WorkLife with Adam Grant
The Three Big Myths of Mentoring
October 17, 2023
[00:00:00] Sophia Chang:
I was a fish out of water. I'm a Korean-Canadian French lit major who is now in the Big Apple.
[00:00:07] Adam Grant (VO):
In the mid-1980s, Sophia Chang moved from Vancouver to New York with one goal: to break into the music industry and make a name for herself. There was just one small problem: she didn’t have any relevant knowledge, experience, or family connections.
[00:00:24] Sophia Chang:
I absolutely suffered imposter syndrome, Adam.
[00:00:27] Adam Grant (VO):
So Sophia started going to concerts and introducing herself. Eventually, she got a job as an assistant to the tour managers for Paul Simon.
[00:00:35] Sophia Chang:
I am working for one of the largest artists at the time on the planet, and it was kind of daunting…
[00:00:44] Adam Grant (VO):
She had a foot in the door — but as a newcomer to the industry, she had no idea how to kick that door open. She needed guidance. And just as importantly, she needed someone to reassure her that she could make it in an industry where hardly anyone looked like her.
[00:00:59] Sophia Chang:
I'm not a man. I'm not Black. I'm not brown. And here I am in this burgeoning world.
[00:01:04] Adam Grant (VO):
Sophia needed a mentor. And the one she found ended up helping her become a trailblazer as the first Asian-American woman in hip-hop. She managed several members of the Wu-Tang Clan, A Tribe Called Quest, and Q-Tip—who calls her “an industry legend.”
[00:01:20] Sophia Chang:
And what I'll say, Adam, is that knowledge and experience do not a mentor make, right? … I have met many, many people, as Ghostface Killa would say, “Been a lot of places, seen a lot of faces.” Um, and I've met many people who were incredibly, incredibly accomplished. And I wouldn't necessarily ask them to be my mentors. It's, it's really about character, a certain kind of character.
[00:01:43] Adam Grant (VO):
No matter what field you’re in, mentoring is critical to career growth and personal growth. But finding the right mentor–and being an effective mentor–isn’t as simple as it seems. If we want to develop relationships that develop people, we need to rethink our assumptions about mentoring.
I’m Adam Grant, and this is WorkLife, my podcast with the TED Audio Collective. I’m an organizational psychologist. I study how to make work not suck. In this show, we explore how to unlock the potential in people and workplaces. Today: Mentoring, and how to build relationships that fuel growth.
[00:02:33] Belle Ragins:
Mentors come at a time in your life when you need them. It's really a kind of a remarkable relationship.
[00:02:40] Adam Grant (VO):
Belle Rose Ragins is an organizational psychologist at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee–and a prominent expert on mentoring.
[00:02:48] Belle Ragins:
They come when you're at a career junctures. Do I take this job? Do I not take this job? Y’know. What am I doing with my life? What am I doing with my career? And it's that juncture that mentors can have the most profound impact on our lives.
[00:03:01] Adam Grant (VO):
Mentors matter for both work and life. Research reveals that even just having a mentor is enough to predict higher job performance, career success, and satisfaction.
And having a strong relationship with a mentor is a key factor in promotions, raises, and happiness. Belle knows from experience.
[00:03:22] Belle Ragins:
I, you know, came from a working-class family. I put myself through college.I wasn't supposed to go to college. I wasn't supposed to go. And I, so I got my bachelor's and then I got my MSW. And then, I knew I wanted a PhD, but I had no idea how to get it. I didn't have family members who could help guide me, which is something that happens with respect to working-class families.
[00:03:43] Adam Grant:
Have you had a best mentoring experience?
[00:03:45] Belle Ragins:
My decision to pursue a PhD was, was, was driven by a relationship that I had with my supervisor. Even the steps in terms of applying. And she saw my potential and she said, “Belle, you just have to do it and let me help you through this.” And you know, gave me the self-efficacy, gave me the confidence I needed to take that step to apply to graduate school.
[00:04:12] Adam Grant (VO):
Belle benefited from an ideal mentoring relationship. But mentoring is an art form. And it doesn’t always go as planned.
Sometimes mentors neglect their mentees; other times, they end up controlling them. And in certain cases, it’s mentees who end up becoming manipulative or entitled.
Research suggests that having a bad mentoring relationship can be even worse than not getting mentored at all.
