Mentorship Musts

By: Samantha Whitehorne

What are the elements of a successful mentoring relationship? Four pairs (including one that's been together for more than three decades) take a closer look, as the mentees turn the table on their mentors and ask them that very question and more.

Almost everyone has at least one mentor in his or her life. Maybe it's a parent, relative, coach, current or former colleague, or just someone you admire or aspire to be like. However the relationship starts, mentors teach their mentees lessons that they will take with them as they continue their personal and professional careers. But this relationship goes both ways; mentors learn just as much from their mentees.

Associations Now asked four mentees to interview their mentors.In the following pages they share not only what they've learned from the mentoring relationship but also what's challenged them and what they see as the secrets to mentorship success.


Midwesterners With Shared Values

Mentor: Glenn W. Bostrom, chairman emeritus, Bostrom Corporation

Mentee: Randy Lindner, CAE, president, Bostrom Corporation

Length of mentorship: Almost 32 years. (Glenn is now 95 years old.) They were paired up in September 1978, when Randy joined the Bostrom team in Monterey, California.

Randy: Why did you decide to become a mentor?

Glenn: I don't think I set out to be a mentor, but a couple of factors came into play, and our relationship just seemed to evolve and grow. You were visiting California on vacation and came into the office for an interview. You made an impression on me. You were dependable. We were both from Iowa, and I remember we kidded each other about being Iowa farm boys and talked about our Midwestern values. …

There were only a couple of companies in the [association management] business, and I had been planning to have my son work in our Monterey office. … When he died unexpectedly of a brain hemorrhage, I asked myself, "What was I going to do?" I needed to find someone who could handle the business, someone who was highly motivated, optimistic, and easygoing.

When we first [brought you on], I was commuting to Monterey from Chicago every three weeks to get the business started and began working closely with you. …

Mentoring helped me see that wealth is not only measured in dollars; my mentoring relationships have made it easy for me to feel wealthy.

Who were some of your mentors throughout your career, and how did they affect you?

I was fortunate to have had many mentors, and I'll name just a few. My cousin, Carl Bostrom, was manager of A&P supermarkets and bought products from Gamble Robinson, a wholesale grocery based in Minnesota. I learned about the grocery industry from him. He recommended me to Gamble Robinson, where I worked as a grocery and salt wholesaler.

Every Saturday morning, we had a sales meeting, because we worked seven days a week during the Depression. Al Dundees, a very strict guy, made me assistant on the main floor because I understood the dynamics of the business. That made me very proud. Earlier, after I graduated Cornell College, I began traveling and learned [about business] from many of the salesmen that I worked with on the road.

During that time, I met Bill Stewart, a customer in Canton, Ohio, who taught me about the water-treatment industry. Through Bill, I met Lloyd Gordon, who ran the Water Franchise Association. Bill and Lloyd talked me into taking a job with the association. While I had not trained for the association management industry, all of these mentors helped to shape my career. …

My parents were mentors, too. They taught me the importance of being the best that I could be and told me that if I couldn't help someone, I shouldn't hurt them. That philosophy carried into my professional life.

What do you think makes for a great mentor-mentee relationship?

Integrity is important in a relationship and in running a business. Character is important, too. I learned that from my parents.

You are very positive, solid, and stable—it's a combination that you look for when you're hiring. There were many times when we took on responsibilities, even if we didn't know where they would lead.

You and I took an interest in each other's families. … As the company grew, our relationship grew.

Respect for each other is a foundation for a great mentor-mentee relationship. I trusted you; it was very easy to trust you. You are a straightforward, honest, and really knowledgeable guy.

What is the biggest takeaway you've gotten from our mentoring relationship?

Commitment, integrity, and an enduring friendship. I was a young guy trying to build a business, and I needed hard-working people that I could depend on and trust. You were instrumental in helping me build the business back then, just as you are instrumental in growing Bostrom Corporation today.

Mentoring Resources

Here are a few articles, whitepapers, and websites to keep in mind if you are looking for some more information about mentoring.

