I was new to campus, my mom had just left, and I was determined to find a mentor to quickly integrate me into campus life at the University of Pennsylvania. I walked into the African American Resource Center’s attendant, Miss. Colleen Winn, and exclaimed, “I’m Black, gay, and Jewish and want a mentor that will support me mentally, emotionally, and career wise as well as serve as an advocate for me when contacting university staff and community leaders.”
My candor and enthusiasm, caught the eye of all of those in the room, including those of Maurice Henderson, a Temple University Adjunct who was visiting the campus. I would later learn that Henderson was a log-cabin republican, anti-gay rights, and a former member of the Muslim brotherhood. Despite our differences, he would become one of my greatest advocates, taking me under his wing to achieve far more than I would have without him. Our union was synergy defined, as both our talents amplified even as we drew energy from one another.
Mentorship, when a more experienced person (mentor) guides the development of a lesser experienced person (mentee), can open new opportunities, help decide between different life paths, and offer support. The mentorship relationship should be guided by you, the mentee, not the mentor. The purpose of mentorship is to expand the horizons of the one being mentored. The mentor’s benefit should be the emotional well-being of having made better the metaphorical and sometimes literal next generation. If you begin to notice that your mentor is seeking a quid pro quo relationship—run. They do not have your best interest at heart, and that’s one of the primary characteristics of a good mentor.
There are several characteristics that define a good mentor, some of them being: time availability, similar or complimentary background, mentorship goals, discretion, and networks.
- Mentorship goals should define every step of the mentorship process. Outline your goals for the mentorship and share it with your mentor so that you both understand what areas you wish to grow in.
- Time availability is a must. Mentoring is work, especially on the part of the mentor. The inability to meet on a regular basis will severely block the umbilical cord of the mentor-to-mentee feeding tube.
- Discretion is a necessity in a mentor. There will be times in which you will be sharing personal information with your mentor when seeking advice. A mentor who is unwilling to keep your personal information private can jeopardize your professional standing in the community, by oversharing that which is of no concern to the public.
- Networks should always be taken into consideration when looking for opportunities. The majority of opportunities are never advertised and are instead, by virtue of knowledge, only available to those within the network of decision makers. The network of your mentor will often be more professionally advanced and possess opportunities that will allow you to accelerate your growth.
- Similar or complimentary backgrounds can be helpful in differing ways. Similar backgrounds add to the mentorship experience, providing a common base of knowledge through which to communicate. Complimentary backgrounds, can diversify perspectives and allow for the entrance of skills that are typically unassociated with your background.
Jason L. Ma, Founder and Chief Mentor of counseling firm Three EQ and author of Young Leaders 3.0 has developed a helpful mentorship framework of goals by the acronym D.A.D. It stands for develop, aim, and do. The framework outlines the stages of development that both you and your mentor should be working through. The development stage is characterized by adjusting one’s perceptions and attitudes. It is followed by aim, the research stage in which one searches their networks and other sources for information as to what activities and organizations to get involved in. You will become your environment; guard yourself carefully against negative influences and seek out those you admire. Do is the final stage. It’s the stage that really counts. Learning by doing, puts theory into context and turns flaccid information into useful tools.
Jeremy Bamidele is journalist, publicist, and adjunct professor based out of Los Angeles, California. His work has been published in Forbes, Huffington Post, PR Week, JET Magazine, and numerous newspapers across the United States. He is an alumnus of UC Berkeley and a current graduate student at the University of Southern California. He can be reached at Jeremy Bamidele (at) gmail (dot) com.