My experience with mentoring is somewhat different, in that I have not had an “official” mentor. To some degree, I am not disappointed to have missed this experience, if only because it has allowed me to develop an extended network of professional and personal advisors—a model adapted from my experience in the public sector.
For a time, I worked with former Cleveland Mayor Michael White, and I learned much from my City Hall tenure. The tradition of the mayor’s “kitchen cabinet,”— a group of unofficial advisers—struck a chord with me.
The mayor’s kitchen cabinet was populated with people without personal and professional agendas. They included industry leaders, business people, spiritual guides, educators and friends whom the mayor trusted would “tell it like it is.”
When I left the Mayor’s office to run a public agency, I adopted this idea of a kitchen cabinet, though I didn’t know I was doing it at the time. Before I even stepped into my new role, I called upon Jerry Sue Thornton, PhD, president of Cuyahoga Community College, and asked her, as a successful leader of a public entity, what I needed to know, keep my eye on, and champion in my new role. Jerry Sue was open and honest with me, immediately impacting my eventual success.
My kitchen cabinet has evolved with my career. Members today—all informal but all vitally important—include people of different ages and experience both inside and outside the company who give advice, share experiences and offer direction as my career and positions of responsibility change.
Today, when others seek my advice on matters such as career development, I share the story of my kitchen cabinet and encourage others to build their own group of trusted advisors.
If you would like to do the same, let me offer this advice. Include in your cabinet:
- A leader in your field or industry; a person with great knowledge of the subject matter
- Another professional much like yourself, reflecting your age, family dynamic, and value set, to discuss the ever-growing importance of managing work-life priorities
- Someone of the opposite gender, to offer a unique perspective on issues and ideas
- And someone younger, to offer fresh views on landscapes to which you’ve grown accustomed
Finally, remember that people will want to help you achieve your goals. It is your job to surround yourself with these people and let them help you succeed.