I love mentoring staff. That has always been what has motivated me in my management positions. Even as the “big” boss, I try to find time to mentor and grow staff. However, it always is a delicate balance. You can’t mentor so much that they become dependent and you can’t take mentorship too personally to the point where you feel annoyed if they don’t heed your advice. It is not like raising a child. Although, I surely wish to be a mentor for my child. I suppose I want to be a role model for my little boy so that he realizes he is being raised by a strong woman that deserves to be paid just as much as the men in her field and position. But that is an entirely different rant, that is best for another day.
Mentorship is all about a personal relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person. While I have done it plenty in my career, since I believe in paying it forward, I don’t know if I have had mentors. Now that will sound odd, especially to those that know me. I can rattle off three people, besides my mom, who have been instrumental in my development. However, it was not so much that thy were mentors. It was more like they were “champions”, my champions. Meaning, that they advocated for me and loudly professed my abilities. A champion, in that respect, is very different from a mentor.
My champions have seen something in me. They have seen a sparkle, a grand sense of determination and resilience. It is that resilience that has captured the eye of my champions and led to their championing of me. My first champion was my teacher in 5th grade. She would bring in school district administrators and have me solve math problems on the blackboard for all to see. I was smart, shy and had a string sense of wanting to do more. My champion professed those characteristics through a bullhorn and people listened and I moved on to higher places.
My second champion interviewed me for my first real job out of college and we immediate felt a great connection as strong-willed New Yorkers who had a love of books and justice. My social justice sense was just beginning to peak through. She saw it in me and knew that eventually I would take that to a different venue. When I needed someone to attest to my character she was there and did so in such a strong way that it set a path in motion for me.
My third champion was a great legendary man well-known in my field for a loud strong voice of advocacy and justice. He could have been a mentor if he had not had a precipitous cognitive decline and early death. I was not prepared for that to happen and was shocked into a momentary state of “how did that happen”? I knew him for five years and we were instantly bonded; both being from poor families in which we sprung up to accomplishments that many of our family members would not understand. Within a year of knowing each other, I had proven myself in his eyes and when the occasion came to take on a grand fight he let me lead the way. He let everyone know I had his trust and that I “could do this.”
I soon developed a strong voice, no longer being the shy girl who did math problems for others to praise me for. I became a leader and while undoubtedly I am a bit of a diva, I do not perform for others to sit back in awe of. I do and I lead and get others to act.
I have been lucky in life to have champions who have rallied others on my behalf. Championship! It is not just something you run a 13-mile course for. It is something deeper and embedded in the fabric of our being. It is a way to soar to new heights and rise each day with the morning sun