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EP 221: How Mentoring Can Help Your Relaunch, and Beyond – with Lisa Fain, rebroadcast

Lisa Fain headshot

Lisa Fain is the CEO at the Center for Mentoring Excellence. She speaks with Carol all about mentoring and the role mentoring and being mentored can have in a relaunch, and once back to work. They discuss the “growth mindset” and the idea of “becoming” vs the “fixed mindset," why you don’t have to “have all the answers” to be an effective mentor, and how the best mentoring relationships are enabling instead of dependent. Fun fact: Lisa Fain’s mother, Lois Zachary, the founder of the Center for Mentoring Excellence is a relauncher! When Lisa was in middle school, her mother went back to school for a PhD and founded the Center subsequently. Today is a rebroadcast of an earlier podcast in honor of January designated as National Mentoring Month.

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The Center for Mentoring

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Carol Fishman Cohen: Welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch, the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO, and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. Today's interview is a rerun of a past episode. We do this from time to time so that our newer listeners don't miss out on the gems of helpful information and inspiring stories that have been shared in the past. 

And we think they're great to listen to again, if you've heard them before. 

Today, we welcome Lisa Fain. Lisa is the CEO at the Center for Mentoring Excellence. We are going to talk all about mentoring and the role mentoring can have in a relaunch. Lisa, welcome to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch. 

Lisa Fain: Hi, Carol. Thrilled to be here. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: It's great to have you. And why don't we start by asking what is the Center for Mentoring Excellence? 

Lisa Fain: So the Center for Mentoring Excellence is a virtual center. I'm based here in Seattle, Washington, but we do work globally. And what we do is we go into organizations and we help them create better leaders and more inclusive cultures through mentoring. This means we do facilitation and training. We do coaching, we do consulting on how to set up a mentoring culture.

But it's really all based around the premise that a structured mentoring relationship will help yield better results and better outcomes, both for the men, the, for the mentor, for the mentee, and of course for the organization as well. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: Great. And can you give us a little history about how you got into this field and ended up, are you the founder of the Center for Mentoring Excellence? 

Lisa Fain: No, actually the Center for Mentoring Excellence was founded in 1992 by Lois Zachary. She's my mother. And, so I'm the second generation in this business. Although I came to it a bit (inaudible), I started my professional career as an attorney. I was doing management side employment law at a multinational law firm, and then moved in-house to companies should be their employment counsel and ended up falling into diversity and inclusion work, which is something I really grew to love. But are in the course of building and leading a diversity and inclusion function, our women's group wanted a mentoring program. And by then I had developed a, executive coaching. 

I got my coaching certification. I had developed sort of a side practice of doing coaching and had really begun to believe that what's going to change and create more inclusive workplaces isn't programs, which are important, but they're really foundational. What moves the needle are really these relationships across difference. So I actually brought my mother in to do, the training for our women's mentoring program and had a moment while she was in front of the group. That I was literally, it was almost one of those, like out of body experiences, Carol, I had looked down and started taking notes and I thought, wow, this is the intersection of what I believe that relationship make a difference in the workplace and what her own passion is, which is, this idea of mentoring as creating, not just legacy, but better leaders, better work environments. And it was at that moment was born this idea to transition into this work. So I went part-time in my corporate job and a part time with center for mentoring excellence and doing coaching, and then moved over in 2016 and took over the business in 2018. When she retired. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow, that's quite a story and amazing that this is a second generation business because your mother was really ahead of her time. And I'm sure you've heard that. 

And many times, because you think of the, discussion around mentoring that has happened maybe in the last five years. And, your mother was in this field way before that. So I'm sure it's fascinating to get her perspective and talk to her about how the whole field has evolved since her pioneering role in it. 

Lisa Fain: Yeah. And in fact, Carol, she had been herself as a relaunch story. My mother was a stay-at-home mother until I was in middle school. And I'm the youngest. So I think my older brother might have been in high school at the time. And, decided that she really needed some, something different for her own status, career satisfaction and went back and got her PhD, then, and then, founded the center after I had even graduated from high school. 

Her really from her own passion for what this work was and what it could mean, is what the center was born from. And really the results of two or three pivots in my own career. So it's been a, it's been a great journey. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wow. I love that your mother was a relauncher and that the Center for Mentoring Excellence really, like came out of her relaunch, after getting the PhD, that's amazing and an incredible tie-in to what we're talking about today too. So thank you. Can we get into some of the tips and strategies and advice that you have, and I'm interested in hearing what you have to say about what it's like to be a good mentor, as well as what it's like to be a good mentee, because I'm thinking, and we'll get to this a little bit about how this relates to relaunching in the sense of should Relaunchers have mentors when they're relaunching? And now I'm thinking about it should, Relaunchers be mentors as well? While they're Relaunchers or they've actually during the job search practice process, or even during their career break, before they actively job search (inaudible) get back into the workforce, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. 

