How To Work a Room® | Author / SpeakerHire Susan

Face to Face Book Excerpt

Chapter Twelve

Much Ado About Mentors

Having mentors can be a real boost to any career. However, finding the best mentor can be like the quest for the Holy Grail. Wouldn’t it be great if you had a person who could help you master the skills, add the personal touch by introducing you to whatever you need to know and whomever you should meet, and knew the ins, outs and intricacies we sometimes call politics? Life in the workplace – and in life in general – is so much easier with that kind of support, encouragement and education.

“Though I wasn’t a completely new kid on the block, my mentor helped me understand the benefits and risks related to working in different areas of my former company because she understood a lot of the dynamics that I didn’t,” said Kayla Cohen, a Chicago-based organization development consultant for a Fortune 100 company. Kayla returns the support she received and now mentors others in her current company, other organizations and in her network of colleagues and coworkers.

According to Michael Korda, author and former Editor-in-Chief of Simon and Schuster, and one of my favorite founts of wisdom, “Mentoring can be seen as part of man’s instinctive survival mechanism. Personal survival can depend on the same process. An older hunter needed a young man’s strength for help and protection. Mentoring can be considered an early form of retirement insurance.” Or it can ensure you don’t have to be retired early.

I know the male metaphor sounds politically incorrect but it’s worth getting past it to get to the meat of Korda’s message. You should build your circle, so that it forms that safety net. Some of that building will happen during face to face situations, which provide opportunities to meet and connect with those who can mentor and guide us. As a result, you’ve created life and job insurance. We find these people in the workplace, in our professional associations and in our community. In the school of “Turn About Is Fair Play,” you get to be part of the safety network and “insurance policy” of others. An ancient practice: asking for and receiving a helping hand can be done both online and in the face to face space. Mentors give time, share wisdom and experience, and help inform and shape the next (or prior) generation.

I was lucky enough to have Sally Livingston as my femtor as I transitioned from teacher to entrepreneur to speaker and consultant. It’s a term she originated in 1984 when I thanked her for mentoring me. “Susan, I can’t be your mentor. I’m your femtor!” And, she was the best.

The Buddy System

The workplace isn’t the first time you may have had, and may have given, that kind of help. It started when you were a school buddy or camp buddy, either paired with someone older and, later, someone younger. It was the Big Buddy’s job to help you adjust to the new environment by teaching you “the ropes” (the swings, the dodge ball court, the best swim coach, and so on). While you were the beneficiary of insights (which yard monitors NOT to rile or which camp sites to avoid), your older buddy would get to demonstrate responsibility and do coaching, caretaking, teaching and encouraging.

While not a formalized process, I’m sure you’ve helped, encouraged and coaxed others. It may be that you’ve helped your parents or neighbors hook up their computers or learn how to use email or you’ve coached a youth soccer team. Or you’ve helped a colleague with a database program or assisted a friend who was moving or passed on some information and leads to someone who benefited. Now, it’s your turn to be mentored and assisted.

If we’re lucky, we have mentors early in life. They’re the people we meet: our coaches, teachers, parents and counselors. Jeff Munks, the Deputy Executive Learning Officer for the United States Navy, found his mentor early on. “I was very athletic and played a lot of sports. Many of our coaches were members of the Palo Alto police force. During the turbulent 60s, I witnessed these terrific guys, who were father figures, on one side of police barriers and my peers on the other.

“It troubled me so much that I wrote my congressman. I received a letter from him telling me to show up for a meeting with Captain Guy Wathan of the Palo Alto police force. And, he advised me to wear a suit and tie. I did.

“The meeting was on my 16th birthday and it was life changing. Captain Wathan told me if I still felt the same way when I was 18 to come see him and he’d have a job for me. And, he did. He was a mentor who helped give me the set of values I’ve carried with me through several careers.”

A mentor is only as good as the protégé who takes the guidance to heart. Five decades later, Jeff Munks continues to credit his mentor for the lessons that he learned. There are several players to credit:

  • Jeff, for being the 16-year-old who wrote his congressman to find out what could be done about this confrontation.
  • The congressman for arranging the meeting with Captain Wathan, and
  • Captain Wathan for seeing the potential in a 16-year-old concerned citizen.

