Mentorship: an important aspect of leadership development

Mentorship can be an important part of anyone’s leadership journey, from early career to experienced leaders. Today, we’re talking with Nate Gonzalez, expert on mentoring about developing formal and informal mentoring programs and what makes a mentoring relationship successful.


Cynthia Rojas 0:03

Hi, everyone. Welcome to Coffee Time with Masterminds. We are continuing our conversation about leadership, my favorite topic. You’ve heard me say that week and week again. And why is it important, because leaders are important and leaders are not just the individual that is running the organization leadership exists on all levels.

Our hope is that these conversations inspire you to rise to your leadership role. But today we’re taking a different angle. Part of leadership growth involves mentoring and how many of us have had mentors that have really paved the path for our leadership growth. Well, whether you had a mentor or not, this is to show for you. Our guest has dedicated his work to leadership and mentorship. We get to hear straight from him on why this is an important topic. Join us.

CTMM jingle 1:11

Cynthia Rojas 1:35

Hi, everyone. Welcome to Coffee Time with Masterminds. We want to welcome all of our viewers and if you are watching us, please put your name and where you’re from in the comments. We always like to hear where people are from. We also want to welcome our listeners in Australia. Thank you for joining us. My name is Cynthia Rojas and I’m being joined by my co-host Pieta Blakely. Hi, Pieta.

Pieta Blakely 2:00

Good morning. How are you?

Cynthia Rojas 2:04

Good morning. I’m really good. I’m excited about today, do you know why?

Pieta Blakely 2:10

Because we’re talking about your favorite topic.

Cynthia Rojas 2:17

I think this was the summer of leadership. I think almost all leadership. But today is really interesting because we’re talking about a part of leadership that not anyone that we have interviewed has mentioned, but not too many people talk about. And that’s mentoring, and that’s an important aspect. We have a guest on our show, Nate Gonzales, who has dedicated his life and work to leadership and helping others rise to their leadership, but also mentorship. Hi, Nate, how are you?

Nate Gonzales 2:50

I thank God, Pieta. Thank you all so much for having me. I’m doing really good.

Cynthia Rojas 2:59

No, thank you for coming on the show and really thank you for giving us a perspective on leadership development that we have not haven’t had an opportunity to talk about. So
All right, go ahead, Pieta.

Pieta Blakely 3:15
I think leadership has been one of the themes since we started this show. We’ve been talking about leading through uncertain times. But in the course of that we have teased out so many different elements of leadership and characteristics of leaders, especially in uncertain times. Nate, tell us about mentorship. What do you mean by that term?

Nate Gonzales 3:40
Absolutely, I think you know, the first would be. I think it’s important to differentiate between there is professional mentoring and there’s personal mentoring. I think now, we see that there can also be a combination of the two within relationships at work. But basically, it’s a formal structure that connects individuals within an organization on an ongoing professional development journey.

And really, the purpose of that is to empower the talent to identify specific goals for their development. I think you know it could, it could look a couple different ways, like I said, there is formal, there’s informal. But it is a very important aspect of leadership development. I think whether you’re an emerging leader, a strategic and operational leader, you should definitely invest in finding a mentor or even being a mentor for somebody else.

Pieta Blakely 4:32
Can you talk a little bit about the differences between formal mentoring programs and informal mentorship.

Nate Gonzales 4:40
Absolutely. The experiences that I’ve had with the formal structure of mentorship usually come from a developmental program. So, where I’ve seen mentorship help a lot within the formal structure is for specific programs that a high potential may be nominated for. And in that they may go through a seventh six to nine month-process to where they go through a developmental curriculum.

They’re meeting once a month with different leaders throughout the organization and then they’re tasked with finding a mentor. Now, in that, they’re asked to go over specific questions within the organization about their growth, different areas in which they want to grow into, and then that would be more of the formal structure. Now the informal structure is much less an aspect of where it is a requirement for a program. Where if I see somebody that has skills that has competencies, that I may want to emulate, or even a title that I look for.

I may reach out to them and ask to kind of go on our own schedule to speak on different topics that I find relevant within my growth. I think that would be the biggest difference is that when it’s formal and structured, that’s going to be specific organizational aspects that are going to be focused on. Where an informal structure may be things that I’m interested in and I want to grow into and I want to find somebody who’s been there done that got the t-shirt right. And tried to reach out to them and try to hopefully find a mesh.

