By Katrice L. Mines
Leaders cultivate leaders. It’s an understood tenet of the calling … one that compels. Moreover, leadership is about action. Because, in fact, leaders are both born and bred. Enter: The executive mentor. A mentor knows the payout of investing in human capital. Is there a better way to leave a lasting impact on the world than through passing the baton? Ask a leader.
Who initiated the mentoring relationship? What inspired your coming together?
Dr. Williams: The mentoring relationship was initiated by the president. Our coming together occurred as a result of my being able to speak with the president one-on-one after a Cookies and Conversation event. During this conversation, I expressed my desire to become a college president and the president volunteered to mentor me for this leadership position.
Dr. Thomas: I host Cookies and Conversation with all new employees. It is very informal and it gives me the opportunity to get to know new employees. Dr. Williams approached me afterward for more dialogue, and I noticed her drive and determination. Mentoring her was an easy decision. She had a very strong work ethic and desire to grow as a leader. Our mentoring relationship grew because I saw a great potential for leadership.
How do you maintain the relationship? What is the structuring?
Dr. Thomas: We meet and problem solve almost daily.
Dr. Williams: The relationship is not structured but very informal. However, we always find the time to meet with each other to cover important matters.
Are there benchmarks? If so, who sets them and at what points are they set?
Dr. Williams: The benchmarks originally established were for me to continue to participate in leadership development activities and to move into a vice president’s position. These benchmarks were set by the president.
Dr. Thomas: Initially, my first benchmark was to see her develop and move up in our system. As such she completed The Thomas Lakin Institute for Mentored Leadership which is sponsored by the Presidents’ Round Table, National Council on Black American Affairs, an affiliate of the American Association of Community Colleges. She also completed the Technical College System of Georgia Executive Leadership Initiative. As well, she has already reached her first benchmark by becoming a vice president for Academic Affairs. We set benchmarks based on her desire and hard work.
What has been the greatest surprise, benefit or revelation of this relationship?
Dr. Williams: This mentoring relationship with the president has provided a plethora of benefits. For example, being mentored by someone who is currently serving in the position to which I aspire gives me insight into the opportunities and challenges of this level of leadership. Secondly, being mentored by a president who has also served in my current position allows me to learn from her experiences as a vice president of Academic Affairs and it also affords me the opportunity to learn the best way to plot a pathway to the presidency while continuing to grow as a leader.
Dr. Thomas: I don’t know that there are any surprises for me. I knew from the beginning that she would grow and develop as a strong leader. The more I got to know her the more I saw elements of my leadership. So, I guess the biggest revelation was seeing me in her style.
What is your central focus or expected end, per say?
Dr. Thomas: From day one, Dr. Williams expressed a desire to become a president. Currently, I am the only African-American female president in the Technical College System of Georgia and there is only one in the University System of Georgia. I think we can do better than that in Georgia’s public post- secondary systems. My goal is to mentor her to the presidency the same as my predecessor and mentor, who was the first African American female president, in this system did for me.
Dr. Williams: My expected end is to learn from a seasoned veteran in higher education who can assist in preparing me for a president’s position. Female, African-American presidents are few and far between in higher education. This gap in the office of the presidency in higher education is one that I would like to see filled by more women of color such as myself.