There are a number of resources available on finding a mentor. A simple Google search will point you in a good direction. Less abundant are personal accounts that describe what that mentorship relationship looks like when actualized - particularly in our profession. As such, we thought some might find value in our thoughts as we reflect on our mentorship relationship over the past year. For formality sake, we are Ann Marie Klotz (said mentor) and Matt Bloomingdale (said mentee).
How did your relationship form?
AMK: We first met as colleagues where I was a Residence Hall Director and Matt was in his graduate program and working as an Assistant Residence Hall Director. I did not supervise him in any capacity, I just always admired his intellect, confidence and follow-through. Despite his penchant for wearing a Nebraska baseball cap, I found him to be mature beyond his years.
Matt: AMK and I worked together at Ball State University while I was starting my graduate work. When I first arrived, I didn’t yet have a supervisor and she was one of the first professionals that I sought advice from until the position was filled. We collaborated on a common reading program she chaired and always appreciated her drive and the high expectations she had for herself and those she worked with.
How was the relationship formalized?
AMK: Matt and I have kept in touch over the years, but a few years ago he asked me to present a program with him at a regional NASPA conference and we realized how complimentary our styles were. We each brought different specific strengths to the table and have always been very honest with each other in terms of feedback.
In 2013, Matt asked if we could formalize our relationship and I asked him a lot of questions to be sure I would be a good fit for him. I wanted to ensure that I could give him what he was looking for and I also wanted him to understand what my expectations of him would be, too. These kinds of relationships are reciprocal and we should actually both benefit from our relationship.
Matt: About three and half years ago, AMK called and asked why I wasn’t more involved. I told her I was involved in plenty. She coerced me into applying to be a NASPA KC Representative which required me to attend the NASPA 4E conference. Since I was obligated to attend the conference, I told AMK that she was now obligated to present with me.
One of the things I recognized in working with AMK is that she has several strengths that I think correspond to my areas for growth. There are elements of her professional path that mimic future steps in my professional path. It is nice asking advice of someone who has recently experienced what I am now experiencing. This does not mean I always take her advice - but it is certainly nice having context from someone who has an intimate understanding of what I am experiencing. To be honest, I’ve always considered her a mentor, but thought it was important that she also have the choice to have me as a mentee.
I think formalizing the relationship is key and often overlooked. I think there are those that we think of as mentors, but perhaps have not taken the time to formalize this relationship. Asking AMK opened up a number of conversations regarding goals and expectations that we otherwise would not have had and it certainly has made our relationship more fruitful.
What does your relationship look like on a day-to-day basis?
AMK: This was one of the first questions I asked Matt when we were talking about formalizing our relationship. I wanted to understand what he wanted from me in terms of time and in what way—phone, Skype, etc.--he preferred to communicate. We connect in some way—phone, text, email a few times per week.
In a simple phrase—we help each other to achieve our goals. Matt is currently building a website for my speaking and consulting endeavors and I have written articles for his blog and assisted with his job search preparation. We are mindful of how our skills can push each other to move forward.
Consider this text exchange from last week:
Matt: The Student Affairs Feature 2.0 is going live tomorrow.
AMK: It’s January 1st. Most people are hungover this morning. You are publishing a book today. You should be so proud of your labor of love. You are remarkable!
Matt: You have to say that.
AMK: I surely don’t have to say that. It’s just the truth.
Matt: Minority opinion, I’m sure, but thanks regardless.
AMK: Stop cutting yourself down—you need to quit that before you start in your new role. You are teaching people how to treat you. Choose your words carefully.
Matt: Fair enough. I’m *freaking awesome!
*He didn’t really say freaking, but this is a family show.
AMK: Matt recently received a promotion and so we have been chatting about how he will be perceived differently. We are working on how he can still be his authentically, humble self while owning all of his success.
Matt: I think it’s rare if a day or two goes by in which we don’t connect in some way (via email, text, or occasionally Twitter). Often, I read something that gets me thinking and I use her as a sounding board before I jump on it. Some days, it’s telling her that her latest Facebook post was a little ridiculous, other days it’s asking for career advice.
What I appreciate about AMK is she’s always asking the next question. For example, I’ll tell her I have an upcoming interview. I think most would ask if I feel prepared. AMK asks when are we going to schedule a practice interview. There is a higher level of investment. I think she sees my successes as our successes. Not in a narcissistic way, but rather because she is so invested in my success that she can’t help but take it a little personally when I fail or take some ownership when I succeed.
