Marketplace insights


As a young fledgling worker, I remember my first mentor. She was my supervisor. I learned a lot from her, and I felt that she truly believed in me. Although eager and enthusiastic, I did lack some important experience when it came to some aspects of my new job as a tribal child welfare worker.

But she gave me many chances (or should I say. … took chances on me) to learn the most appropriate actions to take, which was very important for the field in which we worked. Through her patience and guidance she had a big influence on my positive and engaging learning experiences.

I would later learn to appreciate what she taught me (as my supervisor, my teacher and my friend). I was able to develop, not only the skills but the confidence to become a successful professional in the years to come.

As Native Americans, mentorship is traditional for us. We respectfully learn from one another. … our community member, our leaders and our elders. Within our social system most tribal members played an important role in helping to teach the younger valuable life lessons. Today, we may have adopted more of the American “self-reliant” way of thinking. Particularly in the workplace, where competitiveness and restricted business structures, can interfere with these traditional processes. We may attempt to learn independently, however, our cultural values and beliefs encourage us to be helpful, to look for support and guidance from one another. It is an important part of most Native cultures to take the responsibility to teach our youth through our own experiences and the wisdom that life has granted us with age.

In modern business and management the concepts of “coaching” and mentorship have become a popular model to implement in the workplace and are now becoming recognized as a productive way of training and educating American workforces, however these concepts have been a traditional process for Natives all along. In Native businesses and organizations learning to use and to become mentors in the workplace should be carried out with this same interest that we traditionally had. We can maintain our historic way of teaching and learning that would benefit our employees and our organizations.

In the workplace, a mentor can be as close as the next office, he or she is someone you can go to for support, and their role is to use their own knowledge and experience to guide you through developing and improving your professional skills and to help facilitate an important learning process. Although supervisors, are most often associated with the mentorship role, A mentor can be anyone who is willing and able to teach and guide a new or younger employee. These individuals can be found throughout a business or organization. It may be more of a personality fit, rather than a job title.

Some tips for mentorship include:

• Work together to set some learning objectives – Be careful not to make them too specific or restrictive. Allow employees to learn in their own time and by their own standards.

• Be patient and supportive (Mentors) – Be willing to except mistakes without being overly critical. Employee will learn by both positive and negative experiences. And the key term here is “LEARN.”

• Provide some guidance, but allow for learning through experience (Mentors) – Most adults will learn best through personal experiences. Monitor workplace activities with an evaluative, yet open mind.

• Provide reflective feedback (Mentors) – Keep a regular, open dialogue. Discuss issues daily or at least several times a week. Provide examples of your own lessons learned and provide a gentle analysis of their choices and behavior, Good or bad.

• Look for good personality matches among employees – Identify mentors and mentee’s, then allow them to choose one another. Change should be expected. Sometimes personalities will clash or it may just be time to learn from someone new.

• Keep in mind that mentorship is not just about “Job training” it’s more than just work related skills, but looks at the overall professional development of employees, through workplace tasks, human growth experiences and the sharing of work and life lessons, It can provide for a more culturally relevant and thorough learning practice.

When implementing mentorship programs, we are returning to some of our cultural processes as Native peoples, however equally important to this, it can contribute to the building of successful Native organizations and business, by fostering the development of competent employees. This is vital to our survival and development of tribes and communities as most of us have become so highly dependent on the economic success of our Indian Nations.

Lucinda Hughes-Juan has many years of teaching and training in the fields of business and management, with a focus on the cultural dynamics in Native businesses and organizations. She is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She holds an MBA in global management, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in business and organizational management. E-mail her at