fbpx Skip to main content
The BIG Blog

What Does Mentoring Mean?

By August 12, 2019February 12th, 2021No Comments

Last week, I had the chance to reconnect with a young woman who worked as an intern for me many years ago – 12 years to be exact – when I was a young and stressed out Executive Director.  Dante worked for our nonprofit as an intern doing some graphic design and event planning and logistics support.  What I remember about Dante was that she was tall, confident, and willing to pitch in no matter the task given to her. She schlepped boxes and event supplies for us, hauling stuff out of the trunk of my car and setting up information tables, making flyers for our networking events and putting them up around town (pre-social media!). I also remember our goodbye lunch and how nervous she was about returning to her home in Istanbul, Turkey because of its political climate. She had been studying in the US for a few years now, and her student visa was up. She had to go home.

Flash forward to 2019 and after many years of staying in touch via social media, especially on LinkedIn and Instagram, Dante and I reconnected via a video conference chat to catch up.

12 years! We both couldn’t believe how much time had passed, but more importantly, I couldn’t believe how much this amazing young woman had accomplished in those years. She has started her own design company, Oktopeople, in Istanbul, with educational events and now a software app to enhance user experience for e-commerce. She’s an entrepreneur and hosting events for other entrepreneurs, too.  I told her I remembered our final lunch and the tears we shed when we said goodbye. She told me what she remembered most was my management skills. I’d had an impact on her journey and had no idea. She told me I was one of the best managers she’d ever had, and one of the leaders she most looks up to still.  I don’t say this to brag – I honestly didn’t know. I didn’t consider myself a mentor at the time. I was simply a nonprofit director managing a small staff that included interns. I’ve had many interns work for me over the years, and some of those relationships have turned into mentorships, and mentorships have turned into friendships. Dante and I had an hour-long conversation about business challenges, management issues, and growing pains. My catch-up session with Dante got me thinking about that impact and why I’ve continued to mentor, even as a consultant with a busy business of my own.

Not every mentor-mentee relationship works out and stays intact for years to come. Relationships move at the speed of trust. And trust goes both ways.  I’ve mentored people who did not follow through or show up.  It makes me sad when this happens, not for me or my time, but for the person who can’t show up for themselves. Many others have followed through and developed their projects or businesses to great success. The relationship is important to me, and I give it my full attention.

I love learning and when I’m mentoring, I’m learning as much from my mentee as I am teaching/guiding them.  I love to research things I don’t know the answers to and learning alongside my mentee. We get to learn things together and feel a sense of accomplishment together. And, they teach me things about their ideas, so I learn new things – ideas, models of doing things, approaches, etc.  It’s a win-win!

Sometimes we act as mentors and don’t even know we are doing it. When I was 16, I met a powerful independent woman who owned a children’s theatre company. She taught me life skills, work skills, theatre skills, and eventually became a lifelong friend who I trust with my life. She didn’t know she was mentoring me as a teenager, she was just giving me advice and connecting to me on a personal level when I needed encouragement and a lift. I told her many years later in a public speech that she was a mentor to me. She cried, I cried. It was, and still is, a beautiful friendship.

Mentoring can be formal or informal. I have had the privilege of mentoring in the Native Entrepreneur in Residence program at New Mexico Community Capital. It is a formalized program with goals and outcomes where we are paired with an entrepreneur whose needs match our skills and expertise.  Although it sounds “business-y” it’s actually a very personalized experience for mentors and mentees. We come up with work plans based on the mentees’ needs and ideas, and form a pretty strong bond over the 6 months we work together.  I call myself a cheerleader and fan of my mentees. I am rooting for their success and there for it 100%.  But informally, I have mentored a former intern named Rachel for 10 years now, who has experimented with various career moves and has successfully landed on her social justice passions and art.  I answer her texts, and phone calls when she has a big idea or a hard question. I’m happy to be the person she can bounce ideas off.

Mentoring is not easy. It can be heartbreaking, heartlifting, and a lot of work but it’s powerful for both parties.

Why do you mentor? What does mentoring look like to you?