163: Building successful mentor/protégé relationships with Dr. Ellen Ensher

By June 5, 2017Podcasts

 

 

Professor Ellen Ensher shares her expertise in instigating and developing mentor and protégé relationships.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How Ellen applied mentorship wisdom to double her income in one day
  2. The real meaning of mentorship
  3. The two valuable things every protege can provide even the most senior mentor

About Ellen

Ellen A. Ensher, Ph.D is a Professor of Management at Loyola Marymount University (LMU)  in Los Angeles, California and in 2017 received the LMU award for Distinguished Teaching.  Ellen is the co-author of Power Mentoring: How Mentors and Protégés Get the Most out of Their Relationships. Dr. Ensher has published over 50 articles/book chapters and consulted to a number of of organizations both domestically and abroad such as Kraft Foods, Legg Mason, Notre Dame University, the Sisters of the Holy Cross, and United States Navy. Recently awarded the Fulbright Specialist award, Ellen will be conducting research in Finland in 2017. Ellen is a LinkedIn Learning Author of two courses on mentoring. Please visit www.ellenensher.com for mentoring resources and to subscribe to her blog:  Discussions on Media, Management, and Mentoring at www.ellenensher.com/blog. You can also follow her on Twitter @ProfEllen.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ellen Ensher Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Ellen, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Ellen Ensher
Thank you so much. It’s my pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited for this chat, and we did need to reschedule because you keep winning teaching awards and getting evaluations in the top 5% of professors for year after year. Can you open us up by sharing a little bit of what’s the secret sauce over there?

Ellen Ensher
I think it’s the students really and I’m just lucky to be here. So I’ve been here at LMU for 20 years, and I actually just did a whole talk on this. So I think my biggest secret sauce is really allowing myself to be fully present in the classroom regardless of whatever else crazy is going on outside the classroom or even in my own personal life. I think, after 20 years of teaching, that’s probably the thing I’m most proud of.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so, here we had a number of guests talk about mindfulness and such. How do you get to that place where you’re super present there in the classroom?

Ellen Ensher
You know, the first I do is I have an ironclad rule that we all turn all of our digital devices off. And I sort of joke with them, and I say, “Look, unless you are an organ donor or an organ recipient, and I’m pretty sure I’m the only one here who’s a parent, there’s really no reason for any of us to have our phones on.”

And we turn everything off and then it’s really just focusing when I’m there. Because I feel like I really enjoy being in the classroom, I enjoy being with my students, and I don’t want to let those moments pass me by. And I guess, in a weird way, the one place in my life where maybe I feel like I can kind of control the environment and so let’s control it and be completely present together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s good. Well, now, let’s talk some mentoring here. So you’ve written a book, you’ve done a couple courses with Lynda on LinkedIn when it comes to mentoring. Can you share, first of all, why mentoring? What got you so fired up and passionate about this specific topic?

Ellen Ensher
Well, that goes all the way back to, we just had the 25th anniversary of the L.A riots. And, in fact, the L.A. riots is the genesis of my research on mentoring. I was in graduate school at the time when the L.A. riots happened, and I was actually working in one of the hot zone areas. And after that, one of my clients, the Los Angeles Times, asked me to help create a mentoring program, and said, “Is it better to pair people same race or different race with their mentors?” And there was no research on that at that point, and I thought it was a really fascinating useful question.

So we randomly assigned people the same race versus different race pairs and we found out that race matters at first but the good news is, after people get to know each other, those effects of demographics go away and that people pay more attention to things like goals and values and attitudes. So the takeaway is, if you can get people when you pair them up in mentoring relationships to learn about each other’s deep level similarity quickly, then you can get past those surface distractions.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, while we’re taking a stroll down memory lane, I got a huge kick out of the story you shared about how you doubled your income in one day and how mentors played into that. Can you share that story with us?

Ellen Ensher
Yeah, sure. Well, this was also, I was in graduate school and I was working as a consultant, and I was one of the younger members on the consulting team, and I was doing training and development, a lot of management skills classes. And I thought I was pretty good at it until the day I went out with my fellow consultants and we had some Margaritas and we started to share about what we were all making. And I learned that everyone else was making double what I was making.

So at this point I was making $50 an hour, they were making $100 an hour. So this was back in the ‘90s. And at first I kind of beat myself up, like, “Oh, my gosh, I’m the youngest, I’m not as good. Maybe that’s what is happening.” But after talking to some other mentors and doing a reality check, looking at my teaching evaluations, I went back to my client and said, very tentatively, “What’s the deal with this?” And she said, “Well, you know what, you were a great deal for me so I gave you what you asked for and you were happy with it. If you want more you have to ask.” So I said, “Okay, I would like to have $100 an hour.” And she said, “Okay, you got it.” This is a true story.

