In the ever-changing and competitive business world, it can be difficult to stay ahead of the competition. However, amidst it all, one CEO has found a way to invest in the future and ensure continued success.

There’s no doubt that Joshua Bylsma, the founder, and CEO of TRADION, has a passion to learn. It’s reflected in his highly tuned skills and vast expertise, but Bylsma doesn’t knowledge-hoard. 

Instead, he believes that true leadership requires investing in others, particularly the next generation. By investing in the talent and technology of tomorrow, Bylsma has been able to stay ahead of the curve and become a leader in his industry.

“I often think of my own daughters and their future,” Bylsma said, “What are we doing as leaders to create future leaders for their world? What are we doing to help nurture future leaders and give them those opportunities?”

Perhaps most notably, Bylsma believes that these opportunities and mentorship should come from as high up as the ranks of the C-suite. 

On-The-Go Mentorship: How To Build A Weekly Practice  

According to Bylsma, it’s important for all members of the C-suite to remember that at one point they, too, were green, brand new, and struggling to figure things out. It’s this remembering that inspires him to invest in the next generation. It’s not only important to the future of those mentees. It matters to our organizations and, ultimately, to our society as a whole. 

In his own business journey, there were business leaders Bylsma recalls who embodied the character traits and personality attributes he most wanted to emulate. 

“Early on, one of the biggest struggles I had was gaining the opportunity to connect with people who had the experience,” Bylsma reflected. “Thankfully, now I have individuals with decades of experience and background that I can leverage. But now there’s one thing I am constantly thinking about: what am I doing to invest in those coming up behind us?”

Bylsma began by making mentorship a deliberate and intentional practice for him. Then, during the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, he noticed the need for connection ramped up like never before. 

“We were all in this isolation, all dealing with something we’ve never had to deal with before,” Bylsma recalled. “As a society, the struggle was something everyone had.”

Putting this into practice started simply enough. Every Saturday morning, Bylsma would get together with a couple of younger men from his network, and they continue to do so, more often than not, to this day. Some have an entrepreneurial bent; some don’t. Regardless, they get together for a cup of coffee, mentorship, and to share life. 

“Sometimes it isn’t even about our own business,” Bylsma explained. “It’s about being a husband or father…or just life in general.”

Other times, they do talk business, getting down to the nuts and bolts of corporate structure, strategy, and interpersonal dynamics. Together, they discuss the struggle, the grind, and the lessons Bylsma learned the hard way. He hopes that by doing this, this group of young men may be able to circumvent the failures he faced. 

But it also discovered another yet another benefit: “Before long, I realized it became something I enjoy.”

Why Mentorship Is The Gift That Gives Back… In Dividends

According to researchers, Bylsma began benefiting from his own act of selflessness with good reason. 

In The CEO Next Door, a book by Elena L. Botelho, Kim R. Powell, and Tahl Raz, the authors, pointed out that the most successful CEOs weren’t the ones who had a lot of mentors in their organization. Instead, they were the ones who had a lot of mentees, and, most notably, they were actually doing the mentoring themselves. 

Their research found that the most successful CEOs in the long run are the ones who are the most committed to helping the next generation. 

For many CEOs, it can feel like a big trade-off. Essentially, you’re making a big decision on what you do with your time, and giving your time to the mentee may not feel like it’s the best use of your time. But studies show that, over time, this intentional mentorship will provide a valuable return on your investment. 

“Being a mentor has even helped me to think through the things I’m dealing with,” Bylsma explained. “I’ve found that a conversation can help me solve problems I didn’t realize I needed to solve yet. It’s very valuable for both people.”

And it makes sense. As CEOs, we tend to get jaded and cynical. We can easily become a little more guarded because that’s the nature of our role. All day long, we are bombarded with needs and we have to put out a lot of fires.

Making space to listen to (and remember) the  “I can take on the world” optimism of the youth is choosing to make space for encouragement. Sometimes it’s good to have a reminder that we can still approach life with a dose of optimism and excitement.

How To Make Mentorship An Intentional Practice

No matter how much you personally benefit from the optimism and excitement of your mentees, making mentorship a regular practice is still going to take some work and a lot of effort. 

“Unfortunately, I am like everyone else,” Bylsma said. “My schedule gets full and I start to cancel those meetings. And then I realize, ‘Oh, I got to reach out!’ Being intentional is hard, but it’s very rewarding – and, in the long run, it’s very, very rewarding.”

For Bylsma, he says he tries to do two things: 

  1. Establish a personal discipline of mentorship. 
  2. Create a company culture of mentorship.

A culture of mentorship is one where everyone’s pouring into somebody else and giving them the help they need to become the best they can be. Doing this is one way to ensure that the company, as a whole, becomes the best that it can be.

“And are we doing that?” Bylsma reflected on the company culture. “It starts with me doing it myself. That’s why I’m working to make mentorship a big part of my habit.” 

Another way Bylsma creates a habit of mentorship is by responding to connections, emails and messages through LinkedIn, social media, and emails any time he receives them. 

“About five months ago, a group of students out of Florida State University reached out,” Bylsma said. “They were assigned a project where they needed to interview startup founders, and they identified my company and reached out. I gave them a little more than an hour of my time, but I got to have a great conversation with four or five future leaders.” 

Bylsma admits that being intentional about not brushing off those connections can be tough. As CEOs, we have to deal with our jam-packed schedules and growing to-do lists, but taking some time to have honest conversations and invest in other people can provide substantial benefits.

As Bylsma put it: “I walk away pumped, encouraged, and reinvigorated about what I’m doing.

This article was produced from the interview with Joshua Bylsma featured on Episode #17  of the “Fractional C-Suite Retreat” podcast, a yorCMO podcast hosted by Joseph Frost, yorCMO co-founder, speaker and founder of The Fractional Professionals Association.


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