Advice from an Interim Mentor

She grabbed my arm and, sounding like some sort of romance heroine, said “Don’t go! I never had this before.” “What?” I asked.

“A mentor,” she said.

The district had taken its time to find the right replacement for its vacant Director of Finance position. It was a big promotion, but she was definitely the right person for the job. We only overlapped for two weeks, and I was trying to impart as much guidance and advice as I could.

As an interim director, bridging the gap between the person who had left and the recent new hire, there was not a lot I could tell her about the inner workings of the district. What was it that I was imparting to her that seemed so intensely valuable? Her enthusiasm at having me there and her sadness at seeing me go set me thinking. “What is a mentor, really?”

  • A mentor has to care about the person, not just the job. I remember once implementing a remediation plan with an employee who just wasn’t getting it. I was coaching her so that she could improve quickly or move on. That’s not mentoring. That’s cleaning up after a bad hire.
  • A mentor has to make time. Mentoring is a conscious act. It does not occur organically. It is not something that happens while you are 100% occupied with other priorities. Developing talent and identifying future leaders is ideally a corporate value.
  • A mentor has gone down that path before. A person who has conquered similar challenges in an unrelated field can be helpful. But a mentor who has held the position before will significantly improve the experience of the mentee.

There is a growing trend to hire a chief business officer who comes from outside education, or at least outside the business office. It is felt that this person can bring a fresh perspective. There can be a price for that, however: frustration and career stunting for the CBO’s direct reports. “Fresh perspective” in the CBO office can equal “Vacancy” in the Finance office. I have seen it so often, I suppose, because I’m often the one filling the vacancy while the district scrambles to hire a replacement.


I imagine that, occasionally, reinventing the wheel yields a genuine breakthrough. Mostly, though, it wastes your most precious resource: time. Those of you who realize you are not going to be mentored within your organization are encouraged to seek a mentor elsewhere.

Ultimately your career is up to you. The Company You Work For is not Your Friend.


%d bloggers like this: