career aspirations, but bring together other aspects of our lives that help us overall. Candice gives us insight into this, and says: “Think about having different kinds of mentors. Mentors help us to shape ourselves. They see things in us we don’t see in ourselves.”
“I would encourage everybody to find different types of mentors. If you don’t have them, look for them.”
Some of the most supportive people can come from the least expected area. One person who helped Candice greatly was an employee, when her business was going through some business difficulties. “I actually had at one time a bookkeeper who was a tremendous support to me, who totally understood what was going on, because she understood the financial picture of the company. She inspired me to think about things very differently. We can draw from all of these different channels. I would encourage everybody to find different types of mentors. If you don’t have them, look for them.”
Locational limitations or not knowing where to start are not the only impediments to finding mentorship. Some people are uncomfortable reaching out because they feel they are not experienced enough, too experienced, or have a reputation to uphold that they feel will be impacted if they reach out for aid. None of these things should hold anyone back from seeking mentoring and support; we all need a little support or a fresh perspective from time to time.
“I think there’s tremendous strength in our vulnerability.”
“When you’re afraid to reach out completely,” Candice says, “find other people outside of your business environment that you can reach out to.” She explains, “I know that a lot of attorneys and executives have difficulty asking any kind of outreach question. I know it’s extremely difficult the higher up in an organization for people to reach out, because they don’t want to be perceived as weak or vulnerable. I think there’s tremendous strength in our vulnerability. Also, if we think about the people that we most resonate with, they may be public figures, whether it’s an Oprah or Brené Brown, or someone from the past, Gandhi, for example, or anyone we resonate with, it’s because they show their vulnerability, but they also show us how to improve our own inner strength, how you can create better resolve and resiliency for yourself.”
Candice also suggests online research as a strategy. “The most unusual question you can possibly think of has probably already been asked by somebody somewhere in the world online,” but this is not, in the long run, a substitute for human mentorship. “There’s something in the dynamic of human connection and human contact that we find strength in, or it just sparks that little tiny speck of strength that you have that may be necessary for that situation.”
“If you only treat things linearly, you’re probably not going to find the answers that you need.”
That spark can also be ideas or new ways of looking at something. “How many times have we encountered things, maybe when we were younger that we found difficult and someone came along, sometimes randomly, who said something that sparked an idea for you, perhaps totally unrelated to what they said, that you could then use. Then that that idea, that gem, suddenly starts having its own life and drama and sparkle to it, if you think of a gemstone. Or, if you think of it as an inanimate thing to take it out of the realm of human experience, you can take complex situations like that. If you only treat things linearly, you’re probably not going to find the answers that you need. That’s been my experience.”
“You’ve got to find your inner strength. That’s the bottom line.”
Candice also warns that at times individuals can get stuck “in the weeds” and are unable to move forward, because they fear asking for assistance. She says, “So, people who don’t want to ask questions, people who are afraid to ask for help, get stuck, and the problem when we get stuck is we kind of go into the weeds of our brain. How do you get yourself out of that? If you just start paddling faster and faster, probably you’re just going to get more stuck.”
This “happens if you’re thinking only linearly…by that I mean along a specific trajectory, a specific line of rationale, and if you don’t start diagnosing what is actually preventing movement forward.” To free yourself from the weeds, Candice says, “You’ve got to find your inner strength. That’s the bottom line.” Often, speaking with others and communicating where you are stuck can push you forward.
A technique Candice uses herself, which can be used with your own situation, or by applying suggestions or ideas from mentors or others, is this:
“Turn the issue around. Think of it as sort of a three-dimensional sphere. Rotate it. Turn it over. Think about how could I answer this from a different point of view, look at the issue from every angle… but don’t let yourself get stuck.”
“Fear of failure can block forward momentum”
Sometimes a fear of failure can block forward momentum. “But what if you don’t fail?” Candice asks. “What if you actually succeed? Most of the time we succeed, even if we’re thinking that we’re going to fail. Sometimes failure has a way of moving us forward in a slightly different direction, and guess what. Now we’ve got the resources to move it forward into a different direction that does work for us. The other part of it is that failure is not always linear either. I hope that this resonates for people, because I found this to be extremely helpful.”
“Become a mentor yourself”
Entrepreneurs and other individuals should not only seek out a mentoring network, but become mentors themselves. Being a mentor is something that helps you as much as it helps the mentee. “You should consider weaving that into the fabric of your life. Your experiences that make you special is who else are you mentoring along the way,” Candice says, “Sometimes when you’re talking to other people, they come up with a situation that you’ve had difficulty with before, and suddenly you’re advising someone on an issue that you thought you were stuck on yourself and you go, wait a second, I’ve actually encountered something like that and this is what I did to get out of it. Maybe it’s helpful to that person. Maybe not, and they can take it or leave it or they can take it and build on it as well. But you have the benefit of hearing yourself. It’s sort of that echo in your mind of I’ve been down that road before, and this actually would help me in a different situation I’m facing today.”
It’s important to think about what type of mentorship you need and what type of mentorship the person you are mentoring needs “Does that person need you as a strategic mentor or an operations type of mentor or a supportive mentor, someone they can come and have coffee with once a week or once a month or once a quarter or whatever it might be, whatever time frame works for the person, because you don’t ever want to give somebody so much information it’s crushing and they don’t know what to do with it.”
Setting up a regular schedule for mentoring is important, and come prepared with what you want to discuss. Candice also advises that mentors be careful not to info dump: “I have encountered that at times in the past, where I’ve got so much to share with the person and they’re very interested in what I have to share with them, but then they get mired in the weeds of their own processes and don’t really actuate what we’ve talked about,” so it is important to access what is helpful to your mentee at the time and meter what you have to share with them accordingly.
“Take those pieces of wisdom that you can hear, that you can glean from other people, even if it feels terrible in the moment.”
Sometimes, mentors will have to give hard advice. When Candice was starting out, she worked for someone who did what she calls “reverse mentoring.” ‘My boss at the time
told me that they didn’t think I had it in me [to do sales] which was crushing to hear at the time, but they meant it positively. It just came out. It was awful. She was a senior VP. And actually, it spurred me to do things differently and created a tremendous relationship with her. She became an important mentor to me.” Instead of giving up, the honest assessment spurred Candice forward. “[She] then launched into being able to do sales, technical sales.”
“So positive advice and difficult to hear advice are both valuable,” she says, “Take those pieces of wisdom that you can hear, that you can glean from other people, even if they feel terrible in the moment. I felt absolutely crushed at the time, but because of it, I had this tremendous mentoring relationship with someone who was a star performer and was a top multi-million-dollar sales advocate for an established environmental engineering and civil engineering company. I learned tremendous things from that person and most of all I learned how to be extremely precise and never promise to do something you can’t over deliver on.”
The entire audio-video interview with MentorCore, a community focused on helping people grow their careers and skills through mentoring in the security and compliance fields is linked in the title “Mentoring & Entrepreneurship During Turmoil.”