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Mentors Can Be Found Just About Everywhere

March 1, 2006
by Thomas G. Durham, PhD, LADC
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Have you ever had a supervisor who expected to bring out the best in you, who seemed demanding, and who, at times, made you feel you could have done things a little better? I did. However, this individual also had a much stronger belief in me than I had in myself. I was often pushed beyond my comfort level, and from my perspective our supervisory relationship was anything but relaxed.

There were times when I questioned the relationship, and on a few occasions I came close to leaving my job. At the time, I had no clue as to the impact this supervisory relationship was to have on me. Looking back, I see that it was indeed an effective and growth-enhancing mentoring relationship.

Not all effective mentoring relationships need to be stressful and uncomfortable. When I conduct supervisory training I often walk participants through a directed imagery, in which I ask them to close their eyes and think back to early in their careers to see if they can identify anyone who had a significant impact on their professional growth. Many identify someone other than a supervisor, and several say they had no idea at the time that they would later consider this person as influential in their growth as they now do.

Mutual relationship

The word mentor is believed to be of Greek origin; it has come to mean “a wise and trusted teacher or counselor.” As supervisors, we all probably would like our supervisees to see us as wise and trusting in our supervisory relationships. However, it takes two to form a mentoring relationship.

During the past year, many of the Addiction Technology Transfer Centers (ATTCs) funded by the federal Center for Substance Abuse Treatment have conducted leadership training programs, in which students (known as protégés) are paired with mentors. Although many protégés under this program do not choose their mentors, most experience enhanced professional development and learning through a mentoring relationship. We found that the mentorship component of the training was a key element in preparing the protégés to take on leadership roles effectively.

In his book Winning, business giant Jack Welch encourages readers to “amass” mentors. He advises leaders to “search out and relish the input of lots of mentors, realizing that mentors don't always look like mentors.”1

Welch tells readers not to “just settle for the mentor assigned to you as part of a formal program.” However, I would add that a formal mentoring experience, such as those assigned in the ATTC Leadership Institute, would demonstrate the value of mentoring to those reluctant to enter a relationship.

Coaching and mentoring

Coaching constitutes a type of formal mentoring, in that the mentor directs the learning, focuses on immediate opportunities for growth, and is more forthcoming with advice and feedback. Mentors as coaches follow the precepts of Motivational Interviewing: The mentor's approach is attuned to the protégé's stage of change, and the mentor does not wait for the protégé to come up with all the answers.

As clinicians, we know that a positive relationship can foster growth and change. We know this to be true in the clinical relationship, but we also see this in many other relationships, both formal and informal. The role of the clinical supervisor includes mentoring. It involves modeling, teaching, coaching, sharing experiences, and giving advice.

A clinical supervisor can help supervisees by taking Welch's advice and encouraging the development of many mentors. Those who are passionate about learning will take that advice and seek out a variety of friends and colleagues who become role models, rich fonts of knowledge, and potential sources of inspiration. If we step back and look around, we may see a vast array of individuals already touching our lives in ways we haven't realized.

Thomas G. Durham, PhD, LADC, is Executive Director of The Danya Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland, where he coordinates training programs including those delivered by the Central East Addiction Technology Transfer Center.


  1. Welch J. Winning. New York Harper Business; 2005.