From Mentor to Colleague by Kimberly Wiefling (Wiefling Consulting)

Ladies Using Laptop by stockimages

(This article is first published in Image courtesy of stockimages /

Some mentoring relationships last a single meeting, but others last a lifetime. Sometimes a mentoring relationship will turn into a long term relationship. (No, I don’t mean that you sleep with your mentor, or marry them.) I mean that they will come to value and enjoy the mentoring relationship as much as you do. This has happened in several of my mentoring relationships. Because we enjoyed our mentoring sessions so much we continued them beyond the point where I was seeking advice and guidance from them. Eventually they started to ask me for advice. Mentoring turned into co-mentoring, and eventually friendship. (I sometimes have joked that they were the mentor, but I was the tor-mentor!)

Several of my mentoring relationships have gone through the transformation from mentor to friend. Here’s one story of a 15 year mentoring relationship that turned upside down.

Deandra (not her real name – gosh, is anyone named that?) came to my division at HP when I was young and foolish as opposed to older and foolish, like I am now). She was about as subtle as a freight train going at full speed through a crowded intersection. Many of the more traditional men started badmouthing her because of her abrasive style. Naturally I adored her immediately! Determined to be associated with this person who was even more of a lightening rod for criticism than me, I walked over to her desk and introduced myself. After a couple of months I asked her to be my mentor. Now, usually I don’t use “the M word” when inviting mentoring, but in this case I did. True to form, she asked me why I wanted a mentor, and why I chose her. To be honest, I was taken by surprise, so I had to make up some pathetic story about how I was highly committed to contributing far more to our business results, and that she inspired me with her obvious leadership ability. In fact I just wanted the opportunity to get to know this woman who did the right thing no matter the cost to her social and political standing in the workplace.

I learned so much! She taught me EVERYTHING about leading and managing a business. I wrote it all down on a placemat at Buck’s in Woodside (It fit on a single placemat, but that’s a characteristic of great wisdom – it’s concise!). And I have been using and benefiting from her advice ever since.

Although we started meeting monthly, eventually our career paths diverged, and we started meeting only annually. Over 15 years later we are still in touch. We’re not FRIENDS friends, like “gals go shopping together” friends, but we are professional friends, and I value her contribution to my career very much. In the past few years my career has been going very smoothly, and she’s gone through a lot of changes.

Oddly enough, she recently started asking me for career guidance, advice and job references. At first I felt a little odd about this upside-down mentoring relationship with someone who’s so much more experienced than me. But now I realize that we’ve moved beyond mentoring into what I’ve started to call “co-mentoring”. It’s kind of cool! And it’s a reminder to me that I’ve grown over the years. Last week she sent me a message saying she’d landed a great job at an awesome company. I wonder how our relationship will evolve from here. Whatever happens, I know this is a person I still look up to, and can still learn from.

If you’d like to turn a mentoring relationship into a long-term friendship, here are some guidelines:

  • Choose people you like and admire.
  • Keep the experience enjoyable.
  • Don’t just focus on yourself. Listen to them. Ask them how their work is going, too.
  • Share some personal details about yourself. Don’t pressure them, but invite them to do so, too, if they’re willing.

Naturally all of your mentoring relationships will benefit from following these guidelines, but these will be particularly helpful in turning a mentor into a friend.

No one achieves success without the help of others. The most successful people ask for and accept help!

Pass it on. Remember to help others as you climb the ladder of success, reaching one hand back as you reach the other forward to your future.

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