Seeing potential and nurturing it are what the best mentors do. That’s also the mission of Big Brothers/Big Sisters, a national organization that matches volunteer mentors with young people who need role models with whom they can share quality time. The exposure to new and different activities by those who nurture the youngsters’ interests and their potential is a formalized buddy system that’s invaluable.

The buddy system is still in place in many companies and associations. The new employee or member is paired with a seasoned employee or member who is supposed to show the newbie the proverbial ropes and is an as-needs advisor. Their exchanges take place both online and in person, where the connection and chemistry build the relationship.

Friendly Feedback

The important thing to remember is that we all have something in which we excel that can benefit others; age and degrees have nothing to do with it. But we tend to undervalue what comes easily to us. Not sure about your skills and talents? Why don’t you listen for compliments? Pay attention to what people say you do well. I often tell my audiences to ask other people what they think your best skills and traits are. But please don’t ask for constructive criticism. Ouch! Personally, constructive and criticism just don’t belong in the same sentence. It always sounds like plain, old criticism to me.

The best mentors give feedback in such a way that we embrace it with gusto. That is how Dawne Bernhardt gives feedback, which inspires her clients to improve. So, pick your feedback sources wisely. There has never been a time when someone offered to give me “feedback for my own good” that it ever felt good. If you ever hear, “this hurts me more than it’s going to hurt you,” RUN FAST!

Hot Tip: Keep a list of the compliments you receive and add to it every time you hear another positive remark. Given that we’re changing jobs more often in our careers, this list is one that can be used to bolster your resume. You may hear about your strengths that others see and you may not even be aware of them.

GE Brings Good Things To Light

Today, many companies see the advantage to having formal mentoring programs as a way of nurturing their talented and hardworking employees while fostering the sharing of knowledge and skills. These programs are a good option for formal mentoring. If they’re well-run and attract people who want to mentor and know how to coach, encourage, guide and nurture potential, the program serves the employees. If you’re interested in having a mentor in your company, let it be known either to your boss or the human resource department. A company mentoring program succeeds if those in it are trained and invested. There also has to be some chemistry between mentor and protégé for the relationship to work.

Anything I’ve learned about computers has come from several young teachers who have worked for me. They had skills that I needed to learn, so I was their student. In fact, in the mid-90s, when the first version of my website launched, I paid a high school sophomore $15 to find and show it to me! And then he taught me how to find it.

In the 1990s Jack Welch, then CEO of General Electric, realized that his contemporaries and boomer employees were not adept at computer skills. So a reverse mentoring program was instituted. Because the twenty-somethings had the skills that were needed, they were assigned to mentor their older coworkers, managers and bosses – who became protégés.

What G.E. brought to light was intergenerational mentoring. No longer is it true that knowledge only passes down to the next generation. Much has been written about the four generations in the workplace, their differences in style, preferences and values. While it’s important that we’re aware of these differences, we also learn from them. When we’re open to mentors of all ages we benefit. Because of the advice of Todd Sattersten of 800CEOREAD, a Gen X tech guy in the book business, who wanted me to blog about How to Create Your Own Luck, in 2004, I became a blogger. Nick Urbani, a Gen Y/Millennial whom I met through a Google alert on schmooze, has become my blog guru, fixing, tweaking and nudging me in new directions. Mary Haring, who has her pulse on Gen X and Y, has opened up my thinking to what’s new, different and current. Each of them has mentored my attitude, my decisions and skills. So now my blog is advancing and I have a few more MySpace and Facebook friends, thanks to my Gen X/Y/Millennial mentors.

Recent articles have appeared in newspapers about middle age skateboarders showing up at skateboard parks. Some haven’t been on a skateboard in twenty years, but now the pastime of their youth is a legitimate competitive sport with a 40-year-old hero, Tony Hawk, and ESPN coverage. It may even be legitimized for the 2012 Olympics. The “old dudes” are being mentored by 12-year-olds and learning new tricks and ways of the sport. Who woulda thunk it?!

The Pro’s Protégés

Being a protégé is no different whether you’re in a new school or new day camp or are a new employee or senior manager or the technically-challenged author. No matter where we are in our careers and professions, we all share the experience of having been the new kid on the block. And it’s normal for it to be nerve wracking.

As I remember it, switching schools in the middle of sixth grade, coupled with a move across the city of Chicago, was overwhelming. A nice girl was assigned to help me learn the ropes and adjust to my new school. To this day, Pam Massarsky and I are still friends.

