When I think about the various people who have influenced me on my professional journey, I’m extremely grateful for the many mentoring relationships that have helped me grow as a person and a leader. If you’re thinking about advancing your career, I encourage you to seek out different types of mentors. My relationships with advisors, supervisors and peers have been collaborations of trust, tutelage and time.
In various stages of my career, four types of mentors emerged to propel my personal growth and professional development
By seeking out individuals who were in positions I aspired to, I could learn from their experience. In the middle stage of my career, I was fortunate to be surrounded by leaders I respected, and what I learned from watching them in action catapulted me forward.
Early in my career at a national non-profit, I noticed that the CEO was always thinking about engaging board members, how to stay connected, and when to ask for advice. Other national leaders taught me all I know today about building long-lasting, mutually beneficial corporate partnerships.
I often talk about my longtime mentor Dave Smith, the former president and CEO of Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Kansas City. He modeled how to build board relationships that transcend transactions and the CEO’s role in relationship-based fundraising. As I observed his mastery of board engagement, I saw first-hand how shared values deepen relationships. Like the 4‑H motto, I was “Learning by Doing.”
I know I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my advocate mentors – those who push us to take big, game-changing leaps in life. My first advocate mentor was Gary Phelps, Dean of Students at William Jewell College. He watched my participation in student government and strongly encouraged me to pursue an internship with my US Senator in Washington. It was a huge stretch for me to leave home and live for a semester in a city I’d never visited with no friends or family. Mentors that push us beyond our comfort zone are critical. For me, it changed the course of my education, built my confidence, and opened the door to exciting new opportunities.
I consider myself fortunate to be able to pass along similar support to young professionals I meet today. It is a privilege to champion them and watch their skills and passions grow.
Building relationships with colleagues and those on a similar career path to you can provide great benefits. For me, these connections provide the most relevant support and have helped informed my decision making, planning, and other aspects of my career.
I personally love peer mentoring. It’s the most fun, and I enjoy maintaining mutually supportive relationships with like-minded individuals.
In my experience, some mentors can be developmental catalysts. A developmental mentor, for example, invests in their mentee, which reaches beyond opportunity and experience sharing. These relationships develop over time and are based on deep trust, honesty and respect.
Don Floyd, the former president and CEO of National 4‑H Council, was a great developmental mentor. He cared enough about me and my career to give me difficult, constructive feedback that I needed to grow into a leader who could influence others beyond my individual contributions. While I could have interpreted his constructive criticism negatively, he trusted that our working relationship was such that he could share feedback that I would accept and apply to my work. Being able to receive such feedback is critical for a leader.
For anyone who aspires to be in a senior or executive leadership role, it is essential to embrace the things you don’t want to hear, take in the experiences of those around you, and seek guidance from someone who shares your professional perspective. Any form of mentoring can result in a transformative experience – in both life and career.