To build better mentoring relationships, we need to bust three myths.
The first one is for the mentee. The myth is that the best mentor to go after is the biggest superstar.
[00:04:49] Belle Ragins:
What we see is that people who are really high performers often times have difficulty understanding how others who are struggling with this, why they're struggling and how they're struggling and trying to understand that. So that was a kind of a paradox that became kind of clear to us.
[00:05:06] Adam Grant (VO):
Superstars often have a hard time explaining their tacit knowledge–the implicit insights they’ve gained through experience. If they happen to have a natural talent for a skill, they may not even know how to unpack it. And if they’ve come a long way since they were in your shoes, they may have forgotten the basics.
Say you want to learn entry-level coding. A seasoned software engineer might not be the best candidate to teach you. Or if you’re looking to improve your story structure skills, an executive editor might struggle to articulate something that’s become second nature.
Psychologists find that as people gain knowledge and skills, they often lose the ability to communicate their knowledge and skills. It can be tough for an expert to relate to a novice.
So the ideal mentor is not necessarily the highest achiever. What you’re looking for is the most dedicated teacher. Someone who’s committed to helping others grow.
[00:06:01] Belle Ragins:
One of the most important characteristics of an effective mentor is that they don't have a big ego. It's focusing on the protégé's needs.
[00:06:10] Adam Grant (VO):
For the mentor, that means being willing to invest the time and energy to understand the mentee.
[00:06:16] Belle Ragins:
Perspective-taking and empathy are critical mentoring skills. Empathy that you are feeling their pain, and perspective-taking that you see their point. So really thinking not what you would do if you were them, but from their perspective: what is, what is the world like? What, what are the challenges that they are facing? So in many ways, you're using some diagnostic skills to kind of think about what are their strengths and what are their weaknesses. What do they need? And this is something that, that you develop this information through conversations with them. Okay, so you’re not just projecting sitting in your own chair, you know? You know, to really just ask them and to have those kinds of conversations.
[00:06:58] Adam Grant (VO):
That brings us to the second myth. A myth for the mentor: That it’s their job to always provide direction.
[00:07:04] Belle Ragins:
I call it the Yoda model of mentoring. So you've got Yoda, who's sitting on his little power pedestal, telling Luke all the advice. And, you know, from a mentor’s perspective, a lot of relationships are like that. They use the student-teacher model, which assumes that the protégé is an empty vessel that you fill up with knowledge.
[00:07:28] Adam Grant (VO):
The purpose of seeking advice from a mentor is not to get answers. It's to gain perspective. Mentors don’t necessarily know what’s best for you.
[00:07:38] Belle Ragins:
I mean, a protégé may come to you with a problem, and you may clearly see this is what this person needs to do. And you, the easiest thing for you to do is to jump in there and tell them what to do.
But that's not the best way to approach it. Because the best way to approach it is to get them to really think about it on their own. So the best mentoring involves asking questions. Well, tell me what you've thought about. Tell me what, what things you think, avenues you might want to take. Okay. So why this avenue versus that avenue? What are some of your fears? Really asking the questions that get them to kind of think about what they're doing and why.
[00:08:18] Adam Grant (VO):
Instead of just offering lessons from their experience, great mentors help you crystallize lessons from your experience.
They’re not there to guide you down their path—they show up to help you identify your path. And they don’t just support you—they challenge you, too.
[00:08:34] Belle Ragins:
We all have areas that need improvement, every single one of us. And in a good mentoring relationship, the relationship is solid enough, the trust is there, and the protégé is open to hearing that kind of feedback.
[00:08:49] Adam Grant (VO):
A big part of a healthy mentoring relationship is being willing to give and receive tough love. And that goes both ways. Which takes us to the third myth.
[00:08:59] Belle Ragins:
And the last myth is that it's a one-way relationship, that only the protégé gets the benefits.
[00:09:06] Adam Grant (VO):
That’s how many people think of mentoring. The mentor is giving time and expertise to the mentee–someone younger and less experienced. The benefits to the mentee come at a cost to the mentor.
This one-way street model can lead to emotional distance between the mentor and mentee. It feels like a transaction instead of a relationship.
And it can even lead to dysfunctional interactions, where the mentee is expected to be a loyal soldier to the mentor.
