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Mentoring: Part I

Posted on February 27, 2019
clear white board with the word in bold red, "Mentoring" and a hand on the left side that has presumably written the word with a marker.

Mentoring at its core is a symbiotic relationship. It is one where both people, the mentor and the mentee gain something of inherent value. In this two-part series, I will unpack the value of mentoring from each angle – that of the mentor and of the mentee. Let’s begin by looking at the value for the mentee.

I didn’t have any mentors when I was first embarking upon my career. There was no one to call me out for choosing the wrong path, no one to help me find center, or no one to push me to step out of my comfort zone. I didn’t have any mentor role models, yet I found myself mentoring many of my students. One showed up to my office early on a Monday morning after a career fair over the weekend. He looked panicked as he stood there waiting for me. As he sat down he said, “After the panel discussions on Saturday, I know I never want to teach – ever!”

“Then your Saturday was well spent,” I replied.

He gave me a perplexed look wanting to yell at the top of his lungs the day had, in fact, been a huge waste of his time. I explained that by being able to cross teaching off his list of potential career options, was huge. That sometimes we fall in love with ideas and pathways and other times we leave wanting to run as fast as we can, and both are of equal value.

I continue to meet with this former student to discuss his career goals and aspirations. I ask him the hard questions. I push him to think about potential career options from different angles, I have written him letters of recommendation for jobs and graduate school, and he calls me to discuss difficult work situations.

Mentoring is not relegated to students. I have also mentored colleagues. One came to me when she encountered issues with her boss. She was in unfamiliar territory. She needed to vent, and I let her do that, but then I asked her to put herself in her boss’s shoes for a moment, so she could see her own actions through a different lens. We talked about her options and I helped her to see a variety of options. In the end, I helped her create a safe and professional way to exit versus one that burned bridges.

I have also mentored a few of the young African leaders who have come to Drexel through the Mandela Washington Fellowship. I am still in contact with my mentees. And while much is the same – we talk about attending graduate school, they also want to share their successes and setbacks with me. I offer them support and encouragement, and again, I ask them the tough questions, help them think about their situations through different lenses.

From the examples I have provided, you can see mentoring is about more than support. It is about questioning the individual, helping them see their situation from different viewpoints, it also about helping them be accountable for their career choices. At some point, everyone mistakes, chooses the wrong path, etc. in their career trajectories, and a mentor is there to help navigate those muddy waters. Mentors are there to share the successes as well, and provide encouragement, as well as set new goals for further advancement.

The value of a mentor is huge. As I stated in the beginning, I did not have a mentor and in the beginning of my career, I flitted about from one job to the other, with no real thought about developing a career. I fell into positions that maybe paid better, but provided nothing in terms of career advancement. It wasn’t until I fell into a mentor relationship that I truly realized the value of a mentor and realized how I had been mentoring others, but had never taken my own advice because there was no one to hold me accountable. No one to say, why are you taking that job or why aren’t you being more strategic?

If you don’t have a mentor, then find one. If you have skills and knowledge to share, then think about becoming a mentor. Next week, I will look at the value of a mentor relationship from the mentor’s perspective.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Clinical Professor
Department Head of Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in leadership-management-skills