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Mentor Interview: James Hayden

James Hayden, Upnotch Mentor and Managing Partner at Hayden Marketing Inc, is a proven leader, advisor, author, and market developer across Fortune 500 and startup companies. He has a successful history in effecting turnarounds, building and developing winning teams, procuring funding, earning key accounts, and launching new products.

What is your superpower & why?

My superpower is working with organizations. I help find the first revenue for organizations. If they've had difficulty putting that together themselves my superpower is finding the market then building the processes or structure on how to scale the business.

Tell us a little bit about your own mentors - who they are or what topics you like to cover with them?

One of my mentors was a client. We talked about how to be successful in business - things he'd learned over a 40-year career. It helped accelerate the success that I had. He took a real interest in my success and it had a major impact.

Tell me about a time a mentor has helped you accomplish a specific goal.

My mentor really helped me understand how to navigate enterprise sales; who to contact, how to get attention from people that are buying my product, and how to speak to organizations.

The company my mentor was in was really successful. Our successes worked hand-in-glove. I'd go to his house, and we'd have dinner and we'd map out what my company was doing and how it would impact his performance and his organization. It got to the point where he even told me how it impacted him financially, the bonuses he'd get if we had that kind of performance. We were really intertwined in terms of success, so the more successful I became in the organization, the more successful he became.

Describe a time when a mentor pushed you further than you thought was possible or accelerated your career.

He gave me insights in terms of what I could do within his organization. It broke me out of my comfort zone because I was very intimidated by C-level executives. He taught me how to speak to those people, how to present myself, how to face things that seemed insurmountable.

Any advice your mentor has given you that you could share with us today?

“Don't wing it.”

For every meeting you have, you can research the company so you can understand their motivations, what's in it for them, and what you bring to the table. You can get all the information on the internet and through social media. My mentor always told me to do my research before going into a meeting. Research and preparation are really the keys.

What is the weirdest, funniest, strangest thing you have ever asked your mentor?

“Why should I eat sweetbread meat?” I'm not kidding. I had never eaten that before and that was something he loved and for some reason that stuck in my mind.

If they were listening to you right now, what would you tell them?

I’d tell them what an impact they have had on my life and what it meant for me. My mentors served me so well in terms of advancing my career. I've used their advice for my success. I just turned 67 and companies are still calling me to build their go-to-market plans because I had somebody who gave me that initial lift early on in my career. A mentor can be so impactful in someone's life.

Why do you mentor?

Because I'm selfish as hell! I get so much more from it. There is a fantastic quote from St. Francis that summarizes it for me. He said, “It is in the giving that we truly receive.”

It seems like a selfless act but it's very selfish in some ways. I find that mentoring people keeps me current and relevant. What I get by mentoring is new ideas that I hadn't thought of. There's a term a friend of mine came up with, “Mentern.” It means you are a mentor but you're also an intern!

What makes a great mentee in your opinion?

Somebody who's passionate about what they're doing. High energy, high passion. Communicative, and open. If I make a recommendation and they don't agree with it they should be someone who speaks up - because we should talk about it!

When did you know you achieved your career success?

When I first got out of business school, I thought I was successful immediately because I had a master's degree. Then I got into the work world and I've had success but I don't view it as 100% success. There's always something to work on, always an area to improve upon. I consider myself successful, but it didn't come upon me. I didn’t wake up one morning and I considered myself a success.

What's the secret behind your success?

Hard work. The ability to research, dig in, not give up. I'm not afraid of much. I'd say the biggest factors are having an open mindset, being willing to work hard and do things that other people wouldn't do. I've never felt like something was beneath me. I think there's value in being humble and being grateful.

Describe a time you've had a breakdown that has led to a success or breakthrough.

The biggest one was in 2008. When markets were crashing, investments were doing terribly. At that time, I had to look at things differently. Everything was upside down in terms of finances, in terms of opportunities. I learned to reinvent myself. I spent many sleepless nights worrying about my family. I was exasperated, but then it led to a different approach. I asked myself, “What am I doing today?” It gave me that peace of mind, I knew I would find a way to do this. Even though it was very difficult, it gave me more confidence. The key thing is to never give up, regardless of how difficult the challenges are. Right after that downturn, I had some of the best investments and opportunities come my way, and if I'd given up, they wouldn't have been there.

As a mentor, what topics do you like to mentor on?

How to build a market for a company, how to find buyers, figuring out how everything fits together and what the next moves are. That's what I really like to talk about.

I also like to talk about people's strengths and weaknesses, and what the mentees can do to be successful, the soft skills needed to be an effective leader. I always try to guide them so they can move to the next level in their career.

When was a time when you helped a mentee solve a big challenge?

I was helping a CEO I was working with. I just pointed him in the direction of how to work with a board more effectively. In a gentle way, I pointed out the company’s weaknesses and who they needed to hire to complement their skill sets. What I teach other people is to recognize and really be clear about what they're good at doing, and what they're not good at doing so they set correct expectations for their organizations.


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