Feeling Stranded? There’s a Relationship for That

By Gary Oppedahl and Autumn Gray

Mentors define the “give before you get” mentality that is not only necessary to a strong startup community but is also vital for a city to have a prosperous business environment generally.

Albuquerque’s leaders for the last several years have been perpetuating the importance of mentorship more than ever before as a vehicle for strengthening the city’s economy, increasing residents’ civic engagement and fostering innovation.

Running Start for Careers, an award-winning, public-private effort to help take students from the classroom into local in-demand jobs, is one example. In the program, experts from various industries mentor students in their respective fields to promote career exploration. In many instances, students develop relationships with these nontraditional teachers, who not only help them obtain necessary skills to join a particular field of work but who also keep them motivated, propelling them toward graduation and success in later life. The program was named Top 25 Innovation in all of government by Harvard University’s Ash Center for Government Innovation in 2015.

With this program as a national model, our community and others across the country are recognizing that cities that create mentor initiatives organically develop cultures that:

  • Are more willing to share information and expertise, reducing the tendency to seek/keep what is mine;
  • Experience greater trust between companies and among individuals, dissolving fear.
  • Seek collaboration, decreasing the tendency to work in isolation.
  • Create more successes and discover more possibilities, extinguishing hopelessness, increasing economic mobility and leading to creation of more companies.
  • Breed more mentors, preventing reversion to the status quo.

However, to serve as a mentor does not require that a person be of a certain age or education. Ideally, every resident plays the role of mentor and mentee. Business leaders who have experienced multiple failures and successes need mentors just as much as someone right out of school.

The biggest challenge many people have is that they don’t really know what mentoring is, much less how it differs from training, coaching or consulting. Let’s look at a storyline to distinguish them.

If you were stranded on an island and each of the four types were to arrive one-by-one to provide guidance on how to survive, this is how they might differ:

The trainer would have specific objectives to teach you – such as how to build a fire and shelter, boil water, avoid poisonous plants and make food. There would be a transfer of knowledge as you learn how to do these things.

The coach may arrive to find you sitting on a log in despair. You’ve learned what to do to survive and how to do those things, but you’re depressed and have lost all motivation. The coach helps relieve anxiety and encourages you to take action so you don’t die just because your brain is temporarily in a bad place.

The consultant will arrive for a brief period, do everything for you with some minor explanation and wish you good luck.

The mentor? This is your long-term support system. This person may have been in a similar situation before and knows survival is possible, even likely. He or she is willing to dig in to this challenge with you. You are not alone; you now are a team of two. The mentor will provide resources and share ideas to help you succeed. Your relationship is based on unconditional trust, and better yet, when you get off the island, he expects nothing in return for the help. Your success is enough.

Each role has its place in a community. The key to their effective use is for those in the game to be clear in their relationships from the outset as to what role is being played.

One of Albuquerque’s longest running mentorship programs is Entrepreneurial Office Hours, held from 3-6 p.m. Wednesdays at the city’s Downtown entrepreneurial community center, the Epicenter, 119 Gold Ave. SW. Anyone can attend at no cost, but this is an especially good event for people of any age and background who have an idea and are seeking mentorship to move it forward. Volunteers come from professions including law, accounting and a variety of local startup businesses.


This blog was first published in the Albuquerque Journal.

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