Emerging Leaders

Lauren Lang
August 11, 2015
Lauren Lang


Have you ever stopped to think about who has guided you through your life? Take a minute to think about it. Go beyond the obvious. Dig deep. Find that one person who affected you, but you might not have realized at the time.

Got it?

I would bet you that person could be considered a mentor in your life.

As the Leadership Development Fellow, I have been doing a lot of research on mentors this week. The Emerging Leaders program includes a mentoring program, and I am developing some of the materials for the mentor’s orientation in August.

All of this research has led me wonder: what is a mentor? How can you be a mentor? Do you have to establish a formal mentor/mentee relationship with someone to consider them your mentor? Who has been a mentor in my life?

A mentor, by definition, is “an experienced or trusted advisor.” With such a broad definition, anyone can be seen as a mentor. Though an effective mentor does a few things better than an ordinary person. For instance, they listen. They see you as a person that they can also benefit from knowing. They give you advice but only when you ask for it. Most importantly, they are there and have gone through similar experiences.

I really stumble with the question of having to establish a formal relationship with someone to consider them as your mentor. Mainly because I never formally asked the some of the people who have become my mentors to be my mentors. Instead, I built relationships with these people outside of the relationship but I have benefited from their experiences.

For example, there was a student in my high school two years older than me, who I like to believe informally mentored many kids in my high school without evening knowing it, including me. We will call him, Sam. Sam was a super star to say the least. He had perfect grades and test scores. All of the teachers loved him. Sam was the President of the Senior Class. Basically, he was someone that any try-hard student would die to be, including myself. He ended up going to Duke and that essentially sealed the deal that everyone wanted to follow in his path.

Sam never formally mentored me or my friends but he created a formula that we could follow to one day achieve all of our dreams: an acceptance letter to a top college. Without his informal guidance, I do not know if I would be where I am today. So, that fits the definition of mentor—an experienced or trusted advisor. That is what Sam was to me, wasn’t he?

What do you think? Can someone be a mentor without establishing the formal relationship of mentor and mentee? If you come up with an answer, let me know. I want to say yes, but I see the benefits of formally establishing the relationship. I just do not know, if it is necessary.

And if it’s not—doesn’t it make you wonder, if you have informally mentored someone? Maybe you have, and you just never knew it. Maybe one day they will tell you.