Pete Mockaitis
That is fantastic. And so the reason you had started with a low amount is it just because you were not aware of the sort of going rates or you had come from a lower sort of compensation, you thought that would be awesome? Or where did that come from?

Ellen Ensher
Yeah, that is a really good question. I think I just did the classic undervalued myself, didn’t want to ask, just so happy to get the work, all of that. Since then, the thing I preach to my students, I actually have them do a whole assignment where, “Before you go out on the job market, look and see what people are paying for that job and then certainly be willing to negotiate.” But I have to say I did not heed those tips in my earlier days and I had to learn my lesson the hard way. Thank goodness for Margaritas, so.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, agreed. That sounds very nice right about now. Okay, so that’s one key advantage or benefit right there of mentoring is double your income by getting wise input from others and taking action on it. What have you discovered in your research are some of the other kind of compelling, maybe surprising, benefits and evidence to the importance of giving and receiving mentorship?

Ellen Ensher
Yeah. Well, actually we were kind of joking about the Margaritas but there has been – I just want to back up and say – there has been really solid robust research, some of it out of the Center for Creative Leadership that shows that people who have mentors do make more money than those who don’t have mentors, and vice versa which I think is really fascinating. So that people who serve as mentors for others actually make more money than those who do not.

I mean, other big benefits if you compare mentored versus non-mentored people, you usually see that people who are mentored have more promotions, they usually have higher job and career satisfaction, and then, again, looking at the benefits for the mentors, they usually have a sense of regenerativity, they usually get kind of an enhanced excitement and zeal for their field, a sense of appreciation. If you’re looking at it organizational-wise we see things like retention, we see development of high potentials.

So there’s been a slew of research on the benefits not just for the protégé but also for the mentor in the organization. So there’s no question in my mind that it’s really helpful.

Pete Mockaitis

Now, is there any distinction in the research in the benefits associated with if this mentorship is sort of formal or assigned or, like you mentioned earlier, “This is your mentor,” like pairings, versus it’s kind of naturally organically evolved with someone saying, “I admire the way you do things and I’d like to learn from you”? Does that make an impact there?

Ellen Ensher
It does. There’s actually been research that’s looked at that. And so, in general, what we find is that informal relationships tend to be slightly more effective than formal mentoring relationships. However, if you can get your formal mentoring program to kind of feel like an informal program in the sense that you give people choice and that they feel rewarded and they have some control over how the relationship is managed and evolve, then it can be almost as effective as an informal relationship. So it kind of comes down to like people feeling like they have that sense of chemistry or real connection with each other.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Got it. And so, then, maybe let’s start broad here. When you think about mentorship, can you share with us maybe some broad philosophies or perspectives or principles in terms of maybe what’s the right way or the wrong way to think about how mentorship should go down?

Ellen Ensher
Well, I think one of the biggest things that I like to talk about is really that people should take some pressure off of themselves because I think that there are still like a misguided notion that there’s like a soul mate mentor or protégé out there for you. You know, there’s that one right person who’ll complete you and make all your career dreams come true.

And really it’s like, take some pressure off because there isn’t just one right mentor or protégé. It’s really about having a network of different types of mentors and different types of protégés. And at different points in your life you need different kinds and different organizations, even mentors across barriers, reverse mentors. And I also think about as you go along in your career, think about mentoring as an additive sort of thing, so keep adding to your group of mentors rather than… yeah, keep adding to it basically.

Yeah, and I guess the other thing I would say is the idea of reciprocity. So realizing that the best relationships are those in which both the mentors and protégés give and get.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Excellent. Thank you. Well, so now, let’s sort of zoom in here over on the mentor side, like someone has asked you to be your mentor, or you are assigned to mentor someone, there you are sort of exchanging some conversation. What would you say would be some helpful ground rules or best practices when you’re playing the mentor role?

Ellen Ensher

That’s a really good question. I just did a whole course on this for Lynda.com so I should know all this. Well, I think the biggest thing I encourage people to start off with is to talk about their mutual expectations. So sometimes I do an icebreaker where I ask people to talk about what’s their metaphor of mentoring.

And so if you have one person going, “Oh, I think a mentor is like a doctor and they fix you.” And then another person is like, “Oh, I think a mentor is like a pace car driver. They come out and they help you when you’re in trouble.” Well, that could be two different set of expectations. So I think that’s the first thing, is talking about roles and expectations and then setting some goals for the relationship as well as looking at setting some smart goals for the overall career.