Can you talk first about, is there something very, like pointed advice that you give people on how to be a good mentor. And I actually just started mentoring someone, myself, having not had any mentoring experience before. So how do you know what you're supposed to do and where to start the conversation? 

Lisa Fain: Yeah. Such a great question. So I would say the advice that I give to mentors is there's really two big pieces of advice. The first is this, and this is advice that goes to mentors questions, which is what if I don't have all the answers? What if I don't have experience in the area where my mentee is looking for mentoring and my advice there is, it is not a mentor's job to have all the answers. It is a mentor's job to have good questions. It's really, that's really critical. The end, here's the reason for that, the notion that a mentor is somebody at whose feet, the mentee should sit and the mentor should just pour in knowledge and wisdom about their own journey is a very outdated, and in fact, quite inaccurate notion of what effective mentoring is. What a good mentoring is and this is both from experience and from the data and the research on mentoring. Good mentoring is when the mentor is really what we say, the guide on the side instead of the sage on the stage. So the role of a mentor is to facilitate the mentees learning. And that skill that you need as a mentor is the skill of listening and the skill of curiosity, and the skill of, or there should say the trait of humility to understand that your mentees journey is not the same as your journey and your mentees best path is not necessarily what your best path was. 

And so you don't have to have the answers. You have to have is the ability to listen, the ability to wonder, the ability to share that wondering with your mentee and ask questions. What would this look like for you? What if we explore this possibility? Why not look through this? 

Look at this, and that really helps stoke not just the confidence, but the capacity of the mentee to be the architect of his or her or their own future. So that's thing one is, don't worry about the answers. Have good questions. And the second thing is almost counterintuitive, Carol, but it's really important is don't fix your mentees problems and to that, the question I get is really, we only have so much time and they want me to be their mentor because I've got a lot of experience. But the problem is if you fix your mentees problems and not in, let me, paint what the dichotomy is, right? One on the one side you have fixing your mentees problems. On the other hand, you have enabling the mentee to fix their own. And so it's not letting the mentee hang and swing and suffer, but it's creating the sounding board and the safety net. So the mentee can have their own discovery. That's really important. If you fix your mentees problems for them, they will never develop the capacity to do it on their own.

And it becomes a relationship of dependency instead of a relationship of enablement. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: That's so important. It sounds like that can be the advice for a whole bunch of relationships. And I'm just thinking about parenting. I'm thinking about being a friend, like a good friend to someone in addition to, for, being in this more formal mental wall in a work or other context. 

Lisa Fain: Yeah, a hundred percent. In fact, as soon as you said it was good advice in other situations, I thought immediately of parenting. It's not to say that there's not a place for being an advisor, we all need somebody who can help us and help put forth solutions, but that's not the role of a mentee. 

And in fact, it's not the role of a good parent. A good parent helps enable their children to, to come up with solutions and be a good adult, not just to be a good child. I think that's true. And in terms of a friendship, wow. What an insight, because how many times have you brought a concern to a friend and they offer a solution when all you really wanted was somebody to be a sounding board. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yes. So important. So let's take that and let's move on to the question about how do you be a good mentee. And then, it's interesting to think about these, extensions into, the adult child or the really good friend, but, in the context of, work-related mentoring, how do you think, is there a certain kind of stance you have to have or mindset on in order to be a good mentee? 

Lisa Fain: Yeah, absolutely. I know it's been tried and true and talked about quite a bit, but this idea of having a growth mindset is so important. So growth mindset is the opposite of a fixed mindset. Fixed mindset says I am good at, or I'm not good at. I know, or I don't know, I'm someone who, or I'm not someone who. A growth mindset is this idea of embracing the idea of becoming and the possibility of becoming something. 

So it's really important for a mentee to have that growth mindset. He or she, or they could go in and say, I here's what my vision is. And I want to figure out how I can go into that authentically. So that's thing one is to have a growth mindset. Thing two is to take the time for some self-reflection both before and during the mentoring relationship to think about what it is that you want. 

So often we, when we are mentees, we wait for the mentor to drive the relationship. But what we know about the most effective mentoring relationships is that they're actually mentee driven. The most effective mentoring relationships happen when the mentee takes ownership of their own learning and says to the mentor, here's what I want to learn. 

Here's what I want to grow into. And if the mentee doesn't know that yet to embrace the not knowing, and then say, I want to grow into somebody who knows where I want to be. Because sometimes mentoring is about discovery. It's not just about, pushing down the path, so to speak. So that's a really important piece too. 

The other thing that I would say is to you for a mentee to use the mentoring relationship as a place to take risks and to step outside of your comfort zone.

Carol Fishman Cohen: Exactly. And I'm thinking about my own mentor, mentee relationship that's, you need to maybe test ideas on and get the mentor like reaction, whoa, or that seems like a giant step, as opposed to that's really interesting or really intriguing. 

Is that what you're talking about? 

Lisa Fain: Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. And the times when it says it feels like a giant step to be able, if I were your mentee, I would say to you, Carol, that feels like a giant step to me. I am terrified to go out and ask for that feedback, or I'm terrified to go network with can we work through how I can do that? And maybe you role-play, maybe you talk about why it is you're so terrified, but to really explore that instead of to step over it, or the worst thing a mentee can do is to say, sure, I'll go ahead and do that and not be bought into the why or not feel like it's an authentic step for them. 

So exploring those fears exploring those curiosities, and really having a discussion with your mentoring partner about why that's uncomfortable and what you can do to lean into that discomfort. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah, I'm just taking some notes here. I pray for my, my own use. Okay. So let's move into the round now of the relauncher I have and think about it. 

Should relaunchers have mentees or should relaunchers have mentors, during the relaunch process as they're actively looking to relaunch, or is this more of a role that's beneficial once the person has relaunched and it's, and it's working again. And I want to talk about this in the context of advice that we give relaunchers, which is not to go about the process by themselves. We say, go find a relaunch buddy, or we want circle a group of people who are relaunching. So you have this opportunity for a sounding board and for a support when you get rejected for the 15th time or celebration, when you moved to the next stage of an interview process. In addition to very practical things, as you're saying role playing or doing mock interviews. So a lot of this sounds like there's some good, parallels here. And I wanted to know if you view those relaunch circles and relaunch buddies as actually having components of a mentor, mentee relationship. 

And I guess, sorry, there's a lot of questions, but, kind of group of people mentoring each other. That's the other part. 

Lisa Fain: Yeah. Yeah. Let me start with the first part of your question and I'm just going to reframe it. And then we can go from there. So I think as I'm hearing your question is should somebody A have a mentor before they enter into the relaunch or B after the entrance of the relaunch? 

And my answer is C all of the above. And here's the reason there's lots of seasons and reasons for mentoring relationships. And, not only can the same mentoring relationship evolve, but also you can have multiple mentors at multiple times for multiple reasons. And I actually think that there's always a reason. 

For, a mentor, a mentoring relationship, and it can be helpful to be in different forms as well, which gets to, I think, what was the second part of your question, Carol? There are lots of forms of effective mentoring and peer mentoring, can be incredibly effective. Effective way, whether it's a relaunchers circle as you say, or, to have an accountability partner, or to have a mutual mentoring relationship that's a little bit, it, doesn't very traditionally we think of mentor and mentee as having a power or an experience differential. You can absolutely have a mentoring relationship with somebody with whom you have, similarity in terms of years of experience, life situation, that kind of thing. 

It, the hallmark of good mentoring is structure and accountable. And it doesn't matter what the, it does matter. It's important what the format is, but it doesn't determine what the effectiveness is going to be. It really depends on the need of the mentee, and the way the mentor and mentee, or in many cases, if you're talking about a peer group, the mentors and the mentees structure and co-create the relationship in a peer group. It's really important that if everybody has similar goal, that everybody sets out what their goals are, and everybody has some time to create what the measurement that is right for them is. So the point is don't lose in this, there's a huge beauty in a group setting. 

I know you, you know this in your own work of people supporting one another towards a common goal, but the manifestation of that goal or the definition of success might look different for each person in that group. And it's really important for everybody to define that for themselves. And then for their folks in their peer group to help hold them accountable towards their own vision of success. 

Not towards somebody else's vision of success. So absolutely many, different forms. I can't say, at this time in somebody's life, this form is the right form. It really depends upon the person. And I think having multiple forms of mentoring and multiple mentors is incredibly beneficial. 

I know right now I'm looking for two mentors for very different reasons. And I'm really being very intentional about you know what it is I'm looking for on what it is I'm looking to achieve. And that's something that I encourage the people I work with should do as well. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: And one thing I'm picking up by your discussion about, this peer mentoring concept, and how it might apply to a, we want circle is, and I'm going to ask you this. 

Does that mean if you're a peer mentor in a relaunch circle that you're being a mentor and a mentee at the same time? 

Lisa Fain: Yes. And no, you are in a circle. You have the opportunity to be a mentee and a mentor. And so yes, you can play both roles in a circle, but you have to be very clear. 

When, and you do this through agendas, you do this through expectation setting, you do this through holding each other accountable. You have to be very clear who is in what role at any given moment within the circle. In other words, you and I might be in a circle with someone named Joe, right? And at the beginning of the circle, we're going to talk about Joe's goals, Joe, and you and I are the mentors. 

And, Joe is the mentee and we may in the same session, then switch to what Carol wants. And then we switched to what Lisa wants. So it happens, both things happened within the group, but they don't happen simultaneously. If that makes sense. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: And then, you talk about how you have a coaching practice at the center. 

And we have, iRelaunch coaches too, and we, many relaunchers will swear by using a coach in their relaunchers process. That relationship has many different aspects to it, but, wrapped up into it could be a mentoring component. Is the mentoring relationship different when you hired someone to be a coach for you, and there's that there's a mentoring piece wrapped up and other things they're doing as opposed to identifying people who you're, you haven't hired that you have, just the mentoring relationships with. 

Lisa Fain: Yeah. Yeah. It's a complex question and the answer is complex as well. I view coaching and mentoring as, almost two overlapping circles, right ? Skills there, there are many overlapping skills between a coach and a mentor. And in fact, I say all mentors are coaches, but not all coaches are mentors. 

And, the model versus whether somebody's paid or not paid, you can, there are people who have paid mentoring relationships as well. That's a, that is a business model of many people. That's been very successful and you can have some great outcomes there. So it doesn't necessarily rest on whether there's compensation involved. Differences is that coaching is something that happens that is much more discreet and often performance-based. So it's usually based on a short-term performance for a, towards a particular end. Mentoring is developmental. So mentoring is about a longer term learning. Sometimes a mentor has to use coaching skills in order to get past a particular performance block or to help boost performance in service of the long-term mentoring goal. 

But if you could think, I like to think about it this way. When somebody hires me as their executive coach and they say to me, Lisa, I want you to help me come up with, and I get on a call with them. I better have some tools in my tool, in my toolbox, so to speak that I employ to help them get to a vision. 

That's why they're hiring me. That's why they want me to be their coach. As a mentor, actually, because it's mentee driven what I come with is questions. Not necessarily a toolkit. It's a little bit different in terms of the coach usually drives the process in a coaching relationship. The mentee drives the process in a mentoring relationship. 

So it's a little bit more complicated. Now there's a, in reality, these are a little bit more blended, and a little, and the, it's a little fuzzier. What we do at the center is when we coach mentors and mentees, we coach them on efficiency and effectiveness of their mentoring relationships. 

So we might have, we might talk to a mentor who says, I can't really figure out how to relate to my mentee, or I'm not sure how my mentee is motivated. And we coach them on maximizing the effectiveness of the mentoring relationship rather than on the goal of the mentee themselves. We might coach the mentee who might say, I can't really relate to my mentor doesn't get me and what we might coach them on how to create a better connection with their mentor. 

So that coaching is done in service of a mentoring relationship. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: And so what are you saying that, let's say the person is feeling challenged, working in a multi-generational team and, maybe reporting to someone who's much younger than they then would you say your ideal mentor would be someone who's younger than you, or is that not the basis on... 

Lisa Fain: Not necessarily, yeah, not necessarily. It would be somebody who, if I were looking to understand intergenerational dynamics I would want to talk to, I would want to have a mentor who has experienced intergenerational dynamics in their career. Doesn't necessarily have to be somebody who's younger. 

Or who can, or who's managed conflict throughout their career or in their current situation, there is one of the things that I'm most excited about in the mentoring field that I think is actually pretty darn cool. Is this idea of intergenerational mentoring and what we're seeing more and more of are, millennials or gen Z that are mentoring, us gen extras or boomers. 

And that's pretty cool too, right? Because there is, it's a little bit architect. It's not across the board, but in terms of the archetype of generational communications, it's really important to understand that differential. It's also happening in the diversity context. People call it reverse mentoring. 

I don't love that term reverse mentoring because it implies, a lesser than from, for the younger person or the, a less senior person. But the idea is this mutuality of mentoring across dynamics. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: Yeah. I, and especially in the case of relaunchers, when I relaunched my career before co-founding iRelaunch I was 42 years old and I was reporting to a 37 year old. So the idea that relaunchers to always work, not always, but often, working for someone who is younger than they are. And so the whole concept of coming in your forties or fifties, and then working with a intergenerational workforce is a real issue for relaunchers and one that, that we spend some time talking about. But let me ask you a separate question. Is it better for mentors and mentees to know each other and have some sort of prior relationship or is it better for them not to know each other and come in cold to the relationship? 

Lisa Fain: I'm not sure that one is necessarily better than the other, in an organizational context, often mentors and mentees don't know each other, and there is a, by virtue of being part of the same organization or of a mentoring program, there is an acceleration of, you get past the awkwardness of not having one or another. 

If you are somebody, like I would imagine many of the relaunchers who are listening are where you are looking to establish a mentoring relationship outside of the organizational context. I think when you find a mentor, you want to build trust with them and get to know them a little bit. Before you even ask them to be your mentor. 

It's a lot of times, Carol, I liken it to the dating context. I haven't been in a dating context for many years, but I do remember, that you don't want to ask somebody to marry you on the first date. And, the analogy is to mentoring. You want to make sure that whoever is going to mentor whoever you're going to ask to mentor you, that has both the capacity, the compatibility, and really the skills and interests to mentor you. And so the way to do that is to build the network and to nurture the relationships before you say, Hey, I'm actually looking for a mentor in this. And one of the things I've learned as we've gotten to know each other, is that, you, I really admire the way you've launched a podcast and created a community I'm really interested in doing that. 

What do you think about a mentoring relationship? So in that sense, you don't have to know them before you establish the connection, but it is good to have a bit of a foundation before you ask for the mentoring relationship. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: And we're starting to see something happen that we've been in the relaunchers world, for over 15 years, even before iRelaunch was founded and partly as a result of the work that we're doing. 

And, and what we're seeing at companies that have started returning to work programs is now we have our, we're starting to get a critical mass of relaunchers who are working in companies now who are past the relaunch. They're, integrated into their, the, corporate environment and they are now in a position and they have a desire in many cases to pay it forward and to mentor relaunchers who are earlier stage, who are just starting to relaunch their career. So either they're in the job search process or they're newly relaunched within the company. And so we have seen some mechanisms and we've worked with companies to create mechanisms where those alumni relaunchers, so to speak, are mentoring and have relationships with brand new people who are coming in through return to work program. 

This is a newer development and a result of having programs one for long enough now that we have this critical mass of relaunchers alumni relaunchers inside the

organization, but we're watching this happen and working on this in real time. 

Lisa Fain: That's great. Yeah, it's pretty, it's been pretty interesting. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: We're running out of time now and I wanted to wrap up by asking you one last question is the question that we ask all of our podcasts guest and that is what is your best piece of advice for our relaunch audience? Even if it's something that we've already talked about? 

Lisa Fain: Yeah. I love that question. I would say the best piece of advice in this context is really one of the things that is the best piece of advice in any context. And it's advice that I got on the eve of my wedding, at the rehearsal dinner of my wedding from my sister-in-law, and I've never forgotten it and it's so important in the mentoring context as well. 

And it is the main thing is to keep the main thing is to keep the main thing. And as true as it is in the context of a marriage, it's also true in the context of mentoring, which is, what is it that you want to achieve in a mentoring relationship? What is it you want to achieve in your own career? What is the objective that you're looking for? And then continue to evaluate and operate towards that objective. And if you keep that end in mind, and by the way, make sure to share that with your mentoring partner. You will be much more likely to achieve results because you're really driven by that vision and that goal. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: Excellent advice. Thank you so much. Lisa, can you tell our audience how we all can find out more about the Center for Mentoring excellence?

Lisa Fain: Yeah sure thanks for asking. So you can go to our website, which, C E N T E R F O R M E N T O R I N There's a lot of great free resources on that site as well. And, also ways to connect with me through the site. And we're on also all sorts of social media. You can find me at, find us either Lisa Fain, my name F A I N, or the Center for Mentoring Social Properties as well. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: Wonderful. Lisa, this was an incredible conversation. I've learned so much and thank you so much for joining us. 

Lisa Fain: Thanks so much for having me, Carol. 

Carol Fishman Cohen: We hope you have enjoyed this episode. And thanks for listening to 3, 2, 1 iRelaunch the podcast where we discuss return to work strategies, advice, and success stories. I'm Carol Fishman Cohen, the CEO, and co-founder of iRelaunch and your host. For more information on iRelaunch conferences and events. 

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