Ralph Daniel Long was probably my first mentor. He never applied for the job. And I never ask him to take on the position. He just did it.
As Bell Captain at the Hyatt Regency Kansas City, he was my boss. He had a big smile and a deep Southern accent. And he was tall, lanky and friendly. He knew a lot about the hotel business and took the time to share his knowledge with me. But he also shared a lot about life.
Our first life lesson came during my first month as a freshman in college. I was scheduled to work on a weekend. Even though I asked to work weekends, I wasn’t expecting to be scheduled on a Friday night. And in my mind, I thought he knew I was a little freshman, first time away from home, and without a car.
So I got a call on the hallway phone at the dorm. It was Danny. He was not happy. He wanted to know why I was late for my shift. I explained I that I thought he realized I was at school and didn’t have a car. He let me know it was leaving him shorthanded and he would discuss it with when I arrived for my next scheduled shift.
When we met, I saw a different Danny. His jovial smile was gone. He let me know how important it was for me to work when scheduled and how it affected the staff and hotel. There would be no disciplinary action. But he said something that I have never forgotten.
“If it happens once, it’s a mistake. If it happens twice, it’s a problem.”
That’s when Danny, unofficially, became my mentor.
There’s a quote by William Ward, ending with the words, “A great teacher inspires”. When I started considering a possible career path in the hotel industry, Danny supported and encouraged me. I was enjoying my job as a bell person but I wanted to continue to grow. I asked about the possibility of transferring to the Concierge department. He suggested a schedule allowing me to work part-time in both departments. Even though it would affect his staffing, he was willing to make a concession for me.
After all these years, I can still hear his voice giving me advice. But I especially remember hearing his voice on the night of July 17, 1981. By that time, I had become a full-time concierge. And I was in a tuxedo, working as a Regency Club concierge on the 40th floor. When the entire building suddenly shook, I thought it was the motor from the revolving restaurant, Skies, two floors above. Then I started hearing sirens from outside. I was able to look out the window, down towards the street and see several ambulances arriving at the front entrance of the hotel.
After calling several phones in the lobby, I finally reached Danny. I asked him what was going on.
“Corky, the skywalks have fallen. Don’t come down here. There’s water everywhere and people are hurt. Stay where you are for now.”
Even though this was shocking information, his voice was calm. I called my parents as soon as I hung up the phone. I was able to use the same calm tone to tell them what they were about to see on the news. And that I was fine. And not to come to the hotel.
When I did go downstairs, about 2 hours later, I briefly saw Danny in the triage area. He was helping the paramedics in taking care of the injured. He was checking on hotel staff to make sure they were okay. He was doing exactly what you would expect him to do.
Over time, once I understood what a mentor was, I searched for one with each new job. I would find wonderful teachers and I would grasp every word of wisdom, every gold nugget of knowledge and store it in my head for safe keeping. But secretly, I was waiting for someone to say the words, “I want to be your mentor”.
About 10 years ago, I was working on a team to create a mentoring program. It inspired me to take the initiative. I asked a former manager to become my mentor. But It never really came together. It left me kinda disappointed. I rolled around in my head all the reasons why it didn’t work. After thinking about it too long, I realized I didn’t need to officially solicit someone to take on the job of mentor. And I didn’t need any one to apply for the job. There were plenty of Danny’s who volunteered for the job. Some took the time and interest in me to share a wealth of information. Others just showed up and lead by example.
As you read this, maybe you’ll stop for a moment and ask yourself…
- who was your first mentor?
- what are the important lessons you learned and remembered?
- who have you shared this information with?
- who have you been a mentor to?
I dedicate this post to one of my first mentors, Ralph Daniel Long. He passed away on February 6th, 2014. He was employed by Hyatt Hotels for over 40 years. He was an inspiration to so many.
And I also dedicate this to Chuck Dymer. He inspires me to see unlimited possibilities. Chuck is the president of PeopleWorks, a corporate training and consulting company.
Chuck was the first person in the world permitted by Dr. Edward de Bono to present the Six Thinking Hats process for focused thinking. In 1993 he became a member of the de Bono Thinking Systems network and is an accredited Master Trainer of Six Thinking Hats®, Lateral Thinking®, Direct Attention Thinking Tools (DATT™) and Simplicity™.
And he is my mentor.