Sunday August 5, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- A banker watches her boss navigate through a tricky situation and then uses her counsel to do the same. An artist observes her teacher and incorporates some of his ways into her work. A graduate student's professor helps her on the path to a career decision.

People find mentors to help them to do their work, and to succeed within organizations and in their own businesses.

Cindy Shogry-Raimer, senior vice president of risk management for Greylock Federal Credit Union, says her mentor helped her to improve her negotiation and communications skills.

"I tend to be direct; sometimes you need to soften the approach." She found her mentor, the senior vice president of branch administration, while working as a regional manager. Now, Shogry-Raimer is senior vice president and her mentor, Marilyn L. Sperling, is CEO.

To Shogry-Raimer, a mentor is "someone you trust; someone who can correct you, guide you."

Community organizer Wendy Krom, who runs programs for the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and has managed her own business, has had mentors throughout her career.

It started with her decision to go to graduate school to study community leadership development. The professor at the University of Wisconsin who helped her to decide, Boyd Rossing, became her first mentor.

For an artist, a mentor can model a certain approach to the material, as John Lees did for Lucy MacGillis, a Berkshire native who has lived and worked in Italy for more than a decade. She met him in 2000, when he taught her in Umbria.

Lees recently visited her current show at the Hoadley Gallery in Lenox.

MacGillis carries a small notebook in her bag, one with graphed pages, and says it was Lees who taught his students to draw wherever they were, to take out the little book and draw. She remembers he once poured coffee on a drawing, demonstrating a certain casual approach to the materials.

And he showed her how to do one of the most difficult parts of the artist's job: to walk into a gallery to show her work. "I think of him whenever I walk into a gallery."

Wendy Krom found mentor number two when she went to work for the Pittsfield based Area Health Education Center (AHEC). Her boss, Neil Novik, was her mentor, which in this case meant role model.

"I learned so much about what it meant to be a professional. You are holding a community's dreams," says Krom about community organizing. "If you drop your responsibility, you are dropping a community dream. It's responsibility, not just workplace responsibility. I learned it from him."

Krom keeps in touch with her mentors. Recently she went to visit Rossing in Wisconsin.

Community organizing, Rossing says, "is a rich field, but not highly defined. She understands the value of having folks she can sound things out with."

The word mentor appears in Homer's Odyssey, where Athena disguises herself as Mentor, friend of Odysseus, in order to give advice to his son Telemachus, says Jamie Keller, a classicist who teaches Latin in Lenox.

Keller found her way into the classics via a mentor, while a student at Washington University. She remembers timidly approaching a popular professor who taught "Greek Governments," a class she had picked on a whim and loved. At the end of the semester, "he was parting the Red Sea" when he led her back to his office to talk about her dream of reading Plato in the original Greek.

The study of Latin and Greek became a lifelong adventure that started with that professor.

Teachers and sports coaches are natural mentors, says Millie Calesky, professional coach in the Berkshires.

Stephen Powell, executive director of Mentoring USA, based in New York, agrees. He lost his father when he was young, and his track and field coaches were his first mentors. Now he has a professional mentor, a spiritual mentor, and a personal mentor.

Apprenticeships can lead naturally into a mentor-protégé relationship. To become an electrician in Massachusetts, for example, a person must to do on the job training, working closely with an electrician, as well as study over a period of several years.

Working alongside electricians helps apprentices not only to learn the technical aspects of the work, but also how to manage their businesses, and other tricks of the trade, says Mark Kuenzel, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 7 training director.

"I did see a few managers take the initiative," says John Cornman, about how mentoring relationships start. A former career counselor at Berkshire Community College, he also worked in human resources at Wang Lab oratories. "But more often it was driven by employee, who saw it as a way to gain experience, advice on how to be successful."

All mentoring relationships are not positive, he says "I have seen egocentric managers advising people, and from HR we could see that it was not helpful."

"Do it with due diligence," he says. "Make sure you are getting good advice."

Cornman's mentor was an interpreter.

"I had a mentoring relationship with my boss in HR at Wang Laboratories. He was in the home office in Boston; I was in Chicago. He could translate for me. He was very good at saying, ‘Here is what is going on out here in Boston; here is what we are trying to do.' "

Helping someone to know the back story of company's culture is one role of a mentor.

While at BCC Cornman helped the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) develop a mentor program, where members meet with students as they consider careers.

‘You seek out people that you trust and or admire," says Shogry-Raimer, who studied at BCC and MCLA, and earned an MBA at the University of Massachusetts. "I observed as I was trying to figure out what kind of manager I could be."

"I believe you have the strongest impact on people, not just employees, but people, by doing it one at a time, by having individual conversations," says Greylock's CEO and Shogry-Raimer's mentor, Marilyn Sperling

"Cindy and I meet regularly. She calls them debriefings. They are informal, with no real agenda, where she shares with me what is going on in her world."

Sperling says Greylock recently included mentoring in their employee survey. "I think it's very important."

Eventually the protégé becomes a mentor. Shogry-Raimer says, "I have an open door policy, and quite a few people within the organization, both men and woman, bend my ear, consult, trust me. Sometimes you may need a shoulder to cry on, but you don't want to hang your career out to dry."

MacGillis is teaching and mentoring now too, in Germany, Austria and Italy, and, this summer, at IS-183 in Stockbridge.

Perhaps some of her students carry their drawing notebooks in their bags and will think of her when they walk into galleries.


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