I think that the biggest thing is when you do something on an informal basis, it’s a trial-by fire type of thing. You may find somebody at first and you have those initial conversations, then you find it may not work, and that’s totally fine. You have a network and then you can hopefully find somebody else in the future that can help you in the development that you’re looking for.

Cynthia Rojas 6:31
One of the things that I wonder if mentorship can help or if you’ve seen it because I know that you also focus on leadership for the millennial generation, is the generational differences. So, now we have companies and organizations that could have up to six different generations working in the same space and the generations are different. I just got off the phone with somebody who said they have staff in their organization that have never left the voicemail. They just don’t do voicemail.

Pieta Blakely 7:08
Okay, that’s not just a young people thing.

Cynthia Rojas 7:13
I have a voicemail. I do know people who do not leave voicemails. I learned that there are some new workforce that have done most of their college learning on Zoom. They did their internship on Zoom and now they’re starting working through Zoom or working from home. The soft skills or the interpersonal skills, the water cooler skills have not been developed. Do you have you see what mentorship across generations can benefit.

Nate Gonzales 7:50
Absolutely, so, traditionally people would look at mentorship as maybe somebody who was younger, reaching out to an individual that is more experienced and learning from their experiences. But within the past I would even say five to ten years, reverse mentoring has come into play. Especially when technology comes into it where maybe the younger, less experienced within the workforce individual but is more technologically savvy, can help somebody of an older generation.

So, I think that’s a very different dynamic; that’s something that we’re not used to seeing within the traditional setting. But I’ve also seen within some research that as millennials are coming in, as genes are coming in, they’re looking less for a manager or director. They’re looking more for a relational aspect within the relationship that they have with their management. I think it’s also important for leaders who are leading millennials and gen-z to understand that while they want career advancement opportunities, you may have to also incorporate some well-being. Incorporate questions on understanding who they are outside of the confines of work because that is what the trend is showing.

That is where these younger individuals within the workforce are looking for. Not only somebody who can tell them what to do, but who can help them with experiences not only inside work but outside the confines of what they do in the role.

Cynthia Rojas 9:20
Yeah, I love millennials. They have turned our worlds upside down and I love them.

Pieta Blakely 9:34
We want to talk about this so much.

Cynthia Rojas 9:51
By the way, Nate, we love blunders on the show; that’s why we live. It’s a lot more fun.

Nate Gonzales 9:52
That is real. I love real life.

Cynthia Rojas 9:53
You go. I will wait.

Pieta Blakely 9:55
Okay. So, a lot of my experience around mentoring, is with youth, right. Because of fractured programs with adults mentoring youth. In those programs, we’ve learned there’s some best practices about opening and closing and duration and things like that. Does any of that apply to mentoring among adults. Are there any guidelines that you would suggest or, you know, caveats.

Nate Gonzales 10:18
Yeah, absolutely. I will say that mentoring is very interesting as far as the dynamic in timing and what I’ve seen work, right. So from a strategic a leader-level standpoint, I worked for a program where we had a nine-month program and that was the duration of the mentorship.

So, we had high potential individuals. We asked them to reach out to c-suite individuals within our organization through a nine-month program. Now I will say mentorship is interesting due to the fact where you can go through seasons and have different mentors. Where the program may last nine months, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the relationship will end.

The real the real thing that I think we need to touch on is there are organizations that may have a coaching program and that’s great but that differentiates from a mentorship program. One person said this one time and to me that it really stuck. Mentorship is really inputting into somebody where coaching is pulling out right. So I may have five or six mentors at one time in different areas of my life where I want to grow and that’s totally fine. An organizational coach really is different in the sense of there’s a set time period in which you, you’ll be coaching that individual. You’re also going to be speaking on a specific skill or competency; there’s a developmental plan, and as a coach you’re really trying to pull out by asking questions. a mentorship relationship is going to be different where you know, if I want to grow in my interpersonal skills, I may have Cynthia as my mentor.

And then, Pieta, if I wanted to grow more of a hard skill as far as my time management or organization, I may have you. And that may go on at the same time throughout the duration of the year, and it may go on and off. So I think it just depends on the program in which you’re in. If it’s formal or informal and what you want. And that’s the beauty about mentorship is that if I want five different things as an individual contributor, an emerging leader, I can find somebody within my organization that can meet that need.