[00:09:34] Belle Ragins:
The myth is that only the protégé benefits from the relationship and that the mentor is some kind of savior. The reality is, is that mentors get a deep sense of fulfillment and joy from helping and developing this diamond in this rough and the protégé. They may see the protégé as a younger version of themselves, they get the sense of giving back, which is really, as you know, very, very fulfilling. So it's really very much a mutual relationship.
[00:10:04] Adam Grant (VO):
But mentoring shouldn’t just be a source of joy and meaning – it should also be an avenue for growth for the mentor.
[00:10:10] Belle Ragins:
And the highest quality relationships really do involve the mentor stepping down from the pedestal of power, stepping down from that perspective that they're the only ones who could give the information to the protégé, that they can't learn anything from the protégé.
[00:10:28] Adam Grant (VO):
Great mentors are learners as well as teachers. A series of recent studies showed that when mentors value insights from below, they're more engaged and effective—and their mentees are more successful.
Since mentees are comparatively inexperienced, they often don’t make the assumptions that mentors take for granted. This can open up fresh perspectives for mentors. For example, mentees may help them see opportunities for improving their leadership skills or generate new ideas for solving customer problems.
So mentoring is not a transfer of wisdom from one to another. It's a relationship where two people grow together.
[00:11:06] Belle Ragins:
It's about vulnerability in the relationship. It's about the mentor being able to say, “I am learning. I am not the source of all knowledge and all information.” They are willing to share their own weaknesses and their own struggles because how can the mentor expect the protégé, to share his or her, their experiences of weakness, of insecurity, of fear, unless they feel safe in the relationship?
[00:11:35] Adam Grant (VO):
That’s the kind of mentoring relationship that Sophia Chang needed to make it in the music industry.
*[00:11:40] Michael Ostin: *
I obviously recognized how smart and talented she was.
[00:11:45] Adam Grant (VO):
This is Michael Ostin. When Sophia met him, she was early in her music career, working for the tour manager for Paul Simon. And Paul Simon was signed to Warner Brothers, where Michael worked.
[00:11:56] Michael Ostin:
We had a number of exchanges, and we just, we just hit it off. I mean, it was, there was just a natural connection, a natural bond.
[00:12:04] Adam Grant (VO):
Michael was a senior executive at the time. He’d played a role in signing and recording some of the biggest names in music, from Prince to Green Day to Madonna. He’s the one who found the song Like A Virgin for her. Sophia sought him out for the right reasons. She wasn’t looking for a superstar; she was hoping to learn from a passionate teacher.
She didn’t gravitate toward Michael based on his accomplishments or connections. Sophia was drawn to the enthusiasm he exuded for sharing his knowledge.
[00:12:34] Sophia Chang:
I don't even think I knew what Michael's title was at the time. And just the way that Michael talked about music and how curious, Michael, you were about different kinds of music was incredible to me. And what I'll say, Adam, is that knowledge and experience do not a mentor make, right? Many of us, after years and decades of work, we have knowledge and experience. Of course we do. There's just an aggregate of what we, what we store in our minds. But being a mentor takes a unique blend of magnanimity and patience and grace.
[00:13:10] Adam Grant (VO):
Before long, Michael was mentoring Sophia. Michael saw Sophia grow so much that when a senior vice president position opened up at Universal Music, he recommended her for the job.
[00:13:21] Sophia Chang:
I did not, was not qualified for the job. I literally had never done the job before. And I sat there and I told the people that hired me, I said, “You do realize. I've never done this before.”
[00:13:33] Adam Grant (VO):
Michael had no doubts about her abilities. He knew she would be highly competent in the position and made sure she knew it.
[00:13:40] Sophia Chang:
And it took voices like Michael's to basically say, “You can do it and you deserve the job.”
[00:13:47] Adam Grant (VO):
When prepping for the interview, she wasn’t sure whether to mention her kids. Michael guided her in the right direction.
[00:13:53] Sophia Chang:
I was nervous because I hadn't had a job interview since I'd had children, Adam, and I said, “What should I tell them about my kids?” And he said, “You tell them upfront. So don't even hesitate.” And sure enough, and in the interview, I said, “I want to be clear about this. I have small children. And I need to get home to them. I need to be out the door at 6:30.” And they were like, “That's completely fine.” So Michael also taught me just to say it up front.
[00:14:19] Adam Grant (VO):
Sophia got the gig. Michael was able to give direction because he knew Sophia well–and knew the culture at Universal well, too.
