Mentoring means a lot of different things to a lot of people, but there are some common themes. Most consideration regarding mentorship has been given to understanding the benefit of staff serving as mentors to students, and the research focused on mentorship for staff has focused broadly on how mentoring can augment one’s career development. One less explored theme, “intentional” peer-to-peer staff mentorship, can be used as a tool for creativity, productivity, emotional well-being, and ultimately student-centered development.

Social and psychological research indicates a relationship between social wellbeing, cognitive functioning, and performance.  Subsequently, one could assume if the balance for the aforementioned is present that good work will be produced.  We’d like to make a case to assert just that.

Overextended and emotionally distressed, the brain and the body shut down. Working within these parameters often contributes to mediocrity in our personal and professional spaces. Given the frequency with which scholars and practitioners at HBCU’s are overworked and under-resourced, distress creates ripe environments for underperforming. Within this context, how can higher education professionals give their best to their work and ultimately our students? The answer: create healthier more productive staff through peer-to-peer mentoring and accountability.

The desire for belonging and connection are innate human needs. When these fundamental needs are met, and strong social bonds are formed there are a myriad of helpful outcomes, of note are positive self-esteem and healthy attachment, i.e., we feel better about ourselves when we feel good about the people with whom we connect. Despite empirical support demonstrating the value of interpersonal connections, norms within higher education promote individualism when navigating stressful scenarios- the proverbial suck it up and keep it moving, or the alternatively narrow “feel-good advice” from well-meaning colleagues.

Most of us can recall a parent, friend, or colleague saying to us, “Go treat yourself to a spa day, you will look better and then feel better,” or “Get board room ready and put on your Sunday’s best. You’ll feel better!”  Instinctively we tie looks to feelings.  There is an unmistakable feeling associated with looking and feeling good, yet, most believe feeling good is only a portion of the equation. How, then, is the nexus between feeling good and being well tied to social well-being? As supported by research, there must be “movement with purpose,” such that when your passion, vocation, and location are all in sync, social wellbeing and healthy cognitive functioning are likely present as well. Here is the platform from which we will launch.

Instead of (primarily) having peer-to-peer mentors who make us feel good about perceived professional gains, cultivate connections that help you reflect upon your personal and professional needs.

Peers can play a pivotal role in creating a culture where feeling good aligns with performing well. Often times we engage with friends and colleagues who are similarly situated with aspirations that mirror our own.  This co-existence can be extremely beneficial if fostered appropriately.  Here’s why peer-to-peer mentorship really matters.  Where we miss the mark in these mentor/relationships is the lack of critical curation.  Find a truth-teller and an accountability partner (or whatever that person is referred to) who is given the licenses to stretch you!  While this may be a tricky proposition, we think it’s an obligation when peer-to-peer mentoring really functions at a high level.

Picture this. You find, what you believe, is the perfect career opportunity.  The title, vocation, and salary are all palatable, and you say to yourself, “Let’s fill this application out, interview, and bag this gig!” Not so fast. Fit matters. If you reside professionally in a place that does not fit, internal fulfillment will likely escape you, and your ability to produce at levels indicative of pay raises and promotions will be difficult if not impossible to reach or maintain. If you’ve researched the organization, its leadership, your direct report, and the team and you feel congruency is present, you are in good shape.  Further, if the mission of the organization, the ethos and spirit of that ethos speak to you, then one should proceed.  Answering affirmatively to most of the aforementioned insulates you from running when the “wheels fall off” and you’re faced with the difficult realities of laboring at an HBCU.  Valuable peer-to-peer mentoring now becomes invaluable if professionals have this tool of critical curation to vet career and vocational opportunities.

Remember we’re talking about an assertion within social and psychological research that draws a nexus between social wellbeing, cognitive functioning, and performance, and if we discover that a shinny object really isn’t all that shiny, well, we know what happens to those thing – they’re discarded and the desire or interest in them wanes, fast.  We imagine this is likely what occurs when folk aren’t happy at work. Again, does mentorship have a place in preventing unhappiness at the work place-we’d say yes.   If having an extra critical set of eyes is mandatory when writing a memo, why then would it not be appropriate to have a critical conversation about opportunities to ensure we’ve viewed the opportunity, not through rose-colored shades, but a fresh pair of blue blockers!

The HBCU space is particularly special to so many people. The excellence, the pageantry, bonds formed and memories that last a lifetime are built on these historic campuses. However, perfecting one’s vocation will likely come with challenges. Our institutions are grounded on the power of community. We recognize the intrinsic value of helping by “reaching back” or mentoring. This places mentorship at the core of fostering personal and professional wellbeing for higher education professionals and suggests it is a key factor in creating healthier, more productive and innovative work environments (which promotes the best environments for our students keeping us student-centered). If administrators are connected socially and in meaningful ways such as mentorship, they are empowered, motivated, and productive. Essentially, mentorship is a means to help caregivers and servant leaders thrive.

Here are suggestions for curators in mentorship:

  • Be intentional when selecting peer mentors.
  • Agree upon parameters and the frequency of your communication (accountability matters).
  • Invest the time (even if only electronic) in your relationship.
  • Assess along the way to see what works (ed).

When these criteria are met, we are primed to meet subsequent adversity with focus, support, and strategic problem-solving. Without peer-to-peer mentorship, the critical need of fit when selecting “shiny objects” as opposed to syncing mission, passion, and vocation are significantly discounted… Who’s in your wallet?