My first day on the job and, in fact, my entire first year as a teacher at Morse School in Chicago, was daunting. I was twenty-one, this was my first real job and I never wanted to be a teacher and I had no teacher training. (I took the classes the first two years I taught). What made it easier is that a couple of long time friends, including one of my college roommate, Andrea Groobman, and Mumsy (Joyce Siegel), my friend’s mother, were teaching at the school. They helped me adjust and gave me the scoop on which secretary NEVER to approach (and I didn’t), who to ask for more supplies and where I could find the teachers’ ladies room. In essence, they mentored me. Starting the new job, going to my first hip-hop class, attending the first few meetings of the nonprofit board I had joined were no different. The feelings of awe, being overwhelmed and the nervousness were the same. Having a mentor can help abate some of those feelings.

Hot Tip: The beauty of the internet is that we have access to people across the globe and don’t have to choose between offline or online: we get to have both!

Loser As Mentor

While it may seem odd, sometimes the person who you can learn from is not a formal or positive mentor but someone who teaches you by their not-so-positive behaviors. The interesting thing is that you get to learn from losers and jerks – as much as you can learn from the best. Learning HOW NOT TO BE is invaluable in every aspect of life.

The terrible teacher across the hall taught me almost as much as the terrific teacher next door who made me a better teacher. Knowing what NOT to do was so helpful. I learned how NOT to supervise the yard at recess, how NOT to explain a history project and how NOT to communicate with parents about their children’s progress or lack thereof. You may have had that nightmare teacher I am describing for fifth grade! The good news is that you survived and that means you can prevail in unsavory circumstances.

As a speaker, I hear disconcerting stories from my clients of what other speakers have said, what they’ve done and how they treat the audience and the staff. Even secondhand, the lessons from those who are badly behaved are valuable.

The same is true for my authorial world. One of my former book publicity people told me of one well-known author, who terrorized the publicity department. “I wish I could say he was passive aggressive, but there was nothing passive about him.” The publisher would not exercise the option for the author’s next book. That ill-behaved author is a fabulous “reverse mentor.” Just doing the opposite of what he did would be appreciated by the people in the publicity department. There are good lessons to be gleaned from bad role models.

Boss As Fabulous Mentor

Over lunch, “Linn” told me of her great happiness in her new job. Really, she didn’t have to tell – it was all over her face. Her smile was ear to ear and, even after a long week, she glowed.

“I love my job and my boss. She lets me do things I was not allowed to do at the other company. She gave me full reign to present one of my books at a sales conference. My boss wants me to meet the media, take producers and editors to lunch and pick up the phone to follow up and even just schmooze!” Linn has already booked a number of her authors on major TV shows and gotten them in magazines and newspapers. She can’t wait to get to work each day to learn something new from her very smart, secure and supportive boss. It should happen to everyone! And I’m thrilled for her.

To Be Mentored Or Not To Be Mentored

To decide if you want a mentor, you might ask yourself if you’re ready to commit time, energy, and the obligation not only to listen but also to follow through. The implicit agreement, when you seek guidance, assistance and support is that you will do the necessary follow through. No one has so much time as to waste it on someone who doesn’t do it. If we’re given a suggestion or idea that doesn’t fit, it’s fair to say a version of, “Your idea got me to thinking about the issue. I was able to adapt it by doing ________ (you fill in the blank) and it worked well. Thanks!” But, ignoring suggestions, advice and information shared by a mentor will backfire. Don’t waste a mentor’s time by not valuing their input.

If you’re seeking a mentor on your own, rather than through a company assigned mentor program, it requires an understanding of what a mentor is: a teacher, a guide, a coach who will show you the ropes and, most importantly, encourage you. He or she is a wingman for the work world and should be able to share insights, ideas, experiences and knowledge. That it should be someone you respect and from whom you will learn is key.

Scanning The Networks

No, this has nothing to do with the techie gadget that magically reproduces letters and photos into your computer or using the remote control to channel surf. This is a “person process” where you assess, evaluate and review who’s in your life and in your networks because you know people who are more experienced, wiser, better and more widely connected than you are. Some people are so busy looking up the organizational chart for the mentor who is thought to be a guaranteed “free backstage pass,” that they overlook likely candidates who would be great mentors.