"High Impact Mentoring," by the Maverick Institute (PDF). This whitepaper offers advice on how organizations can have their mentoring programs quickly achieve success and measurable results.

International Mentoring Association. IMA's website offers a number of resources, from a list of best practices to a glossary of common mentoring terms and support tools.

Inc. magazine's "Finding a Mentor" webpage. Visit this page for direct links to the publication's collection of articles, both old and new, on mentors and the mentor-mentee relationship.

"When Mentoring Goes Bad," by Dawn E. Chandler, Lillian Eby, and Stacy E. McManus. This article from The Wall Street Journal discusses why mentoring relationships can go sour and how to get them back on track.

Today, if issues come up in running the business, your judgment is always very solid. You don't panic, and you don't get overly involved with negatives.

We never looked at our relationship as mentor-mentee. We had a business to build. We had a business to run. Building the business with you was a great opportunity. You never let people seek personal gain or take advantage of a situation. Once an assignment was in your hands, I never worried about it. The concept of multiple management was new. You liked to dig into things, like me. But as farm boys, we also knew that there were lots of routine chores to do.

What have you learned from me?

You taught me how valuable it is to have a steady hand. I don't ever recall you panicking when you faced challenges. That's a gift. … You taught me patience and balance. If there was a problem, it wasn't a problem when you handled it.

Our relationship was mutual. You never asked for favors, and I don't know of anyone who didn't like you. I never had to worry about you … I could walk away and know that you could handle the situation.

In your experience being a mentor, what's the most challenging aspect or difficult conversation that you've had?

I don't ever remember a time that we couldn't find common ground. We disagreed at times, but we always found a mutually satisfactory way to move forward. And I can't recall a time when we were at odds with each other. I believe our shared Midwest background and values nurture our relationship and continue to nurture your client relationships.

If today was the last opportunity you had to offer me guidance, what would tell me?

Stay with it, don't panic, and always follow through.


From Boss to Mentor and Friend

Mentor: Karen Lechowich, executive administrator, American Dietetic Association

Mentee: Tracy Petrillo, CAE, director of education and conferences, League of California Cities

Length of mentorship: Almost nine years. When Tracy began working at ADA in 2001, Karen was the acting CEO there and later became her supervisor for three years.

Tracy: Why did you decide to mentor me in my career?

Karen: You were just filled with enthusiasm and great ideas for developing the unit you worked in at the time. You were fun and challenging on how to use new information and technologies to further the goals of the association's professional-development area. On the other hand, you also knew you had to learn the "politics" of the organization to succeed and saw the advantages of working with an experienced employee.

Who were some of your mentors throughout your career, and how did they affect you?

First was my mother—she and her friends were the best volunteers that I ever knew. They gave their time and talent in many different ways, and as a child, they let me participate in these "grown-up" activities. My sister—two years older—was another person who never discouraged me even though some of my dreams were a bit out of the box for our family and background.

When I came to the association as a young staff member, the first volunteers (six women and one man) assigned to a new unit in the association never saw me as anything but a member of their team. They taught me how to look at an issue, discuss alternative solutions, and then choose something and forge ahead in trying it out. The new organization unit had little to go on, but everyone was watching what we did. The concept was creating special-interest groups within the association that members could align with—a new concept in the late 70s. Those groups exist today thanks to those members who mentored me and showed how a vision can become a reality.

What do you think makes for a great mentor-mentee relationship?

First and foremost, you have to respect one another. You don't always agree, but you have to listen to each other and be willing to discuss the pros and cons of issues and new ideas. You have to know at the end of the conversation, even if you don't agree, that the person is working hard to give her best effort to the organization. Personally, I also like to have fun with the person, as not everything in life is serious business.

What is the biggest takeaway you've gotten from our mentoring relationship?

In all situations, you learn a lot from one another. You know if you need help or want to brainstorm that [your mentee] is always there to be part of the discussion. Even when you are not around, I sometimes think what you might do in a situation, and when my spirit needs a pick up, your laugh comes to mind and brings a smile. I am impressed with where you have taken your career, and if I was a small part of that, I'm thankful our careers crossed.

What have you learned from me?

There is always a new way to do something.

