Follow the Leader to Be the Leader
Mentorships extend a helping hand to veterinary professionals looking to advance professionally and personally. The payoff is mutual.
Much has been written about the importance of mentorship and its different types. What’s often missed is the human side — how the relationships form and how they enrich the lives of both mentor and mentee. We want to share how the two of us started a mentorship relationship, why it succeeded and how you can do it, too.
How the Relationship Began
Meeting at a conference in September 2019, we were intrigued with each other’s career, experiences and shared connections. Afterward, Wendy was invited to join Heather’s board of advisers, a group of mentors who work individually with mentees like Heather to help them achieve personal and professional growth. Heather’s needs and goals were discussed, and a follow-up call was scheduled. Wendy suggested that Heather define her “why” by watching Simon Sinek’s lecture “Start With Why” and conducting a StrengthsFinder assessment.
Before their second call, Wendy received Heather’s StrengthsFinder assessment. When they spoke, Wendy asked questions that, along with Heather’s “why” and her list of core values and strengths, helped Heather begin to author a career roadmap.
In monthly follow-up calls, we discuss opportunities and challenges as Heather continues to redefine herself.
WHY IT WORKS
Serving as Heather’s mentor is a richly rewarding experience for me. Heather is passionate about self-growth, discovery and change. She understands that the benefits she reaps from our relationship depend on her willingness to take an active role in the process. For example:
1. Heather is not afraid to take risks.
Heather recognized that she needed a board of advisers — mentors with different life experiences and skills who could guide her as she redefined her professional role. She was brave in asking me, a relative stranger, to help. Heather is candid, vulnerable and accountable. These qualities are essential to forming an effective mentorship relationship.
2. Heather shows initiative.
Heather took the lead in planning our monthly meeting calls. She has an agenda of what she would like to accomplish during the calls, and she completes assigned tasks on time. All this is critical because she owns the process. I am a resource to help and support her. During our calls, she is fully present and engaged.
3. Heather understands the value of my time.
Heather is respectful of my time, and when she needs to touch base outside of our scheduled calls, she texts or emails with her concerns and questions. If needed, we schedule a brief call focused on a specific issue.
4. I am confident in my relationship with Heather.
Mentors become highly invested in their mentees timewise, emotionally and by association. I agreed to mentor Heather because I recognized her unrealized potential and her passion for growing. I believe she will develop her skills to the benefit of the veterinary profession. For mentors such as me who have spent their careers building strong professional networks, our mentees reflect our judgment.
Because of Heather’s integrity and self-awareness, I am confident that my association with her will not damage my professional reputation. When I sponsor Heather, using my relationship currency to facilitate introductions or opportunities, I know that she will represent our relationship well.
The highest compliment that a mentee can give to a mentor is to become a compelling role model. I trust that Heather will become a strong mentor, further helping young professionals find their paths in veterinary medicine.
WHY IT WORKS
Wendy has guided me through a highly transformative year. A committed, enthusiastic and reliable mentor, she gently pushes courage and exploration. She is not hesitant to share herself in the process, which allows for the growth of my career and our friendship.
1. Wendy understands the mentorship relationship.
Wendy realizes that mentorship is a mutually beneficial relationship focused on professional and personal growth. She recognizes that the benefit to the mentor is in the personal gratification that comes from helping someone succeed. Wendy appreciates the varying roles of coach, mentor, sponsor and connector, and how to practice a little bit of each when supporting a mentee. Her guidance is formal at times and casual when the situation dictates.
2. Wendy has a genuine interest in mentoring.
Wendy has been invested since Day One. Despite being an extraordinarily accomplished and busy professional, Wendy finds time to commit to our relationship. She prioritizes our recurring meetings, which gives me the confidence to know that she values the experience alongside her numerous other responsibilities. She has always been available for between-meeting communication. Wendy shared that she has several mentees and a coach of her own, and yet, she manages to make me feel like I am the only one.
3. Wendy respects my individuality.
Wendy and I have different career interests and experiences. Wendy is a generalist, former practice owner and comfortable professional; I am a specialist, former corporate associate and minimally experienced newbie. Despite these differences, Wendy has always mentored me with my goals in mind. She has never pushed me to follow in her footsteps and does not hesitate to allow me to take the lead as we work together. She has supported my vision by challenging me individually. Knowing that I have an interest in public speaking, she invited me to submit a talk proposal. Wendy quickly dialed into my strengths, and she manages to assign tasks that never feel like work.
4. Wendy’s mentorship extends beyond my career.
Having met in person just once, our discovering a natural rapport upon the first meeting was the foundation of our relationship. Our mentorship success results from a commitment to mutually candid conversations. Through openness and sharing, Wendy supports me as a full-time working mother, spouse, daughter, sister, business owner, practitioner and professional. The true measure of a successful mentorship is that the mentor will consider the mentee a friend one day. I trust that our friendship will continue long beyond our mentorship.
