Mary on Mentoring

Mary Cummings of NASA shared her experiences in setting up “Mentor and Reverse Mentoring” Programs and how to have a successful mentor relationship.

There are many types of mentoring programs:
– Formal
– Informal
– Traditional/One-on-One
– Situational/Flash Mentoring
– Peer
– E-Mentoring
– Group/One-to-Many
– Reverse
Mary shared an instance of where a very senior leader committed to mentoring the new interns and new leader development program participants – felt like he could learn a lot from there…and became an unintentional reverse mentoring program.
Another leader started a “Technology for Dinosaurs” program so that the younger folks could educate him and others on the use of new tools.
Reverse mentoring is also useful for better understanding generational differences and providing fresh thinking for old challenges – challenging “the way it’s always been done” mentality.
Tips for reverse mentors: be patient, don’t assume and stick to the topic!
Great questions to ask in picking a mentor: Where have they been and where are they going? What’s their reputation – have they been a bridge builder or an organizational divider? Are they respected? How did they get to where they are? Do you want your career path to be similar to theirs?
Don’t necessarily assume that your mentor needs to be your “friend” or “friendly” – they just need to help you meet your goals. They also don’t need to be like you.
Be sure to educate yourself about generational differences in communication.
Stages of a mentoring relationship include:
1. Get acquainted
2. Set goals/expectations
3. Achieve goals
4. End the relationship
It’s even possible to have an over-zealous mentor – who tries to take charge of your career path!
How to be a smart mentee –
– Take initiative – ask!
– Actively listen
– Read between the lines
– Build a network
Mentoring gone bad –
– Neglect/fizzle out – “I’m too busy” most common
– Oil and water
– Manipulation
– Mentee dependence
– Jealousy – when mentee promoted
Mentoring done well –
– Confidentiality
– Trust
– Respect
– Realistic expectations
– Have more than one
– Recruit carefully
– Self reflection
– Structure where goals are set
Do you have tips or tricks or experiences that you can share of mentoring or being mentored?

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Jeremy Rissi

Mary pointed out something important for all rising leaders to remember: mentorship is a two-way relationship. Or if you prefer a Beatles lyric, remember the last words of Abbey Road.


Hi Scott,

Thanks for the link! Young Government Leaders (YGL) is putting together a Speed Mentoring event next month and the article touches on many of the elements we will be incorporating.

Heather Coleman

I enjoyed learning that it is OK to have more than one mentor. Different people can teach you different things. And to look outside your current network or comfort zone to find someone that might think differently than you…you could really learn and grow a lot from that mentoring relationship. This session gave me an “aha” moment and I’ve decided who I would like to reach out to about being my mentor.

Mary E Cummings

It is wonderful to hear that this information is helpful. Another piece to remember that I didn’t get to mention in the presentation is that studies show successful FORMAL (one-on-one) mentoring relationships only requre 1-2 hours a month and can last from 6-12 months. Flash mentoring (AKA situational mentoring) can be a one time deal or over a period of time and is usually an INFORMAL approach to mentoring.