And I think both parties should cycle. So what does the mentor want to learn or gain? And what does the protégé want to learn or gain? Well, I love to encourage people to do the third thing, is to have like an action learning project. So I do a lot of community-based learning with my students. I always encourage my clients to have like a thing that mentors and protégés are working on. So you’re not just getting together kind of like, “Okay, what should we talk about?” But instead have like a project that you’re working on.

Maybe it’s something, like for the mentor, we have all this like crazy to-do list. Maybe there’s been something on there that you’ve been wanting to research or know about. Well, then this could be possibly like a project for you and your protégé.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Excellent. So thinking about the smart goals perspective there, could you maybe just give us a few examples of some of those that have been established? Because I think in the realm of learning, growth and development that can seem a little bit fuzzy or less so . . .

Ellen Ensher

Yeah. So I actually was just reading over my students’ work on their mentoring assignments, and so one of the goals he had set with his mentor was to improve his presentation skills and to actually conduct a professional presentation by the end of their time period together. And so that was a really tangible specific goal, and then the mentor had him look at some TED Talks, he gave him feedback, he did a Skype-coaching session with him. And as a result of that this student ended up bringing in like a monitor and had like “lights, camera, action” going on and his presentation was so much better because he had worked with his mentor on that goal.

Pete Mockaitis

Understood. Thank you. Okay. So, well, then now I’m thinking of folks if they missed a career and thinking, “Boy, you know what, it would be great to have an extra dose of guidance mentorship.” Where do you start in terms of, “I want to make that happen,” in terms of maybe someone already comes to mind like, “Gosh, that person is amazing”? There’s always a little bit of hero worship or something.

Ellen Ensher

Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Or if someone doesn’t even come to mind at all, it’s like, “Well, I probably should get some input from somewhere.” What would say would be the very first steps?

Ellen Ensher
Well, the funny thing is it’s not really about starting with somebody else. It’s actually about starting with yourself. So kind of the first step really is to figure out like what is it that you want and what is it that you’re good at. So, like, what are your strengths that you can build on and that you can actually offer to a potential mentor? Because you don’t want to just be like grabby-grabby needy-needy. You want to kind of come across as somebody who has something to offer as well.

And then thinking about, “All right. Well, what specifically is it that I hope to gain from a mentor?” Because I think the more specific that you can be with people then the more they’re able to make a determination if this is something they can really invest in. And then I would say, I always say dream big. Like, who are the kind of rock star go-to people in your field? And maybe you can’t get to them but maybe you can get to people who know people near them.

And so sometimes even just trying to reach out to somebody in your field will take you on a path, will maybe take you to an event where you’ll meet people around them, and you’ll get to them eventually. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis

I hear you, yes. Well, so then, you start with that introspection, and then you go about identifying and reaching out. And so are there any particulars you’d suggest in terms of the communication? I almost said the pitch. But that moment in which you kind of put out the offer, or, “This is kind of what I’m looking for and what I can bring to the table.” How might that sound in practice?

Ellen Ensher
That’s a really good question because I think a lot of people get very confused. It’s similar to like a dating thing. You wouldn’t want to call someone up on the first date and say, “Would you marry me?” So, same thing, you don’t want to reach out on a cold call and say, “Would you be my mentor?” It’s like, “Gosh, I don’t even know you.”

Instead, I think it’s best if you can have someone provided an introduction, like make a warm connect, that’s first of all. And if you can, there’s nothing wrong with a cold connect. There was just a great article that I read about Tyra Banks reaching out to Tony Hsieh at Zappos. Now, of course, that’s a famous person reaching out to a famous person so probably it’s a little different situation than most of us are in.

However, that idea of using a cold call and making a small ask, I think is really relevant. So reaching out to someone and saying, “Could I have 15 minutes of your time and ask you these three questions?” I remember I had somebody years ago who did this. I mean, I get this a lot. And the thing that so impressed me is he showed me through his three questions that he had read my work so he had two very specific questions that were also provocative and interesting and kind of made me think about things differently.

But then the third question he asked me was, “And how can I be helpful to you?” And so, literally, when I got on the phone with him, his third question was, “How can I be helpful to you?” And I was like, “Oh, okay. You know, you’re the first person who’s ever asked me that.” And then it was an amazing conversation and we did stay in touch and we were helpful to each other.

So I think if you can kind of have those ideas in mind, show that you’ve done your background research, do a small ask first and then think about how you can be helpful to them, that’s a really great way to go about approaching someone.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. So that’s an email, it’s like, “I’d love to chat for 15 minutes. I want to ask you three key questions.” And then the key questions indicate that they have done their homework, they’ve done their research, they are thinking deeply and smartly about the stuff, and the third one is a generous offering of some sort built in.