Cynthia Rojas 12:20
That’s awesome. What have you seen with organizations that have mentorship programs. What have you seen with organizations that do not have mentoring programs?

Nate Gonzales 12:31
Yes. So I think, speaking specifically from my experience and then we can go to data, too, is that from my experience I think it’s a culture. When you have leaders that are willing to invest in another generation or future leaders that are coming up you’re going to create this cyclical process; you’re creating a beautiful culture where it’s a less competitive nature – where you’re not looking over your shoulder for the next person that may be taking your job, but you’re freely willing to give information to see that other person grow.

And in my, in my experience, or even in my own thought process of what leadership is, that’s the true definition. A lasting influence that you can put on somebody else, where data is showing, is that people who have mentors in the workplace are going to be more satisfied, more productive, have more organizational loyalty, and also be more engaged in the process but we’re also seeing that it’s tying into the well-being component as well.

So, Gallup just came out with their survey, and their 2022 survey showed that workplace well-being is now an imperative for all organizations. If you’re not having a wellness initiative or thinking about the well-being of your employees, you’re behind the eight ball. So mentorship is actually a way that can contribute to the well-being and the engagement of the culture within the organization and it really I think is going to take some intentionalities to take away from that traditional mindset of it just strictly being competency-based and skill-based and start training these mentors on how to be more holistic in nature when they deal with their mentees.

Cynthia Rojas 14:12
That’s interesting because we know that job satisfaction is linked to so much in terms of performance and all these things, and we’re also going through this great resignation. I wonder, have you seen any studies of where there are organizations that have mentorship programs that have less resignations?

Nate Gonzalez 14:38
You hit on the head retention is the word of it seems like the year, and it does show that you know, even within millennials. Millennials are not looking to stay more than three years but for with some of the research that I have seen is that, if you have a formal process, a formal structure within your organization, and you are individuals that hopefully try to invest within that in your organization, there are shows more of a retention rate but also the engagement. Engagement and retention sometimes go hand in hand, but you know, it is an important aspect of the organizational structure.

But I will say this, if your organization does not necessarily have a formal mentorship program, I would urge leaders to still engage in conversations within emerging strategic operational leaders for them to find a mentor on their own. While you may not have the capacity, the funding for a formal mentorship program, there are still avenues there’s ways to go about finding a mentor within your organization. You just may not know how to do it at this point.

Cynthia Rojas 15:47
I love that, can you tell us where, because this show is targeted toward leaders for mission-based organizations, something for them non-profits they’re usually smaller and they have sometimes challenges with resources. This idea that you’re saying there are other ways to get mentors for your staff that don’t have to be internal sounds really interesting. Can you tell us a little bit more about that.

Nate Gonzalez 16:12
Yeah. So I would well just to specify when I say maybe I have the capacity within having a formal structure, there are different avenues even within the internal structure where you can find. Right? And obviously you can find people outside. There’s linkedin, there’s leveraging the network that you already have. But one of the things that I would recommend for small and big organizations alike is, if you are, let’s say, an emerging leader that’s looking to get better in the area of finance.

Go on to your company stack directory and find individuals within that discipline and reach out to them. An email, it could suffice, can I grab five minutes with you on a team call or a zoom call and initiate that conversation. I think training our emerging leaders to have that proactive nature to reach out to people may help. Now I’ll give you my personal, you know, life story example. When I first came into my organization within healthcare, there were 80,000 employees with no formal mentorship program. But I knew I wanted to make my way within the leadership development space, the culture space. So what I did was, I went on the website. I looked at different directors and managers within that space and I crafted a sample email and I reached out to them.

Now, I will tell you, a good amount of those people would never reach back out or I wasn’t able to sit with them. But there were a handful of people that were willing to sit with me and have a talk about my goals, my thoughts. I gleaned from their experiences and then from there, we were able to develop different relationships. So what I’m trying to say is that, if there is not a structure program within your department or within your organization, don’t let that stop you, be proactive in looking at different areas within your organization that you see yourself in the future, and reach out to those individuals directly.

