Fall 2015 

Patrick J. Loehrer, Sr., MD, is director of the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, in Indianapolis.

Commentary Overview

* Personal and professional growth is a lifelong journey. It requires both personal reflection and assistance from friends, role models, and mentors.

* What distinguishes a mentor from a role model is that he or she is chosen by the mentee to help them improve in areas like leadership, research and education.

* Mentees should develop a mentoring team composed of colleagues from diverse backgrounds and they should be the team "leader", scheduling meetings and setting agendas.
About AACI Commentary

As part of AACI's efforts to feature the work and views of its member centers, AACI has launched AACI Commentary, a quarterly editorial series. Written by cancer center leaders, each edition will focus on a major issue of common interest to the nation's cancer centers.

Defining the Qualities of an Effective Mentor


Few, if any of us, are "natural born leaders." Each of us certainly has a genetic makeup that forms the framework of our individuality, but leaders are largely a product of their lifetime of interactions with others. These personal interactions fall into three categories: Mentors, role models, and friends.

Those three groups exert a profound influence on various stages of our lives. In most cases, these interactions have come about through fortune or unplanned circumstances and are not purposeful. We have role models such as our parents and other "successful people"—both living and dead—that we admire. We also have friends (not to be confused with acquaintances), with whom we can discuss some of the most significant parts of our lives. Parenthetically, we typically have many more casual acquaintances than true friends. Friends provide joy and a sense of self-worth. Role models do not necessarily know we even exist, but they provide a potential professional or vocational roadmap.

What then distinguishes a mentor? A mentor is not the product of a chance encounter in grade school or someone we meet at a party. A mentor is not simply a person who has served as a scientific role model, admired through written or spoken words. A mentor is also not a boss. No, what distinguishes a mentor from a role model is that he or she is chosen by the mentee (hopefully after careful reflection) to help them become better. This "better" goal might be in the area of leadership, research, education or interpersonal skills.

Mentors should be chosen by the mentees not just for advice, but for accountability. This accountability is a two-way street. A "verbal contract" should early on set expectations for both the mentor and the mentee. In the best situation, the mentee allows—indeed, encourages—the mentor to critique his or her behaviors. This explicit and purposeful request for criticism is not the typical foundational platform of most friendships, which is usually based upon what each party likes about the other. Nor is unsolicited criticism often received from role models.

As a cancer center director, I have sought out several individuals to be my mentors, such as former cancer center directors, deans, and department chairs. Some have been previous role models, but all have been people I respect. Often, when I may need mentoring or advice on a specific topic, I call on them. I have been fortunate to have had numerous friends and role models and a few mentors in my life. The older I get, the more I appreciate true mentors (and friends), and the more I recognize the human limitations of many of my role models.

Personal and professional growth is a lifelong journey. It requires reflection and a little help from our friends, role models, and mentors.

For mentees, I suggest the following maxims:
• Have a mentoring "team" - invite three people, diverse as possible. (Remember: they are not a research team.)
• A mentor should not be your boss.
• Find the right mentors, preferably those with experience, good listening skills, and free of hidden agendas.
• If a mentor is not helping, thank them and replace them as soon as possible.
• The leader of the mentorship team is the mentee, responsible for tasks such as setting up regular meetings and providing agendas.
• Be respectful of the mentor's time.
• Be organized and responsive to critiques.
• Don't just meet when you are having problems.
• From time to time, buy the mentor coffee or lunch.
• Keep in touch with mentors even after leaving an institution.
• Become a mentor for someone else.

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