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  • Gail Townsend

How to find, and become, a mentor

MeaningSphere's cultural and business advisor Dr. Gail Townsend has enjoyed a long career helping organizations build and sustain meaningful structures. In the second installment in a two-part series on mentorship, she shares tips for seeking out a mentor as well as mentoring others.

Woman getting coffee with another woman

In Part 1 of this piece, I reflected on a conversation with a significant mentor in my life, and shared the many lessons she taught me. You may be wondering, how did I find this wise woman anyway? And how can you seek out such a mentor in your own life? Now, in Part 2, I'll share how I met my own mentor and provide some tips for seeking out meaningful mentoring relationships.

My mentor in question had been a professor in one of the graduate classes I took. The course was titled Use of Self. It was a week-long class with overnight stays in a remote area that was conducive to reflection. In fact, many of the lessons I shared in Part 1 I learned from her. I connected with her easily and wanted to ask her if she would mentor me. However, I was not brave enough to ask her face to face. The following week, I emailed her to ask if she would consider helping me to develop. She immediately called me (no email!) and said, "I would love to." That was a happy and a life-altering day for me.

Seeking out a mentor

Where can you find such a person in your life? Here are some ideas: 1) a professor or teacher; 2) a person you admire; 3) a book author; 4) work colleagues; and 5) professional associations are some ways to seek out a mentor and begin to build this trusting, caring and meaningful relationship. We must be intentional in seeking our mentorship. As one of my mentors told me, "Gail, they will not just drop in through your skylight!"

Becoming a mentor

Confucius said "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life." To me, this is significant. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied flow theory and the optimal experience. He stated that we humans are the happiest when we are in a state of flow, which means that we are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter. As I think about work and life, I am always on the search for flow experiences so that the work I do does not seem like work at all. Ideally, I am in the midst of a flow experience where I am lost in the hours because I am enjoying what I am doing and time is not a consideration or distraction. I think a noble aspiration of mentoring others is to try to help individuals find their flow state. Work and life are a continuous flow state when individuals are loving what they do, they are contributing to their own growth, and they are contributing to society in a meaningful manner. Confucius and Csikszentmihalyi had early wisdom on this important life philosophy.

I would like to integrate mentoring, Confucius, and Czikszentmihalyi and us! Imagine the possibilities if we can be humble mentors as we help others become aware of the messages of Confucius and Czikszentmihalyi. For my part, I can only aspire to be as caring, insightful, and present as the wonderful people who took time from their lives to mentor me. I am forever appreciative beyond what words can convey for those who took time from their lives to help me develop. They were gardeners and I was their seedling. To have people care enough to invest in my development was an honor that I cherish.

Two men in business attire speaking

Consider these reflection questions as you journey though the opportunity to mentor:

1) What are some of the benefits of becoming a mentor? The mentor will gain increased clarity on their own capabilities as they relay insights, stories, and skills to the mentee. As a result, the mentor, too, is being mentored!

2) What are some of the benefits of seeking to become a mentee? One of the most significant benefits is that one has access to a knowledgeable individual with life experiences from which we can learn. Another benefit is that the mentoring relationship is a high trust, caring, and reciprocal relationship. It is a caring, fun, and rewarding relationship for both individuals.

3) How do you begin the relationship to help ensure a mutually beneficial relationship? From my experiences, it is important to establish a mutual set of expectations for the mentoring journey. Clarify, discuss, and then revisit these expectations along the journey to ensure that the mentoring relationship is still a viable one for both mentor and mentee.

4) Can you mentor yourself? I think this quotation provides an interesting idea for us to reflect upon: "Everything that happens to you is your teacher. The secret is to learn to sit at the feet of your own life and be taught by it" (Polly Berends, 1990). Take time for self-reflection.

So, let's all be mentors and help others evolve in a manner that is exciting, rewarding, and helpful to those with whom we choose to share our experiences, beliefs, and values. As all good mentors do, let the choice remain with the individual as we share from our learned experiences. I find the following five items to be very important to a rewarding mentoring relationship:

1) Set up periodic review dialogues to discuss how the relationship is going

2) Ask for feedback about how you give feedback.

3) Ask for feedback about how you receive feedback.

4) Discuss if the relationship is still important to pursue.

5) Check in to see if the relationship provides learning for both mentor and mentee.

Two female friends speaking in a cafe

Finally, let's be sure to thank those who help us further develop. They may not realize how much we appreciate them. On that note, a big public thank you to Sally, Edie, and Charlie. These wonderful humans taught me the meaning of unconditional love. As mentees in turn become mentors, our opportunity is to become a multiplier of what we received from others.

Berends, P. B. Coming to Life: Traveling the Spiritual Path in Everyday Life: San Francisco: Harper, 1990.


Dr. Gail Townsend holds a Masters degree in Organization Development from American University, a Masters degree in Human Development, and a Doctorate degree in Human and Organization Systems from Fielding Graduate University. She contributed as a global OD specialist, as a global HR business partner, and as an internal educator while employed at Gore. In addition to being a business and cultural advisor at MeaningSphere, she is also adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware and at Colorado State University, Global. Her areas of expertise are in leading change; leadership development; team effectiveness; diversity, equity and inclusion; individual development and coaching; communication skills, intentional use of self; and, as an educator in skill development in these areas. Most importantly, she is the mother of two wonderful daughters and grandmother to four beautiful grandchildren.

Image credit: Shutterstock


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