Pieta Blakely 18:12
Yeah, I think this is, you know, what one of one of the good things that came out of the era of covet was because all our meetings were on zoom, people had time for a lot more meetings than they did when it actually involved going someplace or having coffee with somebody. And I’m amazed that people who have the time and are willing to have a zoom coffee with you. Right?
Nate Gonzales 18:38

Pieta Blakely 18:39
And because we’ve all taken all of our networking online, how receptive people on linkedin and things are to making real relationships.

Nate Gonzalez 18:53
And you know what, what I will say to that Pieta is that, I learned this from a surgeon. So I worked in the hospital space for quite some time, and there was this one surgeon that I loved his leadership. I just really loved the way that he dealt with people, the way he spoke, with respect, with such clarity and purpose, and I said, “Hey, can I sit with you?”

And I sit in front of this surgeon and I kind of tell them where I see myself, and I said “ I have no aspirations of ever becoming a medical provider. but I see something in you that I love, that I like”. And one of the best pieces of advice that he gave me, he said, when you have that call, when you get the opportunity, be prepared. Be prepared with your five year 10-year plan with questions that you want to ask because you never want to waste somebody’s time. And I learned that in the mentor mentee- relationship, the mentee is going to have most of the onus.

They’re going to be scheduling the calls; they’re going to be having the questions. Where on a coaching relationship, the coach is really going to be driving that bus. So as a mentee, really make sure that when you initiate and you’re being proactive in that approach, that you’re prepared as well.

Pieta Blakely 20:04
You know maturity and clarity on the part of the mentee, right? I mean, they have to know where they’re going, know what their objective is, have vocabulary around the skills that they have or don’t have and want to develop. It sounds like there’s a lot of homework involved in being ready to engage with a mentor and like really making that a productive relationship.

Cynthia Rojas 20:31
Yeah. The role of leadership is long and hard. I want to go back to something you said Nate, because I think it’s unbelievable. You worked in a place that had 80 000 employees. And you had made yourself known. Did you start the mentorship program at that place?

Nate Gonzales 20:58  
Well, I was making my way out; there were some talks of them kind of starting a mentorship program. But still to know, that it’s still not really established. Now I will say this, sometimes you will find mentorship programs specifically for the higher-ups, for the high potentials, for the programs in which they’re trying to get you ready for the c-suite.

But it leaves the emerging leader not knowing where they want to go, what they want to do, or connecting to people that have been there. And that’s where I see the struggle with they say we have mentorship programs that you can find for, you know, the senior director or the person that’s kind of being groomed for the VP, but the individual like myself who’s coming in, who has hunger, who has direction, who kind of knows where they want to be.

I had to do a lot of ground work. I had to do so much. And here’s the thing. I don’t like to use the word networking too much as much as building relationships when I went into a mentor relationship trying to network and trying to gain something out of it. I noticed that it didn’t seem much of much of an organic style of relationship, and you’ll notice too, is that when you have a true mentor, they’re invested. One of the areas that I saw in nursing, is that a nursing mentorship could be very competency-based. It’s on the skill, and we understand that because in most cases it’s life or die. But in some cases they pay the mentor, it’s part of their role; it’s part of their actual job description.

Now, many of us are not going to have a paid mentor; we may have somebody out of the kindness of the heart investing their free time; we want to make sure that it’s a good fit. We want to make sure that both parties are invested in reciprocal growth. So that’s one of the things that I see too, is that, you have to pick the right mentor; you have to pick somebody that really does want to invest, and you’ll know through that conversation as well. But you’re right, yeah. Out of 80 000 employees, I had to kind of make my own way because we didn’t have an established mentor program for emerging leaders. So it can be difficult, but could also provide you necessary skills.

Pieta Blakely 23:04
About how many people turn in and out of that organization, because I can also see the perspective of that organization saying, oh well, those people, those young people turn in and out so quickly.

Nate Gonzales 23:16
Yeah, you can get both sides, absolutely.

Pieta Blakely 23:17
You may, you also made a really interesting point about paying mentors, which is one way of an organization making a big statement that we think this is an important part of people’s jobs. There are, I can imagine, a lot of other ways that organizations can
Can incentivize it, or just create a culture, where that is considered part of your job to be a mentor. You know things like allowing time for it talking about it, celebrating it.

Nate Gonzales 23:50

Cynthia Rojas 23:51
Yeah, and giving people the time off to meet with mentor. But also, you know, and I know, this happens a lot in non-profits because we like to say we’re building the plane and flying it at the same time. But reporting and sharing the information that you’re learning, so that you can then inspire others to do the same. And so I think that’s important, and sometimes we fall short on that part.

