The Importance of Mentorship

Two women working on a computer and iPad.
on 28 Jan 2021
  • mentorship
  • guideance
  • career

According to Merriam-Webster, a mentorship is the influence, guidance or direction given by a trusted counselor or guide (a mentor). While the general idea of a mentorship is the same, the execution of this partnership can vary. Mentorships can take many forms. Some may be more formal in a professional setting while others might be informal with the sharing of advice. Your mentor could be a professional in your company or someone in another organization who has reached similar goals as those you are looking to work toward. With so many options and variations, how do you find a mentorship that works for you?

Mentorship in practice takes many forms. Someone may want a formal relationship with their mentor, while others want an informal one. Your mentor could be someone in your company or someone who is not. A mentor could be a few years older than you, a few years younger than you, or twice as many years experienced as you. This goes the same for a mentee as well. So how do you find a mentorship that works for you, either as a mentor or as the mentee?

Start by talking to your colleagues and coworkers. Even if they've never mentioned it, they may already have an existing mentorship relationship or have had one in the past. You'd be surprised how many of your coworkers have mentors or are mentoring someone. As you have these exploratory conversations, you may start to identify potential mentors or mentees.

To shed more light on mentorship, we talked with several Summit employees about their experiences with mentorship.


How did you find the right mentorship for you?

As a mentee, you need to have some sort of idea of where you may want to go or what sectors you may want to touch and go from there. This resulted in me having a mentor from the private sector and one in government. It was important for me to see people who ascended quickly or could adapt that I could learn from. As a person of color, we’re often a small part of a larger, predominantly white organization.

So, I wanted someone who could teach me how to navigate in spaces that were predominantly people that did not look like me. That was something that was important to me. My mentor usually helps me bring my experiences together so I can map out what my next two, three, and five years look like.

In terms of being a mentor, it depends. One, I never take on a mentee I can't fully commit the time to, because that's not fair to them. For one of my current mentees, I created a key of a circle of resources because she wants to stay in HR and I am not an HR professional. So, I help her in terms of connecting her with key contacts of mine that can help with her goals.

How would you define a mentor?

A mentor is someone that should help you get to where you want to go. Often, what goes wrong in mentor/mentee relationships is a mentor will turn around and try to help you, or try to take you, where they want you to go.

Your mentor should be a person that you can tell the good, the bad, the ugly in confidence. You want a mentor that's going to be focused on you.

How would you advise someone who isn’t sure if they need a mentor or not?

I think the first thing you should ask is “where do I want to go”? Where do I want to go in this organization and professionally?”

When it comes to asking someone to be your mentor, I wouldn't try to overburden that person. Right? So, like it's where you want to go. Make sure that the person who is your mentor can be focused solely on you when you go to them. Come to them with three to five things concrete that you can say, ‘okay, I want you to help me with these three to five things. How many can you help me with?’.

You’ve talked about people you’ve looked up to throughout your career and then you've also mentored within your own community.

I've done mentorship at Summit. But that, I mean, that's specific to Summit. I've mentored while in college. I mentored freshmen going into architecture school as well as one summer transitioning from grad school or into grad school. I did a summer mentorship for high school students at my college. It was a program that allows juniors of various high schools to apply for a four-week program at the school where you basically learn ‘introduction to architecture’. You actually work in a studio environment and you do college-type things. For juniors, it's a really cool experience. I was a teaching assistant, officially, but it's basically a mentor for that program.

It sounds like mentorship has always been a part of what you do.

I wanted to be a mentor because I value what mentorship is. Having someone to ask questions, to get quick information and knowledge from is super beneficial. I view mentorship as a safe place for people who don't know whatever it is (in this case, for me, architecture) to ask those dumb questions. I have a passion for helping others just as I was helped.

How did you find your mentors when you started out professionally?

When I was the freshman in college, I had an upperclassman as my mentor. I then joined a program to help others. When I first came to Summit, I had a friend from Rhode Island that was a mentor for my first year. James J. was a big one for me when I first started at Summit. He was a coworker mentor who was just ahead of me in his licensure. I learned through his experience.

When you are a mentor, what do you keep in mind to make that relationship successful?

You need to recognize that the mentees don't know everything and understand they are vulnerable. You need to be very particular about how you respond to them. If you come off very harsh, you're really not doing any good. You're jeopardizing the relationship more than helping it. You're here to help them learn.

Do you have any advice for someone who's looking for a mentor, but maybe they're new to the industry or to the area?

Coworkers are always a great place to start. Also, someone who is around the same age group, if not just slightly older than you, is helpful. It's not just about age. It's more about the knowledge your potential mentor has in the topic that you're looking for mentorship.

