A few weekends ago, I found myself in Charlotte, North Carolina, gearing up for an Eric Church concert with friends. With Friday night plans up in the air, I decided to seize the moment and extend a last-minute, out for drinks invitation to Carmen, a woman I mentored at my previous company. We were paired up through a DE&I mentoring program that brought senior-level executives together to coach and mentor high-potential employees, and Carmen was someone the company was eager to retain. I live in Philadelphia and had only met Carmen virtually, so I was thrilled at the chance to finally connect in person.
We met at an upscale restaurant in the South End, where three hours quickly slipped away in conversation. We delved into work, shared our frustrations and aspirations, and opened up about our surprisingly similar childhoods and the lasting impacts they’ve had on us as adults. As the evening came to a close, I was vividly reminded of why I had volunteered for the mentoring program in the first place.
While some leaders view mentoring as a duty, or even a burden, that accompanies seniority, I have always seen it as an opportunity to reach back and help set others up for success, while expanding my own network, and hopefully, forming a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship. Carmen reminded me of the genuine rewards that mentors reap from their investments―sometimes even more than their mentees receive!
Years ago, in one of our early discussions, Carmen and I broke the ice by playing a few rounds of “would you rather.” One memorable question posed the choice between never waiting in a grocery checkout line or never waiting at a red light. Expecting a quick response, I shared my disdain for traffic and my frustration when consecutive red lights seemed to conspire against me. Carmen, however, grappled with the dilemma. She recounted meeting cherished friends during long grocery lines, and shared her habit of spreading smiles and waves at fellow drivers during red light pauses, turning around negative moods in the process. Her answer challenged my assumptions and broadened my perspective.
While Carmen undoubtedly gleaned insights from our conversation, I unexpectedly found myself also absorbing valuable new perspectives, and receiving a gentle nudge to embrace opportunities in life’s small moments. It was a revelation that transformed Carmen and me from a mere pairing in a workplace program into destined connections bound by more than just names.
Mentoring isn’t just a one-way street―it’s a dynamic exchange that can transform both mentor and mentee. My recent meet-up with Carmen reinforced the genuine rewards mentors gain from such relationships. As we navigated through memories and revelations, it reminded me that mentoring goes beyond duty; it’s about shared growth and unexpected perspectives. When approached with a commitment to open communication, defined goals, and the expectation of mutual respect and learning, we, as leaders, can help create a mentoring experience that transcends workplace programs and becomes a fulfilling adventure of shared insights and personal growth.
About the Author
Elena French: Marketing, Communications and Brand Expert
Elena French is an award-winning marketing and communications leader with close to 30 years of experience leading high-performing teams and helping large companies differentiate themselves in the highly-competitive telecommunications, pharmaceutical and financial services industries.
Most recently, Elena served as head of corporate marketing and brand strategy for Lincoln Financial Group, where she oversaw the company’s corporate advertising, brand, consumer insights, communications, social media and corporate sponsorships initiatives, including the company’s naming rights sponsorship of the Philadelphia Eagles’ home stadium, Lincoln Financial Group. She is a passionate people leader, and in 2021, she was named a Profiles in Diversity Journal ® Woman Worth Watching in Leadership.