The Power of Mentorship

Brooke Rouse

Mentorship in professional development is especially beneficial to women leaders, whether those mentors are male or female.  Some women are hesitant to ask for help, others crave constant feedback;  finding a balanced support system of mentors and mentees allows you to continue learning from other perspectives.

                A circle of mentors should include some diversity in experience, age, gender and other defining characteristics. It should include people within your industry and outside your industry, people you know well, and people who are just acquaintances. In some cases a mentor may be a paid coach, lawyer or advisor of another sort. The key to establishing a truly productive mentorship balance is engaging people who will tell you what you need to hear, and what you want to hear…not always at the same time. Personal, emotional, and professional feedback can come in many forms and it is good to have someone on speed-dial for the variety of scenarios you face as a businesswoman and leader.

                The power of mentorship between women of different ages and experience levels has been gaining momentum in the Canton-Potsdam college towns of St. Lawrence County. In 2014 the Young Women’s Leadership Institute of the North Country (YWLI) formed as a partnership between the four colleges and the local chapter of the American Association for University Women (AAUW) and has quickly recruited a number of active and diverse professionals from the county. According to their website (http://ncywli.weebly.com ), the group notes their vision as being “… a membership institute providing opportunities for women to come together from the area colleges and engage with each other, with mentors and other resources in the community, enhancing the leadership development options for young women”.  Professional women in the area mentor college students and the college students have teamed up with middle and high school women. An annual conference and special speaker and networking events throughout the year have helped the board realize that there is a critical role to be played in developing young women leaders.

                Listening and learning, that is what mentorship is; age does not define a mentor. As many professionals in the YWLI have found, they are learning so much from college students, as well as connecting with each other as mentors. Likewise, college students are finding great value in their conversations with older and younger women. A study by LinkedIn in 2014 found that only one in five women have mentors, yet business success, poverty reduction, fair pay and higher GDP have all been identified as impacts of female mentorship.

                Finding the time to be a mentor or seek out mentors often takes a back seat to being a mom, a business leader, a wife, sister or daughter. Making a goal of one hour per month is a great start. It does not always have to be in person, as Google hangouts, Skype and a variety of online networks allow you to connect at any time of day or night. Mentorship does not have to be formal; it can happen over a cup of coffee or a walk (good self-care!) In addition to making a difference in someone else’s life, leaving a legacy, and helping to shape the next generation, you too will benefit from a growing network, a reduced feeling of isolation, fresh ideas, and the opportunity to further your own leadership skills.

BROOKE ROUSE is executive director of the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Promotion Agent. She is a business owner, holds a master’s degree in tourism and is a former SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center Advisor. Contact her at brouse@stlawrencecountychamber.org or 315-386-4000.

Building the North Country Economy

Sarah O’Connell

The American economy has changed greatly over the last half century, and we’ve seen a lot of those changes right here in the north country.  Most of our paper manufacturers have closed down, national chains have changed the faces of our downtowns and our many small dairy farms have merged into just a handful of large agricultural enterprises.   Our largest employers now are the military, the hospitals, the various levels of government and educational facilities.

                So what happens when someone doesn’t fit into one of those types of businesses?  Maybe they decide to start their own business.   Every year we at the Watertown SBDC talk to around 700 would-be entrepreneurs.  Of those, many just want to kick around an idea or need some basic assistance with getting the business set up. Others decide to go forward and obtain a startup or expansion loan. 

                Many of the small businesses we work with are what the U.S. Small Business Administration calls “nonemployer” firms, meaning they are a one-person operation with no employees.  We could call them “starter businesses” – usually they are quicker and less costly to start, and also to close.  The median age of a nonemployer business is six years, about four years less than an employer business.

                Furthermore, startups are less likely than established businesses to create jobs, again because during those crucial first five years, the new business may be just struggling to find its place in the market, much less adding employees.  Less than half the jobs created by startups still exist after five years, while expanding, older businesses account for 60 percent of small business job creation.   The share of employment that microbusinesses (those with fewer than 10 employees upon start up) contribute has declined over the past 30 years – from 15% in 1978 to 11.6 per cent in 2011.  (SBA.gov).