The “incidental mentor in our midst” is how director/screenwriter Michael Schroeder described the theme of his movie, Man In The Chair. Featured at the Mill Valley Film Festival in 2007 and starring the extraordinary Christopher Plummer, the movie focused on relationships with unlikely mentors who surround us and have much to offer. We need to keep our eyes and ears open. It was the only festival movie I attended that received a standing ovation, deservedly so. It was a powerful movie – an eye-opener.

In your workplace, the best candidate could be an immediate boss, the person in the next cubicle who has a certain software program down pat, a colleague in another company or the friend that first told you about the job opening at his company, an acquaintance in your professional association, a friend of a friend who is in your industry, an older alumnus from your alma mater or even a teacher.

I’m still in touch with my high school English teacher, Burl Covan, who opened up words and worlds for me. And he was strict about using attribution, quotation marks and footnotes, which has shaped me as an author who always gives proper credit. I always let him know when something occurs that involved one of his teachings. When you’re from Chicago as I am, keeping people “in the loop” is a perfect metaphor. The Chicago Loop is the downtown area known for the late (sniff, sniff) original Marshall Field’s, high-rise buildings and the statue of “Mr. Cub,” Ernie Banks!

Mentor Checklist

There are several very basic traits that characterize a good mentor. Settle for nothing less. The person you want to have as a mentor should possess the following characteristics:

  • The ability to teach.
  • Knowledge of the organization, industry or association.
  • The willingness to share information and resources.
  • The self-esteem that allows him/her to “let go” when you’re ready to move on or up.

If you possess these traits, consider giving back by mentoring others.

Mentor Madness

It’s great when there’s some kind of chemistry with your mentor. But what if that magical mentor chemistry develops with a boss’ boss? That could be potentially problematic. One Gen X interviewee, formerly with a Fortune 500 company, spoke of “the sucker punch” she took. Not only did her immediate superior resent that she had been asked to address the board of directors, he also resented her relationship with his immediate boss. She paid for his insecurity and lost her job when her mentor (his boss) was transferred. Her mentor felt he could do nothing to protect her. But sometimes high up mentors do help you navigate through rough waters and all’s well because it ends well. This is what is known as “office politics” and although some organizations have flattened; it’s part of most companies, teams and families. It pays to be adept at, attuned to and aware of how to work and play well with others. A good mentor can help teach those skills.

Mentors: Do Not (By)pass Go

First, you must assess why you want a mentor. Is it to learn, to grow, to be challenged, and to increase one’s contribution to the organization? Or is it to short circuit the “dues-paying” process and get that free “backstage pass”?

Too many people view a mentor as the latter. That’s not the case. One still has to be talented and a very hard worker with a sense of savvy. Unlike an Extreme Mentor Makeover Reality Show or Professor Henry Higgins, most mentors don’t have the time to recreate the protégé.

A mentor cannot and should not help you bypass the dues-paying process. They can, however, guide you through it. Much like the trail guide who points out various paths, yet chooses the best one, and identifies the stepping stones that are sturdy enough to allow you to cross the stream safely, this mentor guide can’t carry you across the stream, but may tell you which stepping stones to avoid.

Socratic Approach

The best mentors are those who embrace Socrates’ attitude about his protégé, Plato: “If my student does not surpass me, then I have failed.” The Socratic philosophy was part of a script on a Fox Channel’s Bones episode, when Booth encounters his FBI mentor on a cold case. “Bones” watched their interactions and shared her observation, “Mentors are threatened when students surpass them.” But, the best of mentors know they’ve been great teachers when their students, like those of Socrates, surpass them. Prior planning and open communication about the mentor-protégé relationship and its transitions are ways to prevent the painful mentor separation trauma.

Mentors are teachers, guides, and coaches who encourage, not bellow and belittle. The consummate mentor was the legendary, late Coach Bill Walsh of the San Francisco 49ers, who trained several generations of college and professional football players. His impact on the NFL and college ranks is unequalled. His “mentor immortality” is reflected by his protégés’ domination of college and professional coaching and a third generation of his protégés’ protégés in the ranks. He was a coach in the true Socratic method – allowing and encouraging his protégés to surpass him. When he died, headlines across the country acknowledged his leadership as a coach; and at his memorial, his players, protégés and front office people spoke of his positive impact on their lives.