In your experience being a mentor, what's the most challenging aspect or difficult conversation that you've had?

Staying on plan and understanding why the organization may not move as quickly as you would like. Discussing the value of patience is always challenging with a younger mentee.

Does it make you more proud to see me learn from my failures or succeed in my tasks?

You are one of the people that I have worked with that not only makes me proud but who also encourages me to continue to work with young staff members. You showed me that a mentor-mentee relationship can continue even when you don't see each other on a regular basis. I treasure seeing your successes and know you will continue to bring talents forward to benefit the greatest number of people possible.


A Pair Finding the Right Balance

Mentor: Maggie McGary, online community and social media manager, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA)

Mentee: Lauren Wolfe, marketing and communications manager, Higher Logic

Length of mentorship: 18 months. They met during a networking event at the 2009 Great Ideas Conference, continued the conversation throughout the conference, and kept in touch once they got back to their offices through a variety of ways—email, Facebook, Twitter, phone calls, and the occasional face-to-face meeting.

Lauren: Why did you decide to become a mentor?

"If you don't have a basis of mutual admiration and respect, neither person will get much out of the arrangement."—Maggie McGary

Maggie: I didn't—Lauren chose me! I was and am still flattered!

Who were some of your mentors throughout your career, and how did they affect you?

I actually never really had mentors, which is something I wish I could go back in time and change. I think I would have benefitted enormously from having a mentor who had transitioned from full-time career person to parent; having no role model meant that I only saw in black and white when it came to the work-parenting balance.

What do you think makes for a great mentor-mentee relationship?

I think friendship is the basis of a great mentor-mentee relationship. If you don't have a basis of mutual admiration and respect, neither person will get much out of the arrangement.

Mentoring for Time-Starved Professional Women

Trying to fit in work, family, and personal time is hard enough for professional women. Trying to add in some mentoring time on top of that makes it even harder. That's how Minute Mentoring was born.

Dana Perino, the former White House press secretary during the Bush Administration, came up with the idea of bringing young women together for a fun, fast-paced evening to meet and get advice from professional women. The idea is simple (and similar to the speed-dating format): Women move from room to room every 10 minutes to meet with different mentors to get advice on topics ranging from work-life balance to lessons they've learned from both their successes and failures. Past events have featured mentors like CNN's Candy Crowley and President Clinton's White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers. For more information, visit

What is the biggest takeaway you've gotten from our mentoring relationship?

That you don't have to have a high-power career or a C-suite level job to have valuable advice and guidance to offer a mentee. I never would have considered myself mentor material, but when I think about it, I could have really benefitted from having had a mentor who chose the same career path I did (started a career, off ramped to be home with my kids, then opted back into the work world).

What have you learned from me?

That age is just a number, and experience and professionalism are traits that aren't found only in seasoned employees.

In your experience being a mentor, what's the most challenging aspect or difficult conversation that you've had?

Balancing work and home life are hard enough; finding time not only for my own professional development but to devote to socializing and/or more formal mentoring takes some juggling.

How do you manage to maintain a work-life balance, and is it even possible?

Work-life balance is definitely possible, but you have to make sacrifices. You have to pick what's most important to you [and] then work from there. In my case, that meant taking an eight-year break from working while my kids were young, then having to start back at square one with my career. It was hard on the ego and the wallet but worth it to me. I also was very selective about choosing an employer that supported work-life balance; it took me four years to get a job at ASHA, but the wait paid off.

What role do you think technology plays in our relationship, and how does it shape the way we communicate?

When time is a precious commodity, like it is for people struggling to find time to work and have a family, using technology to stay connected is a necessity. Technology like email and social networking means you and I can stay connected even when we both lead busy lives and don't live very close to each other. For mentors who aren't comfortable with technologies like social networking, finding a mentee who can reverse mentor in that capacity adds another dimension to the mentor-mentee relationship and makes it that much more valuable for both.


Giving Back to One Another

Mentor: Deborah L. Keys, director, conference/exhibit planning and business affiliates, Michigan Association of School Boards

Mentee: Katherine Simmons, director
of human resources, Bread for the World, Inc.