But most of the time, he wasn’t telling Sophia which option to choose–he was helping her expand her options and challenge her assumptions.
[00:14:35] Michael Ostin:
And it just took a little encouragement to get her to focus her and get her to point her in a direction. And once you do that, she's a heat-seeking missile.
[00:14:44] Adam Grant (VO):
And Michael was not shy about helping her with some course corrections when needed.
[00:14:49] Michael Ostin:
If I could give her constructive criticism or if I could give her something that was gonna make her stronger or, or, or help whatever situation we were in, I would not hold back.
[00:15:01] Adam Grant:
Sophia, it looked like you, you had a vivid memory of, of some tough love.
[00:15:05] Sophia Chang:
I remember calling Michael. And I just had all of these ideas, like I was just on fire. I had so many ideas and I was so excited. And Michael, like he always does, just patiently waited it out And at the end of it, he was like, “You know, Soph, that's great. But you can't boil the ocean. You can be like a bull in a China shop.”
And honestly, coming from anybody else, I might've taken umbrage at that. But that's the thing about a great mentee-mentor relationship is thatthere is so much trust involved. It’s like, as the mentee who is sometimes receiving these, these gentle admonitions, I have to trust implicitly that Michael–and I do, I've never questioned it–that Michael is saying things to me for my benefit.
[00:15:57] Adam Grant (VO):
Sophia has since moved on from working at Universal Music and explored other ventures. She’s written a book and is even developing a TV show. But now, for financial reasons, she’s thinking about dipping her toe back into the corporate world.
[00:16:11] Sophia Chang:
So Michael, I guess I'd like to ask you, what is the landscape like now for somebody like me who's been kind of out of it for a minute? What do you think that's going to look like for me to get back in it?
[00:16:24] Michael Ostin:
It's, it’s going to be challenging. But look, you have a unique skill set. You have experience, and I don't think you should just limit yourself to the music business because I think that your skills and, and your knowledge is much broader than that.
[00:16:42] Sophia Chang:
So I agree with you, and I do believe that my skill set can translate across any industry, but how do you, do you think I would have the constitution to work at a place that was really corporate and that wasn't creative? I've thought about this a lot.
[00:16:58] Michael Ostin:
Probably not. I mean, I think you could do it, but I don't think you'd be happy.
[00:17:02] Sophia Chang:
I know! That’s my concern!
[00:17:05] Michael Ostin:
That, to me, is the critical piece, ‘cause you're so passionate, and because what, what you've exuded throughout your life, and what I've witnessed is that you wear that on your sleeve, and that's infectious. And if you go to a place that's that sterile and that corporate, I don't think that you, you're going to be happy and I don't think that you're going to be able to, to be fulfilled.
[00:17:29] Adam Grant (VO):
Notice the empathy that Michael expressed. He started by acknowledging “it’s going to be challenging” and affirming her unique skill set.
Then he took her perspective– the corporate world may have suited him well, but it wasn’t necessarily an ideal match for her. He didn’t push his values–he encouraged Sophia to focus on her values. It’s been a two-way street ever since. As Michael helped Sophia navigate career dilemmas, he found himself learning from her as well.
[00:18:00] Michael Ostin:
You know, there's no doubt. I mean, it was, it was mutually beneficial to both of us, I have to say. I learned and benefited from it as well. Just the way she relates to people. Seeing that and, and the way that she's so consistent in terms of her, um, connecting with people and connecting people. Um, that, that was really, really valuable for me.
[00:18:27] Adam Grant (VO):
Michael hasn’t just learned from Sophia. He’s also benefited from her connections.
[00:18:32] Michael Ostin:
Also, she introduced me to a lot of really interesting people. S-some of who I'm still today in business with. Um, so I mean she introduced me to Q-Tip, for instance, of A Tribe Called Quest, and we became very, very close friends. She introduced me to the members of the Wu Tang Clan.
[00:18:51] Sophia Chang:
So Q-Tip, I think I introduced Michael to Q-Tip in ‘89. And they stayed in touch. They had a relationship completely independent of me, as they should. And they became very good friends and Q-Tip adores and loves and respects Michael. And in 2013, 2012, 2013, Q-Tip finally popped the. Inevitable question, which is: Michael, will you manage me? Will you make me the happiest artist on the planet! Will you manage me? He did it on a jumbotron. Um, and so Michael said, I will, but I have a caveat. I get to bring Sophia with me. No one's ever done that for me.
