Lois J. Zachary, Ed.D., President, Leadership Development Services, LLC, Phoenix, Arizona, is one of my mentors. I met Lois in 1997 and from the first time I met her she has encouraged me to think big and do more. One of my favorite quotes, which I learned from Lois, is how I sum up our relationship … “Most people don’t know that there are angels whose only job is to make sure that you don’t get too comfortable, and fall asleep, and miss your life.”

Here is a recent interview I conducted with Lois.

Judy:   How do you think mentors and mentees choose one another?

Lois:    I think opportunity presents itself in interesting ways in our lives. You may find yourself in a situation where you meet someone you would not otherwise meet and forge a connection. In getting to know them, you may see that you have something to offer that person or something to gain from them.

I think people choose mentors and mentees with their feet. Mentoring is a conscious choice. Even if someone wants you to mentor them, if you don’t believe in that person, if you don’t trust them, if you don’t see possibilities in them, you are not going to get involved with them. Flattery is not a reason to say yes.

When I mentor someone, I have to see a spark in them. They need to show me that they are conscientiousness and have a strong desire to learn. I am investing myself and my time in them. I need to know that it is an investment that is worthy of my time.

Judy:  As a mentor, what have you gained that was unexpected?

Lois:    I have gained expanded perspective; I have gained contextual knowledge. I have learned things that I would not have otherwise learned. Being a mentor has not only enriched my perspective but it has deepened it. It has given me new language and exposed me to new ideas and concepts. For instance, Judy, I would have never learned as much about the beverage industry and the mindset of people who work there unless I had a relationship with you.

I find it fascinating to learn what goes on in someone else’s head and how they think about things. For example, I mentored someone last year. She was keeping a journal and she explained to me how she organized it. It was a very simple thing but a great insight for me. She had a unique and yet very practical way of putting things together.

Another lesson I learned as a mentor is to never make assumptions. I mentored someone who presented herself to me in a very glowing fashion. I was charmed by her; she was mesmerizing. When I got to know her better I realized that there was a huge gap between her confidence and capability. Once I understood this, we talked about what was required for her to reach her goals and we identified how to close the gap.

Judy:    So … what exciting things are you working on now?

Lois:    I am updating my book, The Mentor’s Guide. You know, Judy, so much has changed since I wrote it twelve years ago. What we know about how adults learn has grown exponentially. Knowledge about the brain and cognitive development has expanded. We have learned a lot more about the importance of understanding and valuing differences in the people who come into a mentoring relationship.

The other thing that excites me is my work in promoting the enhancement of quality in a mentoring relationship. I encourage mentors and mentees to hone their skills and to hold them selves to a higher standard of mentoring practice.

I am also seeing organizations embrace mentoring in a new way. There is a palpable hunger for knowledge about best practices and definable strategies that elevate an organization’s mentoring programs.

What also excites me has been supporting you at critical times in your life. It has been a joy to watch your personal transformation. You have great energy and focus. It has been exciting to watch your development and be a part of it, even from a distance.

Judy:    Thank you, Lois, for the knowledge, feedback, and support you have given me. It has meant a lot! One last question … how do you see the economy affecting mentoring?

Lois:    A lot of organizations have downsized and they want to hold on to and invest in growing the people they have. I believe that if an organization is not learning, it is not earning. It’s an important mindset for organizations to embrace.

When you think about learning and development, there are lots of ways to go about it. The thing that is so wonderful about mentoring is that through it you develop a trust with another person. If you have a mentor, when things get tough, you have a “go to” person. This helps develop organizational loyalty.

One more change today, Judy. When Gen Y workers come into a workplace, they are looking for one-on-one and group relationships. It really is a deal breaker when they look for a job. The idea that there will be somebody there who will support them is very compelling and serves as a positive recruitment tool. Gen Y workers want to be in an organization where people care about them. They want to feel that they are not just another “newbie” on the block.

Judy:    That is a great insight, Lois. The reason I love developing mentoring programs, as you do, is that it is a way for me to give back and help others “not fall asleep and miss their lives.”

Lois:    Thank you, Judy. I love the way we keep coming in and out of each other’s lives. We are on each other’s radar and that connection feels really good.

I am curious … how has mentoring enriched your life? Let me know by posting a comment below.

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