Donald Trump’s firing of his protégé and former “co-star” of The Apprentice, Carolyn Kepcher, made headlines. As her celebrity grew and her book became a bestseller, Ms. Kepcher captured some of the limelight that Mr. Trump chose not to share. To avoid such painful partings, find a Coach Bill Walsh type mentor who savors his protégés’ successes.

Here’s another bit of an ancient history and a mythology lesson. While some people think that having a mentor (or several of them) is a shortcut to the executive suite, mentoring has existed since Greek mythology. When Odysseus went off to war, Mentor was the teacher for his son, Telemachus. So a mentor is a guide, a teacher and, in some instances, parent-like. At his memorial, several of Coach Walsh’s Super Bowl champion players mentioned that he was a “second father.”

Mentor Types

Once you’ve identified why you want a mentor, choose which type is most appropriate. According to renowned career strategist, Marilyn Moats Kennedy, there are five types of mentors: peer, informational, competitive, retiree and the godfather/mother.

The peer mentor provides guidance and information as an equal; the motivation is to build alliances. The informational mentor teaches informal aspects of the organization. The retiree mentor has a wealth of information to share with little risk; he or she knows “where all the bodies are buried.” The competitive mentor is the person with your job in another company who may have informal information about your company and the profession as well.

The godfather/mother mentor is distinguished from the others by his or her ability to make favorable things happen for you. He or she is a sponsor or guide who can and will open doors for you.

Connection, Commonality, Chemistry

There has to be some connection between the mentor and protégé. A click if you will. It can be based on knowing someone in common or having similar hobbies, interests and career paths. Although I used to believe that chemistry was instantaneous, time and experience have taught me that instant chemistry can sometimes be merely instantaneous combustion. Real chemistry, where we feel a connection, can occur over time in any relationship.

Cross gender mentoring was a problem for a male attorney who had mentored a female colleague. “The relationship between a mentor and protégé can be intense and, in this case, the spontaneous combustion was a problem.” But more often than not, cross gender mentoring is healthy when it doesn’t cross boundaries.

Marilyn Moats Kennedy suggests that one of the most important traits that the best of mentors and protégés share is a similar sense of humor. This is appropriate chemistry where the only aspect that is uncontrollable is the laughter – which is kosher!

Mentors On Every Step Of The Journey

Having mentors can help us on every rung of the workplace ladder. “The ousted CEOs who have bounced back, like Chrysler’s Mr. Nardelli, benefited greatly from their friends and mentors . . . and strong booster networks, as long as the ousting wasn’t due to fraud or personal misconduct” (Wall Street Journal, October 31, 2007). And protégés who have ascended the ranks are often in a position to assist their former mentors. Much like Gwen Chan did when she hired her former supervisors. Staying in touch, showing up at meetings and conferences or on the golf course, keeps the relationship and connection viable.

How To Get A Mentor

The first step in having a mentor in the face to face space is to observe the people around you.

  • Look for those who are treated with respect.
  • Look for people who are knowledgeable, talented and skilled.
  • Look for the person with whom you laugh.
  • Identify people “in favor.”
  • Don’t overlook the reserved person who has much to teach.
  • Look for the person whom you admire, respect and find ethical.
  • Look for the person who is open to sharing wisdom and experience.

A protégé can encourage a mentoring relationship. Michael Korda’s advice is well taken: “be a good listener. A surprising number of ambitious young people have never understood . . . the art of being mentored requires that you’re loyal, silent, eager to learn and willing to hold back in anticipation of future rewards.”

The Art Of Being Mentored

Encouraging a mentoring relationship is an art that requires you to be an apt pupil. In addition, it requires sincerity, work, and the uncommon, revalued trait, common sense.

Here are some strategies you can use once you have identified your potential mentor.