                With all that being said, small businesses are very important to the local economy.  Besides providing employment for a local resident, new businesses may bring new ideas to the area.  They can provide support services or products that free up larger employers to do what they do best.    Small businesses also generate tax income through self-employment, payroll taxes and sales tax collection.  They can also be more reactive and flexible to market trends. Just look at the rise of the craft beverage industry in our area,  or ethnic restaurants and small niche shops; I think they make our community a more interesting and enjoyable place to live than large metropolitan areas that are just lines of chain store after chain store.  

                How about lawn care providers, plumbers, small contractors, or snow plow operators (shout out here to my guy Mike!)?    Small hardware stores, bakeries, crafters, web designers, our local news sources, and professionals like lawyers, insurance agents and accountants are here to provide us with their goods and services; they know their community and may even be our neighbors.

                So sure, you may find the Internet is quick and easy to search for something, order and pay for it electronically; it might even offer a cheaper deal than what you’d pay locally, and hey! – free shipping!    But at the end of the day, what is that doing to help your local economy?  If you want to support the north country economy, it starts with spending your money right here and creating growth and job creation, one local purchase at a time.

                For fiscal year 2015-16, the advisors at the Watertown SBDC serving Jefferson, Lewis and Oswego counties saw 735 clients, spent 5,174 hours counseling, helped them create 167 new jobs and retain 53 jobs and assisted 51 clients in obtaining financing for business startup or expansion in the amount of $15,166,933.

                The New York Small Business Development Center at JCC offers free, individual, confidential counseling to new or existing business owners in Jefferson and Lewis counties.  For more information, contact 315-782-9262, sbdc@sunyjefferson.edu.   St. Lawrence County residents can contact their SBDC at SUNY Canton, 315-386-7312, sbdc@canton.edu.

SARAH O’CONNELL is a certified business advisor with the New York State Small Business Development Center at Jefferson Community College. She is a former small business owner and lifelong Northern New York resident. Contact her at soconnell@sunyjefferson.edu. Her column appears bi-monthly in NNY Business.

NNY Healthy Women: A special supplement to NNY Business

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Why It Pays To Be Honest in Business

Joleene Moody

I’m going to share a personal story here, one that actually destroyed me emotionally. But only for a moment. When it was over, it gave me exactly what I needed to be a better leader. If you’re interested in being the best version of yourself, listen up. This has to do with being brutally honest, even at the cost of making a fool of yourself.

     I write books for professional men and women. Self-Help and How-To, mostly. When someone who needed a book written contacted me, his professional stature intimidated me a bit. So much so, that when he asked me what it would cost to write his masterpiece, I fumbled and jumbled my quote horribly. So much so, that I severely undercut myself.  Severely.

     He agreed to my teensy price and we ended our call. I was devastated. What had I done? Why didn’t I say anything? How could I possibly move forward, knowing I would be making mere pennies, thanks to my fumbly foolishness?

I had a choice to make:

1) I could either move forward and write his book for peanuts, or

2) I could call him back and tell him I made a mistake.

     If I went with option one, I knew I would regret it and hate every step of the process.

If I went with option two, I risked making a fool of myself and looking unprofessional.

     After wrestling with both options, I decided to go with option two. I decided to be honest, even if it meant I might look like a fool. Here’s what I said:

     “Mr. Author, I owe you an apology. For reasons I can’t quite explain, other than I became flustered while talking to you, I severely misquoted you. I said I would write your book for X dollars when the truth is, I should have quoted you four times that amount. I am so sorry. I don’t know how it happened or what I was thinking, but I would be doing myself and my clients a huge disservice if I moved forward writing your book for what I quoted you. I am so very sorry. I am embarrassed and humiliated. I understand completely if you want to move on and find someone else to write this for you.”

     And do you know what happened?

     He said he would like to move forward with me anyway.

     Yes, I was as stunned as you are.

     Mr. Author told me he valued my work and appreciated my honesty. He could hear in my voice how terrible I felt and understood I simply made a mistake.

     After we hung up, I had an unexpected emotional release and I cried.

