Several years ago, my graduate school mentor was talking to me about family trees and the conversation moved to academic ones.  We talked about some people in the field and who their mentors were and how these branches formed different thought areas.  I’m sure the exercise can be done in any area of study (it’s been done extensively in mathematics) and in the business world as well.

We’ve all had mentors and there is a good deal of research done on what makes a good one.   Many companies have formalized mentorship programs, often to improve the promotability of women and racial minorities and/or to increase employee engagement.  The data also shows that the process is good for the mentor as well.  These relationships tend to be long lasting, even past the initial setting.  In fact, you’re probably thinking of a mentor or a protégé right now.

This all came together when I read an interview with Ilene Gordon on the importance of mentors.  She provides a very concrete example of how her mentor helped her early in her career.  It’s clear that the lessons she learned from him are still affecting her some 30 years later.

Now, she provides her high potentials with opportunities to be in front of her board.  Interestingly, she gives them 3 minutes to talk about themselves, adversity they have faced and how they bring value to the company.  That’s a lot for 3 minutes!  I would think that this exposure leads to some of these managers finding mentors (and probably doing some great networking among themselves).

Gordon returns to this theme when asked about interviewing.  She asks candidates who their mentors were to get a sense of the person’s knowledge lineage with the idea being the person’s thought process is highly influenced by his/her mentors.  There’s certainly a discussion to be had as to whether this unfairly places the candidate in a particular box, but it does show the importance of what we learn from mentors and how we are perceived differently based on who they were.  Whether that’s considered baggage or a seal of approval is in the eye of the beholder.

Whether it’s through the opportunities it provides us or how people think of us, mentoring relationships stay with us far longer than when we actually interact with the person.  Something to think about when choosing a mentor or a protégé.

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