[00:19:30] Adam Grant (VO):
Michael and Sophia have spent 36 years nurturing this bond. Not everyone is lucky enough to have such strong mentoring relationships… and even though lots of workplaces try to make them happen, very few succeed.
So what can we do to build better mentoring programs? More on that, after the break.
[00:19:48] Adam Grant (VO):
About 90%of Fortune 500 companies offer mentoring programs. The goal is to give everyone equal access to development opportunities. Organizations assign people to mentors in the hopes of promoting career development, happiness, and retention. All of which mentoring programs can enhance.
But the evidence shows that on average, formal mentoring relationships end up being less effective than informal relationships that arise naturally.
Mentoring programs tend to be poorly structured and managed. Which is why they often get a bad rap. And when a mentoring program is mishandled, it can be counterproductive.
But as Belle Ragins notes, when designed well, formal programs play an important role in people’s development. And can even build bridges that would otherwise never exist.
[00:20:52] Belle Ragins:
The formal mentoring is not the ugly stepsister of informal mentoring.
[00:20:57] Adam Grant:
I think I might have been too harsh on formal mentoring programs based on what I'm hearing here.
[00:21:02] Belle Ragins:
One of the things that’s really a benefit about these types of relationships is that it levels the playing field, and it allows organizations to match up individuals who have different identities and social identity groups so that they can learn from each other.
[00:21:18] Adam Grant (VO):
A common challenge with formal mentoring programs is selecting mentors. Sometimes mentors are required to participate or chosen at random. Other times, they end up being too busy or lacking the specific knowledge for the role. In an effective program, the mentor is there for the right reasons.
[00:21:37] Belle Ragins:
You don't want a mentor who is volunteering for the program because they think it'll give them brownie points with their supervisors, or that it'll help their own career path, or that it'll be a good reflection on themselves.
So picking good mentors is key. And making sure that you do an orientation where you go through what mentoring relationships are, what they're not. When I do these orientations, I typically have folks brainstorm what are the characteristics of an effective mentor and what are the characteristics of an effective protégé, and, and you have the group brainstorm all of these different characteristics.
And then, and then you match them. And then you have a, a program coordinator who checks in with them. And then you make sure that you do evaluations. So you can really kind of assess the effectiveness of the relationship, as well as to get qualitative feedback on what worked and what didn't.
[00:22:28] Adam Grant (VO):
Formal and informal mentoring aren’t mutually exclusive. When we think of having a mentor, we often think of having a one-and-only. But in fact, research suggests that the more, the merrier. You don’t have to rely on one person for everything… and having multiple mentors allows you to get access to different perspectives.
[00:22:47] Belle Ragins:
There's no mentoring police. No one's going to knock on your door and tell you to give back your mentor. So you might have one mentor in your organization. You might have another mentor in your professional association. You might have a peer mentor that you connect with for different types of things that you need in your life.
[00:23:04] Adam Grant (VO):
One of the most creative ways to structure a formal mentoring program involves turning the standard model upside-down.
[00:23:10] Patrice Gordon:
There were very few, um, Black females within the senior leadership group, and I was the one, I think, who has demonstrated the courage, I suppose, to really take an interest to leave a legacy within the organization.
[00:23:24] Adam Grant (VO):
Meet Patrice Gordon. At the time, she was working for Virgin Atlantic as the head of commercial finance. And the CEO, Craig Kreiger, came to her with an unusual invitation.
[00:23:34] Patrice Gordon:
He invited me to start a reverse mentoring relationship with him. In the airline sector, you see really senior individuals being mentored by frontline crew.
[00:23:45] Adam Grant:
It seems kind of backward. Like… Mentoring is supposed to go top down, not bottom up. It's supposed to be the senior person guiding the junior person, not the opposite.
[00:23:55] Patrice Gordon:
The reason why I love reverse mentoring as a tool is because it allows the leader to sit face to face with a difference, a difference that they are not used to having that intimate relationship with. So, the leader needs to be in a position where they are, you know, humble enough to be able to say that they're going to learn from that experience.
[00:24:13] Adam Grant (VO):
Reverse mentoring is designed for employees to mentor leaders above them in the hierarchy.