     I cried because telling this man I made a mistake was very difficult.

     I cried because the perfectionist in me was still beating me up.

     I cried because I was honest and it felt good.

     I cried because I realized, even if he decided not to work with me, being honest and standing in integrity felt better than any check in my hand would.

     Choosing to be honest is actually a gateway to freedom. Had I lied to him or myself and moved forward anyway, I would have actually done more damage than good. One lie leads to another lie, which leads to another lie, which in turn leads to another lie. My emotional release was my body understanding that, and thanking me for being true to myself and to Mr. Author.

     If you want to feel free, take the route of honesty every time. Looking back, I can safely say that even if Mr. Author told me to go fly a kite, I still would have felt free and safe because I told the truth. There were no stories to protect and no lies to continue to weave.

     Decide to be honest, no matter what. None of us is perfect. All of us make mistakes. Besides, look what happened when I told the truth. I ended up getting paid what I should have from the beginning. See? It really does pay to be honest.

JOLEENE MOODY is a freelance writer, blogger, and speaker who lives in Oswego County with her husband and daughter. Learn more at: www.joleenemoody.com

What is the Women’s Council of Realtors?

Lance Evans

On Oct. 13, 2008, the Tri-County (NY) Network of the Women’s Council of Realtors (WCR) was chartered.  It introduced our area to this organization and opened up a new way for Realtors to hone leadership skills, connect with other Realtors and give back to the local area.  So what is WCR and how does it connect to the larger Realtor community?

     In the 1930s, the National Association of Realtors witnessed the growth of women working in real estate and increased participation of women by national conventions, as women were becoming aware of their potential in, and importance to, the industry.

     A Women’s Division had already been created in 1924 by the California Real Estate Association. In 1938, National President Joseph Catherine encouraged the formation of a national Women’s Council after being impressed by the California group. At the Annual Convention in Milwaukee in November 1938, the Board of Directors voted to form a Women’s Division. Thirty-seven women, representing nine states, were at that meeting for the Women’s Council’s inception.

     Through the decades, Women’s Council’s membership growth has reflected the vast number of women choosing to work in real estate as they recognized the immense career benefits combined with a Women’s Council membership, including:

  • Earnings equitable to men’s because “commission is commission.”
  • Flexible work schedules allowing Realtors the ability to raise a family and have a career instead of choosing one or the other.
  • A support system of women in the same field garnering many friendships, networking capabilities and referrals.
  • Confidence through connection with other professional women Realtors.
  • Recognition for their own achievements and success, as well as inspiration and courage to strive for greater successes.

     Despite the name, WCR is open to Realtors of both sexes.  About 10 percent of the more than 12,000 real estate members are male.

     The local network is one of 250 local and state networks nationwide that provide the backbone of WCR.  Most of the work is done by volunteer managers trained to position their groups as a business resource in their Realtor communities.

     Since 1998, incoming network presidents have been trained at the annual Leadership Academy. With its in-depth network management training, the Academy was recognized with the prestigious Leadership Development Trophy in Network Relations from the American Society of Association Executives in its first year. Local networks regularly have networking and educational programs, which are designed to keep members on top of an evolving market. Nationwide, Women’s Council members collectively generate more than $100 million in commissions annually.

     Our local network is made up of 35 Realtors from the Jefferson-Lewis and St. Lawrence County Boards of Realtors and 14 sponsors.  In its short existence, it has established several annual events and made its mark on the area. Every March, it holds a “Got Leadership?” luncheon and panel discussion featuring four or five local female leaders.  This year’s edition will be held at noon on Tuesday March 21 at the Italian-American Civic Association on Bellew Avenue in Watertown. It is open to the public.

     In the fall, the network sponsors a “Meet the Candidates” event and Top Producer award galas held for Realtor members of the St. Lawrence County and Jefferson-Lewis Boards of Realtors.  These honor the top 20 percent of members in terms of units sold and units rented.

     In the summer, the network holds a golf tournament. A portion of the proceeds assist a local nonprofit. Past recipients have included the Victim’s Assistance Center, Family Counseling Service, the Sci-Tech Center, the Watertown Urban Mission, the USO at Fort Drum, and the River Community Wellness Program at River Hospital. In 2017, the seventh annual tournament will be at Highland Meadows Golf Club on Friday, July 28. 

