Give & Take: Celebrating National Mentoring Month
January is “National Mentoring Month,” a campaign dedicated to recognizing the importance of mentoring and the impact it has on people’s lives. Many of us have mentors in all aspects of life – from teachers and colleagues, to friends, family and neighbors – that we find ourselves turning to for guidance. Mentorship is at the heart of Prosek, and it is deeply engrained in our culture. Across all levels and lines of business, Prosekians mentor each other and those outside of the company each and every day. To honor the significance of this month, we spoke to Jon Schwartz, who recently joined the Prosek team as a Managing Director and Head of Sports, and is a lifelong mentor himself.
Q: You have various mentorship roles. Can you tell us about each of them?
Since 2016, I have been an adjunct professor at NYU in the Tisch Institute for Global Sport, where I have taught undergraduate and graduate courses in sports marketing and communications. I have had the honor of teaching and mentoring the next generation of sports leaders from all over the world. I regularly stay in touch with many of my students as they continue to grow as individuals and advance in their respective careers.
In 2002, I co-founded the New Jersey Dare Devils, an ice hockey program for children and adults with physical and intellectual disabilities – the first of its kind in New Jersey. Back then, there were about 20 teams like ours across the U.S. playing in the American Special Hockey Association (ASHA). I am now chairman of ASHA, which has more than 8,000 athletes playing in 130+ cities across the nation. In these roles, I’ve had the honor of mentoring hundreds of athletes, some of whom I took on a historic journey.
In 2021, I started a podcast called “The Sports Mentoring Project” and have had some of the most intriguing voices in all of sports join me in discussing the role mentoring has played in their lives. I believe there is no better example of the power of mentoring than in sports.
I also have a passion for working with underserved populations. I serve as an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and actively mentor young people of color – both of which hold significant importance to me personally.
Finally, being able to work with some of the best and brightest minds at Prosek is a privilege that I do not take for granted. I believe it is my responsibility to serve all of my teammates and – to the extent it is helpful to the ones who are earlier in their career than I am – offer up my time and energy for mentorship.
Q: Who were the mentors in your life? Is there one that had an impact on you or significantly affected the trajectory of your career/life? Do you still have mentors now?
My mentors play a massive role in helping me to continue to evolve as a leader. There are far too many to name. What I can tell you is that I have more than one mentor here at Prosek, and I could not be more grateful for their positive energy and unwavering belief in me.
Q: What is your mentorship “style”?
I am like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Sometimes, all you may want is a small bite. Others, you saddle up for seconds and thirds. Either way, the onus lies with the mentee to opt into the dialogue to the degree that it serves them.
Q: The theme of this blog series is “Give and Take.” Obviously, being a mentor is about giving – your time, advice, knowledge – but what do you take from it?
Joe Torre once told me that he “loves the word mentor because it means you’re trying to help somebody.” For me, being a mentor means being able to learn from everyone you encounter in life. And mentoring opens the aperture for me to upskill, have compelling experiences, and enjoy rewarding long-term relationships. Seeing someone thrive, succeed, ascend, and/or overcome – personally and/or professionally – brings me profound joy.
Q: What is your advice to someone looking to become a mentor? What about for someone who is looking for a mentor?
The best mentors have great humility and they put their family, community and teammates first. Their personal value systems are built on hard work, persistence, service to others and teamwork. If you are seeking a mentor, try to define exactly what you hope to get out of a mentor relationship. Then, work backwards to find someone who cares as much about helping you achieve your objective as you do … Someone who has the skill set, experience, and network to supercharge your journey.
Q: If you could only give one piece of advice to your mentees, what would it be?
I know you asked for one, but here are three anecdotes I share with my mentees:
Everything communicates. What you do and say, how you carry yourself or a conversation, the way you show up and your ability to finish the job. Some of these things take very little thought or effort, but they are a critical part when it comes to garnering the respect, confidence, and support of others.
Everything is important. You never know if you are being tasked or tested. I encourage people to approach every assignment with the same passion and rigor they would if it were the most important task of their week. People value you investing time, energy, and thought into the things that mean the most to them. But sometimes, it is hard to tell what those things are. So, make the most of each opportunity.
Everything is connected. Be nice. It counts and sticks with people. It also costs nothing. We live in a hyper-connected world, so never undervalue the importance of nurturing your network. It starts with leaving everyone you work and/or interact with an appreciation of the value you add to the equation. Do the right thing by everyone, and especially when nobody is looking. Life is long and the world is small. The positivity you put out into the ether will come back to you ten-fold if you do it on a consistent basis.