[00:24:18] Patrice Gordon:
And so whilst I'd spoken to Craig from a work perspective, he didn't really know me from a personal perspective. My lived experience as a Black female growing–born in Jamaica, growing up in London and my career trajectory and how perhaps my ethnicity and my gender may have or not impacted my career.
[00:24:36] Adam Grant:
So, how did you feel when you were first asked by Craig to mentor him?
[00:24:41] Patrice Gordon:
I felt really encouraged that Craig wanted to have and understand my viewpoint and opinion. And I was a little bit nervous about how much do I actually share.
[00:24:51] Adam Grant (VO):
It’s not every day that a CEO approaches a more junior employee and asks for mentoring. But Patrice knew she could add value. They started meeting monthly.
[00:25:01] Patrice Gordon:
And the first one was a general, um, kind of outside of the office, having lunch, really talking about the person as opposed to what you did, so who you are versus what you do. So really at the start disarming both of us really and putting us in a space which was non-work related, and really just talking about who we were, our values, and what that meant.
[00:25:23] Adam Grant (VO):
Reverse mentoring was popularized by Jack Welch in the late 90s. He realized that senior leaders at GE needed to understand the Internet, so he started inviting junior employees to teach them. But throughout the years, reverse mentoring has evolved beyond crossing the digital divide. Patrice has found that it’s a vehicle for inclusion across all kinds of divides.
[00:25:45] Patrice Gordon:
It also then allows that individual to be seen and be heard. As we've moved through society, and we've had you know, differences, more differences that have been allowed to come to the forefront within the workplace, so for example, ethnicity, sexuality, veteran status, disability. In the face of all of the differences that we have within the workplace, how can we use it as a tool to build bridges and build belonging and break down those barriers?
He recognized there was a big gap between the knowledge and understanding at the senior leadership team table versus the developments that were coming down the path. And he wanted to make sure that he understood what that looked like so that they could develop a competitive advantage
So he said, “Actually, I have a blind spot, and I'm aware of it. I have no Black women in my inner circle, I have no Black women in my leadership circle.”
[00:26:32] Adam Grant (VO):
But Craig wasn’t content to limit reverse mentoring to himself. He wanted to scale it so all the leaders at Virgin Atlantic could benefit from it.
[00:26:41] Patrice Gordon:
Then as we moved through the relationship, it was really around, “Okay, now that’s experience outside. Now, internally, what can we do? What… How can we drive a bit more change?” And from that, we did a pilot mentoring program. So he brought more of his execs into the fold, and we then really asked them to look at places or look at their teams to figure out, actually, where do you feel like you have a gap? Where you don't have a member in your personal or in your work circle, where do you want to like look for that difference and understand it a bit more?
[00:27:12] Adam Grant (VO):
The reverse mentoring program has had a profound impact on Virgin Atlantic. It helped senior leaders recognize the need for an employee resource group for individuals with disabilities–and a network for cultural minorities as well.
[00:27:25] Patrice Gordon:
So allowing people who were in a visible minority to have more of a voice and feeling comfortable and confident in going forward with that. So regardless of how small that minority group was, there was a group that was able to represent them.
[00:27:40] Adam Grant (VO):
A challenge with reverse mentoring is an unequal power dynamic. It’s critical for senior leaders to make sure it doesn’t feel like a burden to junior employees and create the psychological safety for them to be candid. A starting point is for senior leaders to open up about organizational blind spots and personal shortcomings… and then seek advice.
[00:28:02] Patrice Gordon:
you're acknowledging that actually, I need to step away from my viewpoints and opinions.
[00:28:06] Adam Grant (VO):
Like traditional mentoring, reverse mentoring is a two-way street. The potential benefits aren’t limited to the organization and its senior leaders—it can also serve the junior people who do the mentoring.
The obvious advantage is that reverse mentoring allows them to build connections with people in power. But there’s another, less understood, upside. As junior people spend time mentoring, they become more capable.
This is a key theme of my new book, Hidden Potential. Research shows that teaching others can build our competence – and advising others can boost our confidence.
For example, in a series of experiments, psychologists find that giving guidance is more empowering than receiving it. Receiving guidance makes you feel like you’re dependent on others. Giving it shows you that you have something to offer.
Patrice got to experience that jolt directly through her involvement in reverse mentoring.
