The Power of a Mentor: Success and Lessons Learned from Les Brown
"I am one of the lucky ones."
That's what Les Brown said when he was interviewed in Oprah's Super Soul Sunday. As a young man, Les had no idea that he would become one of the most influential speakers in America today. He was born into poverty and raised by a single mother who struggled to provide for him. A talented football player with dreams of playing professionally, Les got injured while at college and left school without graduating.
His life seemed to be going nowhere until he found himself on stage preaching his first sermon at age 22 - and this is where everything changed. The next few years saw Les' life take many twists and turns. He was ordained as a minister, worked with well-known artists such as Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye - but he had no idea where his career would go. There reached a point where he had to decide to put the past behind him.
"I made up my mind that I would not dwell on what happened yesterday," said Brown. "It's important for me to focus on today."
Life Direction is Required
He started out at San Diego State University teaching public speaking before branching into business consulting via an organization called The Les Brown Corporation which has since been franchised worldwide (including Indonesia). His success story is one of hard work and dedication; it also includes some of the lessons he has learned from his mentors and support network in his life.
In this blog post, you will read about how Les Brown became a successful entrepreneur and motivational speaker with some of the lessons he's learned along the way.
This is an introduction to one of America's most well-known speakers on motivation. My goal is to provide some insight into what it may take for minorities to get ahead in business today - using the example of Les Brown's life, this can be applied to aspiring career professionals and entrepreneurs.
Born Leslie "Les" Calvin Brown in Miami, Florida during the mid 1940s segregation era, he was no stranger to under-representation and low socio-economic conditions. His father left when he was four years old requiring Les to raise himself. He eventually found external mentorship at age 17 from older kids in his neighborhood who would teach him how to play the guitar.
Les Brown also became a part of the civil rights movement and was arrested for protesting with Dr Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963, eventually finding himself on the front lines at age 21 as an activist fighting against social injustice and segregation laws. He later went into education where he found success teaching high school students before moving up the ladder to college campuses - including colleges such as Harvard University, Cornell University, New York Institute of Technology, Rutgers University-Camden Campus, Morgan State College (now known as Morgan State University), Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC), and many others.
In 1988 Les began what is now called "The Success System" which influenced many people by teaching them the skills necessary to make their dreams come true. Les was a guest speaker on Oprah Winfrey's show, and he has been an advisor for celebrities such as Michael Jordon, Stevie Wonder, Denzel Washington, Will Smith and other notable figures - including President Barack Obama - which is partly why I wanted to get his advice myself in order to achieve my own goals.
Belief In Yourself
Les Brown is one of those people who never stopped believing in himself even when other people turned away from him during difficult times. He refused to let anything stand in the way of achieving success because he knew that there were going be plenty of opportunities waiting for him only if he persevered through the tough and challenging times.
Les Brown is also a man of wisdom and his advice has been invaluable to me as I chart my own entrepreneurial path. He started out by preaching what he had learned from religion but eventually realized that there were too few opportunities for African Americans who followed this path. So instead, after graduating from high school in 1975, he decided to become an entrepreneur even though it meant taking risks like handing out flyers while working a day job.
Les Brown was motivated by the power of mentors in his own life, especially one named Mr. Hollis who encouraged and supported him from an early age to pursue a career as an entrepreneur no matter what people said or how he felt about it at times.
Lessons We Can Learn
Here are some powerful lessons that are inspired by the circumstances of Les Brown's incredible journey:
- Successful mentorship can take many forms but often starts with trust and respect for both mentor and mentee;
- The benefit of being able to ask questions without judgment is invaluable;
- You need to be willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve your goals which includes taking risks like handing out flyers while working a day job.
- It is possible to improve your life if you are willing to do what others say can't be done;
- Successful entrepreneurship means finding the right balance between taking calculated risk and building safety nets that can allow you to pivot.
The post concludes by listing some final thoughts about successful mentorship that include:
- Always maintain an open line of communication with your mentor so they know how you're doing even when things seem good;
- Be honest and share both triumphs and challenges during mentoring conversations because this will provide for greater insight into where each party's strengths lie;
- Dedicate time outside of work hours to pursue personal interests which will help you grow as a person.
Life and business have one thing in common. ‘An endless train of challenges’ but as Les Brown says “Make sure when you fall you land on your back if you can look up you can get up”