Mentorships…. and Mary

This post was published last year as a guest entry on Tanveer Naseer’s excellent blog. While you may have read it there, on the off chance you didn’t, here it is.  Hope you enjoy it.

“Only one man in a thousand is a leader of men — the other nine hundred and ninety nine follow women.”

Groucho Marx

I bumped into this quote while surfing the Internet and just kept it for a while feeling that there might be something I needed to say about it.  In the end, I guess I just found it amusing in a wry sort of way.  And it reminded me of Mary.

Mary was my first HR boss.  Before working with her, I was a clerk, an efficient yet uninspired one.

Mary was looking for a Personnel Assistant at the time and having rifled through the roster of internal candidates that might fit her bill, she chose me.

Initially, I was very flattered until I learned Mary’s selection criteria.  It was less than scientific.  Specifically, Mary gave me the job because I could type; I was presentable; and I hadn’t ticked anyone off…yet.

Nonetheless, it was a step up for me into an area where I felt an affinity, so despite the questionable selection standards, I was happy to be there.  And, as it turned out, Mary was to be more than a boss to me.  She was a mentor who taught me something about surviving in a male-dominated, traditional organization.

Her mentorship was less about what she said and more about what she did. And, not all she did was good.

Mary had a wicked temper and while she was the sole of restraint when dealing with me, with her colleagues she tended to be less disciplined once being overheard to tell one of her male counterparts “Oh, go pee in your hat and pull it down over your ears!”

Mentorships are not meant to be about perfect relationships.  At least I don’t think so.  What they are about is having someone to learn with and learn from, even if it’s from mistakes one or the other might make.  Yes, one person in the relationship generally has more experience but in the long run, it’s more about having a place to go where empathy lives and judgment doesn’t.

Mary was my sounding board.  Through her example, I learned that always looking my best was not just a nice to do. I learned to stand up for myself. I learned the importance of controlling my emotions and the negative impact on me, and others, when I don’t.

Whenever I think about Mary now, I also think about some of the ways in which she shaped me, as a professional and as a human being.  And that’s a big deal.

What do mentorships mean to you?

How would you encourage mentorships in your organization?

Who do you think of when you hear the word Mentor?

What influence did this person have on your life?



Filed under building awareness, Building Relationships, communication, Leadership, mentoring

12 responses to “Mentorships…. and Mary

  1. This is not going to be answering your question but “go pee in your hat and pull it over your head” is a wonderful line, as is Groucho Marx’s. Thanks for making me laugh.

    Yes, Mentorships are very important, I wish I’d had a couple good mentors in the work world when I first started out.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Cherry, I remember when Mary made that famous “hat” comment. I think I giggled about it for a week afterward.
      I wish, Like you, that I had had more mentors. More and more, I’m appreciating the vital role they play in a person’s development and perspectives.
      Thanks for sharing in the laughter. 🙂

  2. What a lovely post, Gwyn. I’m so glad you reposted it as I had not read it before. I love your description of Mary and how you show that a mentor doesn’t have to be “perfect” to be a teacher.

    I remember how shocked and disappointed I was when I discovered this about my first mentor, because I had idealized him. I was challenged to be able to see that his human failures did not detract from the lessons I learned from him. After many years of working together, I realized that our relationship had shifted and we had become peers – another startling realization that our relationship with our mentors evolve over time.

    It is such a gift to have a real mentor, and we are especially blessed when the right person shows up in our lives to teach us exactly what we need to know at that point in time – like Mary did for you.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Jesse, You have added another dimension to the notion of mentorships and that is that they are never static. As we change and grow, so do they. Sometimes mentor and mentee remain friends and colleagues and sometimes the relationship, having done its job, simply runs out of steam. I think it was that way with Mary and me but her impact on my working life will stay with me always.
      Thank you for bringing this to light and for sharing your own story.

  3. Great post, Gwyn! And I love the “pee in your hat” line…sounds like something my mom would have said : )

    Many people are not lucky enough to have a long term mentor. So I counsel women to look for “mentoring moments” or “mentor-for-an-hour”s. I encourage them to figure out what they need to know, go find someone who knows about it, and see if they’d be willing to chat with them. More often than not, they can find a few people willing so spend some time with them educating and advising them.

