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Joe Supervielle: Welcome to Voices in Local Government, an ICMA podcast. My name is Joe Supervielle. With me is Mary Furtado, David Street, and Rob Carty. Thanks for joining us today.
David Street: Thank you.
Rob Carty: Pleasure to be here.
Mary Furtado: Excited.
Joe Supervielle: Mary Furtado, assistant county manager of Catawba County, North Carolina. Mary has met the Pope and the Dalai Lama, and has another interesting fact when we get to our game here in just a minute. Thanks for being here today, Mary.
Mary Furtado: Excited to be with you.
Joe Supervielle: David Street, local government rock and roll. He'll be bringing the energy today. Chief of staff for Loudoun County, Virginia, and the author of some of the most helpful and most popular ICMA blogs over the last year or two.
David Street: Yeah, super excited to be here. Super excited to share the story and the passion for serving local government.
Joe Supervielle: Rob Carty, ICMA's director of career services. Rob oversees our local government management fellowship program and our coaching program and has worked internationally in Zambia and Ireland. Thanks for being here, Rob.
Rob Carty: Great to be here.
Joe Supervielle: Mentors and mentees. To start, for Mary, David and Rob, and even the audience listening, we're going to kind of play a little game here. I'm going to give out famous fictional pairs of mentor and mentee, and you three are going to choose your favorite, or best, or however you define it, but we're focusing on the relationship more than just which show, movie or book you actually liked more. It's more on the two people. The first one, of local government themselves, from Parks and Rec, Ron Swanson and Leslie Knope, or Jack and Liz Lemon from 30 Rock. David, why don't you go first?
David Street: It's got to be Ron and Leslie.
Joe Supervielle: Rob?
Rob Carty: I always liked the 30 Rock dynamic, myself.
Joe Supervielle: Mary, the interesting tidbit we didn't get to earlier. Why don't you tell us and then finally make your choice here?
Mary Furtado: All right. My spirit animal is a mashup of Leslie Knope and Liz Lemon, but I think at the end of the day, I'm going to have to go with Jack and Liz from 30 Rock.
Joe Supervielle: The next one, for the Star Trek fans out there, Captain Kirk and crew or Captain Picard and crew? Rob, you go first.
Rob Carty: It's got to be Picard.
Joe Supervielle: Mary?
Mary Furtado: Kirk.
Joe Supervielle: David?
David Street: Picard.
Rob Carty: Make it so.
Mary Furtado: I'm feeling the burn.
Joe Supervielle: A potential rhetorical question, but I could have flipped it. I could have said Spock was the mentor and Kirk was the mentee, which we'll get to, because sometimes it's a two-way street.
Rob Carty: That's absolutely true.
Joe Supervielle: That's something to think about. I think Spock was actually my guy, even though not as big a Trek fan as some. More so than Trek, I was the Star Wars kid growing up, so this one is Yoda/Obi-Wan and Luke Skywalker kind of from the original three, versus old man Luke and Rey from the newer trilogy. I could probably guess which way this is going, but Mary, start us off this time.
Mary Furtado: I don't know how you vote against Yoda in anything, so, I'm a purist. I'm going original.
Joe Supervielle: Yeah. David?
David Street: Here's my controversial opinion. Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Joe Supervielle: You stole my joke there, too. I was going Qui-Gon, the much hated on prequels, but he's actually probably the best leader/mentor of all nine.
David Street: For sure. For sure.
Joe Supervielle: ... but I thought maybe too obscure for some of the audiences. It was kind of just that first movie, so Rob, you can write one in or you can vote on the first two choices there.
Rob Carty: Yoda's the OG mentor there, right? "Do or do not. There is no try."
Joe Supervielle: Well, also debatable, but maybe a good line. All right. The dark side of Star Wars, we're going to bring in some bad guys now. Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader, the maybe greatest villain of all time. Maybe toxic relationship there if you really break it down, or Vito and Michael Corleone from Godfather, going a little further back, but the original and then the son who takes over as kind of the bad guy. Between those two, Rob, why don't you start?
Rob Carty: As much of a Star Wars fan as I am, I like the idea of being indebted to someone for life and not knowing what that debt's going to be, with the Godfather.
Joe Supervielle: Yeah. David?
David Street: If you go back and look at what mentoring really is, it's being able to influence somebody, influence their direction, influence their development. Although the dark side of the force is a pathway to many abilities that some consider to be unnatural, I have to go with Palps and Vader.
Joe Supervielle: Effective, even if not great outcomes for the rest of the galaxy.
David Street: He's a strong influencer.
Joe Supervielle: Mary, what about you?
Mary Furtado: Godfather on this one, too.
Joe Supervielle: Gandalf and Frodo from Lord of the Rings or Dumbledore and Harry Potter? Mary, go ahead.
Mary Furtado: That was a tough one for me. I sat on the fence for a while but I think I'm going to jump in with Dumbledore and Harry Potter.
Joe Supervielle: Rob?
