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Building the Right Mentor Relationship with Lauren Stefaniak of Victoria’s Secret

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Full episode transcript

Daniel Jester:

From Creative Force, I'm Daniel Jester. And this is the E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. Lauren Stefaniak, of Victoria's Secret, joins me for another round, and this time we're talking mentorship. During our first episode with Lauren, we talked about how to make a business case, and in the course of that conversation we touched on the topic of mentorship a little bit. We invited Lauren back to dig deeper into the mentor-mentee relationship, why it's a critical relationship for your growth and development, and for earlier career professionals, how to set your relationship up for success.

Lauren Stefaniak:

I think the biggest piece of advice I could recommend here is to be super thoughtful in your approach to learning from your mentor. So if you can Google the question you're about to ask and find the answer, don't ask it. Google it and find it out yourself, and then use it to help you get to a more detailed question that you may not have found on the internet. So, for example, you identify a mentor who works at a specific company. Instead of asking them, "Oh, how did you go to that company?" You could ask them something more detailed like, "What about that company made you want to take that role at that point in time in your career?"

Daniel Jester:

I believe we have another very valuable and insightful episode from our friend Lauren. So let's jump right into this one. This is the E-commerce Content Creation Podcast. I am your host Daniel Jester. Joining me for this episode, welcoming back for another round on the podcast, Lauren Stefaniak, director of creative operations at Victoria's Secret and Company. Lauren, welcome back to the show.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Thanks so much for having me. I had such a great time the first time.

Daniel Jester:

I did too. I really loved your episode. I think it had really broad appeal to people and we got a lot of really great feedback. I couldn't be happier with the way that it came together, your masterclass in writing the business case, and it's all I've thought about since then. I'm writing business cases for every little thing up to and including my coffee machine anecdote. Although I got chastised from somebody for not using my credit card's extended warranty, but it is what it is. I'm still learning how to be an adult at 37.

Daniel Jester:

We invited you back on the podcast to talk about mentorship, one of the things that we touched on in the last episode. I had a question on our episode outline about mentorship and we didn't get through the first 40 pages just on making a business case, so we wanted to invite you back to talk specifically about mentorship. And this is something that I feel personally really strongly about. I've definitely had more than one mentor in my career, and one of the things that I really liked in theory that Amazon had in place was a formalized mentorship tool. In reality and in practice, it ended up being pretty difficult to get people's time, which is fair. People are busy, this was 2016, 2017. Things were normal. People were very busy back then. It wasn't as easy to get a meeting as sometimes it can be now.

Daniel Jester:

But I always thought it was really cool that they had a purpose built tool. The approach that you would take was specific goals and things that you wanted to learn, and then it would match you with a mentor based on that. I don't know, Lauren, you tell me with your experience, but for me, I feel like a lot of my mentor relationships have started off as casual conversations that became friendships that became somebody that I'd turned to for advice and informal. What are your thoughts on that? In your history, mentors in your past, how did you end up finding these people and connecting with them?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. I love that question. I think for me and where I see it's been most successful is those organic conversations that have popped up. You meet somebody with zero intention of being a mentor or having them as your mentor, and then it just grows into this relationship that you can then lean on. I think what's interesting in particular about mentorship is that it's this buzzword that people think has all this weight behind it. But as soon as you say, "Will you be my mentor?" Somebody assumes, "Oh my God, I have to dedicate so much time to this. There's these expectations. I have to do X, Y, and Z," but there's really no playbook or rule book for mentorship. So removing that title of mentorship and just figuring out what works for you to get that level of relationship and guidance that you need, I think trumps any formal program that you could have put in place for you.

Daniel Jester:

For me, there's only really one rule when it comes to mentorship, and it's you absolutely must. If you are somebody else's mentor, you have to dress like Mr. Feeny from "Boy Meets World". Other than that, anything else is fair game, but it's just sweater vests and the Kohl's special. Walk into a Kohl's, grab all the sweater vests you can. Not Kohl's guys. Get a nice sweater vest. J.Crew's still around out there somewhere, I think.

Daniel Jester:

I'm inclined to agree with you with that. And there's a lot of gray areas too, around a mentorship relationship, because I have relationships with people that I definitely consider peers, and we spend a lot of time using each other as a soundboard. And I guess you could call that a mentor-ish relationship. It ends up being a little bit more two-way. You have slightly different backgrounds and experiences and perspectives on things, and oftentimes I think those kind of relationships become the, "Am I crazy? Or is this situation X, Y, Z," and then you get their feedback on it.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. I think it's definitely a two-way street, and that's really where you're most successful, because you find these people who you're invested in the relationship because you see the value in their experiences, but a good mentor's invested in you too, right? They want to see you succeed. They want to see you doing the best thing that you can do. And also they get some satisfaction out of seeing this person grow alongside them or underneath them with some of their influence. So I think it's definitely a two way relationship.

Daniel Jester:

So in your experience personally, coming up through your career to where you are today, how important have you found having a mentor through that process? How important has it been for you?

Lauren Stefaniak:

I think for me it's been a journey, right? So when I think about when a mentor is important, I think about what are your goals and what's the importance that you've set on the goals for yourself? So when I first started out my career, I was just one of those I'm just happy to be here type people. I'm glad to get the opportunity. I wasn't super focused on growing my career and moving upward on the ladder. And for me, a mentor didn't make sense, right? It felt like this burden almost of this thing forced on me, but now that I'm in a place where I do have set goals and I have things I want to achieve, it's become so paramount to being able to get there, to find and identify these people who can help me and share their experiences.

Daniel Jester:

You got me thinking, that's an interesting point. It seems like there really is a turning point. We're going to get a little philosophical about the career journey for a minute, because I've thought about this in the past, and you got me thinking about it again right now, that there's a point at which in your career... You said the thing about I'm just happy to be here, and man, I feel seen on that one big time because I can remember my first what felt like a grown up job sitting in those team meetings and just being like, "I'm here. I did it." I nudged somebody, "Tell me what to do, please. Nobody look at me, but just tell me what to do."

Daniel Jester:

But there's a point in your career, which you are no longer just reacting to inputs. You go from being told what to do and having tasks that are expected of you that are handed to you from somebody else to where you pivot, and now you're expected to drive forward an agenda and make a lot of those decisions. And that's the point at which I think a mentor can really be a powerful tool for you to lean on because there's going to be a lot of things that you learn. And when you hit that career pivot point, you're essentially starting from scratch. Sometimes, in some of those roles, you don't realize for a while that you're there and you're just like, "Am I doing what I need to be doing?" And then you realize, "Oh, I just decide what I need to be doing, and then point my team in that direction."

Daniel Jester:

So I don't know. Does this make sense to you, Lauren? Do you feel that you've experienced that pivot in your own career where you went from, "Here's a task I'm handing you," to, "I'm not being told what to do, but I know what the goal is. I know where the compass is pointing and I'm supposed to figure out how to move it there."

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah, for sure. And I think, at least for me and I've seen this too, that tipping point is when you go from being an individual contributor to a manager level, and you're responsible for making decisions. And so for those of us who are happy with being the individual contributors and have no aspirations to become the decision makers and the leaders, you may never have to make a decision in your life, which is totally fine for you, but if you're moving into that manager level, when you do have to make a decision, it's like you need all the help you can get, right? I liken it to doing your taxes for the first time or doing your laundry. There's no class on this. You don't learn this in college. You don't learn it in high school. It's just you have to figure it out. Same goes for your career. Same goes for making decisions in a corporate environment.

Daniel Jester:

I learned to do my taxes from somebody who was like two years older than me. This was pre doing it digitally at all. It was a form that you sat down with a calculator. And anyway, I'm sure I'll be in prison before 40. No, that's not true. Speaking of those career pivot kinds of things, this is an existential crisis for you, and it was for me, which is thinking about that point in your career in which you are no longer judged on your potential, but by your actual accomplishments. I don't know if it's an age or a status, but at some point people around you, when you're a younger professional, they look at you and they see potential, and then at some point that flips and now they're like, "What have you done?" That's a weird place to be and to navigate in the same way that shift from individual contributor into a manager can be.

Daniel Jester:

I want to put a pin in this and come back to it, because I want to keep going with the mentor thing. But I'm curious about decision making a little bit, and I want to touch on that a little bit later. But Lauren, when you're thinking about... And I guess I should ask the question. I have a question written here that I'm going to ask you, but I want to come back from that a little bit. The question was what should a person look for in a mentor, but I think maybe a better place to start with that is, at least in your experience, again, sometimes people you just realize are a mentor of yours and it's not always that you're setting out to go find a mentor. Can you speak to that dynamic a little bit?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah, definitely. So I think I touched on it before in saying that it's an organic, natural thing that happens. But I think the point at which you start thinking, "Should this person be a mentor," for me is when you have a goal or a problem that you're trying to solve in mind and you think to yourself, "You know who would be really good at helping me solve this problem? This person." And that's the moment where you should say to yourself, "Can I explore this relationship in a different way? Can I explore it as a mentorship? Can I glean more from this than just this one question that I'm trying to get solved?" And if you do that, then I think you should take steps to really diving in to see if that person would be a right mentor for you.

Daniel Jester:

Lauren, do you seek mentors for specific problems or situations that you're facing or do you have a collection of individuals that you have different areas of advice that you might seek out from them?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. So I think there are four main things that I would say people should look out for when looking for a mentor.

Daniel Jester:

Of course it's a very documented thing.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Oh yeah. Number one. But the first thing I would say is the most successful mentorship relationships are when you identify someone who has already achieved the goal you've set for yourself, specifically not someone whose overall achievements are something that's inspirational to you. And what I mean by that is I'm a director of creative operations and I want to be a creative director one day. That's not the real goal. I'm just making it up. But should that be my goal, I should be finding somebody who is currently a creative director who can get me to that next level. However, what it's not is, "I really like this person, and I think that they're super inspirational to me so I'm going to identify them as a mentor because they live a really cool life and I want to be them." It never really works out when you do that. It has to be centered around you and your goal and how you want to move forward.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Otherwise, you're just going to get into this weird position where you are saying to somebody, "Tell me everything about your life and how you got there." And two things will probably happen. One, it's not going to live up to what you thought it was. The never meet your heroes thing that people say. That'll probably happen to you in this instance. But then the second thing that might happen is that you'll fall flat in conversations when you're talking to them, because once they get over the fact that you're enamored by them there's going to be nothing to talk about and it's just going to be this weird adoration that doesn't really get you or them anywhere. So that's the first thing.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. That makes me think that there is a difference between, especially in the internet age, of I'm going to call it the active and the passive mentorship. To define that a little bit as I have active mentors who are people that I know. I've been to their house, I can call them up right now and we can have a phone conversation. And then there's the passive mentorship, which is people who are visible in a space somewhere, whether it's social media or whatever, that I am inspired by, and they're sharing enough information for me to learn some lessons from them. But there's a distinct difference between those type of people, right? And like you're saying, if there are people out there who are putting out great content on LinkedIn that I find really inspirational, it doesn't mean that I couldn't learn something from that, but that type of mentorship relationship is quite a bit different.

Daniel Jester:

And like you said, I'm going to go meet somebody, and I was going to throw a name out there but I don't want to, can't think of an actual name of this kind of situation, but there's a lot of people who are idolized on all social media platforms. And I can think of a handful of people, even on LinkedIn, who everybody's re-sharing their posts all the time and I think a lot of people would consider them probably a passive mentor to them because they're explicitly out there sharing professional help and secrets and things like that.

Lauren Stefaniak:

That's such a good point about passive and active mentorship. I think to help you get where you're going to go you need an active mentor, and there is absolutely a benefit to passive mentorship, but without having that direct connection it just won't get you as far. So number two, someone who is, or was in your industry or one that's adjacent to yours. So this is counter to what I said on the last podcast about speak to people outside of your industry to get ideas. I think you can certainly get a lot of ideas from people outside of your industry, but the benefit of talking to somebody who's at least in your universe is that it's a natural progression to networking opportunities, which we know networking is almost as important as mentorship, but it also helps to cut through the language barrier of having to explain your role, your industry, then trying to translate what they do into what you can do. It helps you get from A to B faster than going from A to A.1 to B.

Daniel Jester:

An interesting thing about the Amazon mentorship tool was that you could, and at one point I was actively pursuing a mentor outside of creative production, and I can't remember the things that I wanted to work on with them, but the way that it worked at Amazon was you would list out areas that you felt that you were strong enough to mentor somebody in. And it was broken down by all sorts of different qualities, both like leadership qualities but also just professional like qualities. And at one point I found this person who had a background and experience, and they were totally outside of creative production, but they had like four of these areas of professional growth that I wanted to touch on. And what ended up happening ultimately was what you described, is that I felt like I was being really smart. "Wow. Why would you ask this person to be your mentor, because they're in fulfillment or something." And I'm like, "Because I want to learn about this specific management style and this specific thing, and they say they're strong in that."

Daniel Jester:

But you're not wrong at all. What ended up happening is it was just hard for us to get on the same page right off the bat. The things that I wanted to discuss and the situations I wanted discuss, it's not that she couldn't understand them or that she wasn't capable, but there was a language barrier thing there. And then it was exacerbated a little bit by just time and availability and us being able to meet consistently. Because I'm sure that's in here somewhere in your master plan for finding a mentor is they need to be accessible to you, not 24 7, but they need to be somebody that you can confidently say I could call up and have a quick conversation with off the cuff.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. You actually read ahead to my third point, which is that you have to identify, yeah, someone fairly accessible and open to continued conversation. And so this goes without saying, but I will say it anyway. Cold calling a CEO of a fortune 500 company will probably not get you very far. You might get your foot in the door and have an excellent one time conversation, but that's more along the lines of that passive mentorship thing, and what we're looking for from an active mentor is someone who can give you consistent time and give you the time of day over however long that you need them to. That doesn't mean call them every day, but at least you know that when you reach out you'll hear back and you're not left hanging.

Daniel Jester:

One of the things that I'm interested in, I don't know, I think about this a lot and probably this is more a function of my own, I don't know if it's anxiety or whatever, but I try to be very conscious of how much I take from people in a relationship to what I give to a relationship. And it's not uncommon for me to sometimes feel guilt around feeling like a relationship is too one sided, where somebody's giving me a lot of their time and all of their best information and sharing all of those experiences and I'm not necessarily reciprocating with anything of value to that person. I know that for some people the feelings of being a mentor to somebody elicits also feelings of pride when that person achieves success and there's some reciprocation, but I guess what I'm specifically asking is I feel like that's something I should be sensitive to. Do you feel like that's something that you should be sensitive to? How do you think about the ways that the mentee gives back to that relationship?

Lauren Stefaniak:

I think the fact that you're thinking about that is an excellent starting point, right? We think about self-awareness, and self-awareness internally and externally, how are we feeling about ourselves? How are we feeling about our impact on others and how they perceive us? And to be aware of it, I think, is a great first step. The second step is don't let it completely crush you. So we have to trust that the people that we're leaning on and talking to will tell us when it's too much or they do a fade into the darkness moment, and then you can really just get the hint yourself. That being said-

Daniel Jester:

You can end every text message with, "No worries," if not, just to hedge your bets.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Right. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah. But that being said, I think diversifying your mentorship is really helpful. Don't lean on one person, try to find like three or four that are in your arsenal of people so that you aren't overloading one person in any given way, and then that helps quells some of your anxiety around that.

Daniel Jester:

Speaking of diversifying your mentors, I think that this is great too. I have who I consider my first mentor, which at this point, the nature of our relationship really is more just catching up. He was a photography professor who I took a film photography class, because basically I was already working as a photographer and I wanted access to the dark room so I took the film photography class, but he ended up offering to have me assist him on shoots, and this was in the early days of my career when I had... Who am I kidding? I still have a lot to learn on photography, but this was very, very early on. I wasn't getting a lot of work outside of the day to day of the company that I was working for where I was shooting, and so I was very siloed and I wasn't exactly growing.

Daniel Jester:

But at some point my career progressed beyond where he could really help me. And that's just the truth is him working as a photographer who shot a lot of architecture and a lot of portraits, and my career went hard into e-commerce and the concept of KPIs and studio production performance, or even just a studio in the way that we build product studios today was very foreign to him. But that being said, this is still somebody who has phenomenal advice and it becomes that sort of relationship where he isn't always aware that he's giving me just enough of a shift in my perspective to get the answer that I need, and he's just like, "Okay, if you tell me that I gave you the right answer, that's fine. I don't know what I said or did, but okay."

Lauren Stefaniak:

I love that. That's a perfect example of someone who probably would not ascribe to them being a mentor, but by nature of your relationship they just are.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. Anyway, I digressed hard on that. Where I was headed towards is diversifying the mentors, and we touched a little bit on it. Amazon had a mechanism by which you could identify and try to connect with mentors. Have you been a part of any organizations that formalized the process of finding and maintaining a relationship with a mentor?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah, only once in my professional career. I joined a company fairly early on in my career, so I was in that just happy to be here space so I don't think I fully took advantage of it, but I remember it being the worst thing in the world. And so it was part of their onboarding process, they had all of the best intentions, but the way that it worked was that as part of your onboarding process you were randomly assigned a mentor who you were required to go to coffee chats with quarterly. And so the person could be in your department, might not be in your department, but it was a requirement. They gave you their name and you had to go reach out to them.

Lauren Stefaniak:

In my case, it did not work at all. The person was not interested. We never actually did it. I was only there four months, so I left before it was even really a thing. But I was looking for that. I'm the type of person where if you tell me I have to do something with a deadline, I'm going to do it. So despite not wanting to do this, I reached out, followed up, didn't get anything, and it dawned on me that mentorship really has to be something that both parties want to do and are ready for. You can't just foist people into the program.

Daniel Jester:

It's a relationship.

Lauren Stefaniak:

It is.

Daniel Jester:

Despite what people may think, nobody wants to enter into a relationship that they don't want to be in, and for me, I think a mentor relationship has to come with a pretty high level of honesty and candidness. And so you can't do that with somebody that you don't trust in a way that you would have conversations like that with, and I would make the argument that nine times out of 10, somebody who's forced to be your mentor by their boss or whatever is not interested in having an honest and candid relationship with you. You might get lucky. You absolutely might get lucky, but my guess is nine times out of 10, you didn't get the person who was the right fit for you and nobody wanted to be there.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah, absolutely. So in that case, it didn't work out, but that was my one opportunity professionally.

Daniel Jester:

You've already talked about this specifically about diversifying your mentors, and I want to talk a little bit about, you need different inputs from different people at different phases of your career. We just talked about early career, the happy to be here phase. I've never heard it described like that. It's perfect. I definitely felt like that. I feel like I said in meetings, "Thank you for giving me this job."

Lauren Stefaniak:

"I'm just happy to be here."

Daniel Jester:

Super cringey and embarrassing, now that I think about it. I was also dressed really poorly. This is back in the days when offices had dress codes, and so I had an ill fitting shirt with a tie that I didn't know how to... Oh God. Oh man. That's so embarrassing. This was pre-studio days, everybody, so even back then in the studio you could get away with shorts and a band t-shirt if you had to.

Daniel Jester:

But you have phases of your career. The happy to be here phase, the I'm starting to get competent phase, the people are judging me based on my potential phase, the people are now judging me based on what I've actually accomplished phase. And in some cases, people who move into management roles and obviously that's a big growing pain. My experience in managing, I mean, we all make mistakes. I certainly made some mistakes. I'd like to think that I, at that point, had already had some pretty good managers who were also mentors that helped me learn how to listen instead of talking so much, which now that I host a podcast is out the window. But your career and who you are as an individual evolves over the course of 15 years of being in any job or series of jobs, how does that relationship with your mentors change? And your mentors themselves change, I would imagine.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah, definitely. So I think your mentors definitely can change. They don't have to. If you find somebody like that person you referenced that you're just catching up at this point, they don't have to change. It's a lifelong relationship. But I do think there are three pretty specific instances where they do change. The first one being your goal changes. So, like I referenced before, I have a goal of being a creative director, as an example. Let's say I have a mentor that I identify and by talking to them, I realize, you know what? I don't actually like what it sounds like that job entails. I don't want to go in that direction anymore.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Instead, maybe I want to go toward a CMO role. So that mentor that I had identified for myself based on where they made it in their career might not make sense for my new goal. So shifting my focus to a new mentor might make sense in that place. On the flip side, I think another instances where your mentor falls out of sync with your goals. So you might look up to somebody and speak to them, but let's say for example, sustainability is a huge thing for you and you identify this mentor who works in a sustainability company and they say, "You know what, I'd rather the paycheck and the bigger title at this other company that's known for not being super sustainable."

Daniel Jester:

They went hard into crypto.

Lauren Stefaniak:

They did. Yeah, yeah.

Daniel Jester:

And then you were interested in the sustainability.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Right, and so you were like, "You know what, that doesn't really align with what I'm looking for anymore. I don't know if that really makes sense for me." So you do have the opportunity to walk away. And then people change, like you said. So you may not have the time required for a certain mentor anymore. They might not have the time dedicated to you anymore. So some relationships just fizzle by nature of your availability.

Daniel Jester:

Let's talk specifically to early career professionals who are probably more at the stage of where they would be the mentee. What is your best advice for somebody to be the best possible mentee that they could be? What kind of attitudes? What kind of question? Any advice that you have. How can people set themselves up for success when they have identified and are actively engaging with a mentor?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. I think the biggest piece of advice I could recommend here is to be super thoughtful in your approach to learning from your mentor. So if you can Google the question you're about to ask and find the answer, don't ask it. Google it and find it out yourself, and then use it to help you get to a more detailed question that you may not have found on the internet. So, for example, you identify a mentor who works at a specific company. Instead of asking them, "Oh, how did you go to that company?" You could ask them something more detailed like, "What about that company made you want to take that role at that point in time in your career? What was the driving force for you?" That'll get-

Daniel Jester:

That's a great question to ask people, "Why'd you decide to take that job?" What a cool question. Sorry, Lauren. I'm getting all distracted by it.

Lauren Stefaniak:

No, I appreciate that.

Daniel Jester:

I've never thought about it before. If somebody asked me that I'd have to really think about that. I mean, I know some of the reasons why. I can definitely speak to it, but I've never heard anybody ask that question before.

Lauren Stefaniak:

I think it'll get you way farther to ask the why and the how versus the what and the who.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Like, "Why did you decide to take that job with Amazon?"

Lauren Stefaniak:

Mm-hmm. Where were you in your career that you wanted to do that?

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. Because I was starstruck, it was Amazon and they wanted me.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Just happy to be there.

Daniel Jester:

And I'm very vain and easy to trick.

Lauren Stefaniak:

There you go. So I think going in with the right mindset around asking questions and gleaning information that's beneficial for both sides is super important. I also think being respectful of your mentor's time should go without saying, but is super important. If you schedule something, stick to it, or if something comes up, that's fine. But reach out. Don't just blow somebody off.

Daniel Jester:

Yeah. On this one in particular, I want to touch on it. So I recently just took a meeting with somebody that I did not know. I reached out to on LinkedIn way outside of our industry. And I'll just talk about it on the show. My title with Creative Force is chief evangelist. That's a little bit of an unusual title. There are a handful. I think after talking to this guy, there's about a dozen of what he considers true chief evangelists for various companies. And he had written some content about what it means to have a chief evangelist for a tech or software company, and he talked to other chief evangelists and I just wanted to talk to him because some of the things that he said really resonated with me. And, as long as you're being vulnerable on this episode of the podcast, one of the things about evangelizing on behalf of your company is you don't really operate within a lot of clear metrics and KPIs.

Daniel Jester:

I don't don't have a targets number of engagements on LinkedIn for some puff thought leadership thing that I post about Boot Barn or whatever. That's not true. Everything I post about Boot Barn on LinkedIn is very sincere. That's the truth. But I just wanted to reach out to this guy and ask him about it, and I connected with him. I sent him a message. I did not expect him to offer to meet with me.

Daniel Jester:

And so when he offered that up, and I go into a lot of meetings like this, I'm talking about a specific situation, but when I captured somebody's time that I want to do what you're describing Lauren, which is make sure that I respect their time. I try to have at least three questions to ask. There's going to be some amount of the conversation is going to be taking up with chit chat. That's just how I am. I like to make small talk and get to know people a little bit, and how I engage with small talk and somebody is a good indicator for me on what my relationship with that person's going to be like and how I can talk to them.

Daniel Jester:

God, that sounded really sociopathic, but I promise it's not nefarious. It's just I want to feel connected and communicate with people. But I try to have three questions, like three solid questions. I didn't realize I was doing this Lauren, but I think that you called it out. If you can Google it's not a good question to ask. If this answer is accessible somewhere else... Because you're not asking that person for any perspective of their own. You're asking them to feed you information that they've picked up along the way, which isn't really a good use of anyone's time. But yeah, if you got a 30 minute meeting somebody, three questions seems like a great place to start.