[00:29:01] Patrice Gordon:
It made me braver. It definitely gave me permission. I felt more seen from a individual and a personal perspective, and I knew that my voice carried weight. As one of the few women of color in the senior leadership group, lots of people were looking at me and looking to me for as a role model. When you have that position, like, who am I not to speak up? Who am I not to use my voice?
But also my ability to impact and influence change became bigger. Because people also were coming to me and saying, “Patrice, what do you think we should do about this? Patrice, I think I've heard about this, can we do this?” And, so I can't keep quiet past that point.
[00:29:39] Adam Grant (VO):
But reverse mentoring is not a panacea. Making it work in an organization isn't as simple as just finding a mentor and pressing go. The senior leader needs to be able to invest the time– and commit to making changes based on what’s learned.
Patrice ended up studying reverse mentoring and writing a book on how to make it work.
[00:29:58] Patrice Gordon:
So through my research, what I found was that those organizations that didn't do it so well, they may have had great intentions, but they were using it as an opportunity to gather information as opposed to say that once we gather that information, this is what we're going to do with it.
It's not just a listening exercise. It’s not just, “Alright, okay. What do we need to do after this?” But it’s, uh, active. Uh, how do we take the knowledge that we now have to drive a better future, drive a better organization, drive a more inclusive organization?
And there is nothing like a one-on-one conversation with someone of difference where you are fully acknowledging that you do not have all of the answers but that you are willing to learn.
[00:30:39] Adam Grant (VO):
What if every workplace included reverse mentoring in their program for developing people? Early in the pandemic, Sophia Chang launched her own mentoring program. It’s called Unlock Her Potential—it offers free mentoring to women of color. She wanted to pay forward what she’s gained from Michael.
[00:30:59] Sophia Chang:
I mean, Unlock Your Potential wouldn't exist without Michael. Uh, I mean how profoundly I was impacted by Michael's mentorship and seeing what the benefits of that were absolutely was the kindling to the fire. Michael was literally probably the first person I called and asked if he would be a mentor and, and without hesitation, he said yes.
[00:31:23] Adam Grant (VO):
Their connection goes even deeper than I realized.
[00:31:27] Michael Ostin:
It developed not only into a strong professional relationship, but a very strong personal relationship. We, we became like family.
[00:31:37] Sophia Chang:
Family means everything to the Ostins. And that has really influenced how I have raised my children and how I see family and how I interact with my family and how I interact with other families.
But the core of it, absolutely the Ostins model family for me. And not just me, but for my mother, my brother, my children, right? I mean, my children have been raised by the Ostins. Right? And there's so much generosity and so much love. There's such a foundation of love and generosity and kindness.
[00:32:13] Adam Grant (VO):
At every step of the way, Michael’s mentoring played a pivotal role.
[00:32:17] Sophia Chang:
For the last 36 years, there is not a small or large personal or professional decision that Michael didn't have influence or impact in, whether explicitly or implicitly. My 91-year-old mother, every time I talk to her says, “How's Michael? You're so lucky to have him in your life.” Every time.
[00:32:37] Adam Grant (VO):
Generosity and love. That’s what a strong mentoring relationship is about. There’s no greater meaning and joy than helping others unlock their potential–and realizing our own potential along the way.
This episode was produced by Courtney Guarino. Our team includes Daphne Chen, Constanza Gallardo, Dan O'Donnell, Gretta Cohn, Grace Rubenstein, Daniella Balarezo, Banban Cheng, Michelle Quint, Alejandra Salazar and Roxanne Hai-Lash. Our fact-checker is Paul Durbin. Our show is mixed by Ben Chesneau. Original music by Hansdale Hsu and Allison Layton Brown.
For their research, gratitude to the following scholars and their coauthors: Lillian Eby and John Kammeyer-Mueller for meta-analyses of mentoring, Terri Scandura on dysfunctional mentoring, Dan Feldman on toxic protégés, Ting Zhang on mentors learning from mentees, Liza Barnes on becoming a right-hand partner, Monica Higgins on developmental networks, and Lauren Eskries-Winkler on advice-giving.
[00:33:51] Belle Ragins:
Did we have an accident here? We just adopted him
[00:34:01] Adam Grant:
[00:34:02] Belle Ragins:
Thank you. He came from a high kill shelter in Georgia.
[00:34:01] Adam Grant:
[00:34:02] Belle Ragins:
I need. I need, I need a dog vendor.