Length of mentorship: Eleven months. Katherine approached Deborah at the Diversity Executive Leadership Program (DELP) Reunion in 2009.

Katherine: Why did you decide to become a mentor?

Deborah: This was an opportunity to give back. Early in my career and in my personal life there has been someone to lead, guide, and direct my path, and it has been rewarding to say the least.

Who were some of your mentors throughout your career, and how did they affect you?

My first mentor was a lieutenant at the police department where I was employed as a stenographer. I give him all the credit for the excellence that I pursue. Lieutenant Dyess was adamant that giving 100 percent was not good enough, but that I should always strive for 150 percent. He encouraged quality over quantity and always gave constructive criticism that has helped me develop into a confident person who is proficient in her work. It is because of Lieutenant Dyess that I cannot accept mediocrity and that I see the best in everyone.

"Trust that whatever is suggested, critiqued, and shared is in the best interest of the mentee or mentor."—Deborah L. Keys

A second mentor is my spiritual advisor who continues to provide guidance spiritually and professionally. Dr. Thompson has known me for almost 20 years, and I trust his judgment of my character, thus allowing him to make suggestions, and sometimes even directives, pertaining to my growth and development. He has inspired me to set goals that I couldn't imagine reaching. His unwavering commitment and support of my personal and professional success has given me endurance to continue my education as a nontraditional student. This relationship has prepared me to share his wisdom imparted to me with others in my life, particularly you.

What do you think makes for a great mentor-mentee relationship?

I believe what builds this relationship is trust. Trust that whatever is suggested, critiqued, and shared is in the best interest of the mentee or mentor and that each participant dedicates time to garner this relationship. Our mentor-mentee relationship goes outside the professional realm and has been welcomed into the personal and spiritual world. Only having trust in each other opens the doors of your private dwelling.

What is the biggest takeaway you've gotten from our mentoring relationship?

The biggest takeaway for me is friendship from a person that I possibly would never have met if it was not for DELP. Your energy and enthusiasm were an instant draw for me when we first met. I am fortunate to have developed a relationship beyond our professional interests, and this has been rewarding to me. I continue to look forward to opportunities to get together, and our dedicated Sunday talks continue to support this relationship.

ASAE Mentor Connector

If you're looking to become a mentor or a mentee, ASAE's Mentor Connector online service will help pair you up. Visit the the Mentor Connector page at to learn more.

What have you learned from me?

Professionally, I have learned about handling sensitive situations through your human-resources background. This has been beneficial to me as I have encountered circumstances that require a different approach and perspective. Personally, I have learned that we have the same taste in art, books, and even opinions. What I look forward to is learning even more as this relationship continues.

In your experience being a mentor, what's the most challenging aspect or difficult conversation that you've had?

Well, to be honest, there haven't been any difficult conversations, since we are very comfortable talking about anything. One of our more concentrated conversations surrounded DELP and ASAE & The Center leadership. At the onset of being a new scholar, there were many questions regarding true acceptance of diversity in leadership roles at ASAE & The Center and how impactful participating in DELP would actually be. I believe that a better understanding has developed …

What character traits do you think I possess, and what one piece of advice would you give me to succeed as a leader?

I would describe you as possessing the four Is, which are intelligence, integrity, inspiring, and influential. You are competent and not afraid to ask and find the answer.

You hold herself to high standards and won't settle for anything less. Also, you are very genuine and sincere. You give others hope that it's never too late to achieve your goals and reach for the stars, even when obstacles may stand in your way. Also, I would add that you are a person of courage with a heart of gold.

The one piece of advice I would give to you in order to become an effective leader is to be the best person you can be and always be honest and proactive.

Samantha Whitehorne is managing editor of Associations Now. Email: [email protected]

Online Extra: Getting the Most From Mentorship

Ericka Ochoa, membership marketing manager for the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists, and executive search expert Sharon McCone talk about their mentoring relationship and give tips to others to find and get the most out of these partnerships.

Samantha Whitehorne

Samantha Whitehorne is editorial director of Associations Now in Washington, DC.