I have been both a mentor and a mentee and I have had varying degrees of success in both capacities. As a mentee, I need and as a mentor, I provide support. This is a simple breakdown but in longterm mentoring relationships there is more blurring of the lines and a weaving in and out of powershifts and support dynamics. In my preparation for a role as a formal mentor in the Cherie Blair Foundation for Womenand through expansion of the Invest for the Future Network’s own mentoring agenda, I am feeling reflective.
Short-term mentoring relationships – efficient or incompatible
I believe that short-term mentoring relationships can fall into two categories. The positive ones which exhaust themselves because of their efficiency and the neutral or negative ones due to incompatitibility. In an efficient scenario, the mentee and the mentor are united to help the mentee through hurdle, obstacle, challenge or general shift in direction. Once the mentee has found the path, they may feel sufficiently confident in going it alone and do so. Therefore, the relationship ends not due to any drama but simply because the relationship has run its course.
When I was a teenager and thought about going to college for hospitality my dad found me a mentor. He owned his own mexican restaurant in NYC and sat with me to discuss the career path and showed me around his own facility and the different departments and staff roles. I could see myself going in this direction and applied to universities that would give me a foundation in business with the opportunity to learn more about service businesses like restaurants. He helped me make this decision and it was an important step for me but then the relationship served its purpose and was complete. In other scenarios, as a mentor, I have had thousands of students who I have mentored for projects in courses and when the course has ended so did the relationship.
Long-term relationships – weaving into each others lives
On the other hand, I do count hundreds of former students as my mentees that weave in and out of my life. When they need me they reach out and LinkedIn and Facebook make this all possible. I get short questions that I need to answer or invitations for casual coffee conversations to full inclusion in life events like wedddings, birth of first child, new job alerts and so on. Sometimes a mentor is needed to be a witness to validate the mentees choices and direction in life and/or career.
Its not always a conscious decision to choose a mentor/mentee pairing for life but its the interweaving over time that proves the longevity of the relationship. I met my long-term mentor, LeRoy Neiman at an event. He was there to sign his book and I wanted to publish a book and told him about it. He then invited me to his art studio to support my dream. This occurred in 1992. We continued to have meetings throughout our lives. He took an interest in my personal and professional growth. At the time of our meeting, I was in my 20’s and he was in his 70’s. Throughout my career that took me to international destinations, he would be there for me with words of wisdom in person, through letters, phone conversations and each time it would be more special then the last. Our mentoring relationship lasted until his death in 2012. The memories of our time together continue to fuel my ambition,drive and the kind of value I want to bring to a mentoring relationship.
Recognition of the value of multiple and multi-faceted mentoring relationships
A successful mentoring relationship benefits both the mentor and the mentee. When value is exchanged there is mutual respect, collaboration and trust. I have been able to learn by both being a mentor and a mentee. When both parties are prepared for the experience and enter it with open minds it can be extremely meaningful for a specific stage in life or business or it can surpass expectations and become a lifelong bond offering support and guidance at regular intervals. Even in scenarios when the mentoring relationship becomes incompatible due to conflicts in direction or one of the parties simply outgrows the other, there are valuable lessons. The lessons can be an immediate recognition and an opening of a new relationship with another mentor/mentee or the lesson can emerge overtime. I am thankful for all the mentors/mentees that have come in and will come into my life as it is richer for those exchanges.