How would you define mentorship?

Exposure without accountability. The best mentors that I had exposed me to opportunities to grow myself, and my career, and my intelligence, and my capabilities and my competencies.

I equate it to being pulled into meetings or discussions for which I could not contribute but was able to be exposed to critical decision-making. I was a part of those discussions or those meetings or those opportunities before I was accountable to be a part of those opportunities.

Good mentors will challenge you with exposure.

You said you've had multiple mentors. Can you tell me about them and maybe how you found them or how you kind of started those relationships?

I can say that I've had three distinct professional mentors and one was really bad.

One manager I had very early in my career was my direct manager, and he was not a good mentor. He really wanted to be an external advocate of mine to others but did the opposite. He would make me accountable for things I was not prepared to do, expose me with no training or explanation of it and then hold me accountable afterwards. This helped me see all the things a good mentor is not.

And then, I was in the engineering services group, in the same role and at the same time, and a facility manager and I had causation to kind of collide through work. That was Jeff. He saw potential in me, which was largely unrealized. Jeff also had a need to continue to grow his staff. Any good manager or leader is constantly on the lookout for good talent. He saw me, he believed I had potential and talent and started to expose me to things without being accountable to them.

And then I had another mentor who was a 65-year-old, 40-year veteran of the mining industry. And again, he was a bit of a talent hawk, but also enjoyed the mentoring process. Mike was a kind of a “Father Time” of the industry. He was my direct supervisor when I went to Saudi Arabia, and we grew to be friends. He gave me continued responsibility that rapidly increased. But at no time did my responsibilities changing put me in a position I couldn’t handle. He challenged me. So, going from a technical consultant to a program manager responsible for about 400 million and then to a technical manager responsible for just north of $2 billion in eight months

As a mentor, what do you keep in mind to help your mentees succeed?

I get to know them and learn the parts about them they haven’t realized yet. The ability to see potential in somebody is truly a sixth sense. Mine is not fully developed; I can assure you. Mentoring is difficult. You have to have willing partners on both sides. You cannot subversively mentor somebody. You can’t con someone into being a mentee or mentor. It has to be an active relationship.

Do you have any advice for someone looking for a mentor?

You have to really want it. You gotta want it, you gotta want the feedback. But part of the challenge of mentorship is the feedback, and that's a human nature problem. That's not a mentor/mentee problem. The people that have the intellectual humility to say, ‘I would like a mentor. I need a mentor’ are the ones that want to get better.

Do you have any other thoughts you’d like to share about professional mentorship?

Well, I think that mentorship fails when it's official and structured and you know, here's the list of company leaders and here's all the people that want to be mentees and we're going to put them together and make them meet every month. Then there's going to be a report. That's not sustainable. You know, it's a delicate balance in mentoring program. I think the best ones are largely informal. I think the best process is leaders or managers having the capacity to identify high potential talent, which is a skill, and then them advocating for their own team to have mentors.

While their mentorships were unique and different, what's common among the Summit employees we talked to is that these experiences led to professional development that they might not have gotten otherwise. Your relationship with your mentor should be a two-way street of benefit and communication. Trust, honesty, mutual respect, and adaptability are key ingredients for a successful mentorship relationship.

Are you ready to find a mentor? Ask yourself these questions first:
  • What are my goals, professionally? Where do I want to be?
  • What skills do I want to develop?
  • What industries do I want to be influential in?
  • Who can help me reach my goals, in the industry I want to be in?
  • How much time can I dedicate to a mentorship? (this is with the understanding that you HAVE time to dedicate. If you don’t, then that’s a whole other issue)

Likewise, you should ask yourself these questions before you take on a mentee:
  • Does this mentee have clear goals I can assist with?
  • Do I have time to give undivided to a mentee?
  • Will I be able to give them tough feedback?
  • Who can help me reach my goals, in the industry I want to be in?
  • Am I the right person to help the mentee reach their goals? If not, do I know anyone who could better serve?

A successful mentorship can be invaluable to the professional experience of the mentor and the mentee. These relationships help all involved to evolve into better, more connected professionals. Mentorship allows for sharing of advice and information, development of connections, and strengthening relationships.


Lauren Stearley Headshot

Lauren Stearley
Lauren Stearley is our Marketing Coordinator. She writes the content needed to get Summit’s name out there. Born at 9:09 in February, Lauren has always lived in North Carolina, except for a brief stint in England. When she is not marketing Summit’s many different services, Lauren enjoys gardening, taking naps in her hammock and reading historical fiction.