Leadership Torch: Fanning the Flame

By: Kathy Kelsey Foley, director on November 17th, 2010

Last Friday I spent a delightful noon-hour with a dozen-plus young professionals from throughout the Wausau area. All Torch level members of the United Way of Marathon County’s Emerging Leaders group, I was impressed by their seriousness, commitment to the community, and their eagerness to develop their leadership skills.

For better or worse, I did the lion’s share of the talking, reflecting on the wide-ranging professional experiences that shaped who I am today.

I was fortunate to benefit from the nurturing and guidance of multiple mentors throughout my museum career – and continue to value such relationships, believing that you’re never too old to be mentored.

When I asked those at the table if they had at least one mentor, I was surprised to learn that not all did. I’ve subsequently been thinking a lot about mentor-mentee relationships. How do they come about? What are the ingredients – the chemistry, so to speak – that yield the most successful nurturing relationships? I’m not talking about greasing wheels or opening doors. I’m focused on the hard-to-articulate, all-important “little things” that accrue from “real” mentoring and that, when added together, differentiate a promising individual.

As a group we talked a bit about types of mentors, who they might be, and how they are identified. Upon further reflection, I don’t believe that mentors can be quantified like a shopping list or a to-do list. The ideal mentor and the ensuing mentor-mentee relationship are fuzzier, even perhaps nebulous.

That said, I encouraged the intrepid emerging leaders with whom I met to actively seek out mentors from whom they can learn and grow, each in their own way.

I tip my hat to those who nurtured me. I am the sum of a wide range of experiences from which I’ve benefitted. In turn, I’ve been able to return the many favors by nurturing others and also to have an impact on my places of employment, including the Woodson Art Museum. A tidy and productive circle.

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