     The Tri-County Network has had a number of successes in addition to its events, including having one of its members, Lisa L’Huillier, serve as state network president.  In addition, it has raised over $7,500 for local charities and raised awareness of the role women play in positions of leadership in the north country.

LANCE M. EVANS is the executive officer of the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Realtors and the St. Lawrence County Board of Realtors. Contact him at levans@nnymls.com. His column appears monthly in NNY Business.

Creating an Effective Team

Vega Nutting

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I ended up where I needed to be.” – Douglas Adams

Though I never imagined I would one day be working in Health Information Technology, today I am doing just that at the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization. And when I look around at the team of women that support me at FDRHPO, I am always reminded how remarkable it is that we landed here together.

     At FDRHPO, we are right in the middle of a key transformation of our region’s healthcare system, working on a daily basis to improve the quality of care for our community, support our region’s healthcare providers and fill any gaps that may exist across the healthcare spectrum. Our agency is currently – and always has been – led by a woman, and it has several women in management roles.

     My direct team, which focuses on implementing the Patient-Centered Medical Home model in primary care offices throughout the north country, is made up of five women. We work closely together to support our agency’s mission, support the entire tri-county healthcare system, support our families and anyone else whose path we might cross throughout the day. As women, it’s just what we do.

     However, what we do in a day is just part of our story. The really interesting piece involves who we are, how we ended up in this field, and why we function as a great team in the male-dominated Information Technology sector.

     So, what makes an effective team? Forbes Magazine suggests that team chemistry might be more simple than we often think – “The most engaged and excited teams in the world can be found at your local park watching a Little League baseball game.”

     Working together towards a common goal, learning from past mistakes, encouraging one another, understanding individual roles, having a confident team leader, and even a little celebratory cheering when the team scores are all attributes of highly effective team. Forbes goes on to list five specific attributes of a highly successful team. They are:

  1. Having a Clear Vision – Being motivated not only by your company’s mission, but also by your own personal mission helps each individual team member realize how her personal contributions lend to the big picture.
  2. Having an Inspiring Leader – The best teams are led by people who communicate the vision, lead humbly and are open to feedback and criticism. They encourage employee development, leave the door open and delegate effectively.
  3. Team Cooperation – Teams that know how to work together and properly divvy up tasks gain the most from their group’s unique mix of knowledge and abilities.
  4. Constructive Communication – Teams are always a work in progress. That’s why the best teams are open to feedback and actively encourage constructive communication.
  5. Appreciation All Around – Just as the whole team cheers for a home run, effective teams cheer each other on for individual victories, big or small. Regularly recognizing each other’s work lets everyone know their effort is valued.

     I believe the women and men I work with demonstrate these qualities every day. Including myself, the women I work with directly do not have backgrounds in technology. We have worked as clinical nurses, nonprofit representatives, behavioral health specialists and even foreman supervisors. As a team, we use these skills with technology to achieve our own goals and the shared goals of our healthcare partners in this region.

     To conclude with a thought from Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning; Keeping together is progress; Working together is success.”

     Regardless of the industry or project we are involved in, we must remember to work together and encourage all members of the team.

VEGA NUTTING is a is the Patient-Centered Medical Home Implementation Project Manager at the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization.Her background in is practical nursing and health administration. She is a PCMH Certified Content Expert and is working toward her national certification in project management.

Hope for the Future

PHOTO COURTESY OF ANTHONY MACHIA

Many of the north country residents interviewed for past issues of this magazine’s annual “Women in Business” edition have shared their secrets of success and offered sound advice to other women aspiring to establish their careers.

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March 20 Questions: USO Fort Drum Karen Clark

AMANDA MORRISON / NNY BUSINESS

Her journey began on a path of educting the young minds in the classroom, but it wasn’t long until she found herself relocating from Florida to Fort Drum and reinventing her career from the ground up.

     Karen Clark’s passion exudes enthusiasm and compassion for those who serve our country abroad and at home.

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