Celebrating My Mentors (in honor of National Mentoring Month)
January is National Mentoring Month, which makes it a great time to pause to appreciate and celebrate some of the mentors in my life.
I’ve been blessed to have had countless people help illuminate my path and guide me on my journey over my lifetime.
Today I want to focus on three people who I’ve managed to cross paths with over the past eighteen months, and who have been exceptional mentors to me during a period of significant personal and professional growth and learning.
My descriptions of them and their impact on me surely won’t do justice to either. But I hope it will remind you of the power of mentorship and energize you to find the mentors you need and be the mentor someone else needs.
I’ll start with Dr. Towanna Burrous. Towanna is the President of Coach Diversity Institute where I recently trained to become a Certified Professional Diversity Coach. Her teaching and her coaching help people shift from a place of fear and disempowerment to one of empowerment and possibility. Helping people make this shift within the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion work--where there is so much hurt, guilt, trauma, and need for healing--is especially remarkable. Towanna is always sharing brilliant, quotable insights, but when asked to repeat herself, she invariably laughs and says, “I can’t!” When she wants to share her perspective, she always prefaces it with the phrase, “I submit for you to consider…” That phrase is one of many ways that Towanna communicates a warm invitation to new ways of seeing and being and doing. At the same time, she also communicates that the power is in the hands of whomever she is speaking with to step into those possibilities when they feel ready. Experiencing this combination of warm invitation and empowerment has been transformational for me. To the degree that I am able to extend a similar combination of warm invitation and empowerment to others, it is due in large part to having had the privilege of being Towanna's student.
The other two mentors I want to celebrate and appreciate are Andy Fleming and Claire Lee. They are CEO and Chief Business Officer respectively of the consulting firm The Developmental Edge. (They also happen to be married to each other.) I reached out to Claire and Andy after I read their book, An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization and resonated with and was inspired by so much of what I found in its pages. I’ve since been delighted to have the opportunity to work with them on a regular basis. Andy and Claire each have their own superpowers, but I’m struck by the way that both of them make everyone in a conversation feel seen, heard, and appreciated.
Andy is an incredible speaker, writer, storyteller, and facilitator. He is able to talk and write about culture and personal growth -- ideas that are central to our work at The Developmental Edge but can sometimes be hard to explain in concrete terms -- in ways that resonate with people and inspire them. He is also able to take these ideas and translate them into powerful experiences that facilitate profound and lasting change in people and organizations. One of my favorite things that Andy says is, “let’s just play with this idea a little bit.” Like Dr. Burrous, he warmly invites people into a place of possibility uncharacteristic of so many workplace conversations.
Claire is an extraordinary executive coach. She recently coached an executive team for several weeks and at the end of the engagement they lovingly sent her bracelets modeled after the famous WWJD (what would Jesus do) acronym that read WWCMUDD--what would Claire make us do, dammit! The point was that Claire was brilliant at helping them identify and take action on the things that were most important, but also most challenging, for them to take on. And now they are able to think back on their experience of her coaching to inform how they carry their work forward into the future.
Claire is also just a joy to spend time with. Her laughter is infectious. She has a sense of humor about herself and her work that allows everyone around her the freedom to take themselves a little less seriously and find the fun in the everyday interactions that form the building blocks of our lives.
To Towanna, Andy, Claire, and you, dear reader, Happy National Mentoring Month! May opportunities to be mentored and mentor others proliferate in your life now and always.