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Feb 23 2022

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The mentoring advantage

MDRT’s mentoring programs help advisors advance more rapidly with personalized guidance.

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No, you’re not imagining it: It’s 2022, and mentoring is having a moment. What used to be the realm of such icons as Yoda has entered the mainstream, with Fortune 500 companies, nonprofit organizations and even televised singing competitions getting in on the mentoring action.

But within MDRT, the concept of mentoring has been foundational long before it ever became trendy. While the formal MDRT Mentoring Program wasn’t launched until 1995, its origins go back perhaps to MDRT’s founding, with its emphasis on mutual sharing, evidenced through the phrase, “To receive, individuals must give.”

And now that nearly century-old concept has undergone a makeover of sorts, as MDRT has launched the new MDRT Academy Mentoring Program, as well as the MDRT Peer Mentoring Program, to make sure this essential concept is accessible to both MDRT members and those who aspire to be.

Why mentoring?

A big part of mentoring’s appeal and cultural reach is no doubt due to one simple fact: It works. Harvard Business Review puts it this way: “The evidence is irrefutable: People who have strong mentors accrue a host of professional benefits, including more rapid advancement, higher salaries, greater organizational commitment, stronger identity, and higher satisfaction with both job and career.”

The same is true within MDRT. Nick Longo, ADFP, a four-year MDRT member from Richmond, Victoria, Australia, credits his experience with mentoring as a significant part of his professional achievement.

“Why have I been so successful? Why have I been able to achieve the things I have in my business?” he said. “Because I was mentored by some great MDRT people.”

In fact, Longo says his own experience as a mentee was partially why he decided to become a mentor to an aspiring MDRT member. It’s a refrain often repeated by those involved in MDRT’s mentoring programs: “It’s about giving back.”

Finding a fit

Longo was matched with aspiring MDRT member Nick Bartella in July 2020 through MDRT’s mentoring software. Bartella, a native of Kleinburg, Ontario, Canada, had worked with mentors before, but specifically was interested in connecting with an MDRT member to help him reach qualification more quickly.

“If you’re the mentor, you’re the person with a generalized road map to success that can shave off years of trial and error,” Bartella said. “It’s programs like this that put you one step closer.”

Longo was surprised that an advisor on the other side of the world would be interested in having him as a mentor, especially considering how idiosyncratic the Australian market can be. But he and Bartella agreed to have a conversation to see if they would be a good fit — a conversation Bartella says was critical.

“Before you get into the meat and potatoes of the whole process, make sure that you really want to work together,” Bartella said. “It’s like dating somebody for five years and then finding out they don’t want kids. You probably should ask some of those questions in the beginning.”

Making it work

Once Bartella and Longo were aligned in their approach to mentoring, they embarked on a formal relationship through the MDRT platform. Longo says that, as the mentor, he was pleasantly surprised by how much the resources, including tasks to complete together and links to relevant MDRT content, helped him work with his mentee.

“As a mentor, it was about efficiencies,” Longo said. “It was an automated system which allowed us to work through, month-by-month, what we had to do. It’s by far the easiest mentoring relationship I’ve had because of the system.”

At the beginning, the two spent a lot of time discussing the various quirks of their own countries, before realizing it was more advantageous to focus on the things they had in common.

“It became a matter of teaching Nick about some of the things that might be applicable to make him very unique as a financial planner in Canada,” Longo said. “Although they may have different rules and regulations and different systems, these ideas are transferable.”

Bartella believes their differing backgrounds is a major reason their partnership was so successful.

“This is somebody who is in a completely different world that approaches things in a very different way, and I wanted to extrapolate lessons from that,” he said. “Working with Nick did exactly that. It showed me how different things can be, different models that I can approach, different mentalities that I can apply to the challenges I’m presently facing.”

The pair also made it a point to look at Bartella’s goals, beyond simply increased production, and come up with meaningful ways he could progress toward them.

“If you are afraid to open up about what you really want, you’re not going to get it,” Bartella said. “If you met that person sitting across the table from you who can help you do it, it’d be silly for you to keep it a secret!”

But Bartella says the biggest benefit of having Longo as a mentor was — and continues to be — having a sounding board for problems, challenges and frustrations.

“The value I get from a mentor is being able to pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, I’m having a terrible time. What are your thoughts?’” he said. “Having that is game-changing.”

Reflected glory

Partway through this traditional mentoring relationship, Longo learned about MDRT’s new Peer Mentoring initiative, which pairs two MDRT members to focus on specific growth areas. Due to his overwhelmingly positive experience of working with an advisor thousands of miles (and multiple time zones) away, he chose a mentor from the U.K.: 28-year MDRT member Gregory Pogonowski, Dip PFS, Cert (CII) MP.

Pogonowski, of Ely, England, has had experience as both a mentor and mentee. He says his motivation for being a mentor is quite simple.

“I’ve got to give back what was given to me,” he said.
“I have experience. Sometimes, for younger people, they just need to have the answer given to them as to what a solution could be. And that comes from experience.”

Longo and Pogonowski began working together in April 2021. Longo’s primary objective was reaching Court of the Table qualification for the first time. So the two men focused on business development and growth, rather than any of the regulatory challenges Longo faces. The ideas that Pogonowski shared, such as his future pipeline planning tool, have helped Longo reach his goal.

“People who need to get to somewhere else need to make a change,” Pogonowski said. “And sometimes it’s not a business change, but an idea that could lead to something else. And I think that’s possibly what’s happened to Nick.”

He also makes sure to emphasize that advisors who want to reach the next level in their career shouldn’t just change everything they do, but rather add to what’s already been successful.

And he insists that while he can’t take any credit for Longo’s ascension to Court of the Table, he does feel incredibly proud of what his mentee has accomplished. He likens it to when a favorite sports team — Chelsea F.C., in his case — wins a championship. The fans don’t get anything tangible, beyond the opportunity to say that “we” are champions.

“This is not my success. I’m just somebody who helped you obtain some success that you set for yourself,” Pogonowski said. “It’s like reflected glory.”

Longo agrees with that assessment.

“I think I’ve been blessed by having such a good mentor that I needed to come into my life. He’s such a straight shooter and just calls it as it is,” he said. “Reaching Court of the Table is a huge achievement for me and my family. But I think it is a great reflection on Greg as well.”

As for Bartella, his experience with the MDRT Mentoring Program has put him on track to qualify for MDRT for the first time. And he’s already talking about what comes next, including becoming a mentor himself.

“You get what you give,” he said. “Having a mentor has changed my life, full stop. So much more can be accomplished together, where you put together people who want to really invoke change and you get something magical.”


Nick Bartella nick@theadvisorguide.ca
Nick Longo nick@relevantfinancial.com.au
Greg Pogonowski greg@yourmoney-matters.com

Find more information on both mentoring programs at mdrt.org/connect/mentorship.