  • Smile; say “Good morning,” or “Hello” or “Hi.” Depending on your environment, “Hey” may work. You may want to rethink, “Hey, Dude” as a greeting. Best advice: know your audience.
  • Share observations/small talk (weather, slow elevator, parking/traffic).
  • Take notice of a project that he or she has designed or completed. Send an email that indicates your positive assessment, planning or outcome of the project.
  • Ask his or her opinion about something you’re doing.
  • Identify some information or advice you need that your candidate can provide and ask for the help you need.
  • Approach your candidate d.m. (designated mentor) and indicate your admiration of his or her work or work style. It’s not “kissing up” to offer an observation or sincere compliment.
  • Value the person’s time and commitments. Don’t consume too much of his or her work time.
  • Follow up on advice, leads or information given or you won’t get more.
  • Report back to your potential mentor and always keep him/her in the loop. Indicate that you’re open to future advice.
  • Send a personal email, text, instant message or note of thanks – with an offer to host (as in “pay for”) a lunch. Call to set a date for that lunch or the offer is hollow.
  • Encouraging a mentoring relationship takes time because it must be built on trust.
  • “Good Mouth” people, suggests Dr. Duffy Spencer. Pass on third party praise.
  • Listen, listen, listen. And eavesdrop, as that is a trait of people who create their own luck.
  • Allow the time, be patient and persistent. Continue to indicate that you value your potential mentor.

You can show that you’re a good protégé by hard, smart work and enthusiasm.

Hot Tip: The savvy among us stay in touch with former mentors and protégés after the relationship has evolved into collegial status. Why? You never know. The protégé can hire the mentor; the mentor can recommend the former protégé for new career opportunities.

Multiple Mentors

Times, they are a-changing. Mobility, multi-career changes, mergers and down-sizing have wreaked havoc on the “safe haven for thirty years until I get the gold watch” syndrome. You will have a minimum of ten jobs and may already have had several careers. Consequently, the single mentor theory is as full of holes as a piece of Swiss cheese. You need to expand your thinking to meet the ever-changing needs of the workplace. Research indicates that most successful people have had several sponsors, people who have shared their insights, teachings and networks. Those sponsors change as you do. It makes sense that each phase of our life requires a different support system.

But, that doesn’t mean that those people are automatically forgotten once your needs change. Moving from protégé to peer to friend is possible and preferable. It can be done. My speech coach of over two decades, the amazing, smart, classy Dawne Bernhardt, is now a dear friend and has mentored me in my new interest: the world of ballet. And I continue to seek out her feedback on my speeches and presentations. After all, there’s always room for improvement.

M.O.M.s (Mentors Of The Moment)

I recommend that you nurture Mentors of the Moment – Mini Mentors – for specific endeavors and time slots of your life. Some of these M.O.M.s are part of our professional lives, others are our friends, and some are our relatives or neighbors. I have found that some of the best advice has come from my cadre of unpaid coaches: my inner circle of long-time friends, The Fabulous Four who love me and aren’t afraid to tell me when I am off base or full of it. I solicit professional and business ideas from colleagues, but it’s my friend, Carl LaMell (the Chairman of The RoAne Group Board) who reviews and assesses those ideas, problems and business issues. His BS detector is legendary. In his real job, he’s the President/CEO of Clearbrook in Chicago, so there’s no competition between us. Carl wants me to succeed and he takes pride in my accomplishments. Mumsy (Joyce Siegel) has been a M.O.M. for a long moment – over three decades. And my friend, Lana Teplick, a CPA, is a genius with more common sense and business sense that a roomful of fancy schmancy PhDs with MBAs. Patricia Fripp has guided me through the ins and outs of the business of speaking and has always been available whenever I had a concern or question.

My long-time friends and I have supported, encouraged, guided and raised each other, both in our professional and personal lives. Your online and real time friends can also be your mentors. As the old saying goes, “Make new friends, but keep the old; one is silver and the other’s gold.”

My life as an author, keynote speaker and coach requires a network of people with a variety of skills and experience: many, many M.O.M.s – because learning is an ongoing process, and passionate protégés know this. If you’re inquisitive, committed, hardworking and responsive, and drink in knowledge, people will do their best to give you their best.

Martin Cohen of Calgary, Alberta, is an acclaimed lighting designer for both Canadian and U.S. television stations who specializes in HDTV. He was also a wilderness adventurer long before Survivor was a television series. I wonder how he learned all those skills.

It Takes A Village Or Moshav

“The summer I turned fifteen, we moved to Israel and I lived in a community above the Galilee where the men were my teachers. One taught me how to fish, another taught me how to plant, another taught me how to hunt. Because Yorum took me with him as he visited each of the surrounding Arab villages, I learned how to communicate and live among others who were different than I. All of these were life’s lessons that I luckily learned. Each one of these men was like a father-mentor to me. In our culture, we assume one person knows it all and can teach us. In Indian tribes, they learn from each man the knowledge that is his specialty and that’s how they retain the culture, the skills and pass their stories down to the next generation. I’m the living proof that it does take a village to teach and mentor and raise the young.” Cohen makes the point. We need many mentors of the moment, both moms and dads.

