Was It Mentor To Be?

January 18, 2013
BY Elliot D. Lasson

Elliot_D_LassonAt the Jewish Federation of North America’s recent GA, one of the many interesting and informative presentations I attended was “The Strategic Importance of Succession Planning.”  This is a salient topic not only in the federation world, but also for non-profits and even within the corporate sector.

Leadership always has been a passion of mine on both academic and practical levels.  In the context of this session, Marc Terrill, president of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, chronicled his assuming the mantle of leadership from his mentor, past President Darrell Friedman.  Marc focused on their relationship, facilitating his own development and transition into his current leadership role.

I always have been a big proponent of mentoring and have started to think about it more recently.  There is a statement in Pirkei Avot, “Aseh lecha Rav” (1:6), which means “designate a teacher for yourself.”  (Interestingly, the context of this passage falls within a series of statements by rabbis within the chain of our tradition — making its relevance to succession planning intriguing.)

Many in our community have spiritual mentors, who are rabbis, parents or teachers.  But it is important for people to have professional mentors, as well.  The value added to one’s career by a mentor has been supported by social science research.

A mentor can be viewed as any role model to whom we go for advice, although often not formally assigned as such.  Mentors have “been there, done that” during their careers.  Therefore, they are in a great position to provide helpful guidance to someone who is either at a crossroads or just starting out. A functional mentor-mentee relationship will be a medium for occasional unsolicited advice.

When should one acquire a professional mentor?
The earlier, the better.  The best time is probably once someone has the social maturity to understand the value of such a relationship. This likely will be at the start of college.

Who might be a good candidate to mentor?
A professional mentor might be a college professor or assigned adviser.  He/she might be an accomplished professional who is deeper into his/her career.

How many mentors should one have?
Definitely more than one.  Having multiple perspectives, in different areas of focus, at different points in one’s life can provide a broader picture.

What about the mentors? What advice should they be offering?
Mentoring comes in a variety of forms, reactive and proactive.  It might be an encouraging remark.  On the other hand, it might be constructive criticism.  Mentoring is sometimes merely being a constant in the mentee’s life and on-call as issues might arise.  It’s about staying in touch. It could be texting an occasional uninitiated “how’s it going?” or “Shabbat Shalom.”

Based on their experience, mentors are in a position to clarify issues.  For example, if a mentee is considering a career or job change, the mentor might be able to reflect on the big picture and provide guidance as to whether the move is a good idea or not.  Mentors should also be sensitive and consider relevant personal factors.  Mentors must understand their limitations and “punt” a given question to someone with greater expertise. Mentors should take their responsibility seriously but not take themselves too seriously.

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