    I find that in today’s world, this works quite well. Many people, unless in a formal corporate mentoring program, are just not willing to invest huge amounts of time to mentor someone ongoingly. But almost everyone wants to help other people, and are more than willing to do it on a short term or “ad hoc” basis.

    So if someone does not have the gift of a one-on-one mentor, this is another solution : )

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Ava, What great advice! The investment in mentoring does not have to be a lifelong commitment. In fact, I’d wager some people find that prospect a bit frightening.
      Thank you for adding choice to the mix and a very wise voice to the discussion.:-)

  4. Gwyn, What a delightful post; thanks so much for reposting it. I too love the line “Oh, go pee in your hat and pull it down over your ears!” I’ll have to remember that.

    I read your post at the perfect time, for I just got off a mentoring call with a gal who has had a tremendous impact on my life. She has accomplished a lot, and nothing came easy. She’s not afraid to share some of her worst experiences and how terribly she dealt with them. Her honesty has helped me so much.

    All of my mentors have been people who aren’t afraid to show their flaws for they want to help you become the best you can be. I think this is a great lesson for all of us.


    • Gwyn Teatro

      Connie, people who are brave enough to share their “warts” with those they mentor are very special. I suspect some people mentor others with a “grasshopper”/”master” relationship in mind, which can work reasonably well. However, like you, I think it is those people who are brave enough to show their vulnerabilities for the sake of another’s development that we should treasure most.
      Thank you for sharing your story! 🙂

  5. Terry Thomas

    I appreciated this post and the comments. Since I can’t tell bosses and co-workers to “pee in their hat”, do you have other suggestions? I feel like I’m in the middle of strained relationships and looking for solutions. It might help if I approach these relationships seeking advice and mentors for professional and personal growth, however, some people see these vulnerabilities as weaknesses and then they “attack”, or sabotage as you mentioned in the post about “going first”, which I also enjoyed. Now that it is too hot and dry to continue gardening as stress management, I would appreciate advice on repairing relationships, seeking out a mentor? or searching out a new job? Some mentor relationships are formal and some informal, can they also be through blogs and the Internet? I hope so!

  6. Gwyn Teatro

    Terry, your plight is not an unfamiliar one. When we trust people enough to share our concerns with them only to have them use what they know for their own advantage, it is hard not to feel disillusioned or reticent to try again.

    In my experience though, the best mentors are usually people whose only stake in our outcome is that *we* do well. And they often emerge in places we least expect.

    I am coming to believe too that our best opportunities for finding good mentors come from networking. Professional associations come to mind for instance.

    With respect to the Internet, I have personally found that Social Media sites like Twitter and LinkedIn are treasure troves for people looking to learn and connect with like-minded people. As well, many people with similar interests have formed groups within LinkedIn and conduct meaningful discussions about things that are of mutual importance. In my experience, connecting this way can be quite a confidence booster.

    With respect to mentoring, the LinkedIn group that comes to mind is 3Plus International. It is provides professional women with:

    “An opportunity to leverage a network of top international women professionals, who will help members strategically promote and develop themselves to reach the pinnacle of their chosen careers. • An opportunity to seek advice on a wide variety of career, life and workplace challenges in a confidential and supportive environment, within a network of like minded professionals and Increase women’s visibility in the market place.”

    If you would find it helpful, I would be happy to send you an invitation to join this group via e-mail if you will provide your e-mail address.
    If you don’t want to give me your address here and you are on Twitter, follow me (@GwynT). I will follow you and then you will be able to send me your e-mail address via a direct message…a less public forum.

    I hope you found this helpful, Terry. Regardless of your choice here, know that you have it in you to make *good* choices. Whether it is a new job or something else. As a friend once said, “The force is not with you… it is *in* you”


  7. What a great reminder on sharing your vulnerabilities. Thanks for allowing that to come out of this post and in the comment above. I do mentoring as part of my living and as my practice matures I sometimes feel the pressure to always have the right answer. Great reminder that “sharing the warts” is just as valuable, if not more so, than having a great answer. Thanks for the post!


    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Laura ~ I think putting pressure on ourselves to come up with the “magic bullet” for somebody else is quite easy to do. It is perhaps in our nature to want to relieve another person’s struggle. That way, we both get to feel better.
      Thank you for sharing your experience here; for your kind words; and for coming by! 🙂

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