Mentoring is a Cycle, Not a Destination

By Michelle Gonzales-Bryant posted 05-25-2021 14:04


I hope you have been enjoying VHMA's monthly musings from past VHMA presidents to honor the association on its 40th Anniversary. The insights and history provided in these articles have added perspective and personality to the VHMA's development. Thank you to all who have taken the time to ponder the past and consider VHMA's future.

Past President Owen McCafferty emphasized the importance of mentoring within the association and stressed that when performed successfully, it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle...mentors groom mentees who become mentors to mentees and on and on. To illustrate his point, he highlighted the pivotal role Sue Pfeiff played in mentoring me. I started my career in the veterinary industry as a kennel attendant and am currently a Regional Operations Director for VCA, which operates more than 1,000 animal hospitals in the U.S. and Canada. On the way to this position, I have mentored many practice managers, technicians, customer service representatives, kennel attendants, and groomers.

Working on the relationship: a tale of two actors

There is some truth to the saying," Once a mentee, always a mentee." It's true because everyone---regardless of what they've achieved---can continue to learn. Mentor and mentee are not two distinct positions. Mentors often continue skills from their colleagues even as they are mentoring others. Mentees may rely on their mentors for advice, guidance, and support, but as they do, they are acquiring new skills and knowledge that positions them to share these talents with others who are coming into the profession. Companies that encourage and support these relationships by providing the time and resources provide their employees with a valuable resource.

And while mentors are often found within the work setting, connections can also be made through associations, at networking events, and at meetings.

I was extremely fortunate to have had a great mentor! Sue always carefully listened to my concerns and questions and provided well-informed responses---at times prompting me to reach my own conclusions---and getting me on the right track. Listening and patience are essential qualities.

I learned quite a bit from my relationship with Sue about how mentees can shape the relationship. When I mentored others, I became aware of how mentors can ensure that they are providing mentees with a constructive and beneficial mentoring experience.

Mentees can take action to ensure a productive outcome to the relationship. I advise the following:

  • As the junior person in the relationship, the mentee may believe it is the mentor's role to drive the relationship. But mentees are more aware of what their needs are and should strive to set goals.
  • Sometimes mentors are formally assigned, and other times they informally evolve. Be adaptable and open to various types of mentorship relationships.
  • Connecting with a mentor can sometimes be difficult given time constraints and workloads. Phone and online chats can be helpful, but try to make yourself available for in-person meetings to deepen the relationship.
  • Show courage! There may be times when the feedback from a mentor is not positive. Don't allow this to destroy the relationship. This is a learning experience. The information that is shared is essential to evolve.
  • Be specific about goals and communicate them to the mentor to make the most of the relationship.
  • View feedback as a gift---both positive and negative. There is no place for a big ego in a mentorship relationship. Mentees who believe their actions are beyond reproach are squandering the relationship.
  • The relationship should not be all take and no give. Mentees who get to know the mentor can add value to the relationship by demonstrating interest. Read an article written by a mentor or attend a lecture.
  • Mentees should show respect to the mentor by being prepared for every meeting and discussion.
  • Finally, never take the relationship for granted. Show the mentor that you are grateful.
The mentoring experience can change both the mentor's life and the life of the mentee. Every mentor has a unique style and strategy for creating a relationship. But, there are several essentials that mentors should consider to get the relationship started on the right foot:

  • Approach each mentorship differently. There is no one strategy for creating an amazing experience. The best advice is to tailor your approach to each person you mentor.
  • Be clear with the mentee about the expectations for the relationship.
  • Don't phone it in. Take a genuine interest in the person you are mentoring.
  • Before giving advice, listen closely to what the mentee is really asking and pause before responding.
  • There is more to mentoring than listening. Be aware of how the mentee is acting and focus on body language. Evaluating nonverbal as well as verbal cues is important.
  • Never assume anything. Listen, look, and then decide how to respond.
  • Be honest and share your own mistakes with the mentee. This is important!
  • Take time to acknowledge and celebrate the mentee's accomplishments.
  • Be selfless when you share your time and information.
  • Find opportunities such as classes and courses that will contribute to the mentee's professional development.
The bond that is forged between mentor and mentee can be enduring and highly beneficial. I valued both the opportunity to be mentored and to mentor others. VHMA is all about relationships, and I encourage anyone who would like to support a newcomer to the field to become a mentor. Anyone who feels they would like to polish their skills, increase their knowledge, and grow through the insights of established leaders should pursue a relationship with a mentor.

Keep in mind, mentoring is a cycle, not a destination

I leave you with this recent surprise encounter with a mentee I had over ten years ago. I ran into a person I was mentoring that was working in the kennel department at the time. He had great aspirations to become a groomer and asked to be given the opportunity. By this time, we were dealing with some attendance and other disciplinary concerns. I decided to give my time and attention to help him. A few years later, he became one of my groomers. After leaving the hospital to become a Regional Operations Director, I was told he resigned and left the hospital. I always wondered what happened to him, and fast forward to last month, I ran into him, and he now owns his own mobile pet grooming company. He was so delighted as was I when we saw each other and he gave me a huge hug and started crying. He told me that he has been waiting to hopefully run into me one day to say, THANK YOU!. He said if it wasn't for me mentoring him and giving my time and attention that he would have never taken the risk to own his own company. Needless to say, we were both crying by the end, and he shared a photo of his beautiful family. Sometimes, we have to be humble enough to serve others and dedicate our time to help make a difference in someone's life. Don't hesitate! It is worth your time!

Stay strong and be well!

Michelle Gonzales Bryant, CVPM
VHMA President