Lauren Stefaniak:

I love that. I love that three question recommendation.

Daniel Jester:

He didn't have any insight from me on how to be a chief evangelist by the way. No, that's not true. I'm just kidding. I'm just kidding. It was actually very valuable and very interesting, and I'm going to meet with him again. But anyway, continue. So we're talking about how can we be the best mentee possible? Be respectful of the time. Have questions. Have documented questions written down somewhere to ask would be my advice on that one.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah. And then I think on the flip side too, knowing when to call it is important as well. Let's say you meet with somebody and they don't show up, or they show up and it falls flat and it's not really what you wanted it to be. You don't need to drag it out. You have the ability to walk away and say-

Daniel Jester:

Fail fast.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah, this isn't really working for me. I'm not going to waste any more of their time or my time. Just call it. That'll help set you up for success in the future.

Daniel Jester:

We have just a couple more minutes, Lauren. We cannot go long on an episode with you again. All the people who jog or ride bikes and listen to this podcast will only do that for 30 minutes, and we're already over 30 minutes, but do you want to shout out any of your current or past mentors?

Lauren Stefaniak:

Yeah, just one, my current manager, Pamela. She is one of those cases where I don't think she would ever call herself a mentor, but has been truly my guiding light in my career. And I think one thing in particular she said has really shifted my focus on being a mentor, and even a mentee, and helping focus on my development and others, which is, "Your value is not in what you know, but how you think." So for her, that means share what you know, because it will help other people, and if you have $1 million idea, that's great. That'll get you a million dollars. But if you have the type of brain that can get you to multiple million dollar ideas, that's really where the value is. So share what you know with other people and hope that they share back with you and that'll get you far.

Daniel Jester:

Touching on the semi crazy thing that I tend to do, which is keep score in my relationships with people of how much they help me and whether or not I've helped them back in any meaningful way. I mean not to sound super corny, but one of the ways that you can feel good about your own give and take in the universe doesn't have to be back to the person who gave you something. You can use your experience and what you learned, because while you're learning day to day actionable things from your mentor about your job or your career or whatever it is, you're also learning how to be a mentor for somebody who's coming after you. And I think that's vitally important that if you were somebody who had a great mentor who gave you a lot of important perspective, personally for me, I consider having a responsibility to do that for somebody in the future.

Daniel Jester:

My wife and I talk about this on a much smaller scale thing that we had so much help and still have so much help from her parents watching our kids when we need them to, that we said the only way that we can pay them back for that is to pay it forward to our kids and be very generous with our time with our grandchildren when we're older. And I think you owe it to continuing on that legacy. I had a great mentor and if I have an opportunity to be a great mentor for somebody else, then I owe it to my mentor to make that happen.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Absolutely.

Daniel Jester:

Well, thank you so much for your time. Thank you for coming on the podcast. I think that'll be it. Two rounds. That's it. You're done. You have no more... I'm just kidding. Lauren, thank you so much. That's it for this episode, which took a weird turn at the end there, but we'll deal with it in post.

Lauren Stefaniak:

Thanks so much for having me.

Daniel Jester:

That's it for this episode, but do not fear. We already have identified the next topic in what is becoming a pretty good professional development series. Be on the lookout for another episode with Lauren, where we discuss professional goal setting. Many thanks to our guest, Lauren Stefaniak, and thanks to you for listening. The show is produced by Creative Force, edited by Calvin Lance. Special thanks to Sean O’Meara. I'm your host, Daniel Jester. Until next time, my friends. And Ian, I didn't forget about you. I'm just going to keep dragging it on and on and on and on and on, giving you the shout out at the very, very end. Someday it'll be 10 seconds of silence before I pop in to say, "Hi, Ian."

About the host

Chief evangelist at Creative Force

Daniel Jester is an experienced creative production professional who has managed production teams, built and launched new studios, and produced large-scale projects. He's currently the Chief Evangelist at Creative Force but has a breadth of experience in a variety of studio environments - working in-house at brands like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Farfetch as well as commercial studios like CONVYR. Creative-minded, while able to effectively plan for and manage a complex project, he bridges the gap between spreadsheets and creative talent.