Mentorship does not have to be assigned or arranged. Mentorships can form naturally or be sought after by either person. Although mentorships do not need to be formal, both parties must desire to engage in the relationship. The mentee gains invaluable insight, and the mentor gets joy from helping another person succeed.
Dr. Wendy Hauser is the founder of Peak Veterinary Consulting. She writes extensively and frequently speaks about hospital culture, communications, leadership, client relations and operations. She represents the American Animal Hospital Association in the American Veterinary Medical Association’s House of Delegates. Dr. Heather Kvitko-White is a board-certified internal medicine specialist and the founder of KW Veterinary Consulting. An industry activist, writer and national speaker, she volunteers her spare time with the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the Collaborative Care Coalition and mentors veterinary students.
What makes a great mentor and a great mentee? Here’s what Dr. Wendy Hauser and Dr. Heather Kvitko-White recommend.
1. Mentors need to understand their role in the relationship.
Mentorship is all about sharing the mentor’s knowledge and expertise to help mentees achieve their goals. Mentors don’t provide the answers. Instead, they ask questions, and mentees find their answers. Potential mentors should ask themselves:
- Does the person need a formal mentor, someone who is committed to frequent meetings and long-term guidance?
- Would the person benefit instead from a coach, whose role is targeted, specific and less of a time investment? Coaches can help mentees develop a new skill or become competent in particular subject areas.
- Does the person instead need a sponsor, someone who can use his or her professional relationships to help the person obtain a new job or committee role or find a way into organized veterinary medicine?
2. Mentors should choose a mentee wisely.
Heather demonstrated to Wendy that she was serious and committed to the mentorship relationship. Heather completed the assessment assignment on time. Because mentorship is an investment of time, energy and emotion, how can mentors be confident that the mentorship relationship will be a good fit?
- Ask prospective mentees to review a paper, watch a video or find an article that relates to their goals, and then explain that you would like to discuss the findings during a follow-up call scheduled by the person.
- Ask a mentee candidate to write a brief commentary about a controversial or cutting-edge veterinary topic. Be clear about the length and deadline and how the follow-up will occur.
These tasks allow mentors to assess a prospective mentee’s commitment to the relationship and provide insight into the person’s thought process. The mentor can evaluate the candidate’s willingness to learn and explore other perspectives. If the person makes excuses, is unprepared or repeatedly asks to reschedule calls, the potential mentor should explain that the relationship is not a good fit.
Likewise, mentors must be equally committed to the process by being fully present during scheduled calls and asking nonleading questions.
3. Mentors should support and promote mentees.
When a mentee is selected, the mentor must instill confidence by setting the person up for success. Here is how a mentor can help advance a mentee’s professional objectives:
- Brag about your mentee to your colleagues and introduce the mentee to people who can help advance the mentee’s goals.
- Help your mentee accomplish a professional goal. An example is when Wendy supported Heather’s desire to become a national conference speaker. Wendy suggested that to enhance name recognition outside of specialist circles, they co-present at the 2021 Veterinary Leadership Conference. Heather initiated the process by writing the proposal, and the two of them fine-tuned it.
The proposal was accepted, and the content was presented virtually.
1. The mentee manages the relationship.
A good mentee understands that the mentor’s time is valuable and makes the process as easy as possible for both of them. The mentee should track scheduled meetings, help with the agenda, ask questions, listen actively, complete assigned tasks and ask for feedback.
2. The mentee respects the mentor and the process.
The mentee must understand that the relationship is a professional one. The mentee should model the mentor’s behavior. The mentee should be confident and yet remain humble. Enough trust in the relationship should exist for the mentee to make decisions without the mentor’s involvement and to humbly admit when help is needed. Although disagreements are OK, the excellent mentee must remember that growth requires openness, flexibility and respect. Courageous mentees will allow themselves to be pushed out of their comfort zone. An astute mentee will learn over time about the role of being a mentor.
3. Mentees must give their entire selves and follow through. For example:
- Be transparent and forthcoming. The mentee must share fully with the mentor. Self-reflection is often necessary before a mentorship is pursued. A mentorship typically focuses on goals and aspirations. Though one does not have to have clearly defined goals, the mentee must do soul-searching and be prepared to talk about any challenges, fears or limitations.
- Follow through and give your best. The mentee gets out of the relationship what is put in. Always give your best effort and complete assigned tasks. Any disruption in the meetings or timeline must be communicated to the mentor. The mentee should be prompt and courteous, listen fully and always be prepared.
- Be gracious. The mentee recognizes the mentor’s efforts, gives credit, shows thanks and shares in the mutual success.