The Importance of Mentorship: Finding Your Board of Directors

Early in March, I had the opportunity to attend a discussion on mentorship led by Bill Wright-Swadel, the Executive Director of Career Services at Duke University. He spoke in front of a group of prospective mentors and mentees, who were all members of The Duke Association for Business Oriented Women, the campus group that I will be co-president of for the upcoming academic year. During his talk, Mr. Wright-Swadel imparted advice to the members on how to seek guidance for both career and personal development with considerations given for both the short- and long-term.

Rather than adopt a general mentorship relationship between one or two people, Mr. Wright-Swadel encouraged attendants to consider fostering a “Board of Directors” to best service them. This concept involves developing a group of individuals familiar with you through different disciplines, such as academics, student organizations, Greek life or professionally.

In assembling this Board of Directors, Bill Wright-Swadel emphasized diversity. Gaining the most innovative insights would require surrounding yourself with individuals who are not only not like you, but also not like each other as well.

The primary benefit of incorporating this structure of mentorship would be the wide range of perspectives and pertinent feedback that an individual can hear. Mr. Wright-Swadel commented that individuals often receive “conflicting information” regarding themselves from their respective Board Members. For example, a teacher may consider you to be quiet through your limited participation in a large lecture class, while students in a campus organization may view you as assertive for taking on an active leadership role.

Overall, gaining these insights from a range of people (be they faculty, fellow students or managers) will help you to both reflect on and manage the relative complexities of yourself.

Mr. Wright-Swadel further discussed the necessity for a relationship to be beneficial for all parties involved. He commented that many young college students, when first faced with the prospects of networking and finding a mentor, are often uncomfortable due to the lop-sided nature of the activity. The key to networking and developing successful mentoring relations is instead networking when you don’t need anything in return.

Through this method, you form relationships with other individuals now, so that sometime in the long-term you will be able to ask for a favor or general advice. Chances are, these individuals will be more than willing to accommodate you.

Better yet, by maintaining open communication with these mentors, you may often find that they will also be looking out for you and your interests (with no favors asked).

Towards the end of his talk, Bill Wright-Swadel provided some key concluding points on maximizing the mentoring experience:

  • Start developing mentor relationships with people now; in the cases of both personal and professional development, sooner is always better than later.
  • Be both tactical for the short-term and strategic for the long-term.
  • Recognize what your strengths, weaknesses and interests are now and identify individuals who could help provide you with perspective on these areas. However, also acknowledge skills you would like to develop for the long term (such as problem-solving and leadership) and look for individuals exemplifying these traits in their current roles. This integration of both present and future will be more impactful for your own journey.
  • Understand the difference between mentors and role models. While both sets of individuals will provide you with insight and guidance, the latter prescribes an eagerness to follow exactly in their footsteps. Rather than trying to emulate your development according to the path they took, instead figure out how to mirror their success your own way.
  • When with your mentors, talk for a third of the time and listen for the rest of the time. Following this method will give them the chance to be the experts and also show your willingness to learn from them.
  • Lastly, remember to not be so serious and to have fun.

While cliché, you want to remember that your mentoring relationship is mutually beneficial. The easiest thing you can share to ensure that both parties are benefiting from the relationship is the simple enjoyment of being in each other’s company.


Caroline HerrmannCaroline Herrmann is a junior at Duke University majoring in Cognitive Science and minoring in German Studies. She is working on a Markets & Management Studies certificate. Her goal is to attend business school and she would love to work in marketing or consulting in the United States or Europe. She was a part of the first Forté College Leadership Conference and can be found on Twitter at @caroooline717.

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