But you hit on something that I was going to ask you. I want you to expand on, are mentorship programs more for emerging leaders or do seasoned leaders need mentors as well. Now you talked a little bit about you’ve seen it where it’s specific for the for people growing into the c-suite, but tell me, how would a seasoned leader benefit from a mentor.

Nate Gonzales 24:49
I think first is kind of going back to what you said Cynthia, and understanding that, leadership in nature is complex and you’ve never arrived. No matter if you’re first in your first role as a leader, or you’ve been there for 25 years, there are always things that you can be learning. Especially in the society that we’re in the context of the organization now, with, you know, like you said, millennials have taken things and changed it as a full 180, are you willing to learn. Right?

And if you have that mindset, then you can really realize yeah I need somebody who can show me and I think the key in understanding mentorship is that it doesn’t always have to fit into that traditional approach of somebody knowing more , being in a position more. If you want to learn more about the millennial perspective, or the gen z perspective, maybe you need a get, a mentor who can show you, who can walk you through that, and you participate in a reverse mentoring type of resource, type of model. So I think at any stage of where you are within your organizational journey, there’s space for a mentor. But I would assume is that sometimes if you’ve been there for 20 30 years and you think you have it all figured out, it may have to be a little bit of a mind shift and then we can find somebody for you for sure.

Cynthia Rojas 26:11
Yeah, I love that leadership is not a destination. It is a journey, and it’s a long journey and it looks differently in different places, so I think that’s really great advice. I you know, I enjoyed this conversation because, I realized Pieta. we don’t talk a lot about millennials and gen z’s and the truth is they’re in the workforce and the gen z are graduating college. And so I’m sure that nonprofit leaders could use some guidance and how to integrate that generation.

Because it’s different, the way they do things is different. I had an admin who is a millennial, and she taught me a lot about me, a lot. But I had to be open to that learning. And so generationally, we looked at things very differently, but it we also laughed through a lot of things. So any bits of advice Nate for our audience and if, because I know we’re going to get emails about well, where can my organization can’t do this, where can we find a mentor.

Nate Gonzales 27:41
The biggest piece of advice, obviously, when we’re talking about mind shift and understanding a different perspective. If there’s an area that you want to grow, I would be very surprised if there’s somebody in your circle, or outside of your circle, or who knows somebody who cannot fill that void. The question is, how hard are you willing to work to find somebody. I’ve seen it work within my experiences with experiences that I’ve had with different people who may have not have a formal structure but need to look within the confines of their organization, ask somebody who they can recommend. But another thing too is, if you are somebody that has the skills who’s been a leader for quite some time, and you really want to invest into the leadership culture of your organization, find somebody that you can mentor.

Think about how it works for you, sitting at the end of that seat looking and wishing that you had somebody, and seek out that person. And I’ll go back to that example of that surgeon; he didn’t have to answer my email; he didn’t have to say yes, who is busier than a surgeon working at a hospital, no one. But he took that time and he guided me and I’ll never forget that and I’ll make sure that the next opportunity that I have, so whenever somebody comes across my team or my email, wants to meet with me. It’s always yes, and when. And I think that sometimes as leaders we forget that we have a lot to offer granted there’s a lot going on, there’s a lot of burnout, there’s a lot of things that we have to do as leaders, but never forget the importance that you can leave as far as an impact on somebody else with the knowledge that you have.

Cynthia Rojas 29:25
Thank you. Well, this has been a wonderful show. I’ve loved the topic Nate. I think your message is right on. I think we should bring you back just to talk about the younger generation, so that we can learn how to be together in a harmonious space because I work with organizations that have a lot of tension because of the different generations and I think we need to come together, and together is how we’re going to make this world a better place. So we’ll definitely have you back. Pieta, it’s nice to see you. I want to say thank you to our viewers and everyone have a wonderful weekend. Take care.

Pieta Blakely

About Pieta Blakely

I help mission-based organizations measure their impact so that they can do what they do well. I started my nonprofit career as a teacher in workforce development and adult basic education. It was important work and I was worried that we didn’t really know if we were doing it well. In the process of trying to answer that question, I got a Masters in Education and a PhD in Social Policy, and became an evaluator.

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