Either A Mentor or Mentee Be

Since I am in the mood for suggesting what people should be re-evaluating professionally over the summer, I figured I might talk about finding a mentor today.

I actually don’t know if I have ever written on the subject before. There was an article for arts and culture professionals I found useful on The Guardian website back in March.

I think one of most important steps to take when seeking a mentor is discarding the “those who can’t, teach/if you are so smart, why ain’t you rich” mentality. As the article points out, just because someone is successful, it doesn’t mean they can be an effective mentor. Inversely, just because someone hasn’t achieved commercial recognition for their work, doesn’t mean they can’t be an effective mentor.

You see the truth of this most clearly in sports. There are plenty of coaches who weren’t elite athletes, but who have studied coaching and their specific field of endeavor closely enough that they produce effective teams and individuals.

And like a good coach, a good mentor will challenge you to push yourself in new, possibly uncomfortable directions.

It occurred to me as I was reading the article that I am unaware of any program that trains arts professionals to be good mentors for people outside the workplace. If you are in the position of mentoring someone in your workplace, some of your time is going to be devoted to teaching them to navigate the organization and contribute to the organization’s success.

Mentoring someone with whom you don’t already work is a different situation altogether. In some respects, it is a purer form of mentorship because you don’t have to concern yourself with workplace politics or being evaluated on how effective your mentee becomes.

When I read the article’s suggestion to:

“Also ensure the meeting ends with clear and positive actions. Importantly, as a mentee, make sure you do your homework, otherwise when you meet again you’ll end up going over the same ground.

I wasn’t sure I would have thought to formally establish a course of action to take prior to the next meeting with someone I was mentoring. Granted, every mentor relationship is different and some mentees may require concrete goal setting where others do not.

In the context of a shared work environment, goal setting is obvious. As I thought about it, I was not sure I would have immediately considered it as one of an assortment of tools a mentor could use to guide someone with whom they did not work.

Mentoring in the arts and culture field seems like a worthwhile topic for conference sessions, magazine articles or blog posts. Does anyone know of anyone who has effectively tackled the subject?

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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