Ellen Ensher
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool. Alright. So that sounds great. So then once it’s up and running, can you offer some perspective maybe on the notion of the protégé giving back or it being a two-way street? Because I think that many a protégé might say, “Oh, but this person is so amazing and impressive and established. What could little old me offer them?”

I think sometimes just a little bit of a voice of smallness in a response to that kind of advice. So could you maybe bring it to life with some examples with your interviews of 50 mentors/protégés of esteem? What have you seen are ways that protégés have really been helpful to the mentors?

Ellen Ensher
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, in fact, it’s funny because I remember one of the quotes from my book. I talked with the protégé of the U.S. Treasurer who at that time was Rosario Marin. Her protégé talked about, “She’s way up there and I’m way down here. What can she ever see in me? How can I ever help her?”

And she talked about how, as the relationship evolved, that voice saying, “She’s way up there, I’m way down here.” It started to get smaller because what she realized is that there were things that she could do. So, for example, Rosario went to D.C., Araceli, her protégé was still here in L.A., in Southern California, and so she was able to keep her connected with what was happening in Los Angeles. So she served as a communication conduit.

I know a lot of times I deal with this with my 20-year old students. So I say to them, “Now, everyone, get a mentor.” And as wonderful and brilliant as they are, they do feel that sense of, “Oh, gosh, I’m not worthy,” or, “What do I have to offer?” Honestly, one of the greatest things that you can offer is energy and enthusiasm because I think probably none of us get enough appreciation for what we do. And so often, when I hear back from mentors of my Millennials, they say, “Gosh, it’s just so nice to have some be interested and appreciate and help me remember what it is that I love about this field.”

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s excellent. So energy and enthusiasm, we could all provide that.

Ellen Ensher
Appreciation, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And appreciation. What else?

Ellen Ensher

Again, it kind of gets back into your personal strengths. I guess I’m just thinking about like someone I’m mentoring right now, and she’s on the job market and so I’ve been helping her with connections but she’s been helping me. We just wrote an article together for LinkedIn on egg-freezing as a way to decrease the gender wage gap which is pretty funny because we got majorly trolled after that. But she brought kind of this new perspective of what’s going on with people in their 20s and 30s. And so, for me, it was like that fresh perspective from her.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. That’s excellent. So, well, tell us, Ellen, is there anything else you’d like to make sure to mention before we kind of shift gears and hear about your favorite things?

Ellen Ensher

I think the biggest thing I wanted to mention is just for people to really understand that mentoring is not just about improving your professional life. It’s also so helpful in your personal life. In fact, I have a kind of personal self-disclosure story around that, if you’d like me to share that.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear it.

Ellen Ensher

Okay. So, let’s see, today is May 4. Well, in two days, May 6, I will celebrate my two-year anniversary at being a breast cancer survivor. And the reason this relates to mentoring is because when I got the news that I had breast cancer I was shocked and horrified, as I’m sure everyone is. And what happens when you have that kind of news is you realize, “Oh, my gosh,” suddenly my identity just shifted. I just went from being a professor and a mom and a consultant and an author to being a patient. Yuck. And you have to acquire all this new knowledge really, really quickly.

And so I realized, “Wait a minute. I know how to do this. I know how to acquire new knowledge. I know how to get a network. I need to get mentors.” And so as soon as I got the news I put it out there to a group of moms, and I assembled a team of cancer mentors for myself. And so I had women who coached me through chemo, I had women who gave me ideas about how to be like a medical advocate, I had mentors for kind of transitioning back to work.

And then coming back, we actually have a cancer mentoring network here on campus and it’s so wonderful to be on the other side of that and I do a lot of mentoring for women who are breast cancer patients and survivors. So it was something. To be honest with you, it gave me new life to what I had been doing professionally because I always knew mentoring mattered, like, “Yay, you get to make more money.” But, really, at the end of the day, when you have like a personal crisis, realizing if you can acquire that skill of knowing how to get a team of mentors, it can save your life. So there you go.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is beautiful. Thank you for sharing that and opening up. And you’re doing well now.

Ellen Ensher

I’m doing great, yes. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis

Fantastic. And I think in a way that inspires me. In a way, it almost just makes me think of the A-Team, I don’t know. Talk about opening up. I’m guess I’m thinking about that old show with Mr. T in the gold chain and the A-Team, it’s like there’s something kind of exciting about, “Hey, there’s some high stakes here, like life itself.”

Ellen Ensher

Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’re going to assemble a group of folks who can come together and each contributes something to come away with a very powerful important meaningful outcome on the other side, and then everybody is enriched along the way. That’s fantastic.

Ellen Ensher

Right. Because when you think about it, I mean, life is going to keep handing us unexpected challenges. It’s like sometimes we take on new identities that we plan to have, like, “Yay, I got a promotion. Now I’m a manager.” Other times we get handed new identities and we have to acquire new skillsets that we didn’t want. But if you can get this team of mentors it can really help to buffer you through that process and kind of get up and going and up to speed on it and get through it.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Thank you. Well, now, can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ellen Ensher
Well, my mom always said, “This, too, shall pass.”

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And how about a favorite study or experiment or a bit of research?

Ellen Ensher
So, right now, one of my favorite studies is a study that my co-author, Susan Murphy, and I did a couple of years ago when we looked at relational challenges. So it’s kind of the idea that in an interpersonal relationship, you know how people challenge each other a little bit or they have a little test, like, “How do I look in this pair of pants? Does my butt look big in these jeans?” And then how that partner responds is often a big test of what’s going to happen.

Well, the same thing happens in mentoring. So sometimes a mentor will say to a protégé, “Hey, why don’t you reach out to this person or read this book?” And then if the protégé does it – great. If not, the mentor is kind of disappointed then the relationship can kind of end. We’re starting some new research looking at this in Europe as well. It’s kind of the idea that realizing when you’re in a relationship with a mentor that there are these tests and challenges, sometimes they’re very subtle. And when somebody makes a suggestion, for example, to follow through with it because it’s really an opportunity to impress him.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s interesting. Now when you say tests, I guess I’m thinking sometimes they are maybe explicit in the mind of the test issuer, like, “Well, we’ll just see what happens here.” In other times they’re more just implicit, like folks they think, “Oh, is this a good idea?” And then they just sort of noticed that you didn’t do it, and you’re just a little bit soured on, like, “Well, maybe you’re not into this.”

Ellen Ensher

That’s exactly it, because most mentors when you ask them that, I think most people don’t realize that they’re even posing these tests right away but then as you probe, the protégés are very aware of that. And as people really think about it, they realized like, “Oh, yeah, I do kind of test people.” Most of us do.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, I’ll be reflecting on the implications of this for my wife. And how about a favorite book?

Ellen Ensher
Well, I love to read, and really one of my favorites is the The Circle and it’s not just because the movie is out right now. I read it years ago. It became our book of the year here on campus. And I love it because it’s just creepy good and it’s kind of like technology gone awry. And I love the author, he’s really into social justice and does a lot for kids. So it’s kind of the whole package. The other one I love right now, more business-y, is Presuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Pete Mockaitis

Yes. Oh, it’s so good. So I was reading it on my honeymoon. A little Hawaii beach read.

Ellen Ensher
Nice.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite tool?

Ellen Ensher
Well, you’re going to laugh at this. My favorite tool is to delegate everything that I possibly can. So I am really busy as a professor, and as a writer, and as a speaker, and as a mom, and as a wife, and as a friend, and as a daughter. And so I kind of look at my favorite tool is having a team of research assistants. Honestly, having people who help me at home, realizing that when my son was struggling in math, instead of me figuring it out, I could get a tutor, a college student who’s much more familiar with that. So I think my favorite tool is delegation in getting help.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, thank you. And how about is there a particular nugget that really seems to resonate with folks, an articulation of your message that makes people seem to take notes or nod their heads all the more vigorously?

Ellen Ensher

Yeah. I think it’s to have a network of different types of mentors.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And, Ellen, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Ellen Ensher
So, my website EllenEnsher.com is great. Of course, I’m also on LinkedIn, Twitter and I have a Facebook page too. But probably it’s best to stop at the website. I’ve got the TEDx Talk there, the links to the LinkedIn classes as well as just some other mentoring resources that people can access, and a blog.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, great. Thank you. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Ellen Ensher

Well, I think it’s obvious for me to say get a mentor, but I think I would also say the other side of that is to be a mentor. So to look for opportunities where you can actively mentor others and that can happen at any point. So high school students can mentor middle school students. Middle school students can mentor the lower grades. So if you’re working in the workforce, there’s always someone, even if it’s just college students that you could mentor. So be a mentor and get a mentor. Like, always have both sides of the equation going because I think one role informs the other and it will build some empathy and skills both ways.

Pete Mockaitis

Perfect. Ellen, thank you so much for taking this time right at the end of the semester insanity. This has been a lot of fun, and I hope you enjoy the summer.

Ellen Ensher
Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

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