It’s Your Turn

There are lessons to be learned from the arts, education and sports. That an eager student can motivate a mentor to give more is an absolute truth that any teacher will confirm. However, like the best of parents and teachers, a good mentor or femtor knows when to nudge the protégé out of the nest. When that protégé spreads her wings and flies, she must then take the next step in the evolutionary process: become a mentor and pass on the skill, knowledge and encouragement to the next generation.

The Unintentional Mentor/Role Model

Sometimes people have an impact and make an indelible impression on us, not knowing a life lesson is being taught. In an interview at the film festival, on his promotional tour for his directorial debut for Gone Baby Gone, Ben Affleck was asked about his influences and mentors. When Ben was a 19-year-old actor, director Richard Linklator sent around the tapes of the movie asking for the actors’ input. “If it remains only as I see it, it can fail. Please let me know your ideas.” That, Affleck said, was something he never forgot. Richard had invited the cast of Gone Baby Gone to share their ideas and suggestions. This stellar cast included Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, and Ben’s brother Casey. He credited Richard Linklator as his unintentional mentor. To his credit, Ben Affleck listened, learned and remembered.

Differences And Diversity

The mentoring process is tempered by a number of factors that reflect differences in:

  • Communication styles
  • Gender
  • Race/Religion
  • Geographic origin
  • Education
  • Culture
  • Ethnicity

To deny that the differences exist is foolish. Instead, we must respect, enjoy and learn from them, while we include the full panorama of people in our workplace as potential mentors and protégés.

The Remedy Of Recognition

Your circle should be varied, enriched by people who are different and who have different skills and expertise. If you cross-pollinate your networks, you must be fully committed and willing to deal with the differences demanded by this global workplace, so that a high caliber workforce is mentored and leaders of that workforce are in place.

I personally believe that the mentor-protégé relationship is best when it’s organic. There must be a connection that develops over time. Interestingly, one of my interviewees indicated the only protégé that didn’t work out was the one who was assigned because of a company initiative. So keep your eyes open and you’ll find mentors around you. And, don’t forget, colleagues in your professional association are candidates as mentors and protégés as well.

While most of us would prefer Godfather (mother) Mentors who have the power to make things happen, a solid, multi-faceted network may produce the same results because it’s full of M.O.M.S. and dads.

Benefits Befitting

The benefits for mentors and protégés are numerous, whether it’s on- or offline. Knowledge is power and so is passing it on to another generation or a peer.

Pitfalls And Problems To Avoid

  • Hitching your wagon to a star . . . soon to fall
  • Cross-gender mentoring and the gossip it provokes
  • Jealousy
  • Usurping of ideas by mentor
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Investing time/wisdom in an uncommitted protégé

Rather than hitch yourself to a big star, look around your networks for mini-mentors-of-the-moment. When that star leaves or falls out of favor, you may be out of favor, too. You get to choose and to refuse – according to what feels appropriate to you.

Being mentored and mentoring are both beneficial and a part of life: it’s the passing of the proverbial torch and the shedding of light. Once you’ve been the recipient of good mentoring, lower the ladder so that you can help others move up.

RoAne’s Reminders

  • The relationship of mentors and protégés is rooted in Greek mythology.
  • Mentors are teachers that help guide our way through the perilous processes of professional life.
  • There are five types of mentors: peer, informational, retiree, competitive, and godfather/mother.
  • Protégés can find potential mentors in their workplace, professional organizations and networks.
  • The ideal mentor is the one who is secure, who can let go of the protégé and be proud of his/her success.
  • We can find mentors in cyberspace and in the face to face space.
  • A mentor can be encouraged by a protégé who pays attention and listens.
  • Macro-Mentors are few and far between.
  • Mini-Mentors or Mentors of the Moment (M.O.M.s) can contribute to our growth and education without uncomfortably tying two people together.
  • There are good lessons to be gleaned from BAD role models.
  • Turnabout is fair play: if you’ve derived a benefit from having a mentor, then become one.