I think there is this perception that because I’m the "mentee" and she’s the "mentor" that I’m always asking for advice and she’s always the one giving advice. But, I was surprised how often those roles are reversed. In a way, it makes sense. Any other type of relationship would be selfish, no? Certainly, I tend to ask advice of her more than she asks of me, but there are a number of times when I receive a text or an email (we both despise voice messages) where she wants me to review a blog post or get my perspective on something.
What do you consider to be your role/responsibilities in this relationship?
AMK: Sounding board, gentle pusher, sometimes not-so-gentle pusher, advocate, cheerleader, and coach—all depending on the day and the circumstance.
Matt: Being open-minded to growth and challenges. Communicating what is going on in my professional life. I certainly feel an obligation to follow-up on the things she asks of me. If I'm asking her for assistance and she requires something of me to fulfill my request, it finds itself high on the priority list. It's interesting. Because of the personal relationship we have, one might think that it would be easier to put these things off - that she would be more understanding - but in many ways I feel as obligated to her as my supervisor.
What do you ask of each other?
AMK: I ask for Matt to think big and dream bigger. I ask for follow-through 100% of the time. That may seem very basic but it isn’t. We also make a good team because we have similar thoughts on the importance of contributing to the advancement of the field. If he is critical about something in Student Affairs I will ask him to consider how he can contribute to making it better in his small corner of the world.
Matt: Goodness. Everything? Certainly most of our conversations are profession-based. But, I think we are both personally and professionally invested in each other. I ask for a lot of advice. I ask for her to share her experience. I ask to be challenged. In fact, I knew AMK would challenge me to do things that few others would - certainly more than I would challenge myself. Ultimately, this is what made AMK most compelling as a mentor.
What do you expect from each other?
AMK: I expect him to stretch himself professionally all the time. I see a part of my role as helping him to increase his professional confidence. I expect that he continues to get what he needs from our relationship and if he isn’t, then we need to honestly talk about it. I expect that he feels comfortable to challenge me and that he feels that I am a safe place to confide his professional struggles and aspirations.
Matt: Investment. Asking someone to be a mentor is a lot to ask. This is one reason why I think it's important that these relationships are formalized. If you fail to do so, expecting the level of investment that I expect from AMK would likely lead to disappointment. There is a level of sacrifice that we expect of each other. We both know it necessary for our relationship to meet it's fullest potential. If you are not willing to sacrifice for the other person, you relationship will be limited.
What does a good mentorship relationship require?
AMK: Consistency, honesty and a real commitment to their goals and future aspirations.
Matt: Honesty. Investment. Consistency.
How do you give each other feedback?
AMK: Honestly and right away. No holds barred. That works for us. He tells me that I need to take more risks with my blog posts. I tell him he needs to own his success instead of giving away all of the credit every time. We consider the feedback and decide what, if any, changes we might make. But we have a high level of respect for each other even when we disagree.
Like the time I told him he was absolutely crazy for breaking up with his girlfriend. They are now married.
Matt: We sugarcoat nothing. Neither of us is worried about how the other perceives us. There's not a lot of saving face. When we have something to tell the other, we say it, and deal with it. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this.
How do you prioritize your relationship?
AMK: If I have ten text messages or calls that I need to get back to, he will always be one of the first I respond to. I feel a sense of obligation to make sure I can support him. I also recognize that Matt needs a diversity of people who will help him professionally and I am only one part of his support network. As time goes on, Matt may decide that he no longer needs me in this capacity and that is absolutely fine. But for now I am really enjoying seeing his star rise.
Matt: When something exciting happens the first person I call is my partner. The next is AMK. I ask a lot of her - I recognize this. She makes sacrifices in order to serve as my mentor. In turn, I need to make the same sacrifices. Recently, she asked me to help her with a project. I didn't think of it as a favor. I thought of it as an obligation. In turn, I think she feels the same obligation when I ask things of her.
We have both benefited tremendously from this relationship because we are personally connected and professionally invested in each other. It works for us. Matt will still keep wearing his Nebraska hat and AMK will still post some things on Facebook that might cause Matt to shake his head. But we are fierce supporters of each other and felt compelled to write this blog post in the hopes that it might help you to understand how we have chosen to operationalize a relationship that helps us to move towards becoming better versions of ourselves.
Each mentoring situation looks differently—how have you operationalized your relationship?