Rob Carty: I have to agree. I think the mentor/mentee relationship, I guess it depends on, is it a sink or swim environment or a nurturing environment? I think with Frodo and Gandalf it was like, sink or swim. You're on this team, now go. Destroy that ring. I'm behind you, but I'm working on something else, whereas the relationship between Dumbledore and Harry was a much more nurturing and supportive mentor relationship. I will say, on this topic, someone has described Mary as their Patronus, as a mentor.
Mary Furtado: Top shelf, baby.
Rob Carty: Harry Potter runs deep.
Mary Furtado: Yep.
Joe Supervielle: David?
David Street: I'm conflicted, but I'm going to have to go with the majority on this one. I could probably argue either side, but if you're looking for a truly developed mental relationship, it's hard to get a better example than Harry Potter and Professor Albus Dumbledore.
Joe Supervielle: All right. Next on the list, Morpheus and Neo from The Matrix or Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid? David, go ahead.
David Street: Miyagi's the ultimate teacher, but what I really appreciate about the character is he doesn't do anything for, I think it's Danny, right?
Mary Furtado: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
David Street: Isn't the Karate Kid Danny?
Rob Carty: Danny. Right.
David Street: Okay. Good. My '80s are showing through a little bit. He doesn't do anything for him. He empowers him to do, but if you look at Morpheus, so does he, although I think when you look at intention, Miyagi's intention is for the benefit of Danny and Morpheus's intention isn't necessarily for the benefit of Neo, so I have to go with Miyagi.
Joe Supervielle: Mary?
Mary Furtado: I'm going Miyagi, too, for the same reason. He doesn't give him the answers. He asks him questions and makes Danny figure it out on his own.
Joe Supervielle: Rob?
Rob Carty: I like both of these. I agree with Mary and David about Mr. Miyagi but what I like about Morpheus is he shows Neo the world that can be and gets him to open his mind into something he hadn't even known existed, just like, this is your potential. I'm helping you see the bigger-
Joe Supervielle: Bigger picture stuff.
Rob Carty: Yeah.
Joe Supervielle: Yeah. Quick aside, as a kid watching the Karate Kid movie, I couldn't get past, hey, Mr. Miyagi's just tricking Daniel into doing these chores for him. What is this? You're just washing a car and painting the fence. No. No thanks.
Mary Furtado: It's very Tom Sawyer of him.
Joe Supervielle: I'm out on Karate Kid. I'll go with Matrix there. The next one, a couple comedies from a little further back than recently, Dr. Cox and JD of Scrubs or Ted Lasso and Roy Kent? I believe Rob and David and myself have not seen Ted Lasso yet so they're going to default to the first one, but, Mary, you go ahead and take this one away.
Mary Furtado: I'm going Ted Lasso and Roy Kent and I'm doing that to tantalize the three of you a little bit or maybe even taunt you into watching it because it's definitely worth the watch, but it's all about the positive motivation, so having somebody who can be positive and spark that in you, I think, is a little different than the relationship between Dr. Cox and JD.
Joe Supervielle: The last one, maybe my favorite, Don Draper and Peggy Olson, the greatest copywriting advertising duo of all time, or Walter White and Jesse Pinkman of Breaking Bad who had a different line of business. Rob, why don't you go first?
Rob Carty: I have not really watched either of those shows, but I can jump back to the Ted Lasso thing only to say that the general nature of what I've heard about that show is positivity, and I think where everybody's been for the last 18 months, that's definitely next on my watch list.
Joe Supervielle: David?
David Street: Very much like Morpheus and Neo and Miyagi and the Karate Kid were both positive examples from different perspectives, these are both bad examples from different perspectives, so the outcomes for both are really strong. Don and Peggy do great advertising work. Walter and Jesse do a lot of crimes very successfully, but neither of them are great relationships, so I'll lean on the one that I know the best, which is Don and Peggy.
Joe Supervielle: Mary?
Mary Furtado: I'm going to go with Don and Peggy on this one, too, and to the point about the fact that there's some negative aspects in both relationships, I think it was actually two-way mentoring street between Don and Peggy, and I'm always going to give a shout out to a strong woman in the '50s, '60s.
Joe Supervielle: That was fun. Thanks for playing. Hopefully the audience was kind of playing along and I'm sure they're thinking, hey, they missed these two from this show or this movie, Sopranos, Game of Thrones, lots of stuff. We weren't able to get to all of them, but you can send your list of favorites or things we missed either on ICMA Connect or email@example.com, and more importantly than just the list are follow-up questions on this topic or things that you'd like to see either this group, or if we get a new set of guests in here, talk about or cover next time mentoring comes up.
Again, thanks for the audience listening today, and we're going to now get really into it. Most of those mentor examples we just went over are great, and there are some real lessons to learn, but life is not a clean, three act Hero's Journey script, either, so it doesn't always go that smoothly or have those little moments of the light bulb going off with the one quote from the mentor, but I wanted to start with just dispelling some myths or unrealistic expectations of being a mentor, doing the mentoring, or, if you're on the other side, what to look for.
Transitioning from those fictional relationships to real life, talk about expectations. Mary, if you can start us off.
Mary Furtado: Sure. I think in any mentor/mentee relationship, there's got to be that right fit, like natural mentors, and natural mentor/mentee pairs come up, and when you can find that mentor naturally, that's great, but having said that, if you encounter someone through maybe a formal mentoring program or you've been paired with someone or you have a supervisor who you might not click with 100%, I think it's a myth to think that you can't get anything out of that relationship, so I don't think it's necessarily an all or nothing thing.
You can have mentors for certain skillsets that you're working on and you might say to yourself, "That person in these other realms isn't someone who I'm going to seek mentoring advice from." The other thing I'd say, the other big myth that jumped into my mind when in saw this question is that a mentor is going to be the make or break opener of doors for you.
I do think that's a true statement but I don't think, like, it's go to be a two way street, so a good mentor is going to have some skin in the game and be willing to exert influence to help create opportunities for you as a mentee, but I think the mentee holds just as much responsibility in terms of driving that relationship and putting skin in the game, so to speak, to get some yield from that effort.
Joe Supervielle: David, can you add to that?
David Street: Yeah, and I was actually, you brought us back to reality but I'm going to go straight back to television. You see that so wonderfully played out between Jack and Liz on 30 Rock. In the wild, most people aren't going to come up and Jack Donaghy you in Episode 1, say from on high that I'm going to help guide your career, help guide your thoughts, decisions and give input.
Joe Supervielle: The protege word. That's kind of a more extreme, like, I'm taking on everything about this and trying to mold them too much, so that's what you're saying, it's not really how it goes normally?
David Street: I would say, it can go that way, but it's certainly more are, particularly outside of the structured environments that Mary referenced a moment ago, but I would say, too, and it builds on a little bit with what you led off with which is, very rarely, too, is there a straight path. I have people who I consider to be very strong mentors where the relationship is informal. We'll chat, do check-ins about different things. I'll specifically seek them out for advice on specific topics, but it's never been a, okay, you're my mentor now. They've grown up a little bit more organically than you perhaps would have seen with using the Jack and Liz example.
Joe Supervielle: Yeah, and Rob, you've had your own experiences. You've also kind of shepherded a lot of ICMA members through the process on both sides, so what are your thoughts on some myths or maybe unrealistic expectations?
Rob Carty: I have lots, but to touch on what Mary and David were just saying, I think, as the field of mentoring matures more, and maybe this was done more effectively in the past and we're just rediscovering it or not, I think different words for mentor mean different things, like, you mentioned protege, but there's also coach, mentor, catalyst, and also advocate, are words that have been used to describe mentoring.
There's mentoring to kind of learn a topic or a field or a task or some kind of project management or something like that. There's sort of like book learning mentoring, and then there's coach, which is more like, you're a professional, they're a professional. I want to check in. I have some specific questions, and then there's advocate is, I think, what they use for the door opener, advocate and catalyst are kind of those people who energize your career and actually can kind of make waves part for you or a network in such a way, they really advocate on your behalf and help drive you to greater career advancement, things like that.
Some other myths, I think, is that it's a lifetime commitment. I think people, like, ah, you should be a mentor. Like, oh, that sounds scary. I'm someone's mentor for life. That's not true that it's one way. That's not a one way relationship. It's not directive. In fact, I think this falls on mentors more, coaches more, is they might misunderstand the role. The coach should actually be listening more than talking, as a guide post. There's a lot of listening involved, and I think coaches listen and help people find solutions on their own, and then advocates may be more directive.
You don't have to wait be assigned a mentor. Like David said, I think sometimes you find these people naturally and by accident and relationships over time kind of turn into mentoring relationships. I think the idea that a mentor is older than you or in a superior position in an organization is a myth. I think you can have mentors at your own age, younger than you. If you're open, if your mind is open, you can learn from anybody at any time. Even as we've decided, from television, there's plenty of great leadership lessons in entertainment, that coaching is a performance evaluation, that mentoring is some kind of performance evaluation. That's not the case. A performance evaluation's a totally different animal than mentoring.
Mary Furtado: I'd throw in a myth that mentors are doing the mentee a favor. I know that some of my relationships where I have young professionals calling me and talking with me, it's like a booster shot for me, so I view it as very much a two way street that I find just as rewarding as, hopefully, the person who I'm coaching, mentoring, and then the other thing is a myth that a mentor is going to be a person to give you advice. That can be the case, but I would say my most influential and effective mentor never, ever, ever told me what I should do.
He asked me questions and made me self-examine and kind of pulled out of me the answers that I was looking for. I'd come to him and pose a question and he'd respond with a question and then I'd say, "Well, I think, blah, blah, blah," and he'd say, "See? You didn't even need me. You already knew that. You had that instinct inside you." It helped build my confidence, and so I would say it's definitely a myth that, and maybe to some of Rob's point about the expectations mentors have if they're doing a lot of talking. Super skilled listener who's able to pose those probing questions that draw out of you what's already in there in a way that helps you find your leadership voice.
Rob Carty: Absolutely. To flip that narrative from myth, I think they can help you become unstuck, by asking those right questions when you're kind of too deep in the weeds on something like, go back, jump up to 30,000, 70,000 feet and look at it from a different perspective if you've been in the weeds too long.
Joe Supervielle: The next subtopic has almost been covered in all those great responses, but just the bigger question that I think a lot of young professionals in local government or otherwise ask is, how do I find a mentor? You all already pointed out that it can be very formal or informal, it can kind of just happen by chance or circumstance, or sometimes maybe there is a formal way, like through some of the programs ICMA offers or even within a local government that has an official program that assigns mentors. Mary, she used the word favor. That was another question I had. How does someone who's kind of looking for that guide or that coach, how can they proactively show interest in wanting that without making it sound like a favor?
Is step one just realizing that it doesn't have to be and to get over that, or maybe that awkwardness, or, like, hey, they're busy or they're important, I don't want to take up too much of your time. How can they learn to get past that?
Mary Furtado: I'm always a big person for claiming intentions and putting intentions out there, so I know there's a woman in my organization and she has, I guess, just gravitated towards me and she's always apologetic when she calls or when she's like, "Let's go grab lunch. I know you have so much going on," and so, I've said to her a million times, "Someone asking questions is a point of self-reflection for me, so it's helpful for me, too," and that's where that booster shot piece comes in.
I think just put it there. "Hey. I know you've got a lot going on," and you're being candid. If the person's like, "Yeah. I do. I do have a lot going on. You're so right about that." Probably not the best mentor mindset, so you just kind of move on. That mentor's going to be a person who is willingly giving of that part of themselves, and then the other thing I'd say is just form relationships with people.
Instead of going out and seeking a mentor, work your network. Form a network and diversify the relationships that you build and you foster and you cultivate, and the mentor candidates, if you want to think of it that way, will emerge. As I said, it's like, for certain people, I would say we don't necessarily have the best relationship in the whole wide world, but there are pieces of the way that they lead that I really admire and so I might ask them questions on one aspect of leadership that I see that they have that I'm aspiring to, and it's not all or nothing.
This is going to sound funny. 1/10 of that person is a mentor to me, and 90% of that person is maybe what I don't want to do. It doesn't need to be this all or nothing, one to one thing.
Joe Supervielle: The question from the get-go isn't literally, will you by mentor? It's more of a, here's a specific topic, question, or something like I'd some guidance, and as we talked about earlier, don't expect them to do it for you or just magically solve the problem, but maybe guide you along the way. David, what has your experience been as you've maybe been on the mentee side of it, building and cultivating those relationships that you've gained from?
David Street: Well, I'll start by saying that I have been lucky. I got lucky, so that's how I stumbled into the relationships that I have that I consider mentor type relationships to myself. I happen to have stumbled into a job in an office where the totality, almost the totality of the executive managers are what I think of as developers, so they will engage in that sort of Socratic style of questioning, thinking through, teasing out different details of your own thought processes so that you can examine them perhaps more clearly or through a more experienced lens.
For me, it was luck and then realizing, okay, this is the environment I've landed in. What can I do with it? How can I learn from and approach these folks in a way that benefits me professionally, benefits the organization I work for, and, I hope, derive some sort of learning or satisfaction from them, as well. I would say that I got lucky and then figured out pretty early that I got lucky, and now-
Joe Supervielle: But also, recognize that you did it to capitalize on it.
David Street: Yeah, and the one thing I'll say, too, it's okay to capitalize on it, and okay to be, like Mary said, have your intention out in front that you want to capitalize on it, because I've found, too, that most people like being learned from, believe it or not, and so people are eager to share their thoughts and experiences with you. All you got to do is be okay asking them about it, and being receptive to either what they're asking you or what they're sharing with you.
Joe Supervielle: Rob, earlier you mentioned having your eyes open to find that mentor. It doesn't have to be one person or a boss. It also doesn't necessarily have to be just that industry, so anything to elaborate there?
Rob Carty: Absolutely. I think, to consider there's different mentors for different purposes, and I might have a yearlong relationship that's part of a program, like, I think it's our Emerging Leaders Development Program assigns a mentor as part of that program, and then there's mentors out there if you need them, like our coaching program. I've got a specific topic-based question that, maybe a one-off or a three month kind of a thing. Some if it depends on the challenges or the needs you're having, like the question, I'm thinking of changing jobs, here's where I was thinking of going conversation, is a lot different than, I'm having a tactical issue with my council or the community.
We're launching a new program and I'm kind of stuck on where to go from here, so those are very different conversations which would wouldn't necessarily be with the same person. Frank Benest, who's very active in our coaching program and our Next Generation programs says that he uses a two plus one model, two internal, one external, so he advocates, you've got sort of a mentor on your own team, and then maybe you have a mentor in the organization who's not on your team but who can give you kind of an organization perspective.
Then, there's somebody outside your organization completely who you can ask for other things, so, that could all be based on the same question, like, here's this program challenge that we're having. Here's my internal perspective. Here's my org perspective, and then here's the total outsider perspective. I think, to what Mary and David said, relationship building is key to that, so if you're open and a team player and you've just got relationships with people, as Frank says, coaches like to coach, so people like to be learned from. I think I would just say, don't ever be afraid to ask a question.
Take the reins and just ask somebody, and even if you use a network tool to be your cold open, so, alumni networks, professional associations. If you're on some kind of committee or task force in your association or in your community, a local leadership program, things like that, anybody could be your co-problem solver.
David Street: I really love that two to one that you brought out, and I want to tack on to it if I can. I had a coach a couple of years ago that took it maybe a step farther than that. When you're trying to develop certain qualities or certain pieces of yourself, whether it's professional or not, you can also pull on other different sources that might be inspiring to you. The way that she termed it was, okay, so, you're here. You're here to do this task. You got to do this thing. Who's in your posse behind you to back you up?
It's a little bit of a mind game, but you can learn from people without them realizing that you're learning from them, where you don't have to necessarily know them to take away a lesson or a learning.
Joe Supervielle: I'll flip it around now. We mostly focused on the mentor or how can you find the mentor. How can they find the mentee? I think a lot of the things everyone already brought up is still applicable, but how does it go the other way?
David Street: I'm a big believer in that it's never too early to pay it forward. I'm still pretty young in my career, but I'm also thinking about, okay, how can I help people who are in graduate school consider local government or consider working for a county or consider what they could do in public service or public administration, generally. I don't have to be a 20 year veteran or a multi-decade subject matter expert to do that. All I have to do to do that and access those folks is tell my story, so it's okay to say, "Hey. Here's my story," even if you only have five or less or whatever years in the job or if you're mid-career or if you're early in.
I think it's never too soon to put the ladder down for the next person or people.
Mary Furtado: I'd add to that, a super natural way to find mentees if that's something that you're seeking is internships and fellowships, and offer those. Have your organization take part in those. I can tell you that I have, again, for me, I don't view them, really, as mentoring relationships, although, really and truly that's what they are, and I get so much energy from them. This whole cadre I have of young people who have worked with Catawba County over the years, and when we go to conferences it's like old home week.
Phones are blowing up and we're all reconnecting, and I get super jazzed about that. I got a text from a woman I worked with, what, five, six years ago, saying, "I saw you in the ICMA magazine," and it's like, those relationships grew naturally out of professional opportunities that our organization offered, so, internships, the fellowship, working with local high schools to get high school interns to come in.
There was an intern who came through our office who I actually just bumped into at the ICMA conference. She's now in the NPA program. There's a young woman in my Rotary Club who was working in the nonprofit sector and she just one day said something to me about how it was frustrating for her to work on a narrow niche problem. Every time she wanted to figure out root cause she was bumping up against the mission of the organization. She said, "It's like hamstringing," and I was like, "You need to check out local government."
She got a master's degree in public administration. Now, she's working in local government. That's outside the organization and connecting with that young professional pipeline, as David was talking about. I'd also say, mentor/mentee relationships within this organization where I'm working now, if I see someone who is a diamond in the rough, if I think I could maybe help polish that, I'll reach out to them.
Maybe I'll send them a note and say, "You did a really good presentation at the board meeting last week. If you ever want to grab lunch, let me know." One of the supervisors in my organization texted me a picture yesterday of a note I sent to one of the employees who ran, brought it into the department head's office and said, "I got a note from Mary," and I think this woman's really bright and I think she's got a really strong future here with us.
I'm not necessarily out seeking mentees, but I'm interested in connecting with people and fostering the culture of our organization and helping develop people. David was talking about how the best mentors are developers and are coaches, and so I think if you believe in that and if you seek mentor/mentee relationships, then some of those things are going to come naturally. It's funny because as I was sitting here thinking about my most favorite, best mentor, given the game we played on the lead in, he used to say we did the Vulcan mind meld, and we clicked.
We just clicked, and that became one of the most robust mentoring relationships I've ever encountered. I'd be in mid-sentenced and he'd ... You guys can't see me. He'd basically move his hand between our two heads, be like, "I got your thought. You can stop talking." That was the first signal that that was a really strong mentoring relationship that was starting to grow, so I think there's lots of ways to find mentees. They all root in authentic relationships and then just putting yourself out there, again, working the network.
David Street: Yeah. That's so critical, too. I think you also have to be willing to put yourself out there and be a little vulnerable and say, "Okay, well, here's where I struggled with this," or be willing to probe a little bit into the human side of somebody who, like Mary said, you think is a diamond in the rough, who did do a really great job or who you can see is really strong in their public service motivation, too, so there's a little bit of social risk that you have to take, I think, particularly if you approach it the way that I have been approached, and that's from the developer perspective, you have to have a little bit of proactivity and then be willing to put yourself out there, and that ain't easy.
Joe Supervielle: And do it in a where, as you all touched on earlier, the mentor doesn't position themself as the all-knowing. They're not Yoda. They don't have all the answers, and probably just from the beginning, make that clear with the mentee that it's a support and a maybe challenge the mentee to do better or figure it out rather than just give them the answers.
Mary Furtado: Yeah. Add that to the pile of myths, as a myth is that the mentor is perfect, because some of the strongest mentoring interactions I've had have been with mentors have shared with me things that they screwed up. They've said, "This is what I learned from that," and that really was impactful because it made them more human, as David was saying, more approachable, less up on that pedestal, less intimidating, really.
Joe Supervielle: Which is the common trope in a lot of those fictional characters. The mentor starts off as the maybe all knowing person, but then they even learn or they realize that I have something to learn from this younger, enthusiastic, maybe reckless, but the up and comer, and the mentor typically learns their own lesson as the story goes. Let's get into some specific desired outcomes. Professional development kind of comes to mind for the mentee, but it seems like that shouldn't be the exclusive goal going in on the mentee side. David, can you speak on that?
David Street: Yeah. I think, if you're in one of those internal organization or relationships, you want the individual person to excel and succeed and you want the organization to benefit from that. I have a really good example that just happened to me, actually. There's somebody who I think has a lot of really great skills that they could bring to bear that they are working through the early years in their career to bring to bear. I encouraged that person to apply for a pretty high level position and they, after talking with them a little bit to say, "Hey, I think you'd be a good git for this. Why don't you go ahead, and what do you think about throwing your hat in the ring?"
Came out of the interview earlier, and from my perspective, she absolutely hit a home run, so now the absolute worst thing that anybody can come out and say is, "Well, she was really real prepared and had great answers and was good to interact with," even if she's not successful in the recruitment, and so, to see that play out, to say, "Okay, so, here's somebody else coming up in the organization who's invested in the organization who's going to be motivated to add value, and who other people now see is doing a good job," I think that's meaningful for both the person coming up, the mentor, as well as the organization that they're working in because that person's encouraged to keep trying for bigger and better things because they did the work and then they got a positive result.
Joe Supervielle: Rob, can you talk about maybe specifically the ICMA program? If you have someone interested in signing up on either side of it, but they ask you, well, what is the goal here? What are we supposed to get out of this? What's the advice you give them?
Rob Carty: A desired outcome is, and I'm just going to read some words off that I think are important, that it's safe and confidential, that it's fun, supportive, learning, respectful, and impactful. I think it should be all of those. I think people should be comfortable, especially with something like our one to one coaching program where you're kind of signing up, probably, to talk to a stranger. You might actually find a coach in there that you already met. It should kind of be all those things.
Both parties should get those experiences out of something like our coaching program. Other mentoring things, other natural mentoring experiences should also probably have those elements involved, as well, especially those that are built on relationships. I think one of the things that you can do to, just kind of jumping back a little bit to the previous question and how to find people, I talked to a member last month who actually had a great mentoring experience early in his career and he emails all the new management fellows across the country and all the grad students in his local grad program to say, "Hey. I'm deputy manager here in this area. Ever have a question or ever need anything, just reach out to me."
He doesn't get a lot of hits, but five or six wrote him back and they had conversations about challenges and things like that, so, again, just back to putting yourself out there, being comfortable with nurturing relationships. A lot of mentors might not even know they're your mentor. You might see them as that but they might not know that, just because of the nature of the personal relationship that you had, so I think being welcoming, open and available is really key to that, but it's also kind of a no risk thing, especially with our coaching program.
If you sign up to be a coach, most of those are kind of one-off conversations. Sometimes they last six months. Sometimes a relationship is formed that naturally turns into a mentoring relationship. That's one thing, from a tactical side, we actually augmented our credential managers program. Part of the ICMA credentials managers program is active mentoring, but we added coaching to that, to say that you can have one year long, classic mentoring relationship, or you can do a series of coaching experiences that qualify you for that part of the credential.
Like we said earlier in the call, it doesn't have to be a lifetime event. It could be a one-off. You could have a really powerful experience with somebody that you only had one conversation with. Like, at our conference and some state conferences do speed coaching. I had a great conversation at that event that then led to either I maybe never talked to that person again and had kind of a life-changing aha moment, or, wow, now I'm going to follow up with that person later. Being available but also knowing that, again, it should be, especially confidential and a safe experience where you can kind of say everything you want, and that's one reason I think why the two plus one model works really well is because you might have questions or concerns you want to ask somebody but not in this organization. I got to talk to somebody outside for that other perspective.
Joe Supervielle: Mary, another specific question. You or David could speak to this. If there is a formal assigning of a mentor, how would you recommend the mentor keep the focus on the relationship and all the positive aspects we've talked about versus what it ends up maybe being often, is just kind of trying to assimilate that new hire into the culture, which maybe is a worthwhile outcome, but it maybe isn't what really what that mentoring is for. I don't want to use the word trapped, but it seems like sometimes you get assigned someone and it's really to kind of show you, well, hey, this is how we do it here versus listening. You used the word listening earlier, so how do you recommend someone in your shoes make sure the focus stays on all those other things we've already talked about?
Mary Furtado: I think, listening and then asking questions. I know that part of, I mentioned that I get just as much out of these relationships, as, hopefully, the people who I'm mentoring get out of it. I'll ask them a ton of questions about decisions that we're making, so, we've got interns in roles who come through here in the summer. They're part of our department head team as we're struggling, you know, we're making real organizational decisions. We were pitching some changes to our benefits package and we had an intern in the mix in some of these meetings, and afterwards I turned to him and I said, "What'd you think of the way we framed that? How did that strike you?"
I wasn't trying to get him to tell me we did a great job. I mean, I think there's this notion of honesty and I always say, I don't even want to be the emperor with no clothes, so asking questions and really, truly seeking that feedback to make sure that we're well rounded and that we're not creating that assimilating expectation. It was funny because I've also said, "Don't tell me what you think I want to hear. When I ask you a question about, do you think we framed that appropriately? Do you think, whatever it is, whatever questions that I'm asking them for their feedback on, I really want to know, and I also want to know, you know, like, we had some interns come through here and we asked them, my counterpart asked them, "What were your impressions of our physical space?"
They basically said, "It's terrible." We really want that feedback because we're talking about kind of walking the talk here, and as we talk about leadership succession and talent development and how we can maintain our position as an employer of choice, how are we going to do that if we're asking people and only expecting that answer that is consistent with what we're already doing. I think asking questions with a genuine ear for hearing the truth and then reiterating that that's what you expect ... There's another expression we throw around here, saying, "Don't keep looking into the leader's eyes."
I'll say to the county manager sometimes, "They're looking in your eyes too much. They're trying to figure out what you want them to say." We have a signal. If I go like this ... Oh, you can't see me again. If I cover my eyes, it's because I'm trying to get him to stop telegraphing what he thinks, because I can see the arc of the conversation following that. Forming relationships with new people, whether they're in the organization for a long time and it's just a new relationship for me or whether they're having an internship or a fellowship experience, that's the value they bring.
That also, frankly, helps them develop confidence in their own voice. I mean, when you're asked that question, you're asking me and I'm just a lowly intern, no. I'm asking you. You're a person who's smart who's a little bit on the outside looking in but just tell me what you think because there's real value in that. I'll say, we're probably too close to it, and you can really help us round this plan out or shore it up or make it so there are no huge landmines that we just are oblivious to because we're just not keyed in on them.
David Street: One of the best things anybody has ever said to me, Mary, is exactly along those lines. Like, it's okay to be a person. It's okay to be human, and acknowledge that shared personhood and humanity, and that's what I immediately reflected on when you were telling that story, is that sometimes you do have to, because local government, in general, can be hierarchical. It's people who are in charge of other people to do things for society, and sometimes you have to stop and reset and say, "Okay. This is a person. What's their deal? What do they think?"
Rob Carty: One of those epiphanies on mentoring and leadership was when I was a lowly PIO for the city of San Diego many years ago, and one of the deputy department heads came in and was asked me my opinion about some engineering thing related to the community outreach we needed to do, and I was like, I'm, what, 26, and this was as much older, mature person, and he wants my opinion as a professional? Wow. Kind of blew my mind, but then jumping back to what Mary was saying about telegraphing, I heard the story, Ruffin Hall, when he was the city manager of Raleigh called that boss radar.
He was trying not to ... Like, he could see when people were waiting to see what he thought about something before they would say something, and he's like, "No. I want your honest opinion. This is not a yes person's meeting. You got to be honest with what's wrong or we can't really address it. It's not my show. It's our show."
Mary Furtado: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I call that a culture of civil truth telling. We want it to be professional the person who comes in and says, "You guys are a bunch of idiots. Blah, blah, blah," like, okay. Not helpful, so I would give the advice of, if somebody asks you that question looking for genuine feedback, think about the way it's going to land so that they can receive it, but truth telling is really an important organizational value, and I think if you can help young people in mentoring contexts understand that, again, all it does is gives them confidence in their own voice and it also is a super useful feedback mechanism for the organization.
Joe Supervielle: What about the potential outcome that the mentor, even if they're just one variable, but if they help the mentee essentially outgrow or even outpace the role that is available for them within an organization, it seems to me that the best mentors, that's actually a goal of theirs, is to maybe help that mentee along that path, and they're not scared of it. How would you address that or kind of set someone else straight that maybe has that, "Yeah, but I don't want to lose my best employee. I don't want to lose them."
David Street: I think that this is where, like Mary was talking about earlier, expanding that network comes into play, and to bring it full circle, that's why organizations like ICMA are so helpful, because not only do you develop that network within your single employer but you develop it within your field in general, and I think local government management is a field such that you have the ability to recommend folks for other positions in other jurisdictions even if they are your best person.
I can't tell you how many times that I've been to an ICMA conference within the last couple years, and somebody comes out of that conference with a job or somebody comes out of that conference with some sort of career advancement, and the people back home are nothing but happy for them, and that's when I think you've really succeeded both as a mentor as well as an organization.
You want folks to go out in the world and represent well, and the benefit to you is that your organization is going to look good, because, hey, we generated this rock star that went off and did all these other great things. Redirecting to that mindset is definitely hard, but that's how I think people view it.
Rob Carty: There's a great example I've heard from a few of our members over the years where the staff or a deputy department head, whoever reports to them, comes into work and there's a job description on their desk for a manager or a deputy manager job in a different community, and, like, you're not fired, but you're ready to move on. It's time for you to move on and grow, and you've done all you can here, and I think it's definitely a different mindset. I think some people actually feel territorial about their staff and, like how dare could you leave me?
That's unfortunate, because, really, it's such a great success to be able to help people learn so much or just be there and give them the space to learn, whether they do it on their own, and then when they move on, just be really happy for them because they're going to take everything they've learned and go help another community. I think, at ICMA, we see that from, like you said, David, about the sort of nationwide talent pool, that's something that we're concerned about, because CIOs move around all the time, but part of that is making sure there are people developing up behind them to be able to step into those roles, so that's really kind of critical.
David Street: Yeah. To oversimplify and bring us all the way back to the beginning with the television references, I think of it very much as the star ship captain. How many times did Picard pull the chair out or help somebody else pull the chair out for Riker? A bunch. Now, it took him a while to sit down, but every single time, Picard and the crew were there to bring him along when he was ready, and it was great because it was going to benefit the whole Federation, and from my perspective, it's going to benefit the entire profession of local government management, which is the thousands of jurisdictions across the country.
In my brain, it's all the same team, really. I just happen to be on this ship over here and Mary is on that ship a couple hundred miles south, and Rob's on a different but related ship over in the district, and that's how I look at it, so I think it depends on your perspective.
Mary Furtado: Just to share, I've only been in two local government organizations over the course of my career, and the first organization, I fell in love with the culture, and they fell on some hard times politically. Things started getting a little rocky, but I was so vested in that place, and, honestly, it was an amazing lesson to learn in my first organization. My mentor, Vulcan mind meld guy, called me into his office and said, "This is me pushing you out of the nest. You need to go," and I was like, "What are you talking about? I can't go. I'm not going anywhere. I love this place," and he was like, "No. You need to go. There are bigger things awaiting you and it's hard for you to see it from where you're sitting."
I mean, it was really, I don't want to say traumatic, but it was a very emotional thing where you was telling me, you can't see it but for your own professional trajectory, it's time for you to move on. Like, there is a next step waiting for you, and it just so happened that the ICMA conference was, what, two, three weeks later and I was one of those people who went to that conference, sowed a few seeds, and the next thing you know, I have a job.
Joe Supervielle: The mentee shouldn't be scared. It's tough giving up that relationship, especially if it's your direct supervisor because that's such a big thing about having a job you enjoy, case by case, but you got to be ready to move on when the mentor's telling you that you are. Well, Mary, David and Rob, or maybe I'll call you Liz, Qui-Gon and Morpheus, thanks for your time today on mentoring, a subject we'll be able to touch on again in the future, and appreciate your insights for the ICMA community. If anyone has specific questions, follow-ups or ideas on a new episode, please share it with us on ICMA Connect. Thank you.
Rob Carty: Thank you. It was a lot of fun.
Mary Furtado, Deputy County Manager, Catawba County, North Carolina | view LinkedIn profile
David Street, Chief of Staff, Loudoun County, Virginia | view LinkedIn profile
Rob Carty, Director of Career Services, ICMA | view LinkedIn profile
Every January 1st, marks the beginning of National Mentoring Month, the month-long celebration of mentoring that focuses national attention on the need for mentors. Mary Furtado, David Street, and Rob Carty, know first-hand the positive impact effective mentoring can have on your career and organization. They all agree that the best mentors listen more than lecture, and the best mentees learn to solve problems rather than expect answers. They join Joe Supervielle, host of the Voices in Local Government podcast and content marketing manager at ICMA, to share and explore what elements are essential to finding the right balance for professional and personal success in a mentoring relationship–for mentors and mentees.
Discussed in this episode:
- Favorite fictional mentor-mentee pairs
- Avoiding unrealistic expectations
- Best methods to find, form, and develop mentor relationships
- Desired mentoring outcomes
Read David Street's professional development series on the ICMA Blog: