I was overwhelmed by the response to my October column on internships. It’s a topic that resonated with readers for varying reasons – whether they recalled fond memories of their own internship or saw the impact of internship programs, formal or informal, at their own organization. I want to continue in a similar vein this month by taking the logical jump from internships to mentoring. While I did include mentoring in the conversation last month, I didn’t really dissect it until someone recently asked me if I had a mentor in my early career.
It took me a split second to acknowledge one of my earliest mentors, Myra Lenard. Long deceased, Myra’s leadership example is very much alive in guiding my actions to this day. I was in my late teens and early twenties when I first worked with Myra. I was an intern of sorts for the Polish American Congress and Myra, a Polish immigrant like I am, was the Executive Director of the Washington, D.C. office of the Polish American Congress. I didn’t live in D.C. but flew in as part of the local grass roots activities I was spearheading in Detroit’s Polish community for a national presidential campaign.
It didn’t happen overnight, but we developed a trust so critical between mentor and mentee. Myra had a way of coaxing information from me in a way we refer to as motivational interviewing – all to help me become my best self. She certainly saved me from embarrassing myself on numerous occasions. Once, when I told the late Dan Rostenkowski, a prominent Polish-American lawmaker from Chicago who rose to become chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, that he couldn’t join a particular meeting because he wasn’t on the list of attendees, Myra immediately set me straight.
If I had to condense all that I learned from Myra, I’d offer the following:
· Don’t talk to people – talk with them. No one is below you.
· You alone are responsible for your attitude – and your future depends on being a positive person.
· Be unselfish and kind. Be gracious.
· Don’t make rash decisions. (Like telling a high-ranking official he can’t attend a meeting.) Consider the circumstances as to when the rules might not apply.
· When experiencing success, don’t take credit – give it to those who helped make the successful outcome possible.
· Surround yourself with good decision makers and take direction from them; but don’t let them hold you back from making your own informed decisions. (This is excellent advice for up-and- comers in healthcare, where there truly are many smart and outstanding leaders. Being smart doesn’t guarantee always being right, though.)
· Self-educate by reading and research. Don’t depend on others to teach you or summarize all you need to know.
I don’t claim to have mastered everything that Myra taught me, but what a wonderful gift she gave me! The healthcare profession doesn’t have a special market on mentoring, although certainly the physician/resident relationship presents one of the highest forms of mentoring in terms of the ability to impact the lives of others in their care. But many in the healthcare community work in behemoth health systems where those building a career, regardless of their field, are eager to make their work world smaller and more meaningful through relationships like mentoring. At the other end of the spectrum,
there is also a need for mentoring in small independent physician practices, mental health clinics and other community-based care organizations where each person’s role is critical to a harmonious, well-run team focused on patients or healthcare consumers’ needs. Don’t think you can’t be a mentor because of your work environment or remote or hybrid status. If you look around – even virtually – you’ll find someone just waiting to